It’s a struggle, being a Nigerian in Nigeria. In 2019, there are many reasons to feel a depressingly high level of frustration at the government and everything it represents. Also frustrating, is the bulk of the music which permeates the country: one would expect relatable themes of socio-political struggles to go with the times we are in. One, however, would have to be Japanese, because in Nigeria, we cannot come and go and kill ourselves.
Feel Good vibes has been pimped to its fullest, and milked for all its worth. Artistes, rather than carry the country on their shoulders, choose to make the feet tap and the body move. It is on this, this enjoyability of music, that Teni, born Teniola Apata, has built her music. The Fader described it (her music) as “catchy pop songs designed to lift you up“.
A strong fusion of traditionalist African sounds and contemporary Pop, she has proven herself to be a keen student of the sonics, taking the game by storm ever since the release of her 2017 hit ‘Fargin“. Teni would go on to write what is popularly considered one of the best songs of Davido’s career ‘Like Dat’ – a partnership that might have been directly influenced by the fact that she was signed on to famous Davido-affiliate, the Nigerian producer Shizzi’s ‘Magic Fingers Records’. She however, left the label and signed to Dr. Dolor Entertainment, a partnership she has described as ‘flexible’.
Ever since that break-out, Teni has embraced the politics of her presence in the music industry. How she does this? By being ignorant to the politics – she knows of course, that a female artiste has to sell a sexual appeal, and be fashioned for the male gaze. She instead, refers to this politics, her life, one she doesn’t have to prove its validity to anyone. A real life example of being comfortable in one’s skin, Teni has charmed the nation into loving her, by virtue of her realness.
She is famously a clown: her social media videos are proof of this. Further proof: to announce the release of what would be her debut project, she shared a clip of her acting pregnant, seemingly screaming for help and, when her helpers arrive, she asks them, “What is dropping?” and they all scream “Billionaire!” As if we hadn’t gotten enough of a jaw-breaking rib-shifting comic impression, Teni asks that Wizkid, her boyfriend, be called. And sure enough, someone in the video says: “Call Wizkid!” All these and more, presents the vibrancy of the Teni brand – even, it could be considered more than a brand: to many who have encountered her ‘vibe’ personally, she is as real as they come. And this has endeared many to the act who, most fortunately, has incredible music going for her.
To examine her debut project, one would take reverse steps to the times she got it wrong: the concept of “Sugar Mummy” was in-brand, but its execution lacked consistency; she also, infamously, was warned by critics to release her album when she was “popping”, when she toured the world like a fancy princess. These are undoings, but Teni, with her latest moves, have unknotted them.
“Billionaire” was ‘the’ single. Produced by the extraordinary Pheelz, it is a mid-tempo vibe which steals back her place into hearts that, by some rare chance, was unstolen by “Power Rangers”. With the release of the song, which would later become this project’s title, she forced her name back into many important discussions, and it seemed that, no matter what, we cannot do without a Teni.
Almost a minute into the opener, “Nowo“, Teni eases into a celebratory Fuji beat that samples her own Askamanya. The production overall, continues this pattern and the sunniness compliments her vocals perfectly. For the occasion, she extrapolates a King Sunny Ade, and what wonderful music!
The opener track sets the pace for the rest of the six-track EP, expectedly. Where she was subversively showy of her elements there, “Complain” has no such humility. Over a bouncy beat, she sings: “If I no make money, wetin I gain?/ Pull up in a blue range” This song of affluence plays into the grander narrative of being rich – Teni is, right now, undoubtedly rich. “Super Woman” however downplays this, all in the name of love. Here, she sings as she always does – passionately, but the theme is rather tired, and the song a forgettable moment.
“Shayo“, however, is tireless, and presents the most danceable minutes of the project. A lively production behind Teni‘s lively voice, the song would surely bring the best out of boyfriend Wizkid – it is a collaborative prospect she must consider. The last song, “Online“, possesses glossy Pop condiment even as there are the subtle undertones of guitar riffs and percussions. For the singing, Teni comes correct, as she expresses loving solidarity to, as I presume, a lover. No doubt it is a fitting close to the album.
Teni‘s debut project is a strong one, a well-crafted EP which plays to her strengths. Unlike the few times of the past where she played her hand on experiments, she is more careful here: no song sounds forced, or out of character, and it is expected that the project will pull in the numbers, by virtue of her likeability and star power; undoubtedly her talent, too. And although in a near future, someone will conjecture that Teni makes one type of song, it is a song Teni is really good at making.