A 1-Listen Review of Somadina’s Debut EP, ‘Heart Of The Heavenly Undeniable’
a glittering resume of punk-inspired songs
a glittering resume of punk-inspired songs
Somadina has always been a special artist. Before the Nigerian-born Netherlands-bred musician was ten, she’d already composed songs, inspired by her experience with playing classical music. Her childhood and teenage years were spent in several countries of the world, imbibing a global mindset in the youngster who had gotten hip to R&B through the parental influence of her father.
During the nascent stages of Alte influence across parts of West Africa, Somadina emerged with the perfect blend of eclectic musicianship, sociopolitical awareness, and the idea of what she wanted her aesthetic to look like—that is, influenced by Old Nollywood fashion and punk flagrance. Those sprawling representations are polished by the music’s enthralling, energetic quality, which has grown even more pointedly away from the dreamy-eyed songwriting Somadina was known for in her early career.
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Having built her fanbase, collaborated with influential figures in the alternative scene (Odunsi, Lady Donli, Ogranya, etc.), and stoked the flames for a project which depicts her artistic growth, Somadina has now released her debut EP ‘Heart Of The Heavenly Undeniable (HOTHU)’. Across eleven tracks the project features Odunsi, The Cavemen, Zamir, Chi Virgo and LOla, all of which are familiar names that (expectedly) would enrich the sonic tapestry.
In Usual 1-Listen Review Fashion, All Reactions Are In Real-Time While The Music Plays. No Pauses, Rewinds, Fast-Forwards, Or Skip.
Synth pads starting out this one, the slow rubble of country-like drums underneath. Somadina’s singing now—there’s a really epic sheen to her vocals, as though positioned in an elevated space. The drums are completely present now; bold drums which carry her strong voice with swinging intent. It’s a very atmospheric opener, with little to no responsibility placed on the writing, rather it’s the glorious mash of cinematic synths and reggaeton-inspired drum playing that lulls you in. Given the sonic choice, there’s every chance that ‘HOTHU’ will play out through the synergy of its sound rather than its thematic spectrum. But that’s all speculation—let’s get into track two.
The pace has decidedly increased with this one. Early into her verse, Somadina references “the psychedelic feeling” and it’s audible so far: these records are cut from the glossy feel of rock-inspired sonics, not quite unlike what Santi curated on ‘Subaru Boys’. Somadina’s take however cues in more soulful and R&B influences, resulting in sections like these where she sounds really intimate, lulling her desires into being. What’s THIS electric rap cadence? She is constructing images with these songs—I see the vision. Like, imagine a dancefloor swirling with strobe lights and black bodies, hair swinging and sweat dripping—imagine the music that’s most likely to be played in such a setting, and you get “Y I Want U”. It’s two for two so far; a really strong start to the album.
Rock-inspired guitars to start out this one. Actually more soft punk than rock, a sound listeners of twentyone pilots would relate to. If you peep it, there’s also a reggae-esque bounce to these progressions. Okay, Somadina’s singing now—it’s more audible than she’s let on so far. The ache of heartbreak is the subject matter here. The lyrics are very cutting, poetic, and raw. “Speeding off a speakerphone” is a very unique metaphor, and she’s building off its brilliance in this hook and chorus. “Tell me I’m okay now,” she yells with painful intensity. I’m in my feelings over here, man. WHAT A RECORD. Even with the obvious angst she still maintains the triumph of self-confidence (“I won’t second guess my pride”). Me too, Somadina, me too.
Self-confidence from the previous track becomes full-out rebuttal here. The mood is really explosive, quite in-sync with the refusal that lies at its heart. Reinvigorating her rapping, the song’s intensity is balanced with lyrical clarity in these middle parts. It’s funny, I get the sense she’s spitting affirmative lines but I might need a revisit to really grasp their weight. Background yells and raspy, energetic singing sets this one apart; a beat switch here—more guitars, more yelling of the “I don’t really give a fuck” refrain. The track’s over—it’s a short song after all, but how thickly its layers run.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honour to announce I decoded the abbreviated title (what do you want from me?) before this song went underway. Three added points on my Gen-Z membership card LOL. The sound of a car crash had started off this one, and the song continues in that mood of abandonment. Really loud guitars and drums here—it’s a pleasant surprise to hear Somadina going all out rock on this project. The confidence is palpable. This song reminds me of Shamir, a psychedelia-influenced artist whose “Diet” is one of my favourite records ever. A brooding closer to the record, the guitars are swept away, the dreamy twinkle of piano chords enter, Somadina’s vocals serenade. It’s a rather fine depiction of mood extremes.
