Here are some of the moments that defined the zeitgeist in 2021.
Last year's pandemic outbreak brought an unprecedented change to popular culture. In the absence of real-life communions, social media moved into the center of Nigerian life and entertainers–whether through comedy, film or music–primarily utilized the medium to define the zeitgeist.
This year, there’s been no shortage of such great cultural moments. Nigerian creators have again shown that they are the gold standard, going on to be celebrated in these streets as well as beyond the shores of the country. Though the nation's politics still leaves much to be desired, we've had these works to keep our spirits burning; these works which tell the resilient and brilliant story of the Nigerian youth. In no particular order, we dissect the highs of Nigerian cultural production throughout 2021.
Here Comes The Amapiano
Amapiano, a breezy, percussion-laced genre birthed from the townships of Johannesburg, became a sensation throughout Nigeria. Though courting large audiences in South Africa over the past few years (notable performers include DJ Maphorisa, Sha Sha, Kabza De Small, etc.), majority of Nigerian listeners caught onto the sound in late 2020 when producers like Masterkraft (“Hallelu”) and Rexxie (“Ko Por Ke”) began fusing its distinct drum patterns with Nigerian elements. Afro Piano: so did some Nigerians dub these hits. However, ‘owning’ sounds shouldn’t be encouraged because each genre traces into a people’s history, created from a soul that’s impossible to replicate by just anyone. Still, there’s no doubt we had elite moments from these sonic experiments: Zinoleesky’s “Kilofeshe,” DJ Kaywise and Phyno’s “Highway,” Focalistic’s “Ke Star” and “Monalisa,” the hit from Sarz and Lojay which is right now an undeniable presence across popular culture.
CKay’s Love Nwantiti—Big World Vibe
The growing powers of the internet mean that songs—no matter how obscure or old—can be revived in the popular consciousness if the promotion’s deliberate enough. Right now, there aren’t many channels with the potential of TikTok. The short-video platform has emerged as a springboard for just about anyone to blow and boy, did CKay blow! “Love Nwantiti,” a sweet, mid-tempo song he released in 2019 began to catch a buzz on TikTok in early May, mostly internationally. Soon CKay got to know it was an uncleared remix by DJ Yo and his team reached out. Everything fell into place then. Multiple remixes spawned global superstardom. At some point, “Love Nwantiti” was the most Shazamed song in the world. Broke into the US Billboard Hot 100, debuting at 31. Peaked at No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart. A TG Omori-directed video for a remix with Moroccan rapper El GrandeToto currently has 31million YouTube views after two weeks and earlier this month, the record went Platinum in France, becoming the first Nigerian song to do so. For Nigerians, CKay’s recent wins are a testament to our inborn power to create art that touches the core of the universal mind.
E Choke, Choken’t It?
In March, Davido shared a clip on Instagram which featured the Canadian superstar Drake in Houston surfaced online. In the short clip, the musicians are in a private space and Davido, holding the phone, enthusiastically says the words “e choke,” urging Drake to do the same. “Who dey breathe?” He said again, playfully wrapping his hands around his neck. Shortly after, the video trended and like that, again, Davido had contributed to the lexicon of everyday speech. “Tule!” and “I dey catch cruise forget” had been momentarily popular but none had the limitless reach of “e choke,” which was interpreted comically, politically and socially. Walk past a Nigerian street and you’d perhaps hear someone say the words in conversation or, even walking ahead, you might come upon a situation so incredibly Nigerian you’d swear under your breath, e choke.
