Best New Music: Yela’s “Fickle” is experimental pop at its finest
Best New Music: Yela’s “Fickle” is experimental pop at its finest

Best New Music: Yela’s “Fickle” is experimental pop at its finest

Yela isn't here to play with you hoes.

As Nigerian pop music has gotten more mainstream, it has fallen into a rut of conformity. All the biggest hits of 2016 and 2017 became so because they were generic, following variations of a trusted formula of predictable mid-tempo beats (as championed by Tekno and Mr. Eazi) and safe, trusted lyric compositions that include some kind of unintelligible improvised riff and a ‘party’ narrative. Sure it works, but it has become the uninteresting background to our dance parties rather than the soundtrack to our lives. But every now and then, an artist breaks the mold, drawing obscure references and taking a risk. Singer Yela’s new single “Fickle” is one such experiments, and it pays off big time.

On his new single, Yela departs from his afro-pop origins as comprehensively explored on his debut EP Clarity. He strips down the sound, taking out everything but a distinctive Afrobeats inspired guitar riff. It is on this riff that the entire melody for “Fickle” is built, piece by piece, using a whole retinue of vocal samples and scat singing to create a eerie sonic choir. It is a big gamble to forgo traditional percussion instruments on an ‘afro-pop’ song, but Yela is an accomplished beat boxer and scat singer and his producer MONLEE works literal magic, layering the samples just so, that you are subtly reminded of  pop great Michael Jackson at his most visceral.

Michael Jackson might be the biggest name you’ll think of when you hear “Fickle”, but the vocal work and technique Yela favours on the song is more in tune with the 010’s British revivalist R&B scene and MNEK, its biggest export. The choice of harmonies, the contemporary subject matter (a long used lover finally find a backbone and leaving a toxic relationship) will resonate in London as it will in Lagos. This, more than the song’s stellar production, its cosmopolitan songwriting and composition and its experimental yet vintage sound is what makes “Fickle”, it’s own unique thing.

This is genre defining, and Yela better fucking ride this wave.

Listen to “Fickle” here.

Edwin eats his rice and cabbages. Tweet at him@edgothboy

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