Four takeaways from Tekno’s new album, ‘The More The Better’

The re-energised pop star returns with his best project yet

When Tekno finally shared his debut album, ‘Old Romance’, it felt more like a long overdue item being ticked off a checklist, rather than a marquee event fitting for a pivotal figure in Afropop. Released in late 2020, four years after he helped reshape the sound of Nigerian pop with a handful of smash hits, including the forever classic “Pana” and producing Davido’s “IF,” the album lacked the trademark spark that made him one of the hottest hit-makers around.

Maybe it would be too much to ask for the singer/producer to recapture that same magic and stretch it out across an entire full-length, but the framing of the project was an indicator that Tekno did understand the narrative function of a multi-song drop. What ‘Old Romance’ lacked was generally compelling execution, a concept project about holding on to the ideals of wholesome romance in these times. On the more intriguing songs like “Uptown Girl” and “Catalia,” Tekno’s recognisable mix of levity and heartfelt charm makes for delightful listens, but for the most part there isn’t that much insight to be gleaned from the album.

‘The More The Better’, Tekno’s new sophomore album, doesn’t come with the sort of high stakes that accompanies a debut LP and, to its overwhelming advantage, a low bar to clear its predecessor. The singer takes advantage of those circumstances to deliver a project that meets his standards as a hit-maker, and is even surprising in its sonic width. This is Tekno having as much fun as he can on wax, while remaining an everyman’s artist with his perspective on love and life. Here are four striking takeaways.


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Tekno will always be for the masses

Very few artists poignantly capture the human angle of the Nigerian condition like Tekno. While they might be described as “deep cuts,” within a catalogue filled with preppy romantic and lascivious hits, several of his songs have seen him Nigeria’s socio-political ills from a purely pro-people stance. On his new album, there’s nothing quite as surgical as “Sudden” or as fiery as “O Wa,” co-headlined with Falz, but it has its fair share of resonant moments.

On the Dido-sampling opener, “Twice Shy,” Tekno sings of resilience from a person perspective: “Man been through the darkness of the tunnel, at the end there was light/situation could’ve held me down, but delay is not denial.” The lack of specificity will make it easier for listeners to work their own personal feelings into the song, aided by the interpolation an African China classic. It’s the same M.O on the zen-seeking lead single, “Peace of Mind,” and the spiritually-inclined “Play,” where he further acknowledges how Nigeria isn’t optimised to enable the dreams of many of its young people.

The romance isn’t old; it isn’t new either

At his best, Tekno’s love-themed songs find the middle ground between stand-in-the-rain-R&B invocations and a touch of Nigerian male solipsism that doesn’t come across as overbearing. The hook of 2015’s “Duro,” where he promises to “show you love that you’ve never seen” and already dreams of a family with kids, is one prime example. On ‘The More The Better’ closer, “Can’t Chase,” he invokes the infamous Folake from “Pana” as a way to drive home the message that he’s not interested in any messy romantic situations.

It’s the first time in his career he’s pointedly addressing the complicatedness of love in an era where situationships and all kinds of games abound. Considering the many songs of adulation and admiration and devotion before it, there’s a subtle redressing how listeners might come to view Tekno in relation to romance. With undeniable slappers like “Lokation” and “Permit,” many will easily recognise the troubadour whose music is primed to light up dancefloors. However, without any explicitly rigid frameworks, there’s no feeling that the singer is selling us an agenda. Like the rest of us, Tekno has his own ideals and they’re translated into songs that fit within the self-assured scope of this album.


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The return of a “King of Pop”

Tekno is widely known as the populariser of the “pon-pon” sound that revolutionised Nigerian pop, which basically mean that at some point he dictated pulse of mainstream music. In a way, he still does, considering the easily traceable evolution of what’s hot these days. On ‘The More The Better’ standout, “King of Pop,” he flexes his ability to effortlessly deliver club-ready music. The tricks are recognisable: catchy one-liners, snappy melodies and a liberal use of onomatopoeia to fill up negative space. The music is new territory, though, a makossa beat with some Afrobeat embellishments.

Part of his credentials as a pop savant is Tekno’s preference for colour-packed beats, and he plays around with even more sonic shades from across Afropop. The title track has a salsa-infused swing to it, “Flashing Lights” is a dancehall-inflected bop, “Borrow” is driven by a red-blooded folk-pop groove, “Peace of Mind” is heavily indebted to Kizomba, and there’s a mid-section run featuring log drum-indented arrangements. Tekno is at his most adventurous, aided by Tuzi, DJ Coublon, Krizbeatz and more soundmen who help make sure these forays are less risqué choices and more a showcase of mastery.

A notable change in vocal texture

A few years back, Tekno dealt with a serious vocal ailment, which made it difficult to record or perform music. In getting his chords fixed, the change in the texture of his voice is evident. While there’s always been a light rasp in his voice, it mainly added edge to the buttery croons and youthful charm of his melodies. Now, his voice is hoarser than it’s ever been. You can tell on “Regina,” which features CKay, whose “emo-afrobeats” style is partly indebted to Tekno’s pon-pon reign. On that song, the contrast in tone shows how much Tekno’s voice has changed. For what it’s worth, he’s adapted his songwriting to fit. In place of melodies that used to lilt, he’s leaning even more on making his lines pop, whether it’s by adding a little more verve to his performance (“Borrow”), or singing his lines with a lived-in touch (“Can’t Chase”). It’s further proof of how ‘The More The Better’ shows Tekno as a malleable performer whose identity will remain intact as he ages forward.