Nigerian American, Lady Donli, or Zainab, released her Wallflower EP Friday, December 16. The 20 year old says: “My style of music can broadly be classified as neo soul, so as expected, this project is melancholic and deeply honest”.
As way of explanation for its title, a “wallflower is a shy, socially awkward person that keeps to themselves at a party or a social gathering, this project signifies the blossoming of the wallflower”. This is elbaborated upon in the SET interlude on the EP’s title track.
In its duration, she explores that of “love, depression, anxiety and insecurities”. The following clarification should just about confirm the kind of musician she is for any potential listener:
“Music isn’t just a hobby for me, which is one misconception about SoundCloud artists”.
In fact on the EP’s track, “BOBBY BOBBY”, she reckons she will clarify to you “whether I’m doing music for fun or for funds”.
All songs are mixed and mastered by Tay Iwar, Donli adding, by way of introducing the project:
“Welcome To Wallflower. The 3rd Instalment to my musical journey. I do this for SAFI, and all the moon children without a voice”.
Opener, “Fly On The Wall”, produced by DOZ, begins with clapping drum and shimmering piano melody. Then the vocals kick in and the drums get busier, booming like an electric kit in the Eighties. The bass, low and heavy, hints at something, if not ominous, certainly grand. The vocals, light and airy, are reinforced by the grit of distortion, keeping them relatively grounded, instead of floating into the ethereal.
Then “ALICE”, produced by Tay Iwar and featuring D-Boi, is quite subdued with rattling drum, intermittent bass and plenty of room for Donli to work her wispy, light vocals into ascendency above the soundscape. The male vocals of D-Boi certainly both contrast and work well with Donli’s. A chorus effect fades out the track, aiding a futuristic feel.
Title track “Wallflower (an interlude by SET)”, produced by MvgicSoul, is a peaceful backdrop with thoughtful words (“watch me blossom under shrouded light”) combined. Light melodies patter like falling rain, the drum peacefully clicking and setting the mood.
Donli says “Lie To Me”, produced by MvgicSoul and featuring Odunsi, which has subdued horns, a giant taking tiptoe steps as not to arouse too much attention. The vocals, however, are impassioned, far from light and wispy, as heard before. Brassy, as if angered. Is this the giant letting go and stomping around regardless? Strings then grow tense before very beautifully eloquent piano ends the track.
“BOBBY BOBBY”, produced by DOZ, tinkles, rattles and claps. It has that New York hip-hop, jazzy feel. Very peaceful like the aforementioned interlude. The vocals certainly aid the beat in achieving something sensual and kicked back. Her soulful imploring fills out the closing minute or so, making her presence very much be felt.
Closer, “Moonchild”, produced by BillieOnia Beats and featuring Odunsi, is dedicated to all those most important to Donli. It has a touch of tragedy to it, her voice processed for reinforcement like in the opener.
She has, at times, a reggae patois going on. Very emphatic and sassy. Once again, male vocals provide good contrast, and work well with the predominant female contribution. Also, like the opener, there’s an ominous feel but, this time, achieved via ringing, discordant piano.
Particular highlights on this quite varied of efforts are “Fly On The Wall” and “Lie To Me”. Even just the electric sounding kit sound on the drums in the former is appealing. Further to that is the deep, ominous bass. A big, bold, sound. In the latter, she’s a giant personified, first tip toeing then stomping. You think her voice will be wispy, once again, instead it’s empowered and from the gut.
These, of course, cover the rough start and middle of the project. The ending, “Moonchild”, is also of note. That ominous sound recurs, this time via clanging of dissonant piano chords. It ends as it began, a bid, bold statement to start; a big, bold statement to end. Very epic, very conceptual and very well thought out. Both feature clean and processed vocals. This evoking the diametric war within herlself, maybe a guilty conscience versus her inner devil?
The symmetry isn’t just beginning and end, though. Notice the two named tracks, “ALICE” and “BOBBY BOBBY”. These are both second and second last. Their placement might be coincidental, but the musical merits of both indicates this might not totally be the case. The entirely upper case lettering implying, maybe, the importance of these people not only on the EP; but in her life, too?
The light, wispy vocals, in the former, maybe a dedication to a female friend? How these vocals ascend to the ethereal conveys the power of this bond? Close confidante? Then her sensual, red blooded heterosexuality, in the latter, maybe a dedication to a male passion? The man in her life? If his name’s referenced twice in the title, is this maybe a reference to the calling of name amidst the throes of passion?
A bit more outlandish to justify, for this reviewer, yet almost as satisfying, is the spread of the cameo appearances on this project. Not counting the SET track, “Wallflower”, no two cameo tracks are placed in succession to eachother. All are buffered, in the six track duration, by at least one track whereby Donli is the sole performer. This stops it feeling like a feat of who merely features on the EP.
Lady Donli is, vocally, far more diverse than one might initially expect. Another aspect arguably as striking in this project is the seeming symmetry of how everything comes together. How it opens and how it closes is remarkable in not only what is different, but what’s also the same. Clever, daresay, repetition giving it a thematic feel. Lady Donli’s Wallflower EP can be purchased, here, and can be listened to below.
Words by Andrew Watson