The Most Important Nigerian Songs since 1999 According to The Jide Taiwo – Dami Ajayi

Afrobeats, that subgenre of contemporary Nigerian music, which has now clinched at least two Grammy nominations in the World music category, can no longer be ignored.

It is dance music for ephemeral escapists. It is the fodder of club dancehalls, even as Covid-19 supervenes as a deterrent.

 In the interim, it is the music of Nigerian youth regardless of geography, class and aspiration. It is not particularly vaunted by older critics, if the commentary by Reuben Abati a few years ago is representative—but regardless, Abati received his flaggellation via Banky W’s prompt response.

While Afrobeats music has achieved widespread fame, it has not been written about enough. I say this with an understanding of the efforts of my cohort who offer commentary, critique and even tweets in veneration of the music—but what is also needed are books, as in physical constructs that can give beyond a snapshot of what the music has done for itself.

This is where The Jide Taiwo’s “History Made: The Most Important Nigerian Songs Since 1999 ” comes in. A 173 pager, it explores 21 songs since 1999. History Made is an attempt at charting the most significant moments in Afrobeats’ nascent history.

Note that Taiwo does not call the music, Afrobeats. In his preface, he labelled this term, a misnomer and has promised a book in exploring why this is the case. Rather, he favours the term, urban Nigerian music, a new appearance, if not a coinage that may be inspired by American contemporary music.

He also clarifies his choice of word, “important” as opposed to “popular” in this rather short preface which could have been filled out into a robust reflection on at least 21 years of this music that has so piqued his interest.

Taiwo is not overly interested in what was popular; in his view, importance is a more significant measure, one that transcends impact and commercial success. This is why he privileges the now little known Gino’s “No be God” rap song over D’Banj’s hit, “Why Me” for his 2016 entry.

In History Made, songs are scaffoldings for hoisting reflections about the moment, not so much the song or music. Taiwo’s urgent imperative is to discuss the music circuit as opposed to reflecting on the music itself. Hence, we are immersed in the trivial politics behind the music from the scratch, but not so much about the synergism between the producer and the singer, the energy in the studio booth or the back story of the lyrics.

The most important song of 1999 is Tony Tetuila’s “Omode Meta” and the backstory provided helps us to unpack, very quickly, the roles of Kennis Music and her founders, the defunct Remedies trio, Plantashun Boys and the now forgotten Tetuila in a feud that obviously was probably amplified and stage-managed for gains.

The approach of using songs to start conversation has its benefits. These songs were not arbitrarily selected, there was a method that required active decisions. In 2011, Chidinma’s “Kedike” was selected above Wizkid’s “Pakuromo”, after a Twitter poll by the author.  Music critic, Udochukwu Ikwuagwu, averred that “Kedike was more influential. More pop culture influence and more important to Chidinma’s career than “Pakurumo” to Wizkid’s career.”

This delicate intervention is what opens the door to two songs by women. Yemi Alade’s “Johnny” and Chindinma’s “Kedike” are the most important songs by women since 1999 by Jide Taiwo’s account. If this statement does not ring true in your opinion, then we can be in agreement that the methods are somewhat flawed. We can further agree that popularity, not importance, can be objectively measured.

But History Made is not really about the songs themselves and if these songs were to become some kind of playlist for the uninitiated listener, it will be an absolute disservice because how do we talk about Afrobeats, without reflect on the way the music has changed itself, without one of her longest serving heroes, Timaya. And Timaya’s place is so assured in the contemporary history of Afrobeats history that it is sacrilegious for him to be exempted totally from the conversation.

If there is a single most important song, the book does not expressly say but the stardust showered on Wizkid’s remix of “Ojuelegba” with Skepta and Drake is suggestive of how iconic that moment was for Afrobeats. The makings of Marvin Records, Don Jazzy’s response to his separation from his joint venture with D’Banj, Mo Hits, also enjoys an authorial effusiveness that wasn’t quite sustained throughout the book.

History Made is a personal reflection on Afrobeats by one of its enduring fans and as with all personal histories, the bias is obvious from the selected songs to what is left unsaid about each song and artiste. The book works as a compendium of profiles of the musicians who made this music, stitching together common and insider knowledge, rare interviews  and personal insight.

For anyone who loves Afrobeats since Eddie Montana, formerly of The Remedies, lent his vocal cords to the opening adlibs of “Sakomo” this book is simply unputdownable. There is still a lot to be said, like Taiwo suggested in his preface, but here is a gambit, a making of history in its own right.

History Made: The Most Important Nigerian Songs Since 1999 is available at Roving Heights Bookshop.

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