has the time come for nigeria’s music scene to step up?
As Davido and Wizkid go global, we look into the mainstream’s growing embrace of Nigerian sounds.
It's little wonder Drake topped the UK charts this week with "One Dance" featuring Wizkid and Kyla. Having remixed Wizkid's "Ojuelegba" featuring Skepta last year -- which prompted Alicia Keys to post a clip of herself dancing to it on Instagram (netting 115K likes) -- this follow up confirms the rapper's fondness for, and the mainstream's growing embrace of Nigerian sounds. Wizkid has even jumped on an R. Kelly track. Meanwhile fellow Naija star Davido has recorded with Meek Mill, landed a Fader cover, shut it down at SXSW and crucially, signed to Sony. This current wave of interest follows other high profile moves in recent times -- Dbanj working with Kanye West, P-Square with Rick Ross, Timaya with Sean Paul and Olamide, Don Jazzy and Reekado Banks with Wale to name a few. And Ciara just touched down in Lagos to learn some new dance moves, where the local music industry has become a serious money-spinner. It seems the scene's long-promised crossover is now beginning to come to fruition.
Nigeria is Africa's giant. The continent's most populous country (182 million) and biggest economy, its creative capital Lagos has a rich musical heritage running through its veins. Since the 60s popular artists such as King Sunny Adé, Fatai Rolling Dollar, Ebenezer Obey, Orlando Julius, and Shina Peters have garnered global attention but none more so than afrobeat legend Fela Kuti whose music continues to inspire. Palm wine music, high life, juju and fuju have all been birthed here and since the 90s hip hop has reigned thanks to pioneers such as Tribesmen and Plantashun Boyz whose band member 2face Idibia has sealed stardom alongside the likes of Wande Coal, MI, Banky W and Dr Sid.
Today's young guard of artists are benefitting from the foundations built by these trailblazers. The likes of Burna Boy, Patoranking and Kiss Daniel are blowing up with their individual takes on the Nigerian sound. Afrobeats. Jollof music. Naijapop. Call it what you will, its mix of traditional rhythms with immediate hooks and fresh beats (from trap and dancehall to alkayida and kwaito) is insanely contagious. As the scene matures, new names are coming through who are going beyond auto-tuned club bangers and living up to the hype.
"Everyone is looking for original music and all eyes are on Nigeria right now. Our music is easy but charismatic and has that African swag," explains DJ Obi. A resident at Lagos club Sip who has toured the UK with Lynxxx, his current set is as likely to include Ycee's "Omo Alhaji" as Rihanna's "Work." "Lagos is the New York of Africa. It's a fast paced city where people love to party. The new guys are changing it up and getting real attention, which is pushing everyone to show more diversity and offer a global sound." Tec, one half of rap duo Show Dem Camp (SDC) with Ghost, agrees. "Music here is a form of escapism. After a tough week of no fuel or electricity, Nigerians just want to go to the club and hear something catchy. But not all songs have to be about popping champagne and shaking your bum." He cites rising talents Simi and Falz the Bahd Guy as ones to watch.
SDC also forms part of The Collectiv3, the alternative super group headed up by Syndik8 Records producer Ikon alongside Temi Dollface, Funbi, Poe, Kid Konnect and Nsikak. "Nigeria is filled with talent. With this generation and generations to come we are producing the biggest and most influential names in the world. That is a fact," says Ikon. "The artists I work with make conscious music that moves our culture forward." His latest single Solomon is case in point. Rapping over indigenous Yoruba refrains, it's a contemplative song about letting go of the dearly departed and making the most of life.
Vocalists Funbi and Poe offer an authentic take on Afrosoul and have united on tracks such as "Sexy Bitch" and "Adore Her." "Music is my legacy. I'm bringing the old school into 2016. What Nigerians are offering now is unique," says Funbi. The pair performed at the recently concluded Gidi Fest. Now in its third edition, the annual one-dayer by Eclipse Live has become Nigeria's largest outdoor music festival attracting headliners from across the continent. "Today music is a way out and a viable career path for Nigeria's youth. And that's what Gidi Fest stands for. Nigeria is the forerunner of Africa because we're the noisiest but the quality is also apparent, from my more minimalist sound to the braggadocios street music of Olamide," adds Poe, who has just lent a freestyle to said rapper's viral hit "Who You Epp."
Gidi Fest marks itself apart by billing Nigerian music of all flavors. This year first ladies Tiwa Savage and Yemi Alade shared the stage with urban highlife artist Adekunle Gold and the Koko Master himself Dbanj. "Gidi Fest has set the standard. We're bridging the gap both on and off the continent. Now it's all about reaching an international audience," says co-founder Chin Okeke who plans to expand the event to South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and the US.
Most insiders agree though that there are still many infrastructural challenges facing the true rise of Naija music. "We've come a long way and the potential is enormous but there's lots of scope for evolution," says drama soul queen Temi Dollface, who is making waves with her current release "School Your Face." "We must improve intellectual property protection and seal leaks in distribution channels so that artists don't have to depend on shows and endorsements to generate income."
DJ Cuppy, a Lagos native currently living in NYC where she's a resident on MTV2's Uncommon Sense, believes in strength in numbers. "Nigeria has set the pace for the rest of the continent. You can't avoid the bubbling noise we're making. But for sustained crossover there needs to be more pan-African collaborations and more fusions. The time is ripe to achieve greatness."
Text Helen Jennings
Photography courtesy Gidi Fest