09 August 2015

Nigeria #1: Where's Johnny?

Nope, we are not looking for Wally nor Waldo today. Nope, we are here to look for Johnny. Who is Johnny? Johnny Depp? Johnny Cash? Johnny Winter? Johnny Knoxville? Johnny Carson? We may never know. But what we do know is that there is some good* music coming up in this post. (*This statement is highly biased and debatable.) This time we are heading to Nigeria.

Wikipedia: Nigeria

It is always a special occasion whenever there is a African post in this blog; this is the fifth post coming from the continent and this blog has been up for nine months now. I have multiple times mentioned (and obviously am going to mention yet again) that I am not very familiar with African music, but in past few months I have made a point to familiarize more with. And I aim to blog more about African music too and for this month I actually have two African blog posts scheduled, so there is that to look out for. But now to Nigeria.

Nigeria is a country in West Africa in the coast of Gulf Of Guinea. It has the population of over 177 million people, making it one of the most populated countries in the world and the most populated one in Africa. So obviously there has to be great music to be found. On a side note, Nigeria is not to be confused with its neighbour Niger, that has more land area, but only a tenth of Nigeria's population. One thing that confused me was how to people from these two countries are called: person from Nigeria is Nigerian and person from Niger is Nigerien. That is the lesson of the day, though I still think I will be having issues when I will be blogging about Nigerien music eventually. But we are good to go with this post.

Here is the first artist of this post: Iyanya. Born as Iyanya Onoyom Mbuk (I am not even attempting to pronounce that) in 1986, he comes from the city of Calabar, that is located at the southeastern parts of Nigeria and of which climate chart I am jealous of (I do not mind the rain if it is warm). Iyanya started his professional career in 2008. He graduated with a Business Management degree, after which he worked at a hotel and a bar while developing his vocals singing karaoke. In 2008 he took part in a reality show singing competition called Project Fame, which he won and that made him famous in Nigeria and abroad.

The first song from Iyanya is Away. It was released in 2014 and to my believe it was a big hit in Nigeria. Iyanya sings in two language: English and Efik. Efik is a Nigerian language spoken by about half million people as native language and it is an official language in the state Cross River State, from where Iyanya comes from. I have no knowledge on the Efik language (honestly, I only now heard about for the first time), but I assume that the none-English parts of the song are in Efik. The song itself is catchy and fun, a bit summery to fit the current season. To me it sounds quite ethnical, partly thanks to the lyrics also.

Iyanya (why is his name so hard to write, even when it looks so simple...) has said he wants to be versatile and do different styles of music. So far he has released two studio albums. His first album is R&B album, while the second album has also more afropop and afrobeat sounds to it too. Afrobeat is a music style that combines traditional music of Nigeria and Ghana with other music styles like jazz, funk and highlife. The last one of those might also be a bit less known genre for most of us, but highlife is a popular genre in West African, drawing inspiration from different African music styles. But yeah, Iyanya wishes to be versatile with his music, which is something I like, since I find it very boring when artists take the safe road of sticking to the same style and not trying out new things.

The other song from Iyanya is called Le Kwa Ukwu. The song was released in 2013 and I think it is safe to assume that the title is in Efik. To that I have guesses as what the title actually means, nor what he is singing about. The song has a sound that even if I did not know who was singing, I would immediately connect to Africa. And I really like it: It is fun and rhythmic. The beat gets stuck into your head and I can clearly imagine the bongo drum players in front of me. I have no idea if there really is bongo drums being played in this song, but that is the feeling I get. Truly enjoyable song.

Iyanya has not released an album after these single releases, so the songs are currently not available on albums.

Ah, the question of the day: Where's Johnny? Brought to you by Yemi Alade. But before we go hunting for Johnny, let's talk about Yemi. Yemi Eberechi Alade is a singer coming from Abia State, that is located in the southeastern parts of Nigeria. Main portion of the state's population is Igbo people, which is also Yemi's mother's origin, while her father is of Yoruba origin. Yemi was born in 1989 and she has an university degree in Geography. In 2005 she debuted as a singer in a girl group called Noty Spices. The group was not very successful and Yemi went on to become a solo singer, hitting famous in 2009 after winning a reality show contest Peak Talent Show. Her debut studio album was released in 2014.

But what about Johnny then? Johnny is the title of Yemi's 2013 single, lead single of her debut album. In the lyrics, Johnny seems to be a bit fly guy: one day he is in Toronto, then the other time in Tokyo. Johnny seems to be a bad guy, ie. talking about wanting to marry Yemi, but disappearing again. And Yemi is looking for him. We do not know much about Johnny and the lyrics of the song are quite messy: English, some African language and French perhaps? Well, that is not much to go on with, but if you see Johnny, let Yemi know, okay?

Johnny was a big hit in many countries right after its release and even before it was officially released. Currently the video has around 25 million views on YouTube. There is also a French version of the song, so I suppose I am not too far off with my guess of the song being partly in French. Johnny is very funny song and highly catchy. It has an ethnical sound (West African sound?) and it sound very interesting, to say the least. And if the song itself is not funny enough, the music video is funny too. Totally weird, but funny. Is this guy actual Johnny or just an actor? Did they catch him long enough to shoot this music video? We may never know.

