Chike…Tales Of The Brother’s Keeper
It is very difficult to ignore a voice like Chike Osebuka’s. In seven years, the Afro RnB maestro has carved a legacy as one of the most talented musicians in the Nigerian music scene.
His 2020 debut album dubbed, Boo Of The Booless, was acclaimed as one of the most brilliant within the past decade, tripling his fanbase, which cuts across a broad spectrum of generations. Speculations festered on how the 29-year-old was going to follow-up to such a captivating debut. However, in his just-released sophomore dubbed, The Brother’s Keeper, Chike exceeds expectations, creating a befitting sequel that showcases the next level of his artistry.
Spinning off with an Amapiano-laced pop-groove, Chike takes listeners to a trip down loversville as he begins the album On The Moon. His butter vocals blends well with the upbeat log drums and hollowed piano chords, serving an impressive RnB rendition on an Amapiano rhythm. The genre in question is commonly fused with several genres within its South African birthplace, but in Nigeria, it has been a dominant player in the Afro pop market.
As Chike’s falsetto-baked melodies sear into the second track, Tell Am, the Anambra native sets the record into a very Eastern groove, welding Igbo lyrics with Pidgin and conventional English language, to spin another romantic love narrative. By the time the record delves into its third track, Spell, the sonic triangle of high, mid and low-tempos are complete, and Chike’s range shines brightly.
The entire 16-track album reverberates with a very introspective, euphoric and relaxing vibe, as Chike delves into matters of love, life, family, and work. In The Brother’s Keeper, the singer and songwriter makes an expansive and intimate memoir of his life’s experiences and perspectives.
“I always try to be as realistic with my art as possible, like telling stories that show that ‘Oh, I have been here before; I have felt this way before.’ That is always my primary goal in creating any project that I want to do,” he tells Guardian Music.
When Chike’s Boo Of The Booless was released at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became a lover’s anthem. Despite the fact that a chunk of his core audiences were youths, his music also catered to the more conservative ears of the Millenials and Baby Boomers, especially with its harmonious live instrumentation, as well as introspective bops like Soldier, Beautiful People, among others.
With The Brother’s Keeper, he replicates that profound and inspirational lyricism in songs like Africa, Nothing Less, Nothing More, Good Things, and God Only Knows, as he spins pep-givers, and cathartic storytelling. Laudably, he also expands his sonic palette with the help of sound gurus such as Killertunes, Saszy Afroshii, DeeYasso, Masterkraft, Tee Y Mix, Lord Sky, Echo The Guru, and Louddaaa, to reach more contemporary wavelengths without losing his own artistic signature.
“I knew I had a certain audience already that had certain expectations, and I was careful enough not to throw them away. That is why you might hear some similarities. But for growth in music, you need to expand. There is a little shift also in some of the approaches to the music. The goal was to cater for people who were already there, and to try to add to the existing fanbase.
“So, the first body of work was created with live instrumentation. However, this time, I worked with different producers, but I knew that if we decided to add a few more producers this time, the sound was going to change a little. And that is what happened.”
For an album like The Brother’s Keeper, one can revel in the low-hanging fruits of its replay value and its brilliant track listing. While the record might not possess as much shock value as Boo Of The Booless, it definitely eases in like a bride’s first dance, as each record snowballs into the other with a harmonious synchronisation.
It is interesting to note how The Brother’s Keeper flushes with some sort of didacticism, especially with the title itself.
“Are you your brother’s keeper,” Chike chuckles, as he responds to inquiry on the significance of the title. For the Independent artiste, the concept is woven around the idea of selflessness, mirroring his life as a conduit of love and service to others.
“I used to be able to make decisions considering myself, but right now, I consider people I work with; my family and friends in making decisions. It is just what my lifestyle is right now. It is what I became.”
Apart from mirroring his own experiences, The Brother’s Keeper is also a collage of other people’s experiences as he reimagined them, Chike noted.
“The stories told on the record are a blend of things I experienced, and things I imagine other people have. Some of my personal experiences on the album can be found in songs like Bad, and Enough.”
Another interesting highlight of Chike’s The Brother’s Keeper is the interesting line-up of features. Tag-teaming the Eastern heavyweight Flavour on the love bop, Hard To Find, as well as the Nigerian rapper, YCee on another love memoir, You Deserve, and the South African chanteuse, Azana, on the unifying melody, Africa, the record stands solidly with features that perfectly harmonise with Chike’s lightweight vocals.
“We had a couple of songs that we needed features on, and I just reached out to the people I knew we could work with. And I don’t typically like doing so many features, because I want the clarity of the listener hearing me.”
Perhaps, the record could have taken far more experimental approaches by featuring more singers within Chike’s vocal cadre. Nonetheless, it is a healthy lineup that increases the listenability of the record.
Chike came to limelight after an impressive feat at Airtel’s The Voice Nigeria reality show (2016), and MTN’s Project Fame West Africa (2015) as runner up, respectively. Afterwards, he had a slow start with Universal Republic Records releasing only one song.
Prioritising the music over financial sentiments, he quit the label and kick-started a career as an independent artiste in 2016. Despite the rewards that come with sole proprietorship as an artiste, there are also tidbits of challenges with being independent.
“Being independent is beautiful, but still it is a lot of work; because it is pretty much two sides of a coin. There is that impression that you are enjoying, but you still have to put in twice the work. However, I could tell you that it is a learning process, and I am enjoying myself while that lasts. On taking a deal, I would not speak about the future that I don’t know. I could tell you for a fact that nobody is 100 per cent independent really. I am working with the team that I am blessed with,” he says.
On his most memorable moments while recording the masterpiece, Chike notes that it “was when I was recording Bad. There were a lot of conversations around that, especially advising people not to go back to their ex-lovers. Those people now go back to report to me.”
One thrilling feat Chike manages to pull off is turning pensive subject matters to danceable records. In Bad, he replicates the same thing he achieved with Roju, If You No Love, and Nakupenda, creating a very groovy record out of what should be a heartbreaking narrative. In fact, the veteran Ivorian band, Magic System, would be proud of him; seeing as they are famous for achieving the same feat with their hit song, 1er Gaou.
It is very unlikely for artistes to have a favourite song from their catalogue, but Chike is able to pinpoint the low-tempo jam, Enough, as his preference seeing as it “was the easiest one to make.”
And it is understandable, especially as he notes that he enjoys creating his art from his comfort zone. The Nigerian music scene is at that paradoxical moment where it’s receiving just as much hate as it is getting love, from its indigenous fanbase. While nonsensical comparisons, and needless labelling by extremist fans continue to offend the artistes, for Chike, his most obvious association with the Igbo culture does not offend him, or reduce his global appeal. For him, “where I am from is a huge part of my artistry, and if people associate me with it then it is a good thing.”
After an outstanding debut, and a sophomore that crystallises his successes, Chike is poised to spin a catalogue that would enshrine him as one of the powerhouses of Afro RnB in the Nigerian music scene. And while one can only hope that, truly, the third time would be a charm, The Brother’s Keeper remains an intentional, honest, and deserving effort.
“I would not even look at what’s next for Chike; I would say what is current for Chike. I just put out The Brother’s Keeper, and the most important thing right now is to get the world listening.”