Naija comes to Bassline Fest
10 Apr 2018 MUSIC
By Tymon Smith
Nigeria – one of Africa’s largest countries; home to almost 200 million people who represent 250 different ethnic groups and speak 520 languages – a bustling, passionate, urgent and constantly evolving space where tradition and modernity push up against each other like tectonic plates. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the country’s rich and vast variety of musical expression. From the sounds of High Life jazz in the 1950s to the pulsing driving Afrobeat rhythms of Fela Kuti and psychedelic rock experiments of the 1970s to the disco and boogie sounds of Lagos in the 1980s, the exuberant and internationally popular sounds of King Sunny Ade through to distinct re-imaginings of hip-hop and reggae and now the worldwide smash hits of Naija artists such as Yemi Alade, P Square, D’Banj and Wizkid – Nigerian music has quickly and loudly taken over the world’s airwaves.
Over the last five years, the Naija or Afrobeats (not to be mistaken for Kuti’s Afrobeat) sound has utilised the potential offered by social media and digital platforms to create an industry that a recent Price Waterhouse Coopers report estimates will be worth $86 billion in 2020 with a market in which digital platforms will count for 90% of its revenue.
Two artists performing at this year’s Bassline Fest represent the very different but uniquely Nigerian sounds of the country’s musical heritage.
First off, there’s Nigerian born Afrobeat saxophone player Femi Koya who arrived in Newtown in Johannesburg in 2005, hoping to work as a choirmaster for a Nigerian church in the inner-city but found himself unemployed and living on the streets before finding a popular market for his driving, exuberant songs of life in the diaspora that fit into the tradition of Kuti’s legendary, politically charged and sexually driven Afrobeat classics. On albums such as Iba, Koya combines the influence of Fela with the pulsating drive of Cameroonian legend Manu Dibango to create a diversity of music that, while it pays homage to those who have come before him, also recognises his place as a member of Nigeria’s vast diasporic community in South Africa – linking local heroes such as Steve Biko and Robert Sobukwe to Obamefi Awolowo, Patrice Lumumba, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. Watching Koya perform, it’s hard not to find your heart and body pounding to the beat while also applauding his clear and exuberant enthusiasm as a performer. He’s a welcome but also distinct contributor to the continuance of the Afrobeat genre that’s been lead by Kuti’s sons Femi and Sean.
Yemi Alade, meanwhile, provides another side of the Nigerian music coin – sassy, sexy, queen of the music video and displaying a polymath’s love of a variety of styles that make up her already impressively diverse and large output, which has seen her become a commercially successful and sought-after artist not just in Nigeria but in the US and Europe. It’s no surprise that the work of Alade and fellow Afrobeats/Naija artists like Wizkid, D’Banj, P Square, Olamide and Lil Kesh has seen them collaborate with artists such as Drake, Kanye West, Rick Ross and Akon and Diplo.
In the centenary of Nelson Mandela and in the spirit of his ethos of reconciliation and acceptance Koya and Alade will provide opportunities for anybody with a body and a remote sense of rhythm to come together, moved by the spirit of one of the most universally enjoyable human expressions – that thing we can all trust in when all else fails – music.
These two Nigerian artists will be performing on the first day of the Fest, Saturday 26 May.