It's been a good year for Brymo. And who else?
If we want to know what's popular music-wise in any country, we only need find out what's on heavy rotation on the mainstream radio stations, what's selling like hot cake, and what's getting everyone on their feet at parties. But if we're not actually in the country itself, the next best places to look are music blogs/websites specific to that country (time-consuming and often not as helpful as they could be) or Youtube (helpful, if you already know about some of what you're looking for). The easiest way, and quickest shortcut, then, is that country's most credible award's nomination list. Sure, you'll miss out on depth, but sometimes we just don't have the time to keep up with everything that's out there.
With respect to contemporary urban music in Nigeria - which happens to be the continent's most productive hit factory - the Nigerian Entertainment Awards nomination list would be your safest cheat-sheet. Not quite as comprehensive or as focused as the South African Music Awards (SAMA), but the NEA, makes room for a handful of Film, TV and Comedy awards, too.
The only question is why the award ceremony takes place in New York. We spoke to one of the organisers and the reasons are partly strategic, partly practical, or banal, depending on your point of view. The banal: the organisers live in New York. Strategic: the organisers want to give Nigerian music an international platform, and they believe it'll be easier to do so if the awards are held in New York rather than in Nigeria. They are also keen to reach the Nigerian diaspora, which is quite substantial in the US and UK, many of whose members haven' been to Nigeria in years and may not be up to date on the latest and best from the country. Holding it in New York brings it to them, so to speak, and they can watch it on The Africa Channel or AIT International.
The NEA is now in its 7th year, and offers awards in 25 categories, which is far too many to touch on here, so here are the key ones for anyone who needs to know who and what's been hot in the last year:
HOTTEST SINGLE OF THE YEAR
Ara - Brymo (Ashimi Olawale), a singer, songwriter and recording artist you might remember for his part on Ice Prince's Oleku. He blew up big time with Ara, which is based on an old Yoruba folk song. The video for this is also up for Best Music Video of the Year. Ara will appear on Brymo's debut album Son of the Carpenter, out in the last quarter of this year
Oliver Twist - D'banj. The biggest international act out of Nigeria at the moment. If you hadn't heard of him before Oliver Twist, you probably did once that single and its accompanying dance craze/contest went viral. Type "Oliver Twist D'banj" into Youtube's search field and be entertained for an hour. Hard to believe this only came out last August; it's been that ubiquitous. The single is available via iTunes.
Pakurumo - Wizkid. The 22-year-old pop singer shot straight from Promising Artiste of the Year honours in 2010 to "Best African Act" in 2011. Pakurumo appears on the album Superstar, and its video is also up for the Music Video of the Year award.
Dami Duro - Davido. Recently signed by D'banj to the latter's as yet unnamed label, he'll be launching his debut album in Lagos on the 22nd of July. Besides Dami Duro, also check out Ekuro and Back When, feat. Naeto C.
Chop My Money - P-Square. Another huge internationally act, the R&B duo (twin brothers Peter and Paul Okoye) signed to Akon's Konvict Muzik label last year). For an indication of how popular they are, check their video for Beautiful Onyinye, ft. Rick Ross. Over 200,000 views within 24 hours of being posted on Youtube.
Roll - Rayce (Rayce Amoni Kingsley). A notable singer, songwriter, musician, arranger and producer, but only bet on this one winning if you want to lose all your money.
MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR
Ara - Brymo (Dir. Aje Filmworks) (see above)
Nawti - Olu Maintain (Dir. Kehinde Naomi Smith team NAWTi)
She Likes It - Cap B (Dir. Adeola Alao)
My Home - Nneka (Dir. Andy Amadi Okoroafor)
Tete Lo Bere - Jahbless (Dir. DJ Tee)
Pakurumo - Wiz Kid (Dir. Clarence Peters) (See above)
BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Soul Is Heavy – Nneka
Everybody Loves Ice Prince – Ice Prince
Superstar – Wizkid
The Dreamer - Show Dem Camp (SDC)
Beautiful Noise - Timi Dakolo
Super Sun – Bez
BEST NEW ACT OF THE YEAR
Tiwa Savage. More than just a performer with a good voice - she studied music and voice at Berkelee - she's also a good songwriter (with a major publishing deal). Biggest hits to date, Love Me 3x and Kele Kele Love. Now signed to Marvin Records, the new label set up by Don Jazzy, former partner and producer of D'banj. (Don Jazzy is up for the Music Producer of the year award).
