Beyond the Hook – Episode 4 – Tems

Beyond The Hook  # 4 by Jon McKenney


Hi this is Beyond the Hook and I am Jon Mckenney..

Tems (photo from Billboard)

I had never heard of today’s featured artist until I started asking around to see what music some younger more traditional students listened to. I received a number of replies but today’s colucast (column/podcast) stars a female singer, that generated the most excitement. The person who originally suggested today’s performer is a graduate student and assistant at The ROCC; which by the way offers a free lunch every Thursday 12 – 1 at Sullivan gym; Abedom Gebreyesus. He said something like this, “I’ve got one! You should do Tems.” To which I said, “who?” He replies, “bring some culture into USM radio station and put Tems in there!!!” Then a couple of days later I was at the WMPG on campus radio station and I asked if anybody had ever heard of Tems and only one person answered. A work study student: Kayla Bogart, the youngest person in the room said, in a burst of excitement, “oh she’s great, I was just listening to her this morning.” Well, that settled it; Tems, otherwise known as Temilade Openiyi, is in the house.

Tems is Nigerian, and spent part of her childhood in the U.K., but moved back to Nigeria as a young adult. She has worked on tracks and toured with Drake, Justin Bieber, and Khalid to name a few. Her musical foundation is solidly an African and specifically Nigerian, Afro-beat style that has become globally popular in the last few years and has coincided with Openiyi’s success. Her sound is strictly her own and as she says, “there is no blueprint for what I’m doing.” Who was the last African singer to have achieved worldwide recognition? Although there may be many I can think of only one: a choral group from South Africa, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who Paul Simon brought to the United States in 1986 and featured them on the album Graceland.

Tems debut single, Mr. Rebel, was a DIY very low budget release, with no accompanying video. After the singer wrote, produced, and performed the piece, it’s popularity spread from Lagos, Nigeria; throughout Africa; on to Europe then globally. She likes to sing and draw attention to the struggle that many people experience because of the warring areas of her continent. Tems’ voice is resonant with a breathy calming quality and she has been called, “The Healer,” because of her relaxed, serene, spiritual and tension easing vibe. The latest and largest project Tems has worked on is singing one of the songs on the soundtrack of a film which is scheduled for release on November 11, called: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. You might have heard of it. The number she recorded for the film, No Woman No Cry, was written and performed by Jamaican Bob Marley but as was his habit of crediting others for his songs Marley listed Vincent Ford, known as Tata, as the writer. There are a bunch of reasons or gossip about why he did this but that story is for another podcast.

Tems mixes Afro beat with R&B, seasoned with a bit of Jamaican rhythm which is a first cousin to that African sound anyway(just the word Ja-ma-ca produces its own its own pulse ). She is pleading, begging, and chanting:

“No woman, no, cry

No, woman, no cry.”

The meaning behind this introductory, riff or hook is, as Wailers bass player Aston Barrett says: “The song is about strength in the mama of course, strength in the ladies. And we love a woman with backbone.” In my imagination he adds a “mun” at the end of his quote like “we love a woman with backbone, mun.”

Tems and her music literally move me. Her sound tickles me, grips my gut, and I feel it.

A second hook is heard toward the end and the lyrics go like this:

“Everything’s gonna be alright

Everything’s gonna be alright.”

Tems repeats the phrase (hook) several times with the resonant, serene, and healing quality that she is known for. That hook is soothing and who doesn’t need a little sooth now and then?  She delivers the phrasing with strong, solid, smooth, carefully crafted, and classical Afro-Jamaican beats that transports me to a beach on a warm Caribbean night, with a large moon, dancing with a circle of people to the intoxicating rhythm, with everybody harmonizing:                                                                  “Everything’s gonna be alright

Everything’s gonna be alright.”

There is one more thing about Tems that adds to her special sound. Actually, there are a lot more things about this incredible woman I could share but here is a characteristic that is very endearing: her Nigerian accent. The way she sings “tings” instead of things is just one example of how the mispronunciation of an English word adds to the melodiousness of her magnificent sound. Poetry doesn’t need correct pronunciation to make it work; it’s all about the sound of the words.

Temilade Openiyi (Tems) is an artist to watch because she already has made a name for herself.

Well, that’s this week’s under educated opinion and I hope you enjoyed it I know I did. Next week I plan on moving to the country with a singer we all know, but on the small chance that you haven’t heard of him just know that he has been around forever and the song is classically real country. So, until then, hasta la vista.

Beyond the Hook