My phone sat between my hands, with fingers hovering over the lit screen. At the other end is my Kenyan friend, “typing.” And then my screen flushes with her text. She lists seven Nigerian musicians and a song or two alongside their names. I couldn’t but nod with pride.
Across the vast African landscape: from Kampala to Kigali, Accra to Addis Ababa, Conakry to Kinshasa, Nairobi to N’Djamena, you name the media; Tekno, Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Olamide, are enjoying cult followership. You at times might be forgiven for thinking there is a football game at the stadium downtown, and the roaring noise keeps counts of goals scored. No, it’s a sell-out concert, and P-Square is on-stage. It doesn’t stop there. In this social media driven age, they are influencing pop culture, and commanding an ever growing industry; and yes, it is at the summit and breaking new grounds. There is no debating that Nigerian musicians are the biggest thing on the African continent at the moment.
What about cross continents? Can their sounds, a fusion of hip hop, rap and afro beats cross continents, and find home in the rhythm of other continents? So much has been said about the impossibility of this. So much in the negative, that is. It is not uncommon therefore, to hear the “woke” verdict that our boys are “making noise, not music”.
2Face’s African Queen is a beautiful love song. No doubt, it is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written by a Nigerian in arrangement, vocalisation and content. It passes all the tests in flying colours and can comfortably rub shoulders with ballads from any other clime. So also does Faze’s Need Somebody ring true in Khartoum and Kuala Lumpur. Who can forget the whoosh sound that keeps jumping between reggae and the subliminal as if reggae alone is not already sublime. But African Queen was classical in its RnB-ness. It is a glorious rendition in an already existing genre of an already existing sound. If you know, you know. So also is Need Somebody and any other love song ever recorded by any contemporary Nigerian musician. These records were embraced across continents because they were reminiscent of a sound that the world already knows, and is at home with.
When D’banj recorded and released Oliver Twist, the buzz it generated around the world was unprecedented. DJ Jimmy Jatt described it as the song that opened the door to Afro Pop culture where artists around the world now realised that they needed to collaborate with artists from here, as against their hitherto non-acceptance of the genre. Sokunbi described D’banj’s Oliver Twist as a viral campaign that put Afro Pop on British soil. And although we thought D’banj had unlocked the vault of a new sound, the haste to “go there” instead of “staying here” and bringing them over drove that ship to a wreck. The rest as they say is history.
R Kelly’s remix of “IF”
There have been a couple of collaborations between new school artistes and their counterparts from around the world. But none has come close enough to creating a new sound that the young can vibe to and conveniently recreate to acclaim anywhere else. Who’d ever thought that the day would come when American legends will pick up an originally composed Nigerian sound and work completely with it without distorting arrangement or sound? Enter the remix of Davido’s IF by R Kelly. The genius of what the new school is doing with the African beat, sound and vibe is becoming more obvious along with the possibilities therein.
An upbeat baby-making love song, in IF remix, the veteran R Kelly enters Davido’s rhythmic blues like red oil enters hot yams; like the teeth bites into freshly harvested corn thereby revealing, sweet, nuanced beauty of the genuinely rich passionate sound. A promissory note of life for love, money for the body, and veneration for femininity and it’s mystic. “If I make this remix for you girl, would you wind yo body?”
It is easy to debate the vocal richness of Davido’s voice, but the unmistakable passion with which he rolls out image after image, thereby painting a streetwise and unforgettable picture of the new generation Nigerian, nay African, love poetics rings clearly. In the rich elasticity reminiscent of his classic, Slow Wind, R Kelly effortlessly fuses his tingling RnB vocals and arrangement into Davido’s Afro pop sound. Afro Pop can be universal, if the artiste is richly talented enough, as the likes of R Kelly.
The possibilities, without rearrangement, from this song and even through rearrangement, should shush haters for a while; or, spur them to more noise. But whatever it does, we can all grin whenever we remember what R Kelly says in the entre to this song under review: Haters, look what you’ve done!
Samsudeen Alabi is the convergence of a thousand selves: Conversationalist, Moderator, Teacher, and Social Commentator. When he is not at Ignite Africa moderating arts and education events, he’s being a Lawyer somewhere hoping thereby, to reclaim his humanity.