Okay okay, let's get more serious now. Though this song either is not all that serious. This second song from Yemi is called Taking Over Me. It was released as a single in January this year. I find this song very catchy and I really love the beat. Yemi's vocals sound very interesting here and they fit the music perfectly. I know there is a word I would like to use the describe this sound, but as I can not think of it, I have to go with deep and strong. That is not all that great description, so you just have to listen to it. Taking Over Me has not reached the success of Johnny, but I love this song a lot. Actually I have been listening to this a lot lately and it is my favourite song from Nigeria.

Both Johnny and Taking Over Me are from Yemi's debut album King Of Queens, released in 2014.

Taking Over Me also features a rap part from a rapper called Phyno. Though, as per usual, the guest rap appearance is short, I was interested on looking for more music from Phyno too. Even if my love for Taking Over Me is thanks to Yemi and the producers that made the beat I love, there is a possibility for me to like this guest rapper too. Plus I never skip a change to hear different kinds of music. So did I like this dude?

Phyno is the stage name of Azubuike Chibuzo Nelson, who is a rapper and record producer coming from the Enugu State. (I just now learned that Nigeria's most recent former president's name is Goodluck Jonathan. Oh, these African names.) Phyno is known for rapping in the Igbo language. While in school, Phyno played many instruments and started rapping. In 2010, he moved to Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, to focus on his musical career. His music turned out to be successful and he released his debut album last year. Phyno's stage names was given to him by his high school friend and it comes from the word phenomenal.

I am not too big fan of rap music overall, and African rap music has not really belong to my favourite music styles. I still found some decent songs from Phyno, which I am sure many other people would love, but that were just not for me. That was until I came across Man Of The Year (Obago). To somewhat my surprise, I actually liked this song! It is quite catchy and fun sounding. The beat is strong and dramatic, and Phyno raps good. Parts of the lyrics are in English, though mostly the song is in Igbo, at least I assume it is Igbo. The music video for this song was banned from broadcasting, which I find rather odd since I did not catch anything weird in this video. But then again I am use to weird stuff, so. But the song is really good whatsoever.

Man Of The Year (Obago) is from Phyno's 2014 debut studio album No Guts No Glory.

04 August 2015

Israel #2: Cliffhanging

In a blog post in my other blog, I mentioned that I got accepted into an university in Denmark. This means I will be moving in couple of weeks and then starting my studies. What does this mean to this blog? I do not know yet, but I will surely have less time. Especially around the time when I start university. I want to still keep writing this blog, but it will probably be in lesser amount. This summer I have anyway had more posts than before when I was in school, so I will be returning to the posting schedule I had previously. I think. When I am moving, I will not be having an internet connection for a bit, so it might cause problems, but we will see more about this matter when the time comes.

Wikipedia: Israel

Now to the actual post. As you can see from the flag above, and the title of this post of course, today's post features music from Israel. Israel is no stranger to this blog, since the country was already featured in a blog post last December. I have been a fan of Israel's music since I can remember, so it is not surprising that I have lots of Israeli singers to blog about. In the previous Israeli post I featured singers Shiri Maimon and Sarit Hadad, plus one more who shall serve as a continuity between these post so we will be returning to her later on in this post.

All the singers in the previous post and this one are women, so perhaps on the third Israel post (whenever that is out) I should also feature male singer/singers... Yes, definitely since Israel has got some great male artists too, even though I always tend to prefer female singers. Anyway, let's get on with this current post.

First up we have Dana International. In the previous Israel post I said that if I were to pick my favourite Israeli singer I would pick Shiri Maimon. I am not about to change my mind on that any time soon, but the spot of the runner-up goes to Dana International definitely. Dana International is the stage name of Sharon Cohen, who was born 1972 in the city of Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is the second largest city in Israel, only behind the capital city, which of course is Jerusalem. Dana comes from a Jewish family of Romanian and Yemenite (=Yemen) descent. She started her singing career in 1992 and took on the stage after her dead childhood friend Daniel. It is always interesting to know stories behind artist names, at least I find it interesting.

I suppose it can not go unacknowledged, since it is one of the reasons what she is known for, that Dana has gone through a sex reassignment surgery in 1993 (the year she released her debut album, by the way). Dana was born as a male with a name Yaron, but discoverer that she was a transgender from a young age. According to Wikipedia, she is one of the world's best known trans women. I did not know this when I first came across her, so I was a tad bit puzzled by some YouTube comments. I checked her Wikipedia page, but still found it hard to believe, since I think she is really beautiful. The wonders of modern medicine, they always manage to get me.

But to the music! The song above is called LoveBoy. And here we go again with lack of information available, crap. I believe this song was released in 2007, though I am not completely sure. I at least have been listening to it multiple years, so it must be at least some years old. I enjoy this song quite much and find it fun and catchy. Dana sings about having a "love boy" and I am sure there is a proper English word for that, but my mind lacks. So let's just say that she has a lover (I am not sure if she has, but I mean that is what she is singing about, duh), which makes the song lyrics-wise a bit naughty.

