How Nigerian Artists Made Their Mark On British Music


The achievements of a new generation of artists have not just helped shape British pop, but given a sense of pride to the diaspora


Making sure his name is remembered … Skepta. Photograph: Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Making sure his name is remembered … Skepta. Photograph: Roger Kisby/Getty Images

“At school, the African kids used to lie and say they were Jamaican.” Those were the words of Skepta (aka Joseph Junior Adenuga) during a recent profile in the Fader. He spoke about how when the register was called he would try to say his Yoruba surname before his teacher had the chance to mangle it. It’s a story thousands of British Nigerians can relate to and cringe at.

He added: “So when I first came in the game and I’m saying lyrics like: ‘I make Nigerians proud of their tribal scars / My bars make you push up your chest like bras,’ that was a big deal for me. All my early lyrics were about confidence. I can hear myself fighting back.” For a new generation of British Nigerians that fightback feels complete.


A cursory glance around the British musical landscape shows Nigerians making their mark in every corner. There’s the influence of Femi Adeyemi and NTS radio, which beams out music of every conceivable genre and angle via its two bases in Manchester and London. In pop, Tinie Tempah and Taio Cruz have carried on the legacy of previous generations of British Nigerians such as Seal, Sade and Shirley Bassey. Kele Okereke and Gbenga Adelekan of Metronomy are two of British indie’s most prominent faces. Ade Fakile has left an indelible mark on British club culture with his revered venue Plastic People, and, of course, there’s the Adenuga family, who boast two of grime’s most important artists and one of radio’s rising stars – Skepta, JME and Julie Adenuga. That’s before you’ve even got to the music reaching the diaspora from Nigeria itself. The likes of Davido, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage and Yemi Alade have taken Naija Beats all over the world, and inspired a gossip industry that makes Popbitch look like an issue of Gardeners’ World.


This is far from the first moment in history that has tied the two country’s musical legacies together. Fela Kuti’s decision – taken in London – to ditch a career in medicine for a decidedly more uncertain path as a jazz musician is the Nigerian equivalent of Robert Johnson going to the crossroads. What’s different now is that its Nigeria’s influence on British pop culture that’s being talked about.

For me, Nigerian music was my father’s music. It was the poly-rhythms ofKollington, played at ear-piercing levels while my dad made Jollof, Egusi or Eba. It was King Sunny Adé and Fela Kuti blasting out from the soundsystem of our Ford Sierra, and it was Shina Peters providing the soundtrack to Nigerian independence day dances. The music was loud, complex, sophisticated, at times political, and a world away from the paint-it-by-numbers Britpop that I loved.


But as I got older the music became increasingly important. It moved from being background noise to becoming part of a rich heritage to delve into and explore. That’s easier to do because now there’s an abundance of ways to access rare Nigerian music. This year alone has seen the reissue of compilations covering obscure Nigerian rock (Wake Up You: The Rise & Fall of Nigerian Rock 1972-77), music influenced by the independence movement (Nigeria Freedom Sounds), the early work of Fela (Highlife-Jazz and Afro-Soul), and a forgotten Nigerian afro soul album (Tee Mac’s Night Illusion). They are just the latest releases in a reissue movement led by labels such as Soul Jazz, Luaka Bop, Soundway and Honest Jon’s, that has made difficult-to-find Nigerian music more accessible to members of the diaspora.

What these compilations reveal is that Nigerian musicians, as well as honing traditional sounds like jùjú, have always taken foreign music and played it back through a Nigerian filter. From boogaloo and funk to disco and soul, Skepta, Tiwa Savage and Wizkid are continuing an established order that stretches back decades.

If you are a British-Nigerian schoolkid called Babanagida, Okoronkwo or Oludotun, chances are you will have to go through the register ritual just like Skepta did. But the new breed of Nigerian musicians taking Naija Beats and British-Nigerian music global means they will have their own musical history to fall back on: homegrown, distinct and owing just as much to Naija as it does to Blighty.

Source:Lanre Bakare|TheGuardian.com

Last Updated: 14/08/2016

 

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