A few days ago the eLDee (Lanre Dabiri) released Higher, the first single off his forthcoming album Is it your money Vol.2. The track features Sojay and K9, two musicians he discovered through Top Talent, the contest/unsigned-talent showcase he and his label, Trybe Records, held earlier in the year.
http://content.omroep.nl/ghettoradio/musicblog/eldee_ft_sojay_k9_higher.mp3 Higher (DOWNLOAD)
It's a good dance-y number, and while the response so far has been positive I suspect we may one day look back on this as something of a watershed moment. Let me explain:
Despite producing many of the continent's most popular artists (eLDee, D'banj, P-Square, Wande Coal, Banky W, Mo' Cheddah, 2Face, M.I., J. Martins, Tiwa Savage, etc.) and biggest international hits, the Nigerian music scene itself is, and always has been, fairly conservative. By that I mean artists, DJs and music fans tend to play it safe, sticking to the tried and tested rather than taking the risks that innovation demands. If a Ghanaian DJ plays something urban, upbeat but "unfamiliar" in an Accra club - say a kuduro track - he/she may get some quizzical looks but there's a good chance that some of the clubbers will go with the flow. Do the same in a Lagos club and people will ask what the hell is this?! That is, unless your crowd consists mostly of Nigerians who live abroad but are in Gidi on holiday, or the Gidi-based "Afropolitans", for want of a better word, or expats. With most Nigerians, the instinctive reaction to unfamiliar sounds is rejection. And this is despite boasting some genuine envelope-pushing artists like Edoheart, or like Nneka, whose music, while strongly rooted in Nigerian life and politics, employs a diversity of styles that make her "sound" more international than anyone else's.
This instinctive rejection to the unfamiliar is the reason why, despite loving music we can dance to, most Nigerians who live in Nigeria haven't taken to house, techno, kuduro or, at its height, kwaito. There are some real enthusiasts for these electronic beat-driven styles but they are in the minority.
What eLDee has done on Higher sounds like the first truly successful fusion of the familiar Naija sound and house, and by "successful" I mean he gets the balance right for the average Nigerian ear. The house element in the track is actually fairly generic - an earlier, smoother/softer variation of this element can be heard, for instance, in South African duo Liquideep's Alone (listen to the first few seconds of this track and then do the same for Higher):
But, though this aspect of the track might not be new - and, let's face it, most house tracks have a somewhat generic pulse, anyway, and it's what else you're able to do on top of this pulse that makes or breaks your track - eLDee deserves credit for attempting and succeeding at making the unfamiliar sound familiar enough to be accepted without comment (and he's a big enough mainstream name for this not to be seen as a curiosity). Previous attempts have mostly consisted of remixes of existing tracks, such as DJ Henry X's remix of the R2BEE's/Wande Coal hit Kiss Your Hand (beow), but that one was too house-y for the "typical" Naija-based music fan.
Is Higher destined to be a one-off, or will this be the track that encourages other Nigerian musicians to take more creative risks and music fans and DJs to be a bit more open to the "unfamiliar"? I write that this may come to be seen as a watershed moment, but I do so more in a spirit of optimism than because I strongly believe it. After all, it's just one single, and this isn't the first time eLDee has tried to push the envelope for Nigerian music fans. Just last October we got ahead of ourselves when eLDee posted his freestyle over Tinie Tempah's Pass Out (below), and while this went down well with non-Naija-based fans, and with those "Afropolitans" we mentioned above, it didn't exactly launch a grime revolution in Gidi. Funnily enough, Tinie Tempah is Nigerian, as are some of the other most well known grime artists such as Skepta and Dotstar (eLDee appears on Dotstar's reloaded version of Xpensive, along with Ice Prince, Lynxx, Dr Sid and Davido, but this track is full-on Naija music rather than grime), and Dizzee Rascal, arguably the most influential artist to have emerged from the grime scene, is half-Nigerian. Then again, these artists don't live in Nigeria, and neither does most of their audience.
Time will tell. What we do know is that while Nigerian musicians can derive some satisfaction from having created a recognisable sound that's making a splash internationally, this sound won't satisfy music fans forever unless artists continue to take it in new directions, and for that everybody needs to be less afraid of the unfamiliar. If it's starting to happen in Tanzania with Bongo Flava (check the video for Nakupenda in our article Ten Observations on Bongo Flava, which, ironically, features a Nigerian) it had better start happening in a big way with music in the continent's music factory. People, what do you think?
Is it your money Vol.2 is scheduled for release in September, 2011.