Teni, Oba Orin Earns Her Name As the King of Afropop Melodies on 'Wondaland'
Teni the Entertainer had an uncharacteristically quiet 2020, the year where Nigerian musicians had used their craft as a coping mechanism through the lockdown and height of the pandemic and had in turn given music lovers a reprieve from the uncertainty of the moment. If fans had been worried about Teni being missing in action, they were well within their rights to be but if they had thought that she was working on something for them, that guess was very right. This is because on the day when February came upon us, Teni announced that her debut album was ready and would be called Wondaland.
The album was then offered up on the 19th of March with a novel roll-out strategy that involved sending Wondaland VR kits to experience the project in 3D, But other than visuals and beyond the colourful escape offered on the cover of her album art, Teni's Wondaland is an extended metaphor for the escape in which her vocals when applied to melodies with utmost earworm powers, poses. This is a trope that rings thorough and true from Maja where we're ushered into her Wondaland with honeylike Afropop that finds its roots in Teni’s hometown in Ondo state as her aunty’s voice powers over Dr Dolor’s enchanting flute-backed instrumentals to recite Teni's oriki. Before this, Teni herself had just assured us of the fact that for rooms where she met a closed door, her response would be to make a way for herself. So of course it is only befitting that we're intimated of her cultural heritage for some historical credence.
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The next aural ride then takes us on a serotonin-packed journey where she fuses with Davido to give us For You. Here, just as you begin to take in the sonic smoothness of the first two songs despite the latter haven being produced by Pheelz, you're almost instantly wrapped up in the pleasant ballad that Teni's voice laced over the instrumentals is.
Wondaland has only one featured artiste and it's Davido for whom Teni wrote what some consider the megastar’s best song. This precedent and the beautiful story of Teni chasing down Davido on the streets of Lagos to get him into the studio to make For You, served to an extent make it an anticipated track. While not nearly living to its hype, it shows Teni's shrewd music-making skills because on For You, Teni stuck to her alternative-soused Afropop guns by offering beautiful sleeper tracks and not instant hits.
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It can then be said that For You with the Davido feature where he alternates between crooning and choirmaster belting personas is to Wondaland what D&G was to her collaborator's A Good Time album.
If there's one thing the Apata sisters-- Teni and Niniola don't do, it's fake humility and euphemisms. This is Moslado where Teni relives that facet of herself by praising herself and reminding us of who she is over soothing instrumentals by Ozedikus that are reminiscent of breezy nights and Palmwine with the asun being Teni's flow over the beats.
In conversation with Apple music, Teni herself told Apple music that the core flavour of Wondaland was to serve an album that'd be irresistible to people of all ages from any works of life. At 17 tracks, Teni not only delivered but gave some simplistic yet merry space-filling records. Game Over is one of such, offering a catching blend of Afrobeats and Afropop for the listener to get lost in before resurfacing to the more serious issues she addresses on Hustle.
On Hustle, Teni reminds us of her status as a vulnerable human as she sings about facing the pressures of stardom and navigating people's expectations and egos.
Just before we're strapped in for another wild ride, comes FBI where a tale of being untouchable is told in an Afropop style that borrows some trap music elements. Its subject matter might not be the most memorable still it is done up in an easy-going manner sure to grow on you.
The same cannot be said for Toxic where Teni's voice becomes the voice of several young people the world over as she fiends for loveless relationships that offer sex and utmost freedom. Here the trap elements are more obvious and really make the song and its truthfulness shine in an effortless manner.
It's track 8 and Teni decides to make her mark as a true entertainer by making you get on your feet to do one thing which is to dance and her Injure Me is deployed perfectly to suit that purpose. Its high octane highlife trappings is soon switched for a dreamy tempo on 100 Metres which is at best, a space-filler intended to incept your eardrums and ensure that halfway through the project, you're still tuned in.
Were, the typical acknowledgment and thanksgiving to the almighty comes next. It's reflective, Teni's tone takes on a seriousness and we once again witness A&R shrewdness at work with the insertion of a calming praise song so far into the album to give a song that the typical Nigerian won't be able to resist revisiting and singing along to.
The next three tracks-- On, Wonda Why and Okocha-- make another set of pleasant space-fillers with love as the central theme while the union of pop and highlife that has buoyed up the Teni’s mostly happy go lucky performance remains a constant. Okocha however stands out amongst the three as it is not only named after the legendary Super Eagles’ one-time captain, Jay Jay Okocha, but pays tribute to him in a brilliant, out-of-the-box way.
The arrangement of the tracks once more typify excellent and compelling A&R as we see the second single of the album make an appearance on the tracklist as the 14th out of 17 songs. In fact the arrangement almost does Jo a disservice as while enjoying the record we realise it's not one of the best song off the album.
Loss of a loved one will never cease to hurt no matter how long it has been or how little you knew the person. This is Teni as she speaks to her late father on Dad's Song. His last child is a superstar now and she attributes her strength to him as she puts out her loss and joy over sparkling guitar chords and solemn drum beats.
The tone of personalised storytelling carries on to the next track XXL where Teni preaches body positivity over trap beats. Somewhat of an anomaly where stardom is concerned, Teni has faced some naysaying over her style choice and artiste brand but on XXL she lets us know that she’s very much happy with herself before extending her optimistic appeal to the last track, Black. A track that outlines issues faced by Black people and Nigerians living in Nigeria under a broken system.
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With 17 tracks that total 50 minutes which might appear overkill for some, Teni’s Wondaland debut has all it takes to be that album that takes us to a place where we can sing away our worries as alternative music and highlife meets Afropop to create a sonic escape for any and all music lovers where Teni is truly Oba Orin.