From the days of Jackson the Michael and his Thriller ‘short movie’ music video, music has always been more than the sound.
One of the other elements — visual art, which does the underrated job of accompanying our journey through anticipation, purchase, listen and recall of the best of our songs, will continue to matter, whether we remember to notice it or not. Like David Ogilvy said, “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative’. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product”.
For all of the amazing work that visual designers did this year portraying the several albums released, below is my rating of the outright best 5, in my opinion of course, but I did try to get you on my side too. While this list only features album artworks, being more intentional projects that require more creative intelligence to portray, one song art deserves an honourable mention — Fever by Wizkid, for the use of colour, texture and effect on type to ‘feel sick of fever’ (refer to the emoji for ‘sick’), while being as basic as it can be.
Maybe someday, music awards like Headies, MAMA, AFRiMA can remember to include this very important ‘department’ of the industry in their awards and inspire even greater song and album arts, but for now, we will begin with mine, starting from 5th place.
- Adekunle Gold’s About 30
Featuring Laolu Senbanjo’s artistic drawings, Adekunle Gold whose background as a graphic designer is well-known employs photography to represent his journey and experiences through life. While he sits on a horse standing still with his head faced down, the text ‘About 30’ comes in the form of a signature, the kind you append while you simultaneously take one last deep breath at the end of a long journal. As the tracks confirm, it’s a reflection on life as he approaches 30. The artwork faded in the background completes the entire mood and helps to portray the AG’s brand of artistic depth. Don’t miss the pen’s ink being in GOLD and how this contrasts beautifully with the main colour theme of the cover. One word: Beautiful.
- Burna Boy’s Outside
This is one of those album artworks you get to interpret in your own way. In what is quite an enigmatic piece, like the artiste himself, there is a Burna Boy bearing an imaginary world that has another Burna Boy having a ride with what appears to be an angel or mermaid. The album mostly being an expression of the harsh realities of life and how he has earned becoming the man that he is today, one can connect the cover art with having lofty dreams (of social status, wealth and pleasure) and hitting the grind to live these dreams. On the OUTSIDE, these things appear easy to have been attained. One word: Thought-provoking.
- Show Dem Camp’s Palmwine Music Vol.2
Created by a collaboration of renowned multidisciplinary creative Niyi Okeowo and the Show Dem Camp rappers, this is one interesting illustration of the project title. 2 palm tree emojis for Palmwine Music Vol 2, how do you fault that? The brilliance, however, lies in how the entire composition makes you feel. As Niyi puts it, “When I listened to the album, it sounded like futuristic highlife music, so we explored that direction”. This informs the vast use of space and the ‘stars in the sky’. The album simply embodies the mood of the entire project. It doesn’t even bear the title of the album. One word: Cool.
- Mr Eazi’s Lagos to London
It’s Lagos to London and this could as well have been an aeroplane off the ground, dots on a map showing the route between the two cities, or (insert another cliche a to z illustration idea here) but then this piece of art does a merger that you cannot resist. Looking at how the album attempts to fuse sounds from and tailored to the audience at home (Lagos) and in Europe (London), dipping the traditional London city bus in the black-striped yellow of the Danfo of Lagos gives both sides of the divide something to be fascinated about. If you didn’t come up with an idea to insert above, it just comes to mind now also that the designer could have combined the Ikoyi bridge with the London bridge. For all that could have been done, that wasn’t done, on the journey to this particular London from Lagos, this work deserves a lot of credits. Most importantly, the idea fits into the theme. They are the kind of ‘eazi-going’ songs you plug into your ears by the window side on a long bus ride. One word: Brilliant
- Seun Kuti’s Black Times – As he proclaims in one Last Revolutionary, one of the eight fast-paced and energetic Afrobeat songs, “I be Marcus Garvey / I be Kwame Ture / I be Shaka Zulu / I be Fela Kuti”, this body of work and the cover art that represents it, tells of the reality of today’s political struggle and the need to face it, as brave black men standing for our fatherland. That’s what I see in the expression on his face. Different pieces of him, legacies of several forerunners, all in one bold and confident black man not afraid to stand for what is right. One word: Motivating.
Visual design and art make a key part of music as it functions as a co-pilot of the message the artiste aims to convey. Hence, an inclusive approach that walks the artist through the idea, intention, lyrics and production as closely as possible makes an ideal recipe towards the best results. This is true for every case in which design aims to communicate or represent an idea or product, in music as well as in corporate brand work (the core of our consultancy at FourthCanvas).
Right next to hearing someone play or talk about it, the art becomes increasingly important as an earlier representation of the song or album, upon which a lot of expectation or perception can be set. Hence as we all look forward to the incoming traffic of new songs that 2019 has in store for Nigerians, they could as well come with some really good album artworks created out of a more immersive engagement of visual designers in the process.
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Victor Fatanmi is a Co-founder at FourthCanvas, a brand marketing and design agency that employs intensive collaboration as an approach to build great brands. Email: [email protected]