Her debut album, This Is Me was critically acclaimed as it was nominated multiple times at the 2018 Headies. While she later ‘thanked us for the set up,’ she continued to rise and earned the nickname, ‘Queen of Afro-house.’ Her music found its way to international acts and DJs like Black Coffee, DJ Snake, Diplo and Timbaland.
‘Maradona’ and ‘Sicker’ gained continental popularity and the woman won hearts and souls. As she got more popular, her stage performances got better, but she struggled to break free of that ‘Queen of Afro-House’ brand/tag. Over the past two years, her music has given off an aura that Niniola wants to stay true to that identity and brand.
Her latest album, Colors and Sounds charts that course once again. As its title suggests, it seems Niniola simply wants this album to reflect all the sides and subgenres of African House music with her artistry at the epicentre of it all.
On one hand, it’s a smart decision. In a world where everybody simply wants to create ‘concepts’ and ‘conceptual’ albums instead of simply making music, this simplicity is laudable.
Asides from that, African music is becoming an exportable commodity and is forming a core part of the global sonic zeitgeist. It then becomes important for artists to have an identity and a brand that speaks to the soul of their craft. Niniola is trying to stay true to hers while exploring all the other sides of that brand to present a rounded, compact and multifaceted African House music.
She achieves that. Colours and Sounds is built on Afro-House, Afro-pop, Kwaito, Gqom, Amapiano and Doomba. However, the problem is that in Niniola’s bid for identity, she failed to balance the music with a unique spark. Aside from the singles on Colors and Sounds, it’s very hard to find a genuinely excellent song that truly sticks.
While the songs on this album are built on impressive bits of production and Niniola delivered like a pro, resonance is lacking. Niniola isn’t as hot as she once was and that might be playing a role in judgement, but that’s the same reason why the music needed to truly resonate and it didn’t.
It also seems like Niniola’s bid for identity has resulted in a problematic sonic pigeonhole for her. In the opening 20 minutes of this album, we had three Amapiano songs – ‘Addicted,’ ‘Look Like Me’ and ‘Oh Sharp.’ While the sound has been trendy, it’s not exactly broken through in Nigeria – except Rema’s ‘Woman.’
In a Nigerian soundscape that’s getting increasingly unpredictable, fresh sounds are too risky – even when they’re trendy like Amapiano. The result is that Niniola went for brand and trend over quality of music. Her major fan base is still in Nigeria, even though she has some stans in other parts of Africa.
The result of Colors and Sounds is that a large section of her Nigerian fan base will struggle to relate to this music. While the diversity is good for Niniola’s branding and it will likely serve her well from an international optics perspective, it doesn’t bode well for her fading status as a Nigerian superstar. You can’t lose the home front while trying to chase the away front.
But in fairness, Colors and Sounds isn’t as remotely bad as some people are making it out to be. They have equated their lack of relatability to Niniola’s brand of music on this album to failure and that’s not the case.
A lot of Nigerians will say a song like ‘Look Like Me’ is a terrible song, but the truth is that it’s not – they just can’t relate. This beat and repetitive, looped vocal delivery is commonplace in South African House music.
Equally, ‘Night and Day’ featuring Nonso Amadi, ‘Innocent,’ ‘So Serious’ and the Timbaland-produced ‘Fire’ are still good songs – albeit mostly lacking excellence.
Some of that bad reception is due to Niniola’s lack of a toxic stan-base that drives certain points home. Nigeria has seen some terrible albums elevated to otherworldly levels this year and we will see more. This album is not in the league of terrible albums, it just lacks a defining factor in a pool of median music with a common denominator for dance.
Timbaland produced two songs on this album. If this happened to other artists with greater PR, they would blow it out of proportion and use it to gloss over the actual quality of their music. That said, it’s not exactly reasonable that half of this album has already been released as singles. Niniola’s songwriting also took a huge hit on certain songs.
But when all is said and done, it seems Niniola is dealing with doubts – like all creatives. With all that talent, all she needs is to simply go and make the music she believes in, not one that conforms to her ‘brand’ or one that will make her seem forward-thinking.
In the end, ‘Colours and Sounds‘ feels like serving a pretty looking, gourmet-esque expensive plate of spiceless [lacking atarodo] noodles to a Yoruba man. Niniola also needs a hit, but this album is not poor. Commendably, this album unfolds brilliantly – its album sequencing is amazing.
• 0-1.9: Flop
• 2.0-3.9: Near fall
• 4.0-5.9: Average
• 6.0-7.9: Victory
• 8.0-10: Champion
Pulse Rating: /10
Substance and Delivery: 1.1/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.2/2
6.4 – Victory