Interview: How Jide Taiwo Is Filling A Gap In Afrobeats Documentation

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Afrobeats, a genre of music native to West Africa and exported to other parts of the world, has thrived over the years, from its inception in the early 2000s with the likes of 2 Baba, P-Square and D’banj championing its course,  to the 2010s when Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy came on board and changed the game. The success of the genre has been aided by the growing popularity of the digital media, particularly streaming platforms, as well as liaisons with international artists and platforms.

In a bid to preserve Afrobeats, music journalists and enthusiasts have been  documenting the culture. One of those at the center of  this  is Nigerian media communications executive and writer Jide Taiwo. From bagging a Mass Communication degree to exploring different forms of traditional journalism, Jide Taiwo segued into music journalism and has since pitched his tent in this niche. In 2020, he published his first book on Afrobeats, History Made: The Most Important Nigerian Songs Since 1999, a 173 pager encompassing 21 iconic Afrobeats songs released since 1999. With his attempt at covering Afrobeats’ nascent history, the writer marked a historic moment with the proper documentation of the genre.

Grammy award-winning Burna Boy is one of Africa’s most influential artists of the current generation. Jide Taiwo takes the centre stage again,  and this time, he  prioritizes the music legend and attempts to make sense of Burna Boy’s stagecraft and artistry in his new title E File Fun Burna: The Incredible Stagecraft of Burna Boy. However, he is not alone in this journalistic quest, as his book features captivating images by renowned photographer Michael Tubes.

In this exclusive interview with Culture Custodian, which coincides with the release of his sophomore book project,  Jide Taiwo speaks about his development and influences as a music journalist, his path to authorship, artistic eclecticism, and most importantly the motivation behind his latest publication.


In your years of working as a music journalist in Nigeria, how would you describe the most challenging parts of this niche?

Having worked as a music journalist, I think the most challenging part is that people don’t take music journalism as seriously as they take other forms of journalism. In the past, people underrated it as if it was play. They didn’t consider discussing music as serious as talking about politics, for instance. That is the most challenging part. Because it’s not taken as seriously as other forms of journalism, the business model struggles. Investors are less likely to invest in a platform that talks about artists such as Burna Boy and Wizkid than they would in mainstream news such as legacy newspapers. In Nigeria, it’s almost like there are no platforms that stand toe to toe with the likes of The Guardian or Punch which have been in the spotlight for forty to fifty years doing hardcore music journalism.  My rejoinder to them is that any news platform in the world has a healthy contingent of culture journalism. Of course, we appreciate the guys that do political reportage, business coverage, etc., but culture, of which music is a part, is also an essential part of human existence. So it’s just as important as everything else. 


What are the emerging trends in your music journalism and how has it differed from before?

I have not played exclusively in the niche of music journalism for a while. I’ve done other forms of journalism, including doing media businesses. But that has afforded me an opportunity to see a bit clearer than I would have if my work was exclusively music journalism. In the course of building media products and businesses, I’ve seen how trends have changed. At one point in the past, it was exclusives and scoops. For instance, if Burna Boy wanted to leave a place after performing, you had a contact there who could give you information about what happened. This was a powerful business model for a very long time. Then, the proliferation of the internet made it such that all of these entertainers do not need to have a journalist on speed dial. They can just hold up their devices and share whatever they want to share with the world. That created a shift. If you are a music journalist and the entertainer does not need you to be his inside person for an exclusive, how do you cover the entertainer and deliver value to your audience? That’s the shift that has made people now do different kinds of content. Entertainment Journalism is now past just exclusives and scoops. We have podcasts, reviews, listicles, documentaries, books, and films. That’s the shift that has happened in the last three to four years. 


Afrobeats has produced a number of standout artists, from the early generation when we had the likes of 2 Baba, P-Square and D’banj to the current generation which includes Davido and Wizkid. Of all the revered Nigerian artists, why did you choose to write about Burna Boy?

