Nearly two decades ago, in 2000, a CD called “Body & Soul: The Beginning” showed up in the markets of Lagos, Nigeria—an album that quickly became a regional hit, and, more gradually, helped spark a musical movement that has changed the sound of global pop. It was the work of Plantashun Boiz, a young trio that might accurately have been described as a boy band. The members—known as Tuface, BlackFace, and Faze—sometimes performed in matching outfits and often sang in matching voices, delivering plaintive, briskly syncopated love songs that bore traces of R. Kelly and Destiny’s Child. Careful listeners heard something else, too: a declaration of local pride. “Ememma,” one of the most popular tracks, captured the emergence of a hybrid new form of R. & B., propelled by a loping kick-drum beat and slippery verses delivered in Idoma, Tuface’s native language.
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Tuface was born Innocent Idibia, and his musical education was influenced by his father’s record collection, which included albums by such Nigerian heroes as Fela Kuti, the funk-obsessed firebrand, and Bongos Ikwue, a singer-songwriter who specialized in an easeful sort of dance music. Like many pioneers, Idibia is less a virtuoso than a brilliant synthesist, with a knack for drawing together far-flung influences to create songs that seem plainspoken and homegrown. In 2004, recording under the name 2Face Idibia, he released a single called “Nfana Ibaga,” which pointed toward the future of Nigerian pop. Idibia’s song was talky but tuneful, drawing from hip-hop and dancehall reggae, and it built to an infectious, polyglot chorus:
- Nfana ibaga
- Never give another man yawa o
- So the reason why I say “nfana ibaga”
- Is that I got my conscience on my side.
The titular phrase is an expression from the Efik language that means, essentially, “no problem.” Yawa is a Nigerian Pidgin term for “problem.” The song became not just a local hit but a global export; Beenie Man, the Jamaican star, appeared on the remix, trying and failing to upstage his host.
In the years since Idibia’s solo début, the Lagos music scene has produced a riot of new stars and new sounds. The music, which tends to be frenetic but playful, is sometimes called Afrobeats. (The term is often pluralized, to distinguish it from Afrobeat, Fela Kuti’s brand of funk.) It lives not just in Lagos but also in London, a secondary hub, and in other cities worldwide. One of its biggest boosters has been the Canadian rapper Drake, who made a series of recordings with the Afrobeats star WizKid; their collaboration “One Dance,” from 2016, is among the most popular songs of this decade in any genre.
This summer, the photographer Namsa Leuba went to Lagos to photograph performers from the city’s astonishingly fertile music scene. Idibia was there; he is now known as 2Baba and treated as a kind of Afrobeats godfather. (In 2015, he threw himself a fortieth-birthday party that was simultaneously a national celebration and an all-star concert.) Also on hand were a number of younger performers, all of whom have inherited Idibia’s conviction that the sound of Lagos can—in fact, should—echo across the globe
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