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Monday, September 29, 2014

The Culture Custodians #1: Davido


Introducing: The Culture Custodians; my monthly series of profiles and interviews with selected people who have played a significant role on the cultural circuit.  Bv_nD0WIcAAAb3d
Finding Davido. That came to mind as a possible name for this feature because it captured how long this had been coming. There was the time in March when Davido was in London and I was on standby to interview him. I blew my friends off and sat down thinking of questions while waiting for the call to come through. It never did. I took it in my stride and went for a jog from Hendon Central to Golders Green. Cos that’s what you do when you can’t get through to the biggest pop act in Africa as you’ll like to. Five months later, my partner(and our Content Director) Tito sends me a message “Let’s go and block Davido”. I blow off my plans to visit the Tailor and a t shirt merchandiser and meet up with Tito. Armed with Davido’s DJ, DJ Olu and his close friend, Ashley Ebong we make it to Davido’s house and studio. We don’t make it past the gate. He’s supposedly recording and it seems there would be a lot of hangers on which would obviously not contribute to an ideal atmosphere. We plan to ambush him early on the following day but I end up oversleeping and we’re back at square 1. We’re getting into Fergie time now. On the last day possible, I meet up with Ashley and Tito. This time, everything clicks. We make it past the gate.

Ashley leads us in, hailed by the security guards. He’s obviously very popular here. The first thing I notice is that there are a couple of paintings of Davido greeting you as you get in the lobby. My first thought “Somebody loves himself a bit much” but I’m led to believe those paintings tend to come as gifts. And they’ve gotta go up somewhere anyway so why not put it in the most basic room in the house? We walk up the stairs and my nose starts itching. I’m in the process of overcoming my dog phobia so you can bet I’m not very happy to see a little dog sniffing around. There’s some smoke in the air. Who’s it coming from? Where’s it coming from? Someone ushers the dog in another direction whilst we go and set up camp in the studio. We’re told our host is getting ready. My brother playing the role of Personal Assistant spends his time taking pictures of the studio so he can show off on Snapchat. Cos that’s what you do when you’re about to meet the biggest pop act in Africa. Davido finally comes through. He’s wearing a black Diamond Supply Co t shirt, black jeans, a gold Jesus piece, Gucci belt and slippers. Cos that’s what you wear to chill at home when you’re the biggest pop act in Africa.

Davido’s story is a phenomenal one.. He started making music at the age of 13 when he fell in love with an Ikota studio. He speaks of the loss of his Mum at a young age as being a key reason as to why he fell in love with Music: he was able to immerse himself in it completely. He was part of a rap group where he tended to focus on producing, mixing and engineering records. He also claims the group were a hit on the talent show circuit. Tobenna of CEDRB, a part of that group. Upon graduating from high school, they went separate ways; he to America, his friends to England. He was still in the minor leagues though. In December 2010, he came back to Nigeria from the States for the traditional Christmas holiday. While he was here, he made up his mind not to go back. That’s either brave or stupid. Brave in that, it takes great guts to abandon everything to chase a dream that you can’t be sure would come true. Stupid in that, it throws everything away. ” Honestly, it was just a period where you don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re just like f*** it, I’m just going to try and go. I already had some connections with people like D’Banj and I knew I was good anyway so I just took the risk”. He adds “Coming back wasn’t even the hardest part. It was leaving school and a whole lot of other stuff behind.” Whilst he was scared, he thinks moving back calmed him down and was the right thing to do at the time. The rest is history.
Allied to his sense of musicianship is a sense of self satisfaction. He makes music for himself. ” Me, I just do it for myself. Even before I was putting my music out, I’ve had CD’s and CD’s of my own music. Before the money comes self satisfaction. The fact that I make good music that makes me happy, that I can hear in the club on a good night and have fun to it. Those are the moments that really count.”

