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Lost Files: Timaya's True Story

Lost Files is a column dedicated to celebrating older projects that might have flown under the radar when they were released. This week, we dig into Timaya's poignant debut, True Story.

Before Papi Chulo had the whole country shaking their backsides to the irresistible rhythms of his single “Ukwu” or creating choreography to the steady bounce of “Ah Blem Blem”, he was just a fresh dropout earning his living as a backup vocalist for Eedris Abdulkareem. But being relegated to the background was never going to be enough for Inetimi Timaya Odon, popularly known as Timaya. In due time, he began to work his way into the music scene as a solo artiste.

Fate is cruel, they say, and sometimes the events that inadvertently give us a platform to shine as we are meant to are not the most pleasant. In 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo, the president at the time, ordered the Nigeria military into Odi, a riverside community in Bayelsa State, under the pretext of apprehending militants who had allegedly killed several policemen. Instead of apprehending the alleged culprits, what ensued from this operation was the Odi Massacre, a brazen violation of human rights. Soldiers killed unarmed civilians while destroying property and livestock. Timaya, a native of Odi was so tortured by the scale of slaughter that he wrote a song to immortalize the victims and hold the government responsible for the massacre. “Dem Mama”, a song about murder and death, was ironically the tune to give his career life and push him into the faces of people who mattered in the industry and colleagues such as producer K-Solo who heard him perform the tune acapella.

The result of this collaboration was True Story, his debut album majorly produced by K-Solo. Part autobiographical and part motivational, True Story elevated Timaya to mainstream Nigerian pop status, established him as a leading reggae and dancehall artist, and set the tone for the success that would eventually follow him over the years.

Although the project’s subject matter is impressive, touching on a variety of subjects like faith, love, women, money, friendships, trust, and the government, the album’s most striking feature is the rawness and passion that Timaya exudes throughout its entirety. This does not take anything from his current sound, as artistes are bound to undergo change and polishing as they grow from rookies to veterans. However, the freshness and “realness” of his voice equips the project with a certain flavour that you just cannot find these days. Perhaps it is was because his personal experiences inspired the songs, or maybe it was his naivety that protected him from the pressure to tweak his music to sound less crude. Whatever it was, it was a lucky stroke, as this combination of hunger and honesty quickly endeared him to fans, fast-tracking his rise up the music ladder.

The album opens up with a thirty-eight-second clip of Timaya singing in acapella. The lyrics on this short track are further expanded on “Timaya”, the third track on the album. In between these two is “True Story”, the titular track. An account of his struggles as he moved between Port Harcourt and Lagos looking for a breakthrough, it is a proper introduction to both the body of work as well as the artiste himself. With this knowledge, the lyrics draw us closer to him and help us understand the message even more. Following the first trio is “Honey Na Money”, a tune emphasizing the importance of money as the foundation for a solid relationship. To quote the philosopher David Adeleke, “love is sweet, but when money enter, love is sweeter.” On “Ogologonma”, he gives gratitude to God, a recurring theme in his discography while motivating the low and downtrodden in society to keep their heads up and expect the light at the end of the tunnels. “Dem Mama”, the lead single, was not the only song to reference his home state with the more cheery “Bayelsa” celebrating the beauty and wonder of the oil-rich state. “Pomporo”, number seven on the tracklist, is a banger made for the dance floor and the production is insistent in its call for you to get on your feet and bust a couple moves. The album ends with “Wayo People” , a number highlighting the inherent dishonesty of people and advising his listeners to trust others at their own risk.

True Story is a testament to the character of an artiste who is not afraid to make his own way. This is not solely because of the lyrics but also seen in the album composition itself. At 11 songs which include two skits, it runs at 34 minutes and some seconds, a rarity in a music era that had overly generous artistes who flooded fans with a lot of music on albums. This refusal to go with the status quo and be deliberate about the sonic experience and message he wanted to pass shows an intentionality with his work, something he has stuck to throughout his career, rejecting the temptation to switch genres to popular styles.

Every hero or villain has an origin story, an event that triggered the chain of events that led them to their final evolution or stage. For the Egberi Papa 1 of Bayelsa, it was True Story, with its relatable lyrics, message and distinctive arrangement that won the fans and critics over. There can be no arguments about Timaya’s status as a legend in the Nigerian music industry and his debut album was where it all started; a story as true as any other.

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