As you can probably tell, I’ve really enjoyed the titles on this project. Their hipster, poetic attitude is mirrored in the music, and that has been a thrill so far. When I saw the tracklist for this album, I was most piqued by this one. The narrative harmony is only bettered by its shock value, which comes as a result of the location of the roof and the outcome of weeping. Why tears? Sombre piano notes to begin the record reveals an emotion of longing. “Red tide, burning in your eyes/ He got new curls, falling out da skies,” is such a descriptive couplet, but the record doesn’t continue with such language. Rather, a melange of ahs and tell me says runs the time out. Would have loved to hear Somadina keep up the angel metaphor throughout though; would have made a more complete record.
From the first beat drop, there’s something in here that leans towards more conventional pop music. Like it could be a Beyonce record in an alternative universe. I really like this refrain of “so crazy, so crazy”, but the drums sound a little tired. In any ways, I’ve heard better variations of this record on the album; not really crazy about this one. I appreciate the mood though—it’s self-affirmative, the kind that could soundtrack a social media trend if Somadina is into those things.
A song titled “Dreams” has a good chance of being great. Since the beginning of time, haven’t we tried to understand its mystery and endlessness? The tempo here is unique; arranged in a less obvious way, the drum patterns create a relaxed atmosphere which is charged by the synths underneath. Somadina’s voice works as an instrument here, cutting in-between the sharp metres of sound to create a surrealist image in the listener’s mind. I will surely be revisiting this one. What’s that closing voice over about lyrics coming from heaven? It’s quite the plot twist.
Vocoder-inflected refrains of “Dance” makes the intent of this record known early into its runtime. The mood is more electronic than rock, bursting with a myriad of synths which succeed in stuffing the record. Perhaps in the appropriate setting I might appreciate this one better, but right now, it’s not quite hitting. A regrettable skip, cos I really had high expectations for this collaboration.
Considering the path Somadino has so far charted on this project, it’s exciting to hear how this would pan out. An evocative guitar twang, tension building through the repeated notes and the Igbo-inflected vocals of Benjamin (one half of The Cavemen) being utilised as a sort of instrument, almost as though sampled. The chords are yet being repeated, setting the anticipation for a beat drop very high. Delicate, dreamy, dance-worthy, the absence of sung vocals have so far been felt minimally. It’s an unconventional choice but it’s working. Everything drops: the last half-minute of “Small Paradise” is backended by lush, languid guitar-playing and Benjamin’s signature adlibs. On first listen, it’s not what I expected but I’ll surely be revisiting.
We’ve come to the end of the album. Chill guitars form the soundscape of this one, and Somadina’s gently singing. Her tone and lyrics sound as though she’s come from a really far journey, and now has the chance of letting all the weight fall. She’s addressing an ex-lover or detractor; her lyrics open themselves to interpretation, but you can tell she’s feeling it deeply. That intimate perspective enlivens the writing, with lines like “lost in the streets, but I won’t be defeated” underscoring her resolve to forge on. Very affirmative, and she’s bringing out her soul more tenderly than she’s done all album long. The past few records have slowed down, now that I think of it. “Imma be the bullet shooting you down” is such a poignant image, and while I’ll surely revisit this record to understand her perspective better, that line more than sums the overall mood of the record. A voice-over from someone who loves her music closes out the album, a fine touch to its epistolary gaze.
Many adjectives spring to mind after hearing ‘Heart Of The Heavenly Undeniable’ but the most consistent is “assured.” Somadina’s debut is audibly influenced by the sprawling inconsistencies that make up life, and it’s testament to her artistry how she captures the angst so well. Lined with an assortment of colourful, grungy guitars, she comes full circle from the artistic evolution she embarked on after releasing the more grief-centred ‘Five Stages’, which was later deleted from streaming platforms because the artist didn’t think it properly represented her then-changing sound and ethos.
Somadina now fancies the visceral interpretation of similar moments, purposefully translating pain into bold records which allows one the space to shout. As a Nigerian woman, it’s common for respectability politics to be constantly required, to be quiet and humble in order to gain the world’s approval. Somadina doesn’t care for such trivialities—she rather delves into the edgy depths of her mind to create an album that’s at once unique and relatable. It’s so finely wrought that even when beauty eventually surfaces, there’s no fantastical depiction of its nature—it’s rightly recognised as something that’s always been there, seeking the right grasp to force it into reality.
Stream ‘HOTHU’ below.
Featured image credits/ChukwukaNwobi