This month marked one year since officers of the Nigerian military opened fire on unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate. The protesters were demanding the disbandment of the notoriously corrupt Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and much-needed reform of the Nigerian Police Force. Even then, because of the deep bond between public life in Nigeria and Afropop, music was a key component of the protests with Davido’s FEM becoming a soundtrack to the protests and Burna Boy’s 20.10.20 memorialising the Lekki Toll Plaza massacre.
Since the Lekki shootings, nothing has changed. Police officers are back to terrorising, extorting and harassing young Nigerians. But music remains a tool to rage against these injustices, and very few Nigerian musicians know about the power of channelling music to tackle oppression like Prettyboy D‑O does.
And so this month’s column is led by Prettyboy D‑O’s new project Love Is War, and followed by a tender album from Scorpion Kings collaborator, TRESOR Riziki, and, elsewhere, some hyper-vivid pop from Pongo.
Listen to THE FACE’s Best new African music playlist on Spotify.
Prettyboy D-O – Love Is War
For most of his career, Nigerian culte star Prettyboy D‑O has received critical praise for speaking out against the corruption and police brutality that is endemic in his home country. Throughout last year’s #EndSARS protests, he was a vocal presence online and on the ground in Nigeria, later releasing songs like Living In Bondage and Police and Teef to satirically document his disgust at policing in Nigeria.
D‑O’s latest project, Love Is War, arrived on 15th October, five days before the first anniversary of the Lekki Toll Plaza massacre. The project is both an introspective take on the state of modern Nigeria and a broadening of the 27-year-old’s thematic influences. On songs like 1996, Rodman’s Style /Dre’s Interlude, and Belly of the Beast, he rages against Nigeria’s political class and their documented greed, while songs like Lord Protect My Steppings and Broke Boy FC introduce a lighter, more humorous side to his music, ensuring there’s some relief to help sustain a start-to-finish listen of the project.
Listen to the full project here.
TRESOR – Motion
Earlier this year, Congo-born South African vocalist TRESOR Riziki, joined amapiano giants, the Scorpion Kings, for the full stretch of Rumble In The Jungle. The album was the trio’s pan-Africanist interpretation of the ascendant genre that incorporated elements of Afrobeat, rumba, wassoulou, and kwasa kwasa across its 14 songs. In the month since then, TRESOR has recorded more global success, receiving writing and co-production credits on Fountains, the amapiano-inspired, Tems-featuring scorcher from Drake’s Certified Lover Boy album.
This month, TRESOR returned with new music, releasing Motion, his fourth solo body of work. On the album he diverges from the disco influences of 2019’s Nostalgia, relying on a hypnotic fusion of soul, jazz and highlife to express myriads of emotions. Last December tackles longing after a partner despite a fight, while Smoke and Mirrors reference being taken for granted; and on Makosa and Nyota, TRESOR reunites with the Scorpion Kings for a groovy take on amapiano.
Stream the album here.
Juls – Sounds Of My World
After breaking out in the early 2010s for his groundbreaking work with Show Dem Camp and Mr. Eazi, British-born Ghanian producer Juls has sustained a steady career and kept the quality of his work high. On his star-studded debut album, Sounds of My World, Juls meets with some of the most exciting voices in contemporary African music such as DarkoVibes, Mannywellz and Oxlade at their level, urging stellar performances from them. Across the album’s 15 tracks, the British-Ghanaian producer weaves in and out of the playful riffs of highlife, interspersing it with elements of Afrobeat, funk, and amapiano, leading to highlights like the infectious Makossa Riddim and the Niniola-featuring Love Me.
Hear the full album here.
Pongo – COMEÇA
After emigrating to Portugal with her family as a child to avoid the horrors of the Angolan Civil War, Pongo struggled to adapt to her new environment. Her discovery of the kuduro group Denon Squad was an important step in her eventual assimilation to Portuguese society. She later performed with the Portugal electronic dance music collective Buraka Som Sistema, writing and recording the hugely popular Kalemba (Wegue Wegue) before leaving to pursue an independent career.
In the years since, Pongo has maintained an affinity with kuduro, becoming one of the leading lights of the contemporary scene and complimenting the frenetic pace of the genre with sung-raps and pop influences. Her latest single, COMEÇA, sees the singer experiment with the Congolese genre soukous with kaleidoscopic beat by King Doudou, while lyrically she tackles handling criticism and crowns herself a true master of her craft.
Reekado Banks – Ozumba Mbadiwe
Even though she left the revered Nigerian music label, Mavin Records, in 2018, Reekado Banks has remained an integral part of the evolution of Nigerian pop, working through its predominantly jarring phase to its more mellow iteration and scoring string of hits like and 2019’s Put In Pressure and last year’s Rora.
On his latest single, Ozumba Mbadiwe, the 28-year-old singer references one of the most popular avenues in Lagos as a metaphor for his work ethic and quest for love. In the second half of the song, Reekado shifts gears, offering a stark warning to the government that the events of 20/10/20 have not been forgotten. “October 20, 2020, something happen with the government, they think say we forget, for where,” he quips over a bouncy instrumental supplied by rising producer P.Priime.
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Tiwa Savage takes ownership of sex tape narrative
During a media chat earlier this month with an American platform, Afropop superstar Tiwa Savage, revealed that a blackmailer had reached out to her, threatening to release a sex tape she made with her partner. Since coming into the Nigerian music industry in 2011, Tiwa has played a key role in challenging the puritanical nature of Nigerian pop culture, seeing some of her videos and songs censored by Nigerian authorities. By virtue of getting in front of the news of the sex tape, Tiwa Savage effectively clipped the blackmailer’s wings, and her Insta Stories post after it leaked simply urged her fans to “Change that sh*t to the game and never speak on it again.”
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Fela Kuti – Unknown Soldier (1981)
Forty-four years after it was first performed for guests at his popular nightclub, TheAfrika Shrine, Zombie remains one of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s most timeless records, a stunning critique of Nigerian soldiers who mindlessly followed unconscionable directives from their superiors. The song effectively put a target on Fela’s back leading to the much-talked-about assault on Kalakuta Republic on 18th February 1977. In the midst of all the chaos on that day, Kalakuta was burnt to the ground and Fela’s mother, the legendary Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was thrown from a second-floor window, sustaining injuries that ultimately led to her death.
Two years after the raid of his Kalakuta residence, Fela returned with Unknown Soldiers, a deeply personal re-telling of the attacks, linking the encroachment of his house and recording studios to his disavowal of the 1977 FESTAC ceremonies. Hovering over a dense composition of shakers, jazz synths, and shape-shifting percussion, the legendary singer gave a sobering account of what occurred on that tragic day with his voice delicately expressing deep-seated pain when he recounted atrocities like the assault of innocent citizens and the illegal imprisonment of Fela and his companions. Elsewhere on the song, he expressed grief for the treatment of his mother before crowning her “the only mother of Nigeria” while lambasting the government committee’s report that unknown soldiers had carried out the attacks. It’s arguably one of the most cathartic, powerful records in his discography.