Love is never easy for the Nonso Amadi narrator

The new Nonso Amadi single ‘No Crime’ is again about love. It reminds us that love is no fairy-tale to this remarkable Nigerian talent.

His women are never really convinced they should be with his men. And if they do manage to be together, you have to believe that such a union happens only after the song is over.

Because this is a continuous theme in his music, I have reproduced a review of his older single ‘Radio’ below. I have also included a few lines from the new song and brief commentary at the end.

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Nonso Amadi’s ‘Radio’ plays on one of the tricks of R&B songwriting: It closes the gap between lover and listener.

The tradition has R&B acts conjure a seduction of both listener and lover, but Nonso Amadi’s narrator claims he just wants to communicate. “Imma write to you,” he sings. “Make you wanna write back.” Should be easy. But love has never come easily to the Nonso narrator.

His breakout song, ‘Tonight’, was about a fraught affair. ‘Kwasia’ with Eugy has both men questioning a cheating lover. ‘Early’, from Juls’ Leap of Faith album, perhaps his most carnal of cameos, has a somewhat unsure question at its core: “Is that an invitation to take you out?” On ‘Don’t’, from Amadi’s collaborative EP with Odunsi the Engine, the chorus is an anti-romance plea: “Don’t make me love you. I don’t want to love you.”*

‘Radio’, which was released in 2016 but got a video the following year, has Amadi working again with Juls. The producer supplies a cool palette of muffled percussion over which a brief strum of strings streak through at intervals.

Over Juls’s beat, Nonso Amadi calmly sings assurances to a lover (and whoever else is listening). “If you turn it loud,” he says on the chorus. “I’m always there.” But, in keeping with Amadi’s tough-love theme, the song’s video, an apparently hand-held production, tells a not quite happy story of two former lovers, interspersed with several moving images of life in the city.

The video’s retro aesthetic sees Amadi send a physical letter. And when the video’s love interest listens to music, she turns to a radio — as the song says — not an online streaming service. An ironic thing as Nonso Amadi first found fame on Sound Cloud. The lady appears to wrestle with what to do with Amadi’s letter but later burns the sheet over which his words are written.

Of course, the radio remains. And if a lover’s words can get through to his beloved, the possibility of romance remains.

Nonso Amadi has spoken of seeking to make African culture better understood by the world. The way to do this, he said in an interview, is “mainly by fusing it with…western influences”. That he is a child of two worlds is obvious from his music, but he also appears to be finding his feet in two sections of Nigerian pop music: Along with working with Odunsi the Engine, he has appeared on Banky W’s Songs About U album. The implication is that he has both mainstream and alternative appeal. So while he might be a long way from where he’s headed, he does have sufficient support from his country’s artists.

Thus, in some ways, figures in the Nigerian music industry (and Nigerians at large), to borrow words from ‘Radio’, are “out here rooting for” Nonso Amadi. It’s really nice having him on our radio.

First published by Music In Africa here.

*His July 2018 song, ‘No Crime’, has the Nonso Amadi narrator wooing a woman who wouldn’t respond. He sings: “ Everyone knows I’m in love / No crime to get a little back / Everyone knows I’ve been dialling / No crime to get a call back…” It’s a good song but you don’t want to be in the man’s shoes.

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