Brymo (see above)
Davido (see above)
Bez. Music runs in the family of the man with That Stupid Song: gospel artist father, choir member mother, taught to play the guitar at nine by his dad. His music is a hybrid of Jazz, Soul, and R&B, and his debut album Super Sun is very cool indeed. He also happens to work with one of Nigeria’s most gifted producers, Cobhams Asuquo (who's also up for the Music Producer of the year award), which must help a little.
MayD. This is the dude who acquits himself admirably alongside Akon and P-Square on Chop My Money (above). The signee to P-Square's Square Records recently had the video to his first single, Soundtrack, banned from terrestrial TV by the Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation because of some risqué scenes. Not sure if said scenes have been removed from the clip at the link here, because we can't see anything more risqué than usual from where we're sitting.
Chidinma (Chidinma Ekile). A petite songstress with a big voice, Chidinma was the first ever female winner of the MTN Project Fame West Africa, and her first two singles - Jankoliko and Kedike - hold up to the promise of that win.
MOST PROMISING ACT TO WATCH
Eva. Also nominated for Best Rap Act, the emcee has been drawing attention since 2009, and while we dig her most recent video, High, a better demonstration of her skills is to be found in Nigerian Queens, the 2011 edition of the BET Hiphop Awards Cyphers,
Chuddy K (Chukwudi Ken Agali). The R&B/hip hop artist already has one very well received album under his belt - I Am Me - but the massive success of his single Gaga Crazy has raised the bar on what to expect from his sophomore album, which will be out in September.
Praiz (Praise Adejo). An R&B/Soul singer/songwriter and a good vocalist, he co-wrote Bez's That Stupid Song, and performs on it. One of his singles, I Love You, was chosen as one of the Top 50 songs of 2011, but also check out A Woman's Needs and Jekalo, the latter being notable for hewing closer to the more commercial Naija sound than his previous crooner-style Soul releases. His yet-to-be titled debut album should be out sometime this year.
AiRis (Asmaa Idrisu). Pop singer, with a handful of OK singles to her name, but could make a bigger splash with the right material. See Without You, Olowo Ori mi and Fly Away.
Flowssick (Abiola David Ania). Lowkey, his first solo single, was a club and radio favourite last year, so it was only right that he followed it up with a proper dance remix. Ringtone, his second single, is also going down well. He's got that Naija sound down pat, and he's highly rated by a lot of industry folks.
Yung6ix (Onome Onokokwomo). This 21-year-old rapper is signed to Storm Records, one pretty solid Nigerian label, so he's well connected, and has a rapidly growing following. Introduced himself to music fans last year with Oleku Warri Version (his cover of Brymo's Oleku), So Far Gone and Plenty Money from his Green Light Green mixtape.
He appears on Illegal Music 2, a recently released mixtape by Nigeria's best rapper, M.I., and dropped the single Picking Things featuring label mate Naeto C just last month, but watch Follow Me (below) and Oh My Gosh to see why he's got the swagger necessary to make it in Nigeria.
Eddiekim (Adediran Adedolapo Abdulakeem) has been on the scene since 1999 as a songwriter, sound engineer and producer, and has appeared with other artists on a few notable tracks, but recently stepped up as a solo performer with Gbagaun, featuring OJB Jazreel, Oba Ara, featuring Haba G, and Finger My Brain. Download the last of these, in particular; it's the one that comes closest to the Naija sweetspot.
http://content.omroep.nl/ghettoradio/musicblog/eddiekim_oba_ara.mp3 Oba Ara, featuring Haba G (Download)
http://content.omroep.nl/ghettoradio/musicblog/eddiekim_finger_my_brain.mp3 Finger My Brain (Download)
Dammy Krane (Oyindamola Johnson Emmanuel) has been at this for years, released a few credible singles with Flowssick - Scatter the Place, Monkey Post, I Like Girls - and with others like D’tunes (on Ogajuu) and Adey (on Ijo Krane), but his "career" has lacked coherence. His recent signing to 2Face Idibia‘s Hypertek Label will probably sort that out. He performs with 2Face on Omo No Dulling, from the latter's album latest album Away and Beyond.
So, those are most of the people and tracks rocking Nigeria for the past 12 months. For the complete list of categories and nominees, check the NEA website.
Winners will be announced on Sept 2nd, 2012 at the 7th Annual NEA Awards in New York.