When I set out to write the book, it wasn’t going to be just about appraisals. However, it is impossible for you not to acknowledge the things that Burna Boy has been doing differently from his peers. That’s most visible in his stagecraft. A couple of days ago, Apple covered the Burna Boy show in London. The show had 60,000 people, which is unprecedented. That same day, Beyonce had a show in another London stadium with 40,000 capacity. I’m not saying Burna Boy is bigger than Beyonce. However, when Apple put it up on its platform, millions of people saw exactly that Burna Boy’s artistry was great. Burna Boy stands out in how he approaches his live performances, set design, production flow and segues. Right now, he is head and shoulders above his contemporaries. 


How supportive has your family been to your career as a journalist?

I am blessed to come from a family that understood the skill set and talent I had. I grew up as a shy kid who wasn’t as expressive verbally as I was in writing. My mum noticed that. If I wanted something for Christmas, I would write a composition. That shaped my skill set at a very young age. I also grew up in Ibadan which had at the time a number of publishing houses, such as University Press, Heinemann, Macmillan and Oxford Press. I remember clearly back then that University Press was the biggest book publishing company in the country. I had family friends there, and I often went to the warehouse. That was how I started to understand the publishing business. I come from a lettered family. My aunt, who was my mum’s immediate younger sister, was a journalist even before I knew what journalism entailed. She used to work at the Nigerian Tribune. As a kid, I used to accompany her to the office. I loved being around books and journalists, and I wanted it. Fortunately, my journey in life has driven me along that path.


Tell us about your educational trajectory and how instrumental it has been to the pursuit of a career in journalism

My mum had the presence of mind to see what my skill set was. I have always been excellent at art subjects such as English, literature and social studies.  I remember that after junior WAEC, the school wanted to put me in Science class at the senior secondary level because of my good grades. My mum disagreed with the school and insisted I was put in an Art class. In university, I studied Mass Communication. I also had to learn how to speak and interview people. All of these have been helpful to my career. 


Looking at Nigerian society and its dynamics, what does it take to practice music journalism?

The main word is “journalism”, and “music” is a qualifier. Whatever skills are required to do political journalism are also needed for music journalism. The subjects might be different, but the end result is quite the same. It’s all about informing, discovering and contextualizing. If you have a curious mind which requires you to think and ask questions, bearing in mind that it’s not only about you but also about your subject and the story itself, all basic skills required of a journalist are helpful to any beat the journalist covers.


What are your favourite music genres?

I am eclectic. I listen to all kinds of music. Like a sponge, I soak up everything in the music world. I could be listening to Ayinla Omowura one moment and move on to Kirk Franklin. But for me, the top tiers are Fuji and Hip-Hop. 


Would you like to shed light on your influences as a music journalist: books, individuals, specific experiences, etc.

Hip-hop World Magazine was the first major influence that made me realize that music journalism could be practiced in Nigeria as it was in other parts of the world. I developed relationships with the likes of Ayo Animasaun of Hip-hop World, Ayo Oshun who was my editor at Bubbles Magazine, Bayo Omisore and Ayeni Adekunle who employed me at NET ng. I was an editor at Bubbles Magazine and I worked with Goke Oludare. At that time, I became friends with Osagie Alonge who was chief correspondent at NET ng.   There’s also Dayo Showemimo who was a correspondent at Thisday and later at NET ng. I have been inspired by all of these people who either came before me or were my peers. Besides, I read quite a lot. I recently read Steve Stoute and D. O. Fagunwa’s Forest of A Thousand Daemons. I read everything and it’s not limited to a specific genre.


How would you describe your approach to writing as a journalist?

I believe in the use of appropriate tone as well as understanding your audience. Anyone who understands that has no problem. It would be amiss of me to talk about Burna Boy and be academic about it unless I am looking at it from an academic standpoint. If I were doing a business story, including one-liners and smart remarks would be wrong. For instance, in writing about the cost of petrol, there’s nothing to make smart remarks about because the context is not amusing. Understanding the audience helps to determine the tone by which the message is delivered. A writer also needs to be sure the message is being delivered as intended. In Mass Communication, noise is not necessarily horrible environmental sounds. Noise is anything that distorts the message that you are passing across. Before writing, I know exactly what I want to say and then I figure out how to approach it the best way. My book on Burna is pithy, yet I wanted to be sure that inasmuch as it is short, I deliver the intended message. In my first book, History Made, I had a lot of footnotes to explain many points raised in the book. And it’s all because the book was intended for a larger conversation. In my current work, I decided to be succinct and precise as well as informal in my approach because the discussion is about someone’s artistry and stagecraft. Burna Boy does not make esoteric music and the nature of his music remains bubbly even when he takes on serious issues. Besides, I believe my flexible and playful personality reflects the way I write. 


