One of Africa’s most successful contemporary music performers was in Nairobi last week for the release party of her latest album. Nigerian superstar Yemi Alade has just released her fourth album, Woman of Steel, and she hosted an exclusive party in Nairobi to give a select group of music industry insiders a sneak peek of the album that was released internationally in September. The event in Nairobi came at the end of similar launch parties for the album in Lagos, London and Paris.
“I was looking for someone to save me when I am in trouble and when my spirits are down,” explains Alade about the choice of the album’s title. “I realised that I am my own super hero because I have been saving myself from a lot of things and I decided to celebrate that moment, hence the title.”
Since she released the single “Johnny” five years ago, which turned into an international anthem, Yemi Alade has grown into one of the influential of the current generation of African performers.
Her first album “Kings & Queens” was released in 2014, followed by “Mama Africa” two years later, and “Black Magic” in 2017. She has won numerous top accolades including two consecutive Best Female Act honours at the MTV Africa Music Awards in 2015 and 2016.
“Woman of Steel” containing 15 new songs marks a significant step in the evolution of an artist who has grown from the “Johnny” phase of her career to one who is confident enough to explore various elements of musical styles from around the world. While the music still has an upbeat, exciting vibe to it, there is much more diversity of rhythms and a richness of sounds in her style.
As if in acknowledgement to the women of steel that have opened the path for her, Yemi taps Grammy Award winner Angelique Kidjo of Benin, one of the biggest international stars that Africa has produced in the last two decades, for the song “Shekere”. The combination of Yemi and Kidjo produces a fascinating mix of styles across two generations as the latter sings in her familiar powerful voice even borrowing lines from her classic 1996 hit “Wombo Lombo”.
Yemi explains how the connection to American hip-hop star Rick Ross who appears on the remix to the single “Oh My Gosh” came about. While she is the face of the champagne brand Belaire in Africa and Rick Ross is the Ambassador for the same brand in the U.S.
“I wanted a male feature on my album and after the introduction to Rick Ross, I sent two songs “Oh My Gosh” and “Number One” to him and he chose the former.”
Yemi sighs when she is asked about the single “Poverty” featuring the veteran Nollywood actress Funke Akindele. “My brother, do you want to see poverty,” she quips. “I was singing my heart out because I don’t want to see poverty and I work and pray that no one has to face such a situation.” The Swahili translation “Umaskini” was done by Kenyan singer Ivlyn Mutua and Yemi says the trend she has established of singing in Swahili that started with her collaboration with Sauti Sol “Africa” is a sign of gratitude to her fans in East Africa. “I want people in this part of the continent to see the efforts I am making in strengthening this relationship,” she says.
Besides the trademark contemporary Afrobeats, the album is a diverse mix of musical rhythms, from the Latin strings on “Give Dem” to the groovy “Vibe” one of the potential hits from the album thanks to its irresistible groove. There is straight-ahead smooth R & B on the romantic ballad “Remind You” perhaps the only song with lyrics in conventional English rather than the trademark pidgin.
She also shows her political consciousness lashing out against corruption and misrule in Africa on the reggae track “CIA (Criminal in Agbada)”.
Fellow Nigerian star Duncan Mighty gives a street wise dancehall-type edge to the sassy duet “Shake” while she gives a modern spin to West African highlife on “Yeba” with a sweet guitar riff.
The album also marks the official debut of Yemi Alade as an actress in the short film “Home”, which accompanies the single of the same title.
The film directed by top Nigerian videographer Clarence A. Peters (he is one that directed the humorous “Johnny” video in 2014) is based on finding strength, self-love and being your own hero in tough times. Yemi appears in the film along a stellar Nollywood cast of Clarion Chukwura and Frankincense Eche Ben.
In July this year, Yemi became the first African female entertainer to gain 1 million subscribers on You Tube. “The new platforms have become very crucial for the distribution of music.
“I have connected with music fans around the globe at the snap of a finger and I am able to have a relationship with my fans,” she says.