In a time when every Afropop artist seems to be producing music of the same Pon Pon sound, Niniola has carved a niche genre for herself in Nigeria. Beyond taking the road less travelled, Niniola’s hard-work this year saw her become one of only a handful of celebrated female artists in Nigeria. For these reasons, by the power vested in me as a self-proclaimed Nigerian music connoisseur, I hereby declare Niniola, aka Ninide, Music Woman of the Year.
Niniola who finished as the third-runner up in the 2013 installment of Project Fame West Africa, has had a shaky start to what now appears to be a very promising career. With previously released singles like Ibadi and Soke making rounds on the air waves but never really becoming viral hits, Niniola presented as an upcoming artist, the kind who releases music so infrequently, you start to forget their name. Until this year.
Niniola entered 2017 with a vengeance, releasing her biggest single Maradona in the first quarter of the year. The single which quickly gained widespread acclaim announced Niniola’s presence as the Nigerian queen of Afro-House. While fans were still enjoying its catchy lyrics, Niniola released her second single of the year, Sicker. Where Maradona told of a partner’s betrayal, Sicker brought us a woman in celebration of herself. The video which has Niniola dancing under neon lights in dark leather and bold lipstick sets the tone for the type of artist we can expect – bold, unique and fun.
Beyond chart domination, Niniola’s singles served to lead up to the reveal of her most important project to date, the release of her debut album, This Is Me. The 13-track project is, in my opinion, in the top five bracket of the best Nigerian albums released this year. Featuring Terry Apala and Patoranking, Niniola presents music which is unmistakable for the Nigerian listener, with Apala and Niniola complementing each other superbly on the Afro-House/Fuji themed Bale. Working with East African singer Charmant Mushaga and Grammy nominated Dancehall artist, Devin Di Dakta, Niniola shows us she too is ready to join the ‘Africa to the world’ train. That is, if you didn’t already get the memo with her invocation of the Argentine football player, Maradona. Armed with well-written lyrics and a voice that’s not afraid of great heights (listen to Dola), the album displays Niniola’s versatility and vocal strength.
Discussing love, life and sex on the album, Niniola allows herself, and other Nigerian women, to exist as full, complex beings. Singing to her lover on Oyin, Niniola breaks new ground as she describes their intimate relationship a bit more explicitly than the ‘pious’ Nigerian society would ordinarily permit. Quite literally using her bedroom voice, Niniola delivers sexy on a platter. While part of the appeal of the hit song Maradona comes from its familiarity – the tale of a promiscuous partner who has just been found out, Niniola subverts the age old “hold your home” narrative in the song’s video by ridding herself of the good-for-nothing player. It is indeed refreshing to see a Nigerian woman choose herself over a failed relationship and I hope the lot of us have been duly inspired. Maybe even Beyoncé could learn a thing or two from her.
With a nomination at the All African Music Awards (AFRIMA), Niniola’s growth in 2017 has been phenomenal and I imagine this is only the beginning for the rising star. I look forward to hearing more of the artist and seeing ways in which she redefines what it means to be a hit-making Afrobeats artist in Nigeria.
As the year ends, I wish you Godspeed and courage as you take a page from Niniola’s book, treading uncharted waters in 2018. In the words of our fave, “solidarity from me to you”.
P.S Special shout out to Tiwa Savage and Simi for also giving us great music this year.
Photo credit: @officialniniola