I’ll be the first to admit, I’d never heard of Mary Akpa before 2017. That’s a damn shame because as far as Nigerians with a distinct point of view and interesting music she is right up there with the best of them. She was born in Nigeria, raised in the United States, it seems that duality always produces interesting perspective. Akpa has been active as musician she was 18, discovered by the defunct Arista Records under the tutelage of the revered Clive Davis. She’s done almost every genre professionally, from Acapella to Electronic Dance Music and has always imbued every song with a voice that stands with the blues/jazz greats. Personally she reminds me of the Prince anointed Lianne La Havas, never better company.
She put out a debut EP ‘Brave’ as a solo artist in 2013 and now four years later, she’s following it with her sophomore effort, an EP called ‘Unseen’. There is so much to unpack on Unseen, every song is a literal gem and Akpa shows her technical skill and creative range on the EP’s six songs that while experimental, all have uniting bluesy jazz undertones. Here are the essentials from ‘Unseen’
It is a sign of how much you trust the integrity of your work as an artist to put your powerful song as the album closer. Collide has all the hallmarks of a great enduring ballad; soft beginnings that build into a powerful chorus, teasing a crescendo, but deliberately delivering. The result is a song that stirs up feelings of longing, of need and anticipation, that urges you to give it a second spin and perhaps a third and maybe find that collision Akpa sings so eloquently about. And my God, those adlibs. It’s a marvel.
You Stole My Heart
The skippy guitar that forms the soul of this song is so reminiscent of Lianne La Havas that I had to do a double take. Akpa rides that guitar and that melody with razor sharp lyrics and a chune that stole my heart. I love how she dips into the minors unexpectedly and returns to the major chords before you can settle. It kept me on my toes and it should do the same to you. I was already humming this tune before it even ended.
Ka M Kuo Me (Empty)
Not sure if this is Igbo or not, but it is the song with non-english title. It is also the album’s only true torch song, and my Mary Akpa writes a mean torch song.
Twist a wrench on my soul.
That’s one hell of an opening line. Ka M Kuo Me is bass heavy, and resides almost entirely in the minor chords, lending the kind of melancholy that a song that tackles the kind of self loathing and loss this one does need. Subtle percussions and occasional electronic manipulation for vocal reverb keeps the song modern while honoring all the touchstones of a great torch song. She dug so deep to find him empty, but it gave us this song, so she won after all.
Plus that breakdown at the tail end of the song, complete with layered vocals for a choral feel is like Christmas in July, totally unexpected but definitely worth it.
Listen to ‘Unseen’ Here.