In the age of social media and Linda Ikeji, it would be fair to say that he’s been mired in a lot of controversy. I fall victim to this in that I think he’s a troublesome person without even knowing him. My reading is that he comes across as easily excitable which makes him prone to responding to things he shouldn’t. He disagrees saying that whilst he might have been troublesome as a child, he doesn’t think he is now. I’m not sure I agree but this segues into his least favorite thing about being a star. ” All the rumors. It’s crazy how one million people can have an opinion of you and you can actually see what those opinions are. The way they’ve done the whole technology thing. If you go five years back when D’Banj and P Square were still coming out, they didn’t really know what people thought and felt. But now, when you have access to anyone you want to… Even Justin Bieber, you can tell him F*** you…. It’s just about knowing how to manage it and knowing that’s how the game works.” “Do you think you handle it well? Sometimes, you actually react.” “I don’t send. I don’t give a f*** to be honest. Sometimes, you just want to be silly. It’s fun too now.” In what is the oddest thing on this whole experience, there’s talk of a random woman at the gate claiming to be his Mother. Cos those are exactly the type of visits you get when you’re the biggest pop act in Africa.
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On the 2011 hit record, ‘Imma Boss’ Rick Ross staked his credentials as being the biggest boss by boasting “A boss is one who guarantee we gon eat”. The obvious ploy was to draw attention to the fact that Ross as one of the leading hip hop moguls has done a good job in ensuring the acts who place their future in his hands by signing on to his label are well taken care of. Ross has curated three compilation albums in the last three years that have done more to favour the collective than enhance his standing. That’s what bosses do. Speaking to Davido, you get the same impression. When we talk about his standing at the forefront of the new generation, he says “Being the frontrunner, everything is God. God puts you in the position you’re in at all times and then you have to help the people. It’s why I’ve done collabos with Runtown, MC Galaxy (He was the first person in my studio and now has one of the hottest songs around). The list goes on. Diamond, I put him on in Africa. It’s just about making sure everyone is eating. Shoutout to Reminisce. Just bought a Benz. And he’s got the Samsung deal. It’s amazing knowing your vocals and your support contributed to other people’s success. That’s really how you stay at your position. That’s why Tu Baba (Tu Face Idibia) is where he is cos he f***s with everyone. Unlike some people who will just be doing shakara. I don’t want to call any names”. (More on this later) That’s before we even get to his record label, HKN. The record label tends to be the first vanity project an artiste oversees after reaching a level of comfort and whilst I can never know what his real intentions are, it does seem altruistic. He mentions there being seven acts (including himself) but goes on to list six: B Red, Sina Rambo, DJ Olu, Danagog, DeeKay. This puts into perspective a rumor that Lola Rae has been recruited (Either that or they just share management. Time will tell). In the time we spend together, Danagog comes in and out, interrupts the interview and it’s evident that Davido truly is the boss who ensures they all eat. He claims that his dream is that they become better than him. I’m tempted to think all that rhetoric might be for the benefit of Olu. He’s not exactly going to say he hopes one of his acts fail in his presence or on record.

