Anyone who follows singer and The Voice Nigeria alum Nonso Bassey on Instagram could tell that something was brewing. Over the last month, he consistently teased a new project, splashing his Insta stories with the numbers ‘411’, dragging out a delicious build up. For the fans who had discovered him when he left his heart on stage during his audition in 2016, the auguries were clear, a new single was coming. His debut single, a somewhat incredulous tidbit considering Bassey has been hyper-visible in the two years since he reached the finals of the beloved music talent show.
I personally had wondered how he would introduce himself to his fans. A first single can be a tenuous territory and can either make or break an artist. News had also trickled in that his record contract with Universal Music Group Nigeria, which had lain dormant since the show had suddenly come back into play. Considering the musical trajectories Bassey’s fellow The Voice Nigeria alumni had taken under taken to capitalize on fame from the series, my predictions leaned strongly towards saccharine afropop. His song choices during the Voice Nigeria were diverse enough that they couldn’t help with predictions either. We all just had to wait to see.
Two things were immediately apparent when Nonso Bassey announced his debut single on the second of February, just in time for Valentine’s Day. He is just as compelling as he was on the Voice, and Universal Music Group Nigeria is giving its artists the creative freedom to set their sights on a global audience.
“411” is a prime example of sleight of hand; a catchy title that baits us into giving the single a listen and a switch that delivers one hell of a punch. Nonso Bassey goes for broke with a sweeping piano ballad, produced by the talented Johnny Drille, himself a talent show alum and well aware of the pressures to water down. Stripped of accouterments, Bassey opens himself up to us once more, asking an unnamed lover for honesty in a way that suggests this is a request that has already been denied. “411” is as much a showcase of Bassey’s vocal range as it is an earnest offering, his voice dipping into guttural moans during the song’s unstructured verses before he flits into his upper register, careening to the song’s climax with urgency that underplays Bassey’s surprising control. He asks, over a gently plucked piano ditty shored with swelling violin runs, for reciprocity, or at least the illusion of it. It is quite the spell.
Only a handful of Nigerian musicians have created ballads so powerful that they were able to steal us away from the hypnotic thump of our incessant Afrobeat march, and with “411”, Nonso Bassey seems poised to join those elite ranks.
Stream “411” here.
Edwin eats his rice and cabbages. Tweet at him@edgothboy