Following your dreams is one of those cliches that often gets thrown around. You hear it everyday, following yet another success story—an example for you to follow. Odunsi’s (The Engine) career within the past few years has been a refreshing testament to said cliche.
Odunsi is notably a part of a new wave of Nigerian creatives dubbed alté (ironically and unironically) and has only been pursuing music since January of 2016. The singer/songwriter/producer/mixer came to the forefront with his debut single, “Happy Hour” and has been carving out his own lane since. After recording with GMK, Odunsi noted that this was his “yeah, let’s do this” moment. Notably stating in an interview that once he recorded that record, “I felt at that point that I wanted to do music for real” (OkayAfrica).
In an industry where many artists pop up on the scene and follow a similar formula—flood the market with a bunch of singles and music videos before waiting years to release their first (typically, disappointingly lackluster) album, all while perpetually promosing fans that a full length record will be “coming soon.” Odunsi took a different route, with two EP’s under his belt, a bunch of songs on SoundCloud, and a slew of features on tracks from some of your favorite artists—Odunsi decided to release his debut album bucking a common growing trend in the Afropop scene.
Last year, Odunsi admitted to struggling with mental health (a taboo subject for many African people), this candid honesty coupled with Odunsi’s ability to tap into what’s “cool” and his unique sound has been part of what draws listeners towards him.
..my pre-teen years, down to my late teen years and even during little windows recently. not many people know this about me, but i guess…
— Odunsi † (@odunsitheengine) September 26, 2017
Odunsi cites artists such as Bobby Brown, Donnell Jones, Sade, Asa, Kris Okotie, Plantashun Boiz, King Sunny Ade and Prince as major influences and throughout the album Odunsi manages to take sounds from the golden eras of genres like Disco, R&B, Pop while mixing in traditional Nigerian music to create what he calls “Afrofusion”.
With the release of “Alté Cruise” in early March and “Divine” in the middle of September, there were 12 tracks left that had never been heard before. The album, rare, kicks off with a track of the same name. This intro is backed by a choir that gives the chorus a feel of a fighting chant. ”Told you I’m ready, it’s my time and nobody can tell me nothing,” is passionately bellowed out by the choir.
One of the greatest things about rare is how the features from Tay Iwar, Nasty C, Santi, Davido, Amaarae, Zamir LOS, Runtown, Hamzaa, as well as a host of others combine their unique style and sound, all while still blending in effortlessly with Odunsi’s. Rare displays a vulnerable Odunsi, with the artist exposing layers of what is on his mind and zeroing in on specific areas of his life and environment, making it feel like you too are on his journey.
(The recently released video for “Falling” directed and edited by Ademola Falomo, Odunsi & Santi.)
The 14 tracks cover a wide array of subjects triggering all sort of emotions and invoking all sort of mental visuals. Tracks such as “Outcast” and “Take A Break” show Odunsi’s vulnerability with a relatable sense of humanity since we all go through it—these two tracks prove just that. Love is a major theme on the album, “Falling” borrows from P-Square’s “Ifunaya“ (listen to both tracks and thank me later), “Angel”, “Green Light” and “Wanted You” all also cover the theme of love. Odunsi also can make songs that make you want to dance and move, listen to “Dance Floor” and “Star Signs” (this might be the stand out on the album). “Hectic” is a great song that features 3 women; 234Jaydaa, Amaarae & Solis, this track was purposefully and masterfully executed to champion women in the industry.
A favorite on this album is “Take A Break,” which leads to a minor gripe. On this song, Odunsi takes the Yoruba language and combines it very well with English, which makes me wonder, why wasn’t there more use of Yoruba on the album?
The creative scene in Africa is brimming with talent, whether in the Diaspora or back home, people are expressing themselves through various avenues; from music, beauty, fashion, art, writing, television shows and films. No matter what the avenue is, people are doing amazing things and as Odunsi previously shared in an interview, “what makes it even more beautiful is that there’s a lot of collaboration and willingness to help. More young people now have mentors to look up to and are able to learn quicker than previous generations. It’s inspiring that more people are taking charge of their lives at a young age and more people are creating their own way to be successful” (OkayAfrica).
The music scene in Nigeria is a small testament to the collaborative spirit along with an abundance of talent; there is an artist for every mood and the producers are superheroes who deserve to smell the roses. It is only fitting that during the birthday week of arguably Nigeria’s greatest musician, Fela Kuti, that Odunsi’s rare has come to the forefront. Fela Kuti once said, “Music is the weapon. Music is the weapon of the future.”
With ”rare” Odunsi has created a great body of work with a “rare” sound. So thank you Odunsi for sharing your work with the world and well wishes to your future.