- The sounds of everyday life in Lagos, set to nimble rhythms.
- Emeka Ogboh doesn't always think of himself as a music producer. For over a decade, the Nigerian artist has been making installation pieces that use the sounds of Lagos—traffic jams, public transit, markets—as a soundtrack. He found musical qualities in these field recordings and the natural patterns that emerged in them, but he didn't necessarily think of what he was making as music. Then came 2020. When the pandemic shut down clubs in Berlin, Berghain became an art gallery, which included a piece from Ogboh called "Ayilara," inspired by Lagos's red-light district. Some Berghain staff were so taken with the piece that they asked Ogboh if he would be interested in releasing something on A-TON, the club's in-house label for experimental music.
Beyond The Yellow Haze is based on a 2018 exhibition called No Condition Is Permanent. (Some of the material was first released on vinyl in an extremely limited run by Ogboh's gallery in 2018.) The piece is concerned with the rapid changes and urbanization of the Nigerian metropolis, which is often listed as one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. Ogboh captures the sounds of this growth—an impressive din of horns, chatter and ambient noise—and underpins them with rippling, electronic rhythms.
The record comprises four lengthy tracks that take up a side of vinyl each, growing in intensity with each ten-minute chunk. The stately "Lekki Aiah Freeway" sounds like Pantha Du Prince if he were inspired by highway interchanges instead of forests. "Everydaywehustlin" is faster, with chatter and car horn blasts racing back and forth over a halftime drum & bass beat.
"Danfo Mellow" is the clear standout. Here, the beat is loping but athletic, mimicking the start-stop rhythm of a rushed taxi navigating traffic (the track is named for Lagos's iconic yellow danfo mini-buses). The speech of the drivers, who beckon riders and announce stops, is peppered throughout the track, taking on a hypnotic and musical lilt as the track pitter-patters along.
There's a distinct melancholy on Beyond The Yellow Haze, particularly in "Palm Groove," which forgoes a beat for waves of mournful synth and incessant chatter. You feel a sense of longing, as if something were missing. It's tempting to attribute that to Ogboh's situation, stuck in Germany and kept from his home country by the pandemic. But Ogboh has also spoken about Lagos's runaway modernization, specifically its many modernized freeways and their ban on hawkers, which means that danfo drivers can no longer operate on some major routes. As the city grows, it swallows its own traditions.
So while Beyond The Yellow Haze represents the sound of Lagos as Ogboh knows it, the city's rapid change could make it a historical document of sorts. Whether the Lagos of ten years from now features the chatter of danfo drivers or not, Ogboh has captured these details of his city on one of the most intriguing and unique records ever to come from the Ostgut Ton family.
01. Lekki Aiah Freeway
02. Danfo Mellow
04. Palm Groove