Afropop is pleased to unveil a new series of guest posts from bloggers around the world, offering coverage of music scenes by writers who know them best. Our latest installment comes to us from Juwon Ajayi, an expert on the scene in Lagos, Nigeria.
I’ll never forget how shocked I was the first time I saw an American artist perform in Nigeria. It was last year and rapper Wale was in the country for the first time (though he is Nigerian) for an event. What I remember vividly is how surprised I was watching a room full of people barely sway to the music. It was kind of brutal. It wasn’t like Wale didn’t perform well: He was awesome. He killed it. Maybe the crowd was tired? The event did start late, which is typical for events in Lagos.
After Wale left the stage, Nigerian artist Davido came on. The noise was deafening. Throughout his performance, that same crowd of catatonic people were cheering and singing along to his songs. He performed his hit song “Skelewu” and people lost their damn minds. Girls screamed for him, guys looked on with a mixture of envy and admiration.
Spend enough time in Nigeria and you’ll soon realize that we love music. Yes, that can be said about every person in every country. What I mean is we love “our” music. Artists from abroad are respected and admired but they will never get as many cheers from the crowd as an artist who reps Naija. You can play Beyonce, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus all day long in Lagos and I guarantee you people won’t jam as hard to their songs as they will to Tiwa Savage.
It can be said the singer/songwriter, who people started noticing when she competed on the U.K. version of “The X Factor” in 2006, is Nigeria’s Queen of Afropop. It’s a title that’s well deserved. Savage (real name Tiwatope Savage Balogun) is not only a successful composer of songs for Fantasia Barrino, Monica, Kat Deluna and others, she is a bonafide superstar. It’s a rare feat for female singers in Nigeria, which is probably why Savage is the first African female to be named a Pepsi Ambassador. And her debut album has only been out for less than a year!
Being Nigerian by birth doesn’t mean you’ll be successful in Nigeria (ahem, Wale). You have to be Nigerian. Although Savage has lived in Europe and the United States, her songs are laced with Yoruba. Tiwa Savage embraces her country, so her country embraces her.
Singer Emma Nyra said it best when she explained, “When I first started here I was told my music sounded like ‘imitation Naija music’.” Emma explains that once she moved back to Lagos she understood the difference between music in Nigeria and the songs she first recorded. “I could hear the drums first. There’s a pattern to Nigerian music that you somehow get used to. You hear that pattern in about 20 songs. Right now it’s like a circle.”
Nigerian artists have never lacked fans but they haven’t always catered to them the way artists in other countries do. I’m talking about slick music videos, epic concert experiences, well-produced albums. What’s significant is how much the Nigerian music industry has changed in the last five years.
For example, the production quality of music videos made in Nigeria is significantly better. When Davido first released the music video for “Skelewu,” fans complained so much about the crappy quality that his label filmed and released a new version.
In addition to better music videos, the industry is making sure artists live up to their fans’ expectations in person as well. As endorsement deals become something every well-established artist has or wants, having a publicist, a stylist and a glam squad is becoming the norm. After all, you have to spend money to make money. “When I came to Nigeria, I came with the mindset that ‘it’s all about the package’,” says singer Seyi Shay. “Before I came to the industry, I didn’t see anyone building his or her brand. Everyone is catching on now. People are starting to look better, sound better, perform better.”
Re’ Olunuga, founder of the Lagos Philharmonic, agrees. “Three years ago most artists would be singing and rapping over CDs and shouting over their own voice. There are better ways to perform. Any time I meet an artist that wants a band, I’m excited and I’ll help them do that.”
Simply put, Nigerian artists are killing it these days. There’s a lot happening in the industry right now and the changes are exciting. While African pop is arguably the most favored genre at the moment, it’ll be interesting to hear the music that comes out of the country in the next five years. Luckily, what is being released at the moment finally measures up to what the country is capable of producing.