For many Dana International is best known for participating the Eurovision Song Contest, not only once but twice. In 1998 Dana participated with the song Diva and brought home the victory. Diva is by the way, my top favourite Eurovision song. It seems obvious that I would feature it in this post, but I want to save it to my upcoming Eurovision series. But I am featuring the other Eurovision song from Dana: Ding Dong.

Being a huge fan of the song Diva and Dana too, I was excited when it was decided that she would represent Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest 2011. I already loved the song title (yeah, I am a sucker for fun song titles), and obviously ended up loving the song too. Ding Dong did not have the success of Diva, but I at least enjoy it a lot. You would not guess it from the title, but the song is actually quite calm and pretty. Well, perhaps not all that calm, but it is not jumpy and flashy disco song, like you would assume. I actually find this song lyrically and musically very beautiful and very different from Dana's usual flashy and a bit weird music.

LoveBoy is from Dana's 2007 studio album Hakol Ze Letova. Ding Dong was released as a single in 2011, but I do not think it is part of any of her albums. 2011 Eurovision collection album of course features it at least.

Next up we have a smaller scale artist: Sarai Givaty. Sarai is actually an actress, but she has also released some music, though the main focus seems to be on her acting career. Sarai was born in 1982 in a city called Tiberias, which is located by the Sea of Galilee in the Northern Israel. Sarai has been doing career in Israel and Los Angeles, with some success, though again in the acting field of which I know barely nothing about. Sarai's Facebook page describes her music as "Electrorganic Experimental". Now there is a term to get me interested!

The song from Sarai is called Into Your Heart. I first heard this song couple years ago and I loved it immediately, and still do. I usually get bored of songs fast, especially with ballads, but this manages to stay interesting. It is definitely a regular ballad; the word experimental definitely fits into hear. The song is definitely a bit weird, both lyrically and musically, but that is what makes this song interesting. And in my opinion, though the song is a bit weird, it is still beautiful and touchy. There is a combination that is hard to pull off, at least to the point where I like it, but Into Your Heart succeeds in this.

Sarai's other songs have similar styles, what it comes to experimentalism and being beautiful. Even though she has some good other songs too, in my opinion they do not come near Into Your Heart. But with such an interesting sound, it is always interesting to see what such an artist can come up with and I hope she will be making more music in the future. I always worry a bit with the term experimental, since it can go overboard easily, but Sarai's music is very much enjoyable.

So far Sarai does not have albums out, but Into Your Heart is available on her 2012 EP The Monkeys Are Here.

And now to the last artist of this post: Maya Bouskilla. Like I mentioned in the beginning, Maya is a bridge between this post and the previous Israel post. In the previous post, I already featured Maya and featured her song בוא לראות אותי ("Come See Me" in English), which I just keep on loving. Back then I wrote this: "I only now realise that somehow I have not listened to any other songs even though I really love that one. How has this happened... I really must right this wrong. I seriously like her voice so it is highly possible I'd like some others of her songs too." (Ignore the spelling mistakes, pretty please.) Well, I have righted that wrong now!

First let us give Maya a proper introduction, since I did not do that in the previous post (gosh, how much longer and better my posts have gotten in about eight months!). Maya was born in 1977 in a city Netanya. Netanya is a smaller city located between the second and third largest cities in Isreal, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Maya comes from a Moroccan-Jewish family. She was discovered when she was singing in a karaoke bar and was singed to one of Isreal's top record labels in 2003. Her debut album came a year later. Maya sings pop and soul music.

Like I said previously, I was surprised when I discovered I had not listened to more music from Maya despite my love for the song "Come See Me" (I use the English translation for clarity). After the previous post I went on to listen more music from Maya and in the preparation for this post even more. I was definitely right when I said it is highly likely that I like other songs of hers too and now I have lots of songs from her that I like. These two songs in this post in particular stood up from the crowd, though "Come See Me" still remains my favourite from Maya.

First up we have אל תוותר על, which romanizes into Al Tevater Alay and translates into "Do Not Give Up". The song was released in 2013 and it is a ballad. Maya has many ballads, and they certainly suit her voice well, but this one is in my opinion the best one. The music is brilliant; a bit dramatic and beautiful. Maya sings gorgeously and even though I do not understand a word, it feels like there is a deeper meaning in the lyrics. This is currently one of my favourite songs.

The other song from Maya is called לראות אותך מאושר, Lireo't Othch Meushar in romanization and according to Google Translate it translates into "See You Happy". This song was released last year and it is more of an uptempo song. The song is fast-paced and something in the music and the rhythm makes this song feel a bit creepy to me. Even though the title features the word happy, at least according to Google that is, it does not sound like a happy song and the black and white music video is a bit gloomy. The song is darker and dramatic, which is definitely the style that I think fits the best for Maya's voice.

For my knowledge Maya has not released any albums after the releases of these songs, so they are only available as singles.