Naming an album, a debut in particular, especially within the context of the country, and even in other African societies, is hugely significant.
●2nd April 2023
As a nation, though divided by deep, distinct histories, dialects, palates, religion e.t.c, we’re in unison when it comes to the appreciation and sustenance of culture; symbolic, colorful weddings, respect, use of language and other customs are the thick, congruent threads that run through our distinctly rich and varying cultures. Naming too, especially human beings. Even though naming is notably more symbolic amongst the Yorubas — Isomo Loruko, which translates to “the occasion of naming a child”, is what the Yorubas call it, a vital ceremony that takes place seven days after birth — it is generally an important part of our culture as a people. In his 2020 essay, Wole Soyinka, the famous playwright, poet and essayist, writes: “The Yoruba happens to be one of those cultures where a child’s “naming” is more than simply according a new, yet amorphous entity a convenient handle for reference and identification.” He further posits: “Naming — to some degree — reveals even more the nature and aspirations of the name-givers than prayers or predictions for the docile entity, and may be regarded an embedded social agenda”
As I earlier stated, while the process and significance of naming is not lost on the Yoruba’s especially, the culture of naming is collective, as a lot of our traditions are informed by similar ideals. With this thought process in mind, naming an album, a debut in particular, especially within the context of the country, and even in other African societies, is also hugely significant. Like Soyinka states: “Naming — to some degree — reveals even more the nature and aspirations of the name-givers”. More often than not, debut album titles from these parts, the older ones at least, are usually declarational or aspirational, as opposed to the artsy or poetic choice that much newer acts tend to opt for.
Wizkid, at the period when his debut album Superstar was released, was undoubtedly the talk of the town; but to have predicted the many heights he’s reached and continues to reach now, at the time of release, would have been met with a justified skepticism. The 31-year-old, however, opted for that name, cliche as it might seem; an hopeful declaration and at the same time a cocky announcement that foregrounds the delusional confidence that took him from the narrow streets of Ojuelegba to the halls of the 02 Arena, the famous 20,000 capacity venue in the Greenwich Peninsula area of South London where he comfortably sold out three nights in a row just a couple years ago, feats reserved for superstars like himself. For Burna Boy, the aspiration was unequivocal: Leaving an Impact for Eternity(L.I.F.E) and the way he’d chosen was through his fluid music. He’s wrestled his personal demons, both publicly and privately, and they’ve sometimes threatened to stand in the way of his aspiration or better still, compromise his cherished goal; his patent talent and skill has however helped him achieve that which he both declared and aspired. If anything, without question, he’d go down as one of the most important figures in a genre that continues to take the world by storm; his weighty contribution key to the proliferation of the ever-changing sound that has now permeated the different corners of the globe.
Wande Coal’s debut title is instantly accompanied with discernible history. Mushin 2 Mo’Hits is a declaration of his storied journey from a congested slum ten kilometers north of Lagos’ core — where many, if not most, have hopes and dreams similar to that of Coal’s — to signing to one of the country’s premier labels at the time. Similarly, Timaya’s debut title True Story is rife with history, although, unlike M2M, the name does not give it away immediately. The lead single “Dem Mama” which gives a moving and melodic account of the gruesome 1999 Odi massacre is emblematic of the kind of records that the album houses. True Story was a palpable declaration of creative intent from the South South region of the country as much as a history lesson about those parts.
A bold and ambitious choice for a debut album title doesn’t obviously guarantee success. Take Barry Back for example, Barry Jhay’s debut; a daring title that didn’t exactly deliver on its promise. While the soulful singer might share a resemblance with the legendary Ayinde Barrister, his dad, and he is fairly talented in his own rights, he does not possess his father’s musical gravitas, innovation, his unmatched ability to produce the finest paens or technique for that matter. Or Solidstar, the Delta-born singer, who labelled himself and his debut One in A Million. There is, however, a Yoruba saying that goes thus: “Oruko a maa ro omo” which literally translates to “The name may mold the child”. In the context of the topic here, many of the genre’s forerunners didn’t take a laissez-faire approach, especially in titling their debuts. M.I wanted us to Talk About it, about him, and that’s what we did; Yemi Alade declared herself the King Of Queens; Banky W announced he was Back In The Buildin’ while Kizz Daniel declared a New Era.
Of recent, the choice of titles for major debuts have been more suggestive, thematic and even sometimes tedious: Laughters, Tears and Goosebumps, Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic, Sex > Love, Boy Alone, 19 & Dangerous, Mr Money With The Vibe. Of course, i’m not implying that the title of an album could determine its kismet, even though it could influence it, but check this: Rema’s debut, Rave and Roses, for all its success and fame, isn’t adequately titled in my humble opinion. Admittedly, Roses cover the romantic and intimate side of the album while the former, Rave, isn’t adequately represented on the album, at least sonically. Regardless, Rave & Roses will go down in history, even if not for its standalone quality, but for the mere fact that it’s the debut of one of the most skilled acts the country has ever seen; a singer and rapper whose meteoric rise and journey is both inspirational and alluring. Now think about it, ten years from now, even if nothing much changes, or you don’t think it matters what you title your debut, I think we can all agree that it’ll be more reverberating and make for a much cooler story if it was titled Divine.