What does Fireboy DML and Ed Sheeran’s UK chart success mean for Nigerian music?
Fireboy is fighting to be the first Nigerian artist to top the UK Singles Chart. THE FACE’s columnist Wale Oloworkende considers the track's impact and rounds up the best new African music releases.
Ever since Drake dropped his dancefloor-dominated Wizkid collab One Dance in 2016, Afrobeats has been steadily increasing its cultural relevance across the globe. And in 2021, a number of West African artists hit milestones in the charts, finally delivering on the commercial promise that many analysts have long believed Afrobeats is capable of.
Three Afropop songs made it to the USA’s Billboard Hot 100 charts last year, starting with Wizkid and Tems’ hit Essence, which was on Wiz’s late 2020 album Made In Lagos, but surged in popularity in 2021, partly thanks to a summer remix featuring Justin Bieber. Leftfield Ghanaian artist Amaaraereached Number 80 with her silky song Sad Girlz Luv Money, thanks to a remix featuring Kali Uchis becoming popular on TikTok. The app’s immense, borderless reach was also particularly kind to CKay, whose track Love Nwantiti – initially released in 2019 – became a global smash, reaching Number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 and also topping the charts in countries such as India, Portugal, Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands.
Although breaking the United States is a big ambition for most African acts, planting their flags in British soil is widely seen as a more definitive proof of sustainable growth, due to the long-standing cultural ties between the UK and several African countries.
This week, Nigerian artist Fireboy DML has been striving to become the first Afropop singer to have a number one record on the British Top 40 charts, with a remix of Peru featuring Ed Sheeran. Early predictions were looking good. But unfortunately, Wednesday’s mid-week chart report suggested Fireboy and Ed could be defeated by We Don’t Talk About Bruno from Disney’s recent animated film Encanto.
Peru was originally released in July 2021 as a freestyle. The Pheelz-produced song joyously recounts the thrill of living in the moment, as Fireboy DML celebrates his whirlwind success since breaking through in 2019. The track’s first remix, featuring fast-rising, dulcety-voiced Nigerian singer Buju, became a party hit in Lagos, blaring from car radio speakers and at house parties and raves across the city. Some Nigerian fans were disappointed when Buju was left off the new remix with Ed Sheeran. But the Ed Sheeran remix is good. His contributions to the song feel thoughtful, as he delicately merges his voice with the signature tonality of Afropop.
A little over one month after the release of the Peru remix, it’s had more than 24 million views on YouTube, 31 million Spotify streams and led the Apple Music charts in the United Kingdom. Earlier this week, a campaign kicked off to get the song to Number One on the UK Singles Chart, with a concerted social media campaign supported by Nigerian heavyweights Davido and Don Jazzy, and a new breezy, Sheeran-esque acoustic remix to help juice the streams.
Over the course of the campaign, Ed has seemed genuinely excited about working with Fireboy DML. Hopefully this will encourage more thoughtful collaborations between African and western artists, rather than British and American stars just phoning it in with lackustre contributions, in hope of increasing their audience in different territories.
Even if Fireboy DML and Ed get beaten by a bunch of computer-animated Disney characters this week, their version of Peru remains a victory.
Listen to THE FACE’s Best New African Music playlist on Spotify
Fave – Riddim 5
The first time Lagos-based singer Fave popped up on people’s radar, she was a fresh-faced singer dropping soul-drenched freestyles on Instagram, sharing lyrics that tackled personal drama and angst. Last year, the 21-year-old law student appeared twice on UY Scuti, the ninth studio album by Afropop legend Olamide, and she bolstered her profile with Baby Riddim, a sultry number that took off during west Africa’s Detty December period.
Fave’s debut project, Riddim 5, sees her embrace the groovy direction of Baby Riddim while exploring topics like obsession and unrequited attention with a new-found maturity. Of the five songs, Mr Man is the smoothest: “Things you cannot say with your mouth, will you say it with your hands, I’ll respond,” the singer affirms with her buttery voice.
Check out the full project here
Kofi Mole – Knackaveli
While Kumasi has received an unprecedented level of global attention over the last 18 months thanks to its asakaa drill scene, Ghana’s Garden City has been home and muse to a crop of hardened rappers like Flowking, YPee and Amerado that precedes asakaa. Kofi Mole, born Edward Kofi Amoah, can sound like a blues singer or brawler based on context. His latest project, Knackaveli, packs in dozens of dedications to Kumasi and is bolstered by melodic, trap-based production. “Kumasi boy no dey settle for less,” he raps on the hyperactive highlight Work, taking pride in his city and his grind.
Listen to Knackaveli here
VDA – Tous Elephants
With the whole continent caught up in the excitement of the on-going African Cup of Nations, football teams barely need any more encouragement to bring the feted trophy back home. But Ivorian pop duo, VDA, have gone a step further in their bid to inspire the Ivory Coast national team, boasting stars like Wilfried Zaha and Eric Bailly, to glory. Tous Elephants is a boisterous earworm, in which VDA cheer their countrymen over the dancefloor-filling percussion style of the zouglou genre.
Rokia Koné & Jacknife Lee – Kurunba
Over the course of a career nearing a decade, Rokia Koné – popularly known as the rose of Bamako – has risen to become one of Mali’s most acclaimed chanteuse. Her deeply spiritual grooves, which are informed by the griot tradition of the Bambara people of southern Mali, and her passionate lyrics have challenged the Malian national psyche.
The 38-year-old’s international profile exploded when she joined the all female supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique in 2016. Thanks to contacts made from working with the group, she’s set to release a new album, BAMANAN, with Grammy winner, Jacknife Lee. Lead single Kurunba is a direct confrontation of the harmful conventions inflicted upon Malian women by society’s patriarchal structure and the exclusion of women from cogent decisions about agency. Brought to life by Rokia’s lilting voice, uptempo drums and local instrumentation, Kurunba tells the story of a woman who was freed from her isolation and who lays a curse on the people who tried to lock her up on her daughter’s wedding day.
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Tiwa Savage – R.E.D
Despite the stellar work of pop acts like D’Banj, Wande Coal, P Square and the then-ascendant Wizkid, in the early 2010s the Nigerian industry was still without structure, prone to piracy, and largely unsupportive of female talent.
Despite all these hindrances, Tiwa Savage’s first album, Once Upon A Time, jointly released by Mavin Records and 323 Entertainment in 2013, was a critical success. The album, which revolved around the theme of blissful youthful romance, received favourable reviews from publications like Nigerian Entertainment Today and Hip Hop World Magazine, also spawning notable singles like Kele Kele Love and Eminado.
In the two years between Once Upon A Time and her next album R.E.D (an acronym for Romance, Expression and Dance), Savage matured as a singer, producing work that pushed her image and brand away from the girl-next-door aesthetic set by Once Upon A Time to becoming Africa’s number one bad girl. R.E.D is also arguably her most experimental album. Standing Ovation, featuring Olamide, was inspired by ‘80s Fuji while Adura, a quasi-worship song, incorporated jazz elements. On other songs like African Waist and Before Nko, Savage leaned into her sensual side to create songs that accurately depicted the many sides of African women.