Album Review: Femi & The Inrhythms – Pressure to Pleasure [Joyful Noise Recordings, January 2018]

With headlines around the world of famine, inequality, racism, and Donald Trump, we go the other side of life, the good side, as Femi & The Inrhythms plays to spring us forth with their studio album: Pressure to Pleasure released by Joyful Noise Production.

Rhythm’s effect on humans is Kafkaesque and to get the rhythm right is to have the ability to convene and inspire as if the music of a saint. Femi and The Inrhythms are such practitioners of rhythm, with soulful songs whose best metaphor is joy, at yet another horrid yet incredible time to be a human.

Bright from start to finish, from “Ranti Ile” to “White Lies,” we are listening to a big band, with phenomenal harmonies, rhythm, and arrangements, as were once very popular, hegemonic even, before the advent of Hip Hop. The album features 12 musicians, but the band is normally a 7-piece band consisting of bass, vocals, percussions, keyboard, and drums. Esther Mabadeje provides the vocals – fun but phenomenal, and that of a postmodern diva. The saxophone playing is standout from start to finish, an Afrobeat sound closer to Tony Allen than Fela or Femi Kuti, as is the drumming, and the guitar playing. Track 3, “No Lele,” is an exceptional track of guitar layered with other great instrument playing.

Track 4, “Pressure to Pleasure,” is a personal favourite. Everyone in the band seems to be pushing the best of their art forwards. To quote sociologist Auguste D’Meza, “jazz is the greatest of music because it is the sound of liberty.” Track 4 brings liberty to afrobeat like jazz does, as it has been done before but anew.

Some may feel disappointed that this music is not as dark and dramatic as they feel about existing in the contemporary world. In the Americas, in Cuba, in Jamaica, in the US, etc., nations whose music is at the root of postmodernity and modernity in African music – nights hosting the first cauldrons of rhythm, guided by courage, after ‘masters’ slept, nights of slaves dancing and chanting, that would become the still valued salsa, jazz, hip-hop, reggae, etc.

In Africa, yes, colonisation also forced music underground, but traditions continued to dominate daily life. The resilience of tradition is key to African music, to the point where African music often mixes tradition and postmodernity perhaps like nowhere else in the world, even more than musicians in Latin America are doing with electronic and indigenous music. Femi & The Inrhythms is the sound of resilience, the sort that African men and women around the world have made a culture out of – the message being that even when the going gets tough, stand tall.