My Playlist and Some Thoughts, Vol. 1

Not all of them—can’t possibly write out all of them—but most of what I’m listening to right now, the songs I’ve played the most, alphabetically.

“Africa,” Karl Wolf, feat. Culture

I can’t remember where I first heard this song but it completely stole my heart. Before now, the last time I listened to it was at the end of 2016. But weeks ago, I stumbled on a Rolling Stone article about the band Weezer covering the original song by Toto. I’d never heard the original but I loved Karl Wolf’s version with the rap interpolation. I can’t wait to blast it from speakers at a party.

“Africa,” Toto

And after I got Wolf’s version and listened to Weezer’s cover, curiosity led me to the original song, a hit back in 1982. At first I didn’t want to have two versions of one song in my phone so I pondered which to discard and, eventually, couldn’t decide. I just might prefer this to all other versions, including Wolf’s. The buildup is swooping, swaggering, and catches you like a wind.

“Beautiful People,” Chike

Heard his song at an event and asked the DJ. I was pleasantly surprised to learn it’s by Chike, whose run on The Voice Nigeria in 2016 hooked me: I still haven’t forgotten him singing Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.” The lyrics, about choosing the people you love and choosing from among those who say they’d stick by you, are brilliant. The chorus is that perfect mix of melody and meaning: For me I hold, for me I hold my baby/ Na why I hold, na why I hold my baby o. I don’t know if it has a video yet but I can see a concept and scenes in my head already, something visually alluring to match the sound. This might end up being my favourite song of 2018.

“Colombia Heights,” Wale, feat. J. Balvin

One of two other songs that might become my favourite of 2018. The first time I heard this song, I was at Odenigwe, a student community bordering the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I was standing in front of a shop where I was to print something. It came from a barbing salon down the road, and in that hot afternoon, the sun clear as clear, was a balm in my ears. It was the beats, the rap in Spanish. I asked the barber. He told me. I was surprised the song had not been a hit, an all-over-the-charts thing—I’m often surprised the world doesn’t pick up songs I love.

“Hola Hola,” Sugarboy

The moment I remember was in 2016 when a friend, who was not yet a friend then, played this song and I asked whose it is. In some ways, this is one of my personal celebration songs. I play and let myself roll off into imagined futures—particularly in the seconds between 2:06 and 2:26. It has replaced Lil Kesh’s “Shoki” (the remix with Davido and Olamide) as the one song that is permanently resident in my phone. I haven’t felt the slightest trace of boredom with it.

“Leave the Light On,” Tom Walker

The day I first heard this song, on TV, I was preparing to go to an evening arts event, which I ended up skipping what I was afterwards told was its main segment so I could take a brief walk so I could listen more to this song. I find that the sound reinforces the lyrics, about his refusal “to lose another friend to drugs” and depression.

“Let Me,” August Chuks

I heard it the same day I heard “Leave the Light On,” some three hours later. I watched the singer perform it, mightily impressed by his voice. It was on replay the morning after, before I deleted it, afraid I would get fed up too soon. It’s been in my phone ever since.

“Moonlight,” XXXTentacion

My appreciation of XXXTentacion’s music was unlikely. He’d just been shot, receiving both sympathy and accusations of domestic violence and homophobia, deservedly so. I’d never been interested in the new rappers, the mumble rappers, these young guys with plaited hair and tattooed faces that an acquaintance calls “Spotify Rappers.” But one weekend I was in my hometown, I just looked up XXX. I read most of what I found on his music and legacy. I thought: Why not try this? So I went on YouTube and watched compilations of his songs. When I heard “Moonlight,” I thought: This is weird like I like weird. Spotlight, moonlight/ nigga why you trippin’ get your mood right: It’s my ringtone. But before “Moonlight,” I had his “Changes” and “Sad!” and couldn’t connect to “Sad!” I didn’t even think it was interesting. But “Changes” was undeniably beautiful.

“Red Alert,” DJ Bobbi x Nyanda

I have been to Lagos three times—the first for a visit, the second quite unintended, the third when I heard this song, in a taxi in Ikoyi, and brought out my phone and turned on my Shazam. Nyanda is one half of Brick & Lace, whose song “Love is Wicked” was a favourite nearly ten years ago.

“Timmy Turner,” Desiigner

The first time “Timmy Turner” sang in my ears, I couldn’t pin it down, whether it was stimulating enough. As I sat working on my laptop, waiting impatiently for it to finish, that bridge kicked in: that step-down of beats, that moderated groove, and suddenly I found the mumbled lyrics intriguing. It was my version of music magic. I fell into it. I didn’t know what the lyrics were, not with the words mumbled and murmured, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to—a few times I looked up lyrics of beloved songs only for them to lose that meaning when said lyrics turned out flat, ordinary. But I looked up these and the infatuation was complete: Timmy, Timmy, Timmy Turner/ he be wishin’ for a burner/ to kill everybody walkin’. It is songs like this that make me a fan of a musician. This even when I didn’t—and still don’t—like the man’s “Panda” which was quite the hit.

