When Olamide got on the stage at the 2016 Headies, and ordered Don Jazzy not to visit the Mainland, he was bucking the recent trend in the Nigerian music industry of encouraging faux friendships among its major players. People you knew couldn’t stand each other gave the impression that all was well and truly rosy. That episode and the way it was managed confirmed this. Not too long after, both artists and label heads were summoned to a meeting by Nigeria’s richest man and reminded of the need for peace. They went back to work and things went back to normal.
Recently, the battle between the two golden boys of the Nigerian pop scene has been the one to set tongues wagging. It’s really no surprise that Wizkid and Davido don’t gel. They went through this a couple of years ago, then made up. At the time, it didn’t feel genuine and this is validated by current going ons. It stems from both acts having been pitted against each other after breaking into the industry around the same time and hitting mainstream success. Being in the same age demographic would have fostered this feeling of rivalry and tension. Both of them signing foreign deals of late would have also fed into this. In the narrative setting, there’s also been a bit of juxtaposition. Wizkid is the boy from Ojuelegba who ended up on a song with Drake. Davido is the Omo Baba Olowo who went to BIS and broke through with Back When armed with a feature from fellow silverspoon kid, Naeto C. It’s particularly curious that amidst this and the spirit of “collaboration” amongst Afrobeat acts, there’s no instance of collaboration between the two.
The latest spat coming because Davido’s rhetoric about music with local flavour being the sweetest soup didn’t resonate with Wizkid’s current goal of seeking world domination. Tekno, another act with a foreign deal, in butting in earned Wizkid’s ire. In the interest of balance, it’s worth pointing out that while Davido’s back to basics stance has seen him earn the crown in 2017 thus far, could it possibly have been informed by the lack of success he earned for his half hearted crossover attempt last year? It seemed to spook him into life and can explain his current success. He took more responsiblity, reunited with Asa Asika who’d masterminded his original breakout and generally just upped his game. In Wizkid’s case, he has dropped a lot of music that has failed to make the impact of his previous work and while it is clear his focus is no longer on the Nigerian market, I get the impression that he’s still struggling to find the perfect fit/formula. He must be reminded of the D’ Banj mistake: getting so caught up in trying to blow in the West that the local market is completely neglected. A Baba Nla esque drop helps every now and then. He also needs to make something on his own as opposed to piggybacking more established acts as he has done with the majority of his recent releases.
As a consumer and fan, I am particularly excited about this conflict. Not because I’m some weirdo who enjoys seeing people fight. Honestly, Nigerian beef is of the tame variation. It’s highly unlikely lives will be lost or threatened so really what’s there to be lost? Also, it’s because I know that the fans can be the only winners. It raises the bar for the two (three) artists in question who are going to have to outdo themselves as that’ll be the yardstick upon which the battle will be decided. Competition has always been and will continue to be the antidote to mediocrity. It was inspiring to see both artists perform to sell out crowds in