The Nigerian pop star and Kanye West signee proves that G.O.O.D. Music comes from Africa.
Written by Rob Marriott (@Tafari)
While D’Banj was the star of the sold out LiveNation show at Irving Plaza, a broader agenda quickly became apparent. The three hour Mo’ Hits Records musical carnival was nothing less than a global assault of the new Nigerian style and sound: the opening salvo of a campaign to capture the massive American market. Prior to this event, the American market was small money to D’Banj—a genuine global phenom from the urgent, populous city of Lagos. But now that he’s a G.O.O.D. Music artist, D’Banj is looking to add the U.S. to his list of conquests.
Prior to this event, the American market was small money to D’Banj—a genuine global phenom from the urgent, populous city of Lagos. But now that he’s a G.O.O.D. Music artist, D’Banj is looking to add the U.S. to his list of conquests.
New York’s formal introduction to D’Banj last month was full of pomp and circumstance. DJ LG warmed up an already hot crowd of shiny weaves, tight dresses, high collars and bow ties with the latest heat from Lagos. The stylish crowd swung from the hyper chic—Kenyan ladies clutching Balenciaga bags next to Naija (Nigerian) flyboys in thick scarves and Urkel frames—to big-boned ladies prancing up stairs in just-this-side-of-the-prom dresses alongside hustlers decked in full white.
DJ LG’s records moved through West Africa with a bow to dancehall’s riddimatics and hyphy’s bass drops. Selections by Khago, Beenie Man and Vybz Kartel moved the crowd but special reverence was reserved for the Naija rappers: Naeto C’s “5 and 6” excited the women close to the front, Kas’s “Fi Me Le” jump-started a collective rocking, and recent Akon signee Wiz Kid —Nigeria’s answer to Justin Bieber—had the crowd reciting every word. When LG dropped Ghanaian rapper Sarkodie’s skanky “You Kill Me” many in the largely African crowd hunched their shoulders and broke into the latest dance craze out of Accra, the “Azonto.”
D’Banj mounted the stage to wild screams, backed by a live band. Preening in an Elvis-style gold sequined jacket, he was every bit a cross-breed of R. Kelly and Fela Kuti. Standing center stage, he soaked in the female adoration before disappearing behind a lowered screen. Whitney Houston’s image appeared and “Your Love is My Love” blasted from the speakers as D’Banj accompanied her on his harmonica, which was a gift from his deceased older brother.
His show is a seven-year musical journey, tracing not only the thread of D’Banj’s career but also the incremental development of the new Naija sound—a scatter of traditional drums, rap, R&B production and dancehall signifiers delivered with Nigerian bombast. The lush production and variety of styles covered over the three hours served as a testament to two of its major architects: D’Banj with his sinewy bravado and infectious energy, and Don Jazzy, his prolific and masterful producer, who almost single-handedly shifted the direction of the Nigeria’s music culture. Although he spent only a short time onstage—wielding his infamous walking cane—in ways both large and small, this show was as much his as it was D’Banj’s.
Over the last seven years, Don Jazzy, as shrewd a businessman as he is a musician, has found the golden mean between the rap and R&B of a new generation of global Africans and the more traditional melodic sounds that appeal to their conservative parents. Having firmly established his Mo’ Hits All Stars throughout Africa and Europe, Nigeria’s Dr. Dre quietly moves toward the establishment of an Afrobeat moment in the American dance scene. And perhaps he could find no better partner than Kanye West, who has been thinking and moving more and more globally with every new project. Those familiar with Afrobeat can’t help but notice traces of that sound in Watch the Throne. Even more evident is that Kanye’s Euro-styling has more in common with London-based Africans like Oswald Boateng than any of his counterparts on this side of the Atlantic. Never has the U.S. market been more ripe for the sound and aesthetics of the new Naija pop. By scheduling this tour throughout the U.S., Jazzy is perfectly positioned to seize the opportunity.
Kanye’s Euro-styling has more in common with London-based Africans like Oswald Boateng than any of his counterparts on this side of the Atlantic.
After running through older Lagos hits like “Gbono Feli Feli” and “Fall in Love” D’Banj brought Mo Hits breakout star Wande Coal who quickly lights the stage up with a buoyant energy all his own. His dance hit “Bumper to Bumper” gets the crowd jumping and crescendos in an epic drum chant that was both ancient and futuristic at the same time. Dr. Sid and D’Prince pushed the crowd into celebratory limber-legged dancing. Ikechuku, a veteran of the Nigerian scene, performed his 2008 classic “Wind Am Well,” which brought D’Banj back out for the final third leg. At this point the crowd began to split into separate buzzing camps. Some remembered the older hits by the “Kokomaster,” others were fresh to these rhythms. In the back near the bar, the girls got low.
Forever strutting the line between rap artist and singer, D’Banj delivered his later hits like “Well Endowed” (remixed with Snoop Dogg) and the carnival jump of “Igwe” and “Scapegoat” with the women in mind. He scanned the audience for women to provoke. “How old are you?” he said, pointing at a buxom Kenyan woman, “Are you sure? Show me your ID.”
“I am an African man,” D'Banj explained over the drums of “Igwe,” “When we see something we like, there is no hesitation, we tek it.”
'I am an African man,' D'Banj explained over the drums of 'Igwe,' 'When we see something we like, there is no hesitation, we tek it.'
After playing “Niggas In Paris” to demonstrate to “his new boss” that his audience knows and loves it, he announced a new D’Banj album “with Kanye’s touch.” By the time the Koko master—as D’Banj is known in Nigeria—finally got to “Oliver,” the recent Internet sensation and dance, it was almost anti-climactic. Irving Plaza was already straining to contain the restless energy of the crowd. In the back near the bar, arguments broke out while a few couples kept grinding intensely against the wall. Four or five too many women, all suffering from four hours in heels, squeezed themselves onto the one couch available in the downstairs lounge.
By midnight a taxi driver originally from Kwara State in Nigeria arrived in front of Irving Plaza, watching the boisterous and glittery crowd spill out of the theater. He looked stunned and confused. “Is it finished?,” he says, “That fast? When it was explained to him the show was over, he was crestfallen. “I was just about to buy a ticket.”