Essentials: Ovye’s ‘Ramin Tsuliyan Ungwan Pama’ Is For The Wanderers & Truth Seekers
Essentials: Ovye’s ‘Ramin Tsuliyan Ungwan Pama’ Is For The Wanderers & Truth Seekers

Essentials: Ovye’s ‘Ramin Tsuliyan Ungwan Pama’ Is For The Wanderers & Truth Seekers

Carried by an earnestness of heart and a strong voice unafraid of its panoramic range

According to the old fables, the journey of a hero is never linear. However, it typically follows that the hero goes on an adventure, emerges victorious in a decisive crisis, and returns home transformed. On Nigerian singer and songwriter, Ovye’s sophomore album, Ramin Tsuliyan Ungwan Pama (RTUP), a sober hero returns with tales from a journey of wandering and wondering. Following the release of his 2019 debut album, Ketchup on Everything,’ Ovye established himself as a bold, new, exciting voice of the experimental Soul/R&B tradition. 

Earlier this year, he was the selected performer for the first NOK Audiolabs, a platform by ALARA Lagos that encourages music-social experiments to interrogate oral traditions and celebrate fresh Afro-cultural talents. “In venturing into music as the thing I want to give people, I wanted it to reflect what I had been through because I was convinced I had gone through another cycle,” the Kaduna-born and based artist shared with the NATIVE. “I had seen a bunch of things, and I had been brought back to the beginning. I wanted it to invoke something up-down and sideways, for the music to paint that image of circumambulation.” 

While the album adeptly weaves through several important themes such as homecoming, belonging and more, a good starting point into the mind of the artist is where the album ends, where it began: “Daddy Issues. Arriving as the last track on the album, “Daddy Issues” is co-produced by Duktorr Sett and Ovye and was the first song written on the album—back in 2019. On the album cover, Ovye is wearing a very difficult suit that belongs to his father. It was the certificate day for a professional qualification he had spent three years working towards. “Horrible outfit, horrible! Horrible! I had called someone to repair the suit [because] the length of it was a bit much and the size of it a bit much. Then he made one leg shorter than the other. And it was too late [for the event], so I just went like that. I kept holding up one of the legs now and then, hoping nobody would figure it out.”

These personal anecdotes colour most of the new album. Ovye sings Gaia knows my song, she whips a ballad out of me, on mostly Saturdays when I’m holding back to keep to a rational path—a harm that never heals from me,” Ovye sings on “Daddy Issues.” However, unlike the rest of the painstakingly honest album, this song is more symbolic of a collective experience than it is a narrative of the artist’s experience. “I asked a lot of people to tell me stories of their relationship with their fathers. I wanted to detach myself from the song but rather go to the studio with a mood,” Ovye explained.

Ovye’s charismatic presence colours the rest of the album, as he oscillates between a spate of moods and themes. Each track aligns with the fable of the hero which constructs a coherent narrative. Except for “Daddy Issues” and “A Gathering,” it’s a wonder that Ovye’s album was recorded over two nights in 2020, a year which caused a seismic change in the lives of many people around the world. However, it took a further two years to find himself and feel all he needed to complete the album. “I needed to work with people with an emotional connection to the music,” he shares candidly. This journey led him to eventually collaborate with fellow experimental artists and producers Eseomo ‘Seo’ Mayaki, Nabot Ayuba and David Kambai to produce the rest of the album.

The album’s opener “In Spirit” opens with a call to “inhale slow, exhale slower,” accompanied by stretched-out notes on the violin, piano and Ovye’s sonorous voice. You can almost see the artist shaking his head as he reflects soberly: “Na for my hand the blunt die pass. I catch cruise. I lose guard fast. My mind, е wonder, wonder, wonder. About yonder, yonder, yonder.” On the next track, “Anini,” Ovye pipes out a confession in staccato:[My mental health], it deteriorates,” after which there is a dramatic pause, before ending with the warning “chasing the storm chasing you… don’t be the type gone too soon.”

On “Dey,” Ovye delivers an instruction to listeners to “run like hell. Don’t return, even when it hurts to see the ones you love waste away.” As the song builds, Ovye lets them in on the motivation behind his instruction: “dey your dey/lane,” which is roughly translated as stay focused on yourself. It’s clear that he’s laser-focused on uncovering the intentions of a lover and by extension, discovering his true self: “In case I fail to return when I do go in search for more, at heart, I’m yours.” This sorrow gives way to the aggression in the next track, “4th Exodus,” where the artist’s alliteration beats a drum. With layered yet distinct vocals, he repeatedly questions, “Is wickedness sweet?” and answers both “all the time.” With a plaintive chorus and sharp verses, Ovye conjures a playground of lithe instrumentals before chanting in Hausa: “If we’re done here, we’ll go home…to our hole of play…to our hole of gambling.”

As the album builds, the anger from the preceding track gives way to bargaining in the sixth track titled “A Gathering.” Over a distinctly Nigerian praise-and-worship rhythm, Ovye pleads in falsetto to “deny yourself the right to keep hope alive.And what are the options in this bargain? “Leave or be left behind?/Or Deal or be dealt with?” Side-stepping the bargain, the artist’s chorused voice advocates the third option repeatedly: “Worry!

Ovye is most vulnerable on “Gone 2 Soon,” a singular behind-the-curtain moment in the album where he shows love without defences. With the tenderness one finds at the end of weeping, Ovye speaks to a lost, loved one: “Anini, I will take my admiration of you with me where I’m going.” Attentive to the economy of sound and silence, his music is reminiscent of the experimentation with Soul and rhythm one finds in artists of the same ilk including Moses Sumney, Jon Bap and Benjamin Clementine. For ‘RTUP,’ Ovye only admits to direct inspiration from growing up in the church, including gospel classics Women of Faith and Panam Percy Paul, the Nigerian Neo-soul singer Lindsey Abudei, soul legends Sade and Erykah Badu and the South African Makhafula Vilakazi’s spoken-word album I Am Not Going Back to the Township.

Without understanding Hausa, the title of this album sounds like a royal title, an effect that venerates the title’s literal translation: “In the Butt-hole of Ungwan Pama.” (Ungwan Pama is the town in Southern Kaduna where the artist grew up.) ‘RTUP’ offers no easy consolation for anyone going through it, but carries an earnestness of heart and a strong voice unafraid of its panoramic range, tenderness and pain. It allows its listener to go to places they may not be brave enough to go otherwise: back home again. As the album’s final lines say: “Yaron baba na da yaron uban baba na.” / “This noise being made is ours, but it is not done yet.”