Ejoya, a Lagos-based music distribution, marketing and publishing company, has released the third iteration of its “Class Of” series. Each album in the sequence sports songs curated from artists based in places all over the world, but the music is always Nigerian. However, as the majority of Ejoya’s recruits are young, upcoming acts — stars of the future — it follows that the music bears a futuristic mark as well.
For the Class Of 22, Ejoya positions its creatives to operate just within the borders of Nigerian music, in that sweet spot where vocals and melodies can be transplanted from beyond the continent, while the percussion and the horns that interplay with them are unmistakably from home.
The horns are the drivers of the album, and they accompany most tracks at their inception and ending, thereby weaving song to song to ensure a sonic coherence, a quality that is most noticeable when they blur the boundaries between “E No Fit Be Me” and “Waiting For Ya”.
In surfing the LP we are not alone. We get to meet the voices of Wonu Osikoya and Daniel Alaneme, our album guides who pop up every so often to provide commentary which, graciously, is delivered well enough for you not to mind the few seconds they take away from the album’s time. “NGOMSO”, the intro, is our introduction to them, and after the proclamation, “I can see all the stars from here”, we are transported into fully formed Amapiano, the work of producer, NYRP, to be joined later by Adua’s ethereal vocals and then a voice that brings South African pop. The entire track is simply sonic excellence, and it sets the stage for what is a carefully mixed and mastered album, with nary a note or beat misplaced.
This phenomenon, where our companions’ voices precede the most beautiful music on the album, appears less and less a coincidence as the album proceeds. The interlude is similarly brief, but where “NGOMSO” bounded on trippy South African production that was only helped on by its singers, the interlude is vocal-driven, and it is only right that its title — “S3kye, Solis interlude” — bears their names. T
he former appears first, and she performs most of the ground work, utilising the width of her voice in a discourse about the singularity of her mind on the paper chase. She is deliberately measured, aware of her role as only a forerunner, so when her partner, SOLIS appears, she can bring this to a climax, her delivery simultaneously relaxed and gripping. A lline like “I never lose/ I swear it’s in my DNA” is delivered with all the assured coolness it deserves — she does not require the extent of her vocal range to stun you.
Our tour guides continue in their roles as harbingers of pleasure on the very next track, though their voice over is technically a part of the interlude, which is another testament to how the album functions so well as a single unit. “I wanna show you something that I know will blow your mind” is the epilogue, and the track itself, “Ajoke” has no problem delivering on such high praise as early as its first line: “Ijo, ti mo Jo lana se/ Emi ati Ajoke”. The twin duo of The Kazeez combine with Oladapo for an impeccable mix, and producer GodOmarr seizes the track’s outro to shine with vocal chops that wraps things up finely.
The Ejoya Class Of 22 ultimately has its sights set on stoking emotions of a romantic nature, and as such the album adopts rose-tinted glasses for its views on relationships. This feeling drives the pair of “Brise Moy” and “Rio”, which are gilded with the voices of singers Annalie Prime and April Maey respectively. The former is the more passionate of the duo, and she works her hook into a fiery commitment to making things work, — “For the record, I’m a lover, and I’ll fight for what I got” — she will not leave romance to the chances of Cupid’s famously unreliable bow, she will take aim herself. She cools considerably for the chorus, oooing her way past a guitar and her own backup vocals to proclaim: “You are all the love I’ve known”.
April Maey, for her contribution, is granted a partner to bounce lines off of, and SirBastien‘s delivery would bring to mind a beach-side clarity even if he didn’t use the word on the first line. He saunters into Spanish on the chorus, a language that ostensibly elevates the words “I love you, I want you” to new romantic heights, but SirBastien holds questions of a more profound nature: he wants to know “Why this love between us is so real/ Why this communication between us is so so special”
At the other end of the album, Tim Lyre is contemplating something similar, a relationship that is “Just too good for me/ You’re so good for me”. Reciprocation eludes him, because he has given everything, and still feels his debt remains unpaid, a conundrum that prompts him to throw open the question, “What could be better than love?”. This pair of songs paint a refreshing picture to see — male Nigerian artists embracing vulnerability with a complete transparency, and bonus points awarded for not conflating sex with love.
This level of fluidity between tracks, in sound and theme, is staggeringly incredible when you consider it is maintained by a patchwork of creatives pooled from all over the world. In its last lap the class attempts to place a spanner in the wheel of love, for what would great stories be without conflict? “Losing Me” depicts the prodromal phase of a dying relationship, when cracks become apparent but their solutions less so, and Tchella and Karun play opposing roles — one apathetic and the other desperate about the end of their love. The following track, “Cigarettes And Emotions” skips forward through this timeline, and a reflective PDSTRN is left to examine the black box of a failed relationship, as if a comprehensive report on the cause of its crash would restore status quo.
Even when it goes against its core principles, the Ejoya Class Of 22 simply cannot skimp on quality. Previous editions could draw from a more varied artist pool, and they could count on rap in both its classic and street-ready versions to sprinkle some non-conformance into the albums, and satisfy a variety of palates. Class of 22 passes on this option, making the bold move to double down on slow burning romantic missives even at the risk of alienating the unsentimental.
Your views on love aside, the Ejoya Class Of 22 sounds fresh with each track while maintaining a harmony of sound across board would be enough to make any single artist jealous, never mind a collective of acts bound by little more than a shared distributor. There are albums of this kind this year packing a lot more star power, but with a hattrick of successful projects now complete, Ejoya will rest easy having established itself the ingenious curator of the sounds of tomorrow.