You authored your first book History Made: The Most Important Nigerian Songs Since 1999 in 2020. At what point in your journalism career did you contemplate book publishing, and what necessitated your debut book publication on Afrobeats?

I’ve always wanted to write a book. But for this particular work, I wanted a compendium, something that you could flip through and get the gist. I realized Afrobeats has spanned twenty years without deliberate curation, so I decided to document the most important songs in the journey of Afrobeats so far. About the time I was finishing the project, the first Afrobeats documentary on Netflix was being done by Ayo Shonaiya. A few months later, Obi Asika’s documentary on Showmax surfaced. It was as if everyone was realizing the need to properly document and curate Afrobeats so that when people need a reference for all these, there is no need to lean on some guy from Holland or the United States. 


How long did it take you to write your current book and what was the process of gathering data like?

Initially, when I started it was supposed to take a few weeks. I started it after Burna Boy had a show at Madison Square Garden. I ended it after his show at London Stadium. It took me about a year. My first book had twenty-one chapters and I completed that in less time. Gathering data for my current book was not hard because Burna Boy is a renowned artist. My work is not an exhaustive biography, so the data I required wasn’t that much. If it was a book about his entire life, it would have taken more time. I would have had to visit where he was born in Port Harcourt and where he lived in the UK. 


Michael Tubes, the Creative Director of Sounds of Africa and Michael Tubes Creations, is credited as the brains behind the cover image of Burna Boy. What informed the synergy with him on this creative output?

Michael Tubes is the official and unofficial photographer of Afrobeats. He’s a Nigerian-British guy. In the last ten years, he’s been the one taking all the images in UK concerts- from the O2 to Wembley, following Burna Boy to the US. If you are in need of photography that represents Afrobeats, Michael Tubes is the go-to guy. He’s somebody that I was fortunate to meet about ten years ago when he shot a picture of Dammy Krane at a concert in New York. It was the first time Dammy Krane was seeing his mother in ten years, and Michael Tubes was available to capture the moment. Recently, he shot the most iconic image of Asake when the singer jumped into the audience at Afro Nation. He has worked with Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, Joeboy, Rema, Mr Eazi, and so on. After I saw the picture of Burna Boy that he took, I told him it was a book cover. To an extent, his art inspired me to just put together a book on Burna Boy. 


What do you hope readers get out of this publication?

It’s not just an appreciation of his craft. I expect readers to pay attention to the “why”. For instance, why is it that Burna Boy appears to pay more attention to his concerts abroad than here? One reason is that we don’t have custom-built arenas. The lack of sufficient facilities for shows could also play a part. And there’s the financial part. Why is it that he infuses the talking drum into his set? Why is his mother an omnipresent feature of his life and career? If people from other cultures want to find out what makes Burna Boy distinct, this book might help them through a unique perspective. As a fan, you might appreciate him a certain way. As a culture custodian, you might see him differently.  Why does Burna Boy want to be Fela? Why is it important for him to be Fela? I want people to have a rounded view of not just him as a person or his stagecraft as a feature, but perhaps a view of what makes him special on stage. 


What will your future Afrobeats projects look like?

I want to do biographies on all Afrobeats guys. I want to do exhaustive work in Fuji music because that’s my pleasure. I also want to collaborate with other people with similar ideas. I intend to produce a number of documentaries. It’s just exciting to dabble in these things and deliver value to the audience. 


What are your other interests when you are not writing about music?

I’m watching what’s going on in the world. I’m interested in sports and I enjoy taking long walks. I’m not a good cook, but I cook a lot and eat my meals on my own. I like spending time with my wife and two kids. Above all, I love absorbing human behaviour and nature. 


If you had the opportunity to interview an artist of your choice from any part of the world, who would it be, and why?

It would be Jay-Z. His career has lasted for thirty years now, and he has not changed in the way he speaks. I would like to find out what drives him, what makes him cool, and how he remains true to himself. 

You can purchase Jide Taiwo’s latest book here.