Yinka Davies, consummate Nigerian (nay, West African) musician. Music, for Yinka Davies, comes from very deep within (all artistic performance, she says, as she’s also into theatre). Her deep Yoruba roots stand out – the kind you hear at Orisha traditional festivals. But you can loosely classify her music as a cross between traditional music and the West African highlife. She’s all West African, with roots in Nigeria, Benin and Sierra Leone.
The band, Smokie, sang a piece, ‘No puppet on a string’. The lines went: ‘Here’s a man with a fistful of dollars in his hands, telling me just what I’ve got to sing…I don’t wanna be a puppet on a string. No puppet on a string.’
The song might well be about Yinka Davies. This is a woman that sings what comes from her spirit, not what anyone thinks she should sing. Not for her the philosophy that places commercial success ahead of her art – give the people what they want. And she’s comfortable in her own skin.
Her independence is fierce and even without listening to her songs, you could sense it from the titles of her songs. From her Black Chiffon album, you have a number, John 3:16 which makes you think it’s a gospel number. Far from it. Then you have another, For Example. Not for Yinka, the syrup of the day – thrash talk with a veneer of love (or naked sex).
Her very deep roots must have come from the world of theatre, from where her love for music took off in 1986 upon going on an excursion to the National Theatre in Lagos. She must have listened to the performance of Hubert Ogunde (or his acolytes) as her generation barely met Orisha festivals in their natural settings. One half of her family has roots in Benin, which remains heavy into Orisha and could be a remote influence.
You pick the heavy horns of Fela Anikulapo Kuti – the cult figure of musicians that she met, and the signature of Lagos, her city – in her music. Her parents listened to afrobeat, Fela’s creation. She also listened to the likes of Roy Chicago, Ebenezer Obey and Sikiru Ayinde Barista while growing up.
Besides music, Yinka has performed significant roles in theatre. These include Wind vs Poligamy in which she played a lawyer; Salt, a UNESCO-funded project in which she played, Water; Irara Akagbe, directed by Felix Okolo in which she has had to juggle four roles in 1991, 1992, 1994 and 2002. Her latest is playing Sango’s wife in the musical, Legends.