Monday, 3 August 2015

Young John The Wicked Producer and that thing called Nigerian Music

Saturday evening. I'm going through the motions with my repertoire of Nigerian music; and that means a cycle of chest-thumping and allusions to fibrillating feminine hind; a vicious cycle now orchestrated by, well, Young John The Wicked Produzer. What's in a name! But make no mistakes, whether you like it or not, it is Nigerian music, and you will dance. Today my playlist mirrors the streets, owo ni koko, and Davido is King. Sometimes, there is an element of the distant past rearing its head; Remedies' Sakomo, hauntingly nostalgic, the rhyming was impeccable but that's because Eedris Abdulkareem, and his friends, were mostly making stuff up - laying the gauntlet for Konga to later run with from Ebute-Metta to Ilesa.

But the problem with talking sweepingly about Nigerian music, like the debate about what is African writing, is that a definition, or even a description, leaves so much behind; in part because one readily confuses narrowness for singularity. But, no, not everytime Shoki, sometimes Iyawo Mi, sometimes things less distinct, as the music mirrors a pot of egusi soup: sweet. Just. But then there is something else. See, Asa we all know is a witch, and little known Jeremiah is quite good, too; but when the two got together on My Heart Is On Fire, they recorded the best duet in Nigerian music since Tuface sang a hook for Remedies - except that isn't a duet, and this isn't technically Nigerian music.

Listening to Asa and Jeremiah Gyang mournfully profess love to each other on this song lends one a keen sense of otherness, love, oneness, beauty, pain, and a wordless wonder. It is a lamentation that deserves, as all pain does, only empathy and silence. The requests in the lyrics are slavish;
the emotion that bears them, commanding. Jeremiah Gyang, oblivious of the irony and understandably disoriented proclaimed that he is taken higher by the lady and love - both are now inseparable. He says, too, that his heart is on fire. I'm inclined to believe only the latter cry. He's forgiven: he knew not what he was saying. Look, listen, his was the voice of a sinking man, singing from the depths, singing in, from, and for love. Because love is a lowering; a burning into nothingness; and all a lover wants is a witnessing of his suffering, his dying, and death. In silence. The lover does not want to be consoled, to be consoled is to be out of love. The only pride a lover has is to be seen as capable of loving, intensely, deeply, and without pride. Let the lover suffer. The suffering is his burden; and the shared burden his reward. Let him cry. Let him die and wake up starry-eyed, wrapped in the lover's arms, in silence. Music fades. The song becomes an haunting echo.

What came next is a bang: Lil' Kesh, introduced by a familiar jiggle of metal, and an autotuned female voice calling us to order: it's Young John The Wicked Produzer. Then, a hoarse teenage voice chants the spirits of the gods - skiboroboskibo, skiboroboskibo. The song, Gbese, a rhythmic chaos, has started. But long before now, the instinctive dance, too: popular and peculiar, Shoki; this is Nigerian music, Nigerian dance, chaotic, distinctly ordered to knock you out, and this one is game over

Written by: Tobi Alaaka.
Tobi Alaaka  is on Facebook. You could be friends with him if you love to read and you're nice.


  1. I like the fact that you admitted that the more mainstream Nigerian music is still actually pretty damn good and very listenable. Usually this kind of article ends up castigating Nigerian pop artistes and saying that everyone should be Asa, Nneka, Chidinma, Bez or Praiz.

    I like the fact that you recognise that there is space for everyone and that all music has its audience. Keep writing.