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On The Fringe: Maradona Is For Everyone

With the current global renaissance of Afrobeats, the US-based artist is ready to etch his name into history.

The name “Maradona” immediately brings to mind the late Argentine football icon who dazzled on the pitch with mesmerising skills and off it with his eccentricity, including a famed drug use problem and association with figures in the criminal underworld. Despite his numerous shortcomings, he remains a legend of the game – and the world at large – for the joy and hope he gave many. His legendary status has led many to emulate him, to compare others to him, and in some cases, name themselves after him. A famous example of that is the former Nigerian Head of State who was nicknamed “Maradona” due to his slippery character. Following this path is US-based afrobeats musician Maradona, for whom greatness is found inside recording studios and outside football stadiums.

Unlike most of his peers who started their sonic journeys in the church choir before branching out professionally, his journey to making music started in secondary school – where he performed songs for his friends and classmates, and hung around studios, listening to older artists work, and gaining valuable experience at the feet of his predecessors. It’s been a decade since those early days, however, and the kid has grown into a man. Since leaving Nigeria for America, he’s been ready to explode into life and take his music around the world.

As a Nigerian artist making music in the United States, he stands at a junction connecting both environments and their varying sounds. For some, being in the middle of two cultures that are so vastly different may cause an identity crisis, leaving them indecisive about what direction they want to take their music to. What audience are you making music for? What sound are you making? The answer flies out of his mouth without thinking: EVERYBODY. And by “everybody”, Maradona means everybody. This vision doesn’t just encompass Nigeria and America, but anywhere music is heard. In his words, “First of all, I’m an Afrobeats artist. But, I stay in the US, and because of that, I have to make music for everyone - those around me here and people back home. Apart from music, I preach love and I want to bring everyone together with my sound. Rich, poor, Christian, Muslim, American, Arabic. I’m not trying to send anyone back.”

In 2020, he released Rodman, an EP of five songs. Like many other artists stuck in their homes and studios because of the Covid-19 pandemic, he released the project partly because of boredom and because he wanted to test the waters. For a project sent into the music void without promotion, hype, and expectations, the acceptance by fans took him by surprise: “I was performing at a show in December and everybody in the crowd (over 350 people) were singing songs from the EP. That means they were listening.” This example is another testament to his talent and sound. To prove this wasn’t some fluke, the release of “Toxic Love” in December was a firm sign that he is an artist to watch in the music space. Over mellow production, his melodic voice sings about a love that is harmful to both partners in a relationship. Sung in Pidgin English and Yoruba, the emotions and scenarios discussed are relatable and easily felt.

The Afrobeats genre has taken the world by storm in the past year, with Wizkid and CKay leading the charts with their global hits “Essence” and “Love Nwantiti.” For the first time, young Nigerian artists have the ear of the world, not just those in their home country. This explosion has also unearthed a plethora of good artists, meaning that any act that falls off the radar for even a short while runs the risk of drowning in oblivion. Although this bodes well for the industry in general, it is a challenging situation for some who take their time with the craft and are not constantly in the public eye. However, this daunting challenge is one Maradona relishes: “I’m doing things differently; my sound already stands out. Also, relocating to another country means I’ve grown - I’ve become a mixed version of myself. And with Afrobeats breaking out in the world, it makes me want to do more, I want to be part of it.”

This mindset is a major force in the creative process as he works on what he considers his debut body of work, as Rodman was nothing but a teaser of some sort. He aims to bring the sounds of all the places he has lived in into one cohesive body. Although nothing is concrete at the moment, a remix of “Toxic Love” with Afropop star Oxlade is bound to be on the project. Details are secondary, anyway, because his work ethic and desire to create sounds for everyone means that the quality of his work will always shine through. While we wait for that, “Feeling Good”, an amapiano collaboration with DJ Mekzy is out on all streaming platforms, showcasing once again his versatility and proficiency across various sounds.

Maradona has come a long way from performing for classmates in Secondary School to performing for hundreds of fans on stages. It is the nature of the world for new things to replace the old - and, as Afrobeats continues its meteoric rise, there is a new Maradona on the stage, doing his thing in the studio booth instead of a football pitch. As we end the call, I ask, “Why Maradona?”, curious about the inspiration behind his interesting moniker. Artists are usually “deep” people, so I expected some unique message or meaning behind it. Instead, the answer is as simple as it gets: he called himself that one day and the name stuck. Hopefully, his music sticks too.

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