Two years on from his debut EP, we’re still no closer to having Steven Umoh sussed. Touching on blues and jazz, hip hop and Afrobeat, and offering up songs that range from sparse sound collages to urgent polemics, his output as Obongjayar varies so greatly that the only real unifying quality has been its excellence.
You can get a sense of the Nigerian musician’s potential when you consider the calibre of his co-signs. At this early stage of his career, he’s already worked alongside Kamasi Washington, Warren Ellis and Giggs – as part of Richard Russell’s Mercury-nominated Everything Is Recorded project – provided guest vocals for Wiki and Kojey Radical, and collaborated with BadBadNotGood, Danny Brown’s producer Paul White, and Moses Boyd on his own material.
It’s worth emphasising the versatility of his voice too. On 2018 ballad ‘Adjacent Heart’, it soars Sampha-like above gentle piano, on ‘Set Alight’ from 2017 EP, Bassey, his guttural bars are almost Gaika-esque, and on last year’s single ‘Never Change’ those soulful tones withstand comparisons to Moses Sumney.
His latest track is ‘Frens’, a brilliant, Fela-influenced spiritual celebrating unconditional love. We’ve absolutely no idea what will follow next but we’re very happy to be kept guessing.