Joy Oladokun’s Label Debut Album “in defense of my own happiness (complete)” Seeks To Fulfil Her Name’s Prophecy With a Tenuous Exploration Of Self

Atmospheric tones, lyrics lacquered in metaphor and pausing percussion expose Oladokun’s sonic experience of love and its differentials. From her platonic appreciation of her friends in “If You Got a Problem” where she narrates the soul-binding exercise of subsuming our friend’s difficulties to lighten their load; to the latter lovelorn ballad “Blink Twice” where her lyrics vest in lack of verbal language; “there’s more to be said in the silence” and “blink twice if you still love me”, Oladokun characterises the millennial experience of negotiating the unspoken as an off-kilter pirouette.

Like many folk artists, Oladokun’s fame has arrived modestly. The likes of Greys Anatomy and Catfish have already featured her songs in pressing interludes between emotive on-screen scenes, yet searching her name in YouTube mostly produces visualisers, lyric videos, still images and a Muppets-inspired music video as substitution for her likeness. Nonetheless, it is her most recent performance of “breathe again” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that puts a face to the name. Already she has drawn comparison to the likes of Tracy Chapman who is similarly dark-skinned in hue, with dreadlocks, queer and beholden to a guitar.

Without inference, Oladokun’s 24-song album “in defense of my own happiness (complete)”feels like semesters of reckoning encased into an hour and a quarter. Her journey into self begins with “jordan”, a scene-setting sayonara to the holy river bearing the same name. Oladokun speaks of “building a new promise-land”, the architecture of which we later see in songs like “judas”; herein the listener calculates Oladokun’s foundational struggle with religion, vacillating between whether she herself is Judas (the Biblical figure that betrayed Jesus), or has turned her lover into stone (like Lot’s wife). Extending on this theme, Oladokun debates if she is “folding to the ages” or “trapped inside the pages” of a holy book that saturates her context yet resists her sexuality. Such imagery conjures a parallel to Bob Dylan’s line: “If your time to you is worth savin’, and you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone for the times they are a-changin’” in the hit song “The Times They Are-A Changing”; throughout this album Oladokun speaks of drowning; each song proving a stroke in her swim to salvation.

In this climate of stillness where the pandemic has staggered a return to fast-paced life, Oladokun’s folkish hum calibrates listeners to their inner rhythms. The complimenting lower-case spelling of most of her songs like “smoke” and “breathe again” tempt us to appreciate the astrological signs of fire and air that we take for granted. In the event Oladokun’s listeners ache for a jauntier pace, “too high” provides a tempo that is sharper and less whispery than its blunter counterparts. Still, the slow run of Oladokun’s voice remains a signature as she keeps to her own style, even in harmonies, as seen in her feature with Maren Morris in “Bigger Man.”

One of the few times the listener hears Oladokun break a vocal sweat is in my favourite song “sunday” in which she unapologetically smarts high decibels in the final chorus. Considering “sunday” is one of the few songs that has a music video (featuring one gay and one lesbian couple and their children), the song itself anthropomorphises her desire to be loved out loud and out queer. My hope is that her future projects continue this journey of fulfilling her namesake, and finding both joy and Joy, without defence.

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