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Saturday, October 13, 2012

D'Banj: Beyond the Local Scene

I am a proud Kanye West 'stan'. I have bought all his albums, books and make it a point of duty to buy every magazine he covers.  So much so that when people struggle to get me presents, the easy thing to do is get something Kanye West related. When he famously tweeted, "Yo! @iamdbanj and @donjazzymohits get back to NY there is still work to be done" I was overjoyed and took it as a personal win. My idol was taking our Nigerian heroes under his wing and leading them to the larger world. He was providing a platform for them to stake their claim for world domination. I thought to myself “When next I get into an argument disguised as debate, I have another point to add”. 

More than a year later, the climate has changed. D'Banj and Don Jazzy have been through a somewhat messy divorce. And the public, fickle as they are have been more critical of D'Banj. Don Jazzy, the more reclusive of the two stars has built an online presence that indicates a more humane side although journalists would have you see through the PR. Giving credit and iPads away has seen him gain goodwill in contrast to the brasher and more business minded D'Banj. 

Based on D'Banj's interview on their break up with popular journalist, AyeniAdekunle one would point at a clash on what the next step should be. D'Banj being the more adventurous and confident one was willing to put everything on the line to crack the international market in a way that no Nigerian artiste has done in my lifetime. Don Jazzy, on the other hand was intent on playing safe and keep pandering to the local market. Calling him a 'local champion' would be a less polite way of putting it.

Over the last couple of months, the public have demanded to have their appetite whetted by both parties. We want to see how D'Banj would fare without Don Jazzy by his side. We were interested in seeing if the careers of Wande Coal, D'Prince and Dr Sid would benefit from having a more focused Don Jazzy. Don Jazzy's new posse released the average 'Solar Plexus' album while D'Banj followed with the also average single 'Oyato'. 

In most of his interviews, D'Banj has emphasized the fact that most of his time has been invested with the G.O.O.D Music camp as they recorded the compilation album 'Cruel Summer' scheduled for release on the 18th of September. However, the album leaked on to the internet and from Mr. Oyebanjo's point of view, he was credited as a featured artiste on the song 'In The Morning'. Nigerians seeing one of our own in such company were eager to hear the product. Lo and behold, our darling D'Banj didn't even have a significant portion of the song to call his. Ever eager to find laughter out of every situation, Nigerian Twitter went into a meltdown with some describing him as "a mere background singer". Others said he had been reduced to the role of "harmonizer". He has been condemned for wasting and devoting his time to Kanye West without anything concrete for himself.   

D'Banj's problem with the public is that he can never win.  As my older cousin puts it, "whatever he does people would find fault. He has been tried and found guilty by the jury of public opinion just because he's not Don Jazzy". That stuck with me. Why must it always be black or white with us? It's never grey. Why must it be D'Banj or Don Jazzy? Why can't it be both? Why can't we wish them both the best, watch their careers progress and enjoy their offerings? We're always quick to condemn and criticize based on the limited information available to us? When did we reach the point that we admonish people who fight stagnancy by aiming to widen their horizons and spread their seeds?


We fail to acknowledge that D'Banj has achieved minor successes in his bid to break down the barriers between the African and 'Ameuropian' pop music scenes. 'Oliver Twist' has charted on the UK Top 10 and featured on Eastenders. He had a set at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in June and  Wireless Festival in July. He also opened for Rita Ora recently. This has helped introduce him to an audience staying in Nigeria would never have been able to. His career is benefiting from having a structured label behind him. By taking the step out of the piracy riddled, Alaba marketer controlled Nigerian music industry, he’s setting himself up to benefit from a society where intellectual property is respected and his music catalogue would be  able to earn him  royalties. 

It is easy to meet his every move with derision but one must also acknowledge his ambition and confidence in his decision to concentrate on the foreign market. The metaphor of the big fish in the small pond comes to mind. I might not like every song of his or agree with his choice of lyrics but I respect him. I respect him for having the audacity to seek growth for himself first and the Nigerian scene next.


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