For singer/songwriter Lindsey Abudei, 2016 was a fortuitous year. After many delays and a difficult process, that involved several cuts and a restructuring of the project, And The Bass Is Queen, her debut album, was finally released to the public. It was 5 years after Brown, an EP people often mistake for an album, and 2010’s Prix Découvertes Awards, celebrating African songwriting where she was the second runner up. The album was critically acclaimed across the bar, but in the same breath many critics suggested it wouldn’t mainstream success in Nigeria.
It was long before the suggestions that Abudei water down her sound started coming. Suggestions to add some percussions or a little ‘ethnic’ flair, something the mythical ‘average Nigerian’ can latch on to and take ownership of her music for themselves. She found herself placed firmly in the category of Nigerian musicians whose music was qualified as ‘Alternative’ and thus not commercially viable not because it was experimental or unconventional, but because it ascribed to a global standard of technical excellence and universal accessibility. It seems unfair, even now, to be punished for excellence, but this is the nature of Nigerian music.
Rather than fighting this limiting category, Lindsey Abudei is seeking to embrace, and then transcend it through intimacy. Since the album was released, Abudei has opened for a number of high profile Nigerian musicians, including Asa, and has taken to small venues like the weekly Taruwa meet at Bogobiri in Ikoyi, poised in chair, backed occasionally by a bass player or guitarists, drawing old faithfuls and new converts into the fantastic world of the album’s plucky protagonist. These satellite performances were good practice for when Abudei decided to strike out on her own.
And she did, on May 16th via Instagram. With a string quartet no less. I thought it couldn’t get any more intimate than that. I was wrong.
Omenka Gallery, the venue for the concert was concurrently hosting an exhibition so it’s sterile walls were flush with hyperrealistic drawings and monochromatic photographs and stylized paintings of gawking women. In lieu of chairs were cushion spread out around the set up for the quartet in the middle of the room. Abudei worked the room, unassuming in a striped blouse and wide pants, her hair, cut into an unruly pixie cut. Many of the guests were long time fans who’d seen her perform before but never like this. So for everyone, Lindsey Abudei inclusive, this was a first.
The first thing that you notice is that there are no discrepancies between how Abudei sounds on the record and how she sounds live. Every note is delivered in near perfect pitch, every adlib measured to complement the quartet that plays in concert with her. The second is that the songs from the album and the EP before it are intensely personal to her, so much so, she has chosen to forgo playing instruments herself during performances so she can fully go where the music leads. We sing along with some songs, others we are content to just listen.
There are small anecdotes woven into the story, glimpses into the how songs came to be, and the things and people that inspired them. Libra man came from a conversation with her father, Shoot ‘Em Down was inspired by Jay-Z song, Drift Away has several versions floating on the internet. Then there is the easter egg of the female bass player, dressed up in red, a homage to album’s cover art and the double entendre of the album’s name. By the time Lindsey finishes her set list and the audience begins to drill her for encores, jukebox style, we all feel as though we’ve known for her years. She indulges us, taking questions about her career thus far, her personal life, and the future. She lets it slip that she was recently accepted into a prestigious international music residency. We are all sated, but sorry to see it end.
It isn’t very often that we see a beloved musician shed the pedestal and the artificial barriers of raised stages & guarded barricades, become indistinguishable from people for whom she makes her music. This, perhaps, is the magic of Lindsey Abudei.