obongjayar’s “never change” never stops dreaming

November 27, 2018

When last we heard from Obongjayar on last summer’s “Adjacent Hearts,” the man born Steven Umoh was navigating the echo-heavy, slightly psychedelic soul music, by shifting between a high-tenor croon and raspy raps that sounded like great poetry slam stories. There was also no backbeat, which made “Adjacent Hearts” sound even more personal — and moved the artist further from the “experimental hip-hop” cul de sac he was never really comfortable with.

Obongjayar’s new single, “Never Change,” retains its predecessor’s sense of seriousness and intimacy, but now there’s a strong rolling rhythm that harkens back to Umoh’s Nigerian birthplace, as well as to the deep influence that Nigerian Afrobeat continues to exert on the sounds of his current home, London. It’s a dark groove.

The Duncan Loudon-directed video for “Never Change” supports that sound with vision. As Obongjayar’s words harken to a simpler space and time, when memories of human interaction with nature had greater value,  the video’s figures wander the mostly urban landscapes and empty buildings covered in the dust of society’s collapse, or wrapped in its plastic. This isn’t quite apocalypse, though it’s not far off. Yet when the singer’s rasp returns towards the end of “Never Change,” it is as the voice of a protector, singing to the innocent. Suddenly the present matters as much as a harkened-for past, a metaphysical turn that is quickly becoming Obongjayar’s hallmark. His is a set of voices that can express so much, because his songs dare to not stop dreaming.