In these terrifying times, nostalgia is humanity’s most potent weapon. It is our last defence against the coronavirus that is threatening to reform the entire world as we know it. Nostalgia is all that we hold on to as social infrastructure caves in around us and we move into uncharted territories. We remember, wistfully, how we lived before these perilous times; all the places where we reviled; how we danced; what we danced to; and, perhaps, even, who we danced to.
Or maybe we don’t.
The unfortunate pause on activities around the world forces us to reflect and shows us, quite effectively, how global chatter is non-stop and unrelenting, meaning that, often, we exist in an echo chamber of curated opinions and takes. So, it is worthy to ask again: do we know who we are dancing to? I assume that the answer may be a definitive yes from you! There is sure to be certainty in your voice in fact, of course, I know whose music I have, and am, rocking to. But on a Monday night that resembled a Saturday, amid a global pandemic, two giants of Nigerian music reminded us of who we really had been listening to all these years.
A new reality of our digitized world is the prospect of everything happening virtually (concerts, poetry recitation, and book readings), in light of stay-at-home pleas – and finally a lockdown order – we were always going to have to search for comfort in the work of our famous creators. And musicians are probably our most famous creators, their lyrics color our world, illuminate us and make us breathe lighter on days when panic sets deep in our hearts. But musicians are mere corollaries to the larger picture even if they are the most egoistic of the bunch.
Monday night proved all that is weirdly true about our distinct moment in time. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, true; we are viewing the world on LED screens in bedrooms around the world, check; we live in a time of spastic revolutions, check; and the music will always ring through, even if our musicians don’t deign to put on a show for us, yes it will. Sarz and Shizzi proved this to be true by indulging fans in what they billed a “battle of hits,” but the parameters of their match-up went beyond comparing hits. It was a cataclysmic clash of two of the most influential sound-crafters of the 2010s, a lesson in range, afrobeats icons, and a comparison in innovation all rolled into over 210 minutes of entertainment and friendly bantering tinged with respect – don’t let Sarz’s demeanor fool you.
In the hours preceding the battle, social media was a tinderbox of predictions. Some calling an easy Sarz win or even a bloodbath while others warned against ruling out Shizzi. Both producers’ path into the game has been different: Sarz, a veteran with over 15 years of experience in the music industry. Shizzi, the South African transplant who returned home to herald a crusade of hits. So, the stage was set.
Before the battle, talk on social media centered on what were sure to be nuclear weapons in the grand scheme of a hits battle: Sarz’s Beat of Life collaboration with Wizkid and Shizzi’s work on Dami Duro with Davido. But the subplots proved to go beyond their Wizkid, Davido connection, it stretched to their innovative work with South African house music and Gqom, and in Sarz’s cases, detectable work in the pre-Afrobeats to the world Nigerian music industry. There was an amazing moment, just as the battle started to heat up, when Sarz dropped what he described as the song that made “Wizkid start to wonder who the fuck this Sarz guy is!” Then he dropped Kondo. Don Jazzy, that high watermark of music production in Nigeria, commented “a song I wished I produced.
To step into the ring against Sarz requires supreme confidence and belief in one’s ability, but it also warrants a catalog of hits and Shizzi’s catalog is very much stacked with high-quality songs. Despite his lofty achievements in the decade, Shizzi was always the humble performer throughout the duel, but his humility was not rooted in inferiority, just a wonderful appreciation of aural gems. Shizzi’s ideology of the game is rooted in bangers. Pure, undisputable bangers that get people on their feet. And he kept asking Sarz to play bangers, even if he didn’t always play them during the battle. “As a producer, you need to have a smashing club hit, that everybody wants to dance to, whenever they find themselves in the club,” he told Net.ng five years ago.
In the latest edition of her newsletter, music writer, Donna-Claire Chesman, wrote about the role of art in our troubling times. “Art is the backbone of coping for so many people. Your music, pieces, photos, poems, videos, and the like, are posed to provide solace for so many people who are feeling lost and are seeking our normalcy. Of course, nothing will be normal again, but the connection to art provides listeners and readers—viewers, too—with a sense of control and stability in their lives. How often, during much less dire circumstances, do we turn to art to give us calm?”
Never before have we needed our music to serve as a welcome respite for us as now, and very few times before as it stood up as strong – and memorably – for us as it did when Sarz and Shizzi battled. Away from who won and who didn’t – Sarz won – this was a sonic history of our 2010s played out without the egos of musicians. Sarz recognizes this: “The real win from last night was highlighting our catalogs and getting our due stripes as music producers,” he wrote in a tweet on Tuesday. “Sooner than later, creatives behind the music will get what they deserve in this industry. Thank you for watching.”
We thank Sarz and Shizzi for really reminding us whom we have been listening to all these years, we thank them for every beat they’ve ever made, I thank them for the gift of nostalgia; they are gods among men, Sarz and Shizzi, nostalgia forever!