If you didn’t get it by now, Davido has achieved that rare feat in music: He’s cracked it big on the commercial and critical fronts. He’s got the BET and MTV awards. And he’s got the monster hits to go with them. ‘Aye’? ‘Gobe’? ‘Tchelete (Good Life)’? Shoki Remix? Take your pick. 2011 was the year of Davido. 2014 is the year of Davido, again. He speaks of the ‘Tchelete’ remix as the one he had most fun creating whilst he’s also keen to dispel the rumor that ‘Aye’ was bought off Runtown. He explains that when they both first met, they worked together on another record and it was through that he got introduced to T Spize who would go on to produce ‘Aye’. No one man should have all that power. And he’s done all this without dropping an album. Cos that’s exactly how you prove you’re the biggest pop act in Africa. Although, there’s a great counter point that albums are merely an afterthought in the Nigerian scene and aren’t of the significance as they should. When queried on the release date, he provides some sketchy details(there’s no working title) but says categorically “Before next year. If not before the end of this year, by the beginning of next year”. His next single is with the Nigerian-American rapper, Wale. He’s been pictured with and spoken of a budding friendship with currently incarcerated rapper, Meek Mill also of the Maybach Music camp. He also speaks of having met with representatives of Roc Nation on his American odyssey to receive the BET award. He speaks once again of feeling he has a bigger role to play in conquering Africa before taking on the world but does suggest that the album would have at least four international collaborations(including the records with Wale and Meek). Dream collaborators would be any of the YMCMB camp with him name checking Drake and Nicki Minaj. Worthy of note that there are two pictures hanging in the studio; one of a baby faced Michael Jackson and another of Fela.
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There’s the elephant in the room: the battle for supremacy between he and Wizkid. A couple of weeks ago, it reached its head as they went at each other without calling themselves out on Twitter. It was funny but it was telling: They both are undoubtedly the kings of the Nigerian space who still have a bit to go through on the maturity front. D’ Banj, 2Face and P Square never went at each other’s necks. To this observer, it’s the classic alpha male quest for domination. When I pass my understanding of what happened across; Wizkid firing a shot to which Davido then responded, he goes “Uh hmmn”. I’m curious as to why he assumed he was the one being spoken of and responded. “If the glove fits” and all. He waffles on about “two guys having a conversation” before giving the game away that “It happens. Everyone has conflict.”. I’m not satisfied. When I try to highlight why the rivalry exists, I go “Well, both of you are around the same age” which he interrupts immediately saying “Nah! He’s older than me”. My point being that they were essentially similar in the sense that there’s a similarity in their styles and being in the same age demographic. His interruption was indicative of the quest for dominance between them. He had to point out he was the younger one outshining the older rival. It’s not David vs. Goliath but in his mind, the narrative is similar. In his essay on the rivalry, Tinya Alonge suggested that there have been collaborations between the two that have ended up left on the cutting floor, something he’s quick to deny claiming “We’ve never been in the studio together”. He also wrote that B Red had been promoting a single which featured Wizkid but suddenly started promoting a new one featuring Phyno. No prizes for spotting the link. He laughs it off telling me to ask “Ashley and DJ Olu” before adding “I’m not sure between him and Wiz. I think it didn’t work out but I’m not sure.” I get the impression he pulled the plug on that record despite his unconvincing denials. I then go on to ask what would happen were they to bump into each other to which he responds ” If I see him. Whatever. It depends on the situation, it doesn’t matter. We might greet. We might not. Who cares?” Listening back to the interview and discussing it with my brother, some things I didn’t notice at the time become transparent. For instance, when I asked him “How soon is soon?” in reference to the release date of the album, he prefaced his assertion saying “Me I no dey change date”. I’m surely not wrong to have seen that as a slight to Wizkid whose constant release date push backs are slowly reaching Detox levels. The quip about “some people who would just be doing shakara” also seems directed at someone.

David Adeleke is blessed. With Shizzi on his side, he can only win. With the three sisters who shape his stylistic choices, he can only win. With his status as the youngest of the biggest 5 acts in the country (D’Banj, 2Face, P Square and Wizkid the others in no particular order), the only way is up. With the album to follow up his stellar debut and sterling year, he can knock it out the park for good. It’s very rare that I meet people for the first time and the preconceived perceptions stay the same but that’s the case here. He’s clearly a good guy with right intentions in a manner slightly more impressive than I imagined. Whilst I’m unsure if it is by mere circumstance or design, he has taken on himself the role to act as a hub and force of nature to other acts which would indicate a great degree of self awareness and ability to lead. However, his way of execution can be flawed. You still get the impression he can be easily ruffled which would always cause worry. You also fear how he would handle a scenario where he’s the underdog or faced with a dissenting voice. Would he be able to adapt and respond in sensible fashion or lash out aggressively? He’s currently riding high but were an act even younger than him to burst onto the scene and outshine him, would he still shine through as a mentor to or would he be unnecessarily petty? It’s the Kanye West/Drake dilemma. Then again, as he said repeatedly “I’m only 21″. With age and increased experiences, one would expect a greater degree of maturity. He’s on the way there.


The Culture Custodian

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