Essence, Made in Lagos, Wizkid, Tems
Wizkid’s Made in Lagos had been madly anticipated for years but on October 31st last year, finally released, a number of people had mild reactions. The sensual energy which lit records like “Joro” and “Blow” was replaced by languid, warm flows laid over tropical beats. It wasn’t typical Wizkid, they said. Little did anyone know Wiz—or Big Wiz—was entering the newest phase of global domination, backed by his generational talent and an RCA deal. In April, a video was released for “Essence,” a soulful collaboration with Tems and with renewed marketing, the song caught onto American radio, quickly scoring a number of celebrity fans. By July it was being touted as the potential song of the summer and debuted at 82 on the Hot 100, marking Wizkid’s first appearance as lead artist. The record’s success was hailed as groundbreaking, capable of setting a high standard for Nigerian creators entering the international market. In August, Justin Beiber jumped on its remix (and even directed a fan video) and took the record to Top 10 at the Billboard chart, Wizkid's second after “One Dance.” Before the release of her sophomore EP If Orange Was A Place, Tems was hot on the lips of everyone, catching up with Rihanna and Adele in fancy locations and appearing on Drake's hyper-publicized Certified Lover Boy.
That March day, dreams became reality and Burna Boy got his Grammy. After being announced as the winner of the Best World Album for Twice As Tall, the musician performed a medley of 'Level Up' and 'Onyeka' off the album from Lagos, directed by Clarence Peters and shot at the National Theater. Richly diverse in its channelling of Nigerian cultures, the performance was hailed by many as the best of the night. Wizkid also got a Grammy for his immense contribution to Beyoncé's 'Brown Skin Girl,' a fan favorite off her Black Is King album. It won Best Music Video.
“I'm Expecting Something Hooge”
Skit making has always been a profitable venture in the post-Instagram era but recent years has seen more channels open to comedians who test out the medium. In the second half of 2021, Investor Sabinus, a character built on financial shrewdness and a free-flowing tongue, began to excite many Nigerians online. His act was complemented by the rising number of young people entering into financial programs such as cryptocurrency and online investments whose rewards, very often, are recouped in the future. Sabinus' excuse of 'expecting something huge (pronounced comically as hooge) whenever he wanted credit struck a familiar chord. Since then, the phrase has entered the echelon of comic catchphrases like Lasisi Elenu's 'Are You Mad?' and Josh2Funny's 'Don't Leave Me' which enjoyed sustained relevance in popular culture.
The Ladies Are Here
During the pandemic, Fave's alluring vocals and short videos pinpointed her as a prospect primed for the big time. After well-received singles like 'NBU' and 'Beautifully,' the emPawa signee scored her first hit with 'Baby Riddim,' a tender, warm exploration of young love which is one of the biggest songs in the country right now.
Fave's success is not isolated. 2021 was especially a great year for female artists who have utilized diverse styles in etching their unique narratives on the mainstream consciousness. Tiwa Savage’s Water & Garri EP was a sweet capsule of golden sounds and with 19 & Dangerous, Ayra Starr confirmed her place among the nation's brightest talents, spawning classic records like “Bloody Samaritan” and “Beggie Beggie.” Ria Sean’s Fluid deftly explored sensual performance, spawning eccentric records like “Satisfy My Soul” and “Underwater.” Dunnie (Amazon), Kahren (I Think I Know Her), Niniola (6th Heaven) and Liya (Alarí) performed spectacular on their respective projects, laying immersive tales over glittering production. Simi made an electric comeback with the anthemic, Afrobeat-inspired “Woman” while the legendary Asa explored a contemporary pop sound for the first time on the P Priime–produced “Mayana.” Igbo-bred musicians Ugocchie and Daisy lit up Slimcase’s influential rap show and went on to put out excellent music–an album included.
King of Boys 2
On August 27, Kemi Adetiba's King of Boys ー one of the country's highest-grossing movies of all time ー became the first Netflix original series from Nigeria. Like its 2018 pilot, the movie pulled from every corner of Nigerian popular culture, featuring stars from comedians to musicians, veteran actors and online personalities. Last year, a 4-minute trailer had set the internet ablaze with fans discussing the intriguing characters, piqued to see how Adetiba would sketch their stories. Upon release, a number of mostly positive reviews affirmed that she'd largely gotten it right and, pushed by Netflix and Adetiba's great network, it was one film that came to define the year (especially as the country forges through its share of real-life politically-influenced crimes).
Words: Emmanuel Esomnofu