Beats Generation: The Nigerian musicians who are changing the sound of global pop.

by

Photographs by Namsa Leuba  Text by Kelefa Sanneh

2BABA

2Baba has to compete with younger peers nowadays, so his music has grown sleeker and more up-tempo. Last summer, he released an infectious dance track called “Gaga Shuffle.” (Photographed in Eko Atlantic City.)

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.

https://.www.stars.ng/2baba

ADEKUNLE GOLD + THE 79TH ELEMENT

Adekunle Gold and the 79th Element update old-fashioned highlife grooves with R. & B. and house music. Gold describes himself as the best live performer in Nigeria. (Photographed at Freedom Park.)

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.

https://.www.stars.ng/adekunle

NINIOLA

Niniola had a breakthrough hit last year with “Maradona,” an elegant, sinuous dance track that was recently reissued by DJ Snake, a French producer evidently eager to associate himself with the sound of Lagos. (Photographed on Victoria Island.)

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.

https://.www.stars.ng/niniola

DAVIDO

A riches-to-riches tale: Davido is the son of one of Nigeria’s most successful businessmen. He is also one of the most popular musicians on the continent, a winsome and tireless hitmaker. (Photographed at home.)

https://.www.stars.ng/davido

FALANA

Falana grew up outside Toronto, and her music bears the influence of Latin jazz as well as of Fela Kuti; her repertoire includes a cover of Kuti’s “Lady.” (Photographed at the National Arts Theatre.)

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

SIMI

Simi specializes in songs, not in dance tracks: she is an expressive singer and writer, and her music coasts along on gentle, rippling rhythms. (Photographed on Victoria Island.)

https://.www.stars.ng/simi

MARS AND BARZINI

Mars and Barzini are an emerging singing-rapping duo. In “Suegbe,” they pay multilingual tribute to weed, wine, and women: “I’ve got some good kush and alcohol / I get okpeke wey I fit call.” (Photographed at Lagos City Hall.)

MAKA

Maka is a jazz-inspired soul singer, not an Afrobeats star, but she nevertheless finds ways to extoll the energy of the city where she lives: “5 a.m. to sundown / Lagos no dey turn down.” (Photographed at the Miliki lounge, on Victoria Island.)

SEYI SHAY

Seyi Shay is a singer and songwriter with an aptitude for the thing that every pop star needs, no matter her location: big, memorable hooks. (Photographed at the Eko Hotel.)

https://.www.stars.ng/seyishay

SKALES

In 2014, Skales released a fast-and-furious hit single called “Shake Body,” which evokes the thrilling, slightly menacing atmosphere of a night club that feels like it’s about to explode. (Photographed in Eko Atlantic City.)

https://.www.stars.ng/skales

If you like this, please share!