/ 21 October 2011

Nigerians ride the superstar wave

Nigerians Ride The Superstar Wave

The Nigerian music scene is ­thriving and for stars such as 2face Idibia, D’banj and Wizkid the rewards are greater than ever. It is a country where every other youngster wants to be a rap or hip-hop star. And for those who make it in Nigeria these days the rewards can be greater — and certainly more international — than ever.

Take singer-songwriter D’banj. Kanye West recently signed him for his Good (Getting Out Our Dreams) music label. Then there is Wizkid, recently named best African act at the Mobo awards in Glasgow. All this has come in a year in which Trace Urban, a French-owned international music-TV network, has begun broadcasting in Nigeria.

D’banj is living the new Nigerian Dream — superstardom beyond what anyone could have imagined in the late 1990s when Kennis Music, a local record label, took the first steps towards a revival of mainstream Nigerian music culture.

As D’banj steps on stage in a ­stadium in Lagos, wearing a sparkling black shirt and blue trousers, the large space transforms into one huge mass of excitement — with kicking, screaming, shoving and frenzied cellphone recording. He stops, then throws both hands in the air in a salute.

“I look up to D’banj,” says Topa Onimowo, otherwise known as ­Phenom, a 19-year-old who has been signed to the Nigerian label Knighthouse. The company has already created one teenage superstar, Mo’Cheddah, who last year won Channel O’s best music video award and an MTV Africa award for best new artist.

“He [D’banj] is doing a lot of great things, big things across the world,” says Phenom. “Everyone aspires to be big in this business and in a couple of years I, too, would have taken over the world.”

A new stage
From the huge Koko All Stars ­concerts held in Nigerian cities, as well as in the United Kingdom and the United States, to small local ­gatherings that find “hidden” hip-hop talent, Nigerian music is ­thriving.

Trace Urban’s grand entrance into Nigeria’s cable and terrestrial ­market came just weeks after Nigerian ­producer and music entrepreneur Don Jazzy’s name appeared on the credits for the single Lift Off, a Kanye West collaboration with ­Jay-Z, ­featuring Beyoncé.

The youth of Nigeria — more than 70% of the population is under 35 — are paying close attention.

Tjan (Tijani Fowosere), a 19-year-old who has already recorded eight singles, echoes Phenom’s ambition.

“My dream is enormously big,” he says. “I see myself as a Grammy ­nominee in a few years’ time. Bigs up to people like Don Jazzy and the Choc Boys. Right now, Wizkid is ­killing me.”

The 21-year-old Wizkid is the country’s latest sensation. The launch of his debut album, Superstar, in June attracted the who’s who of the Nigerian music industry, as well as the wife of Lagos’s popular governor. His arrival on stage is guaranteed to be greeted by girls screaming.

Dreams and hopes and reality

“I always dreamed of making it big,” he says. “But I never thought that this much success would come from my first album. I’m thankful because all the hard work and sacrifices were worth it in the end. Music is everything to me and I’m most grateful that it’s all working out.”

But 2face Idibia, who has been called Africa’s biggest pop star, has a warning: “Success is good, but people don’t understand the kind of hard work that it takes to get to the top — and the fact that many dreams and hopes fall by the wayside.”

Still, Wizkid thinks there is no ­reason why young Nigerians cannot aim high.

“I think it is a great thing,” he says. “Because now people in this part of world realise that you don’t have to wait ’til you’re much older to be the best at something or to achieve your dreams.”

Judging by the thousands of youngsters who have registered to audition for the second season of the hugely popular Nigerian Idols and who will have to stand in long queues in the hot October sun, a ­generation agrees with him. —