“Wait,” DJ Neptune, feat. Kizz Daniel

I have a liking for DJ Neptune’s sound, enough to want to do a post on his collaborations with Mr Eazi (“Mia Mia”), Runtown (“Why”), and of course this one with Kizz Daniel—and I still might. The first 50 seconds used to make me feel this jolliness of the mind.

The Self-centric, Subversive Poetry of J. K. Anowe

It is a poignant joy to discover yet another young writer living on the continent with the talent and potential to measure with the established. The first time I read J. K. Anowe, one morning almost two years ago, we were in a small room, in a mutual friend’s apartment, and I had just met him. The friend had given me an unpublished poem of his to read. This was 2016, a time when I had only just re-found my interest in poetry. So I read it. There was something about his sensibility, like something rolling inside an egg, able to but reluctant to burst the shell. I didn’t say so then, partly because I didn’t grasp what it was entirely, not enough to comment on it. Months later, I was sitting before my laptop, working or pondering, when I settled on another of his poems. Six or seven phrases in, I felt a caving in me.

the gun speaks to its bullet—

go into the world          & be the storm

be exit signs             etched into Jesus

(from “Etc.”)

My mood deserted me. Was it the tone? Was it the abruptness? This young man was writing about something different. He was writing about our psyches, our mental illnesses and suicidal pulls, about our bodily indulgences, about masturbation, and in a language different from the lyrical-realism wording popularized by Warsan Shire.

it wasn’t a metaphor when I said i’d give you the world to look at…

i’m sorry i jerked off before we made it to the bed sorrier this poem of a future long past still is a knife stuck in my windpipe i’m only a man because god wore damaged boys inside-out so well

(from “You Sing of a Leaving”)

J. K. Anowe’s poetry is an interrogation of mental make-up, delivered in a voice grounded in vulnerability and deep existential pain. He has taken subjects usually overlooked and turned them into a statement on the fragility of humanity, so accurately that his work has become an entry point to an emerging sub-tradition in the poetry of Nigeria’s new generation. It is a sub-tradition preoccupied with the visceral, the personal, and the psychological—with digging into the oneself. Pegged in the psyche, its introspection—the focus on speaking into oneself rather than speaking out to the world—is an outlet for a confessional generation not afraid to voice its internal struggles and flaws, to make art of it. Given the emotional and psychological state of its voice, the wording of his work, the abrupt clarity of it, demonstrates psychological acuity.

it gets uglier    but please don’t let me be lonely   i’ve danced  & day

dreamt these moments     our moments—   coffee burning grace into

palate

(from “In Stray Conversation with Laura”)

He first came to notice in 2016, through Praxis Magazine’s poetry chapbook series, the series that would afterwards gift us Romeo Oriogun’s groundbreaking Burnt Men. His own chapbook, The Ikemefuna Tributaries, received attention from young Nigerian poets who enthusiastically responded, on Praxis’ invitation, in another chapbook. When we launched the inaugural Brittle Paper Awards in August, 2017, our editors chose J.K. Anowe, from a pool of other excitingly talented poets, as the winner of the Brittle Paper Award for Poetry, for his Expound poem “Credo to Leave.” In the midst of some of the finest poets working on the continent, his work is, simply put, different.

Do not believe what you see on TV

        I’m so afraid of being happy   it is the closest thing to shame

                 I will lie & I will disguise

                         Turn off the lights     & fall abysmal

I feel nothing       but beautiful

Gorgeous god          I want to love without changing myself

(from “Credo to Leave”)

“Subversive” is an often misapplied term in art, lifted and landed on work that is in fact conventional in many ways but one. It is a word I use with caution. J. K. Anowe’s poetry is subversive because, before him, it was unusual to dramatize mental illness in Nigerian poetry in a way that resonates without ceding artistic merit, in a way that thoroughly usurps the primacy of traditionally grand subjects: politics, culture, identity, love. Because now that he is doing it and doing it this well, a host of his contemporaries, some influenced by his work, have opened theirs to directly engaging realities hitherto deemed unworthy of attention—and of course this confessionality is a generational trait.

Mow into the void / into the harvesting / of the wounded / the almost

dead / break into their longings / nectared with retch / not so

much / as to denounce / your loneliness

but to keep it / a warning pause / of red—an infection / in the wound

you’d let / this fracturing run hyphened / through your veins / begin here

in reverse / afterall / how old could / one’s self-destruct game / really

get

(from “Hundred Carats of Pained”)

He tells me he has finished his first full-length collection, titled Colour between a Wine Stain and a Bruise. In the poems within, he speaks for us.

Today begins as the last day alive—god lemme not live to see the day i die    you said what

Ever we let fly out of ark       whatever we put out there in search of love & land will come

Back       but we live unfastened inseparable lives           like a bracket in a bracket—

(from “Pseudonym as Escape Mechanism”)

His poetry is a revolt. One refreshingly beautiful.