Since the early 20th century, West Africa, and Nigeria, in particular, has been a hotbed for some of the most timeless and influential styles of contemporary music. Be they highlife, palm-wine and jùjú, or anything along the Afrobeat-to-Afrofunk gradient, Nigeria’s pop sounds are often nothing less than iconic. Named for a state in western Nigeria, British-Nigerian producer Ekiti Sound – born Leke Awayinka and also known as CHiF – continues this trend of rhythm-heavy innovation with an ultra-modern take on traditions old and new on album Abeg No Vex.
The first sounds on opening track “Land of the Talking Drums” are majestic. Sparkling keys begin the album with gravitas, enough weight to support the elements Ekiti Sound quickly introduces. Electronically tweaked vocal samples waft in, sharp beats wind up, and the lyrics, sung partially in pidgin Naijá, root the music in vital context. Allusions to longstanding Yorùbá cultural practices (“We know Ṣàngó, but we ain’t Brazilian”) lead us to the dance floors of modern-day Lagos, where Ekiti Sound’s music starts to speed up.
After a brief interlude – a revved-up refrain from the traditional folk song “Alutere” – Ekiti Sound takes it to the club in a big way. “Miss Dynamite” is a high-energy hip-hop track that leans into occasionally melodic trap vibes. Entrancing “Ase” starts with a benediction of “Let my prayer be answered” followed by vigorous chants over synths and percussion.
A calmer, but no less trenchant, side of Abeg No Vex reveals itself on the poignant piece “Lagos Lullaby”, where sparse horns and melodic keys create melancholy atmosphere. Soft vocals paint a mournful picture of daily life: “Screeching / Bleeding / You’re watching another scene in Lagos.” The song is exquisite, even in its bleakest depictions of mosquitoes and crime, and also shows the depth with which Ekiti Sound explores different moods.
And he does, again and again. “Testify” begins with heartrending samples of ambiguous violence and urgent sirens. Its dramatic strings and high-energy raps speak to Leke’s cinematic background in Nollywood sound editing. “Oba Oluwa” features Prince G’s weathered voice telling a Yoruba-language folktale, samples distributed over highlife guitar lines and techno grooves. “Slow Down” is a soulful, sexy dancehall track with Caribbean vibes that fit Ekiti Sound’s focus on the whole African diaspora. So do the downtempo boasts of “Rap Kings”, a reminder of rap battling’s extremely early origins.
Starry-eyed love takes center stage briefly for “Maybe There’s a Rainbow” before the fiery infatuation and constant tempo shifts of “Super String Theory” crash into the mix. Tradition-based “Ife” is a deep trance, “A Song” a dream. “ADHD” throbs with dizzying beats and lyrics that reflect on the stamping out of childhood dreams. Ending the album is “Timeless”, a climactic finale that pulls together bright horns, an army of beats, and soul singer Nneka, whose voice balances smoky sweetness with intense energy.
Consistent in terms of its quality, Abeg No Vex is otherwise an eclectic patchwork. Multilingual and diverse in tone and style, it is a bold debut for Ekiti Sound. Its unpredictability can cross the line from dynamic into jarring, to be sure. But there is a level of commitment and technical finesse present throughout that gives each track impact, especially taken together as a whole pastiche. On Abeg No Vex, Ekiti Sound offers listeners a vital window into modern Nigerian life with a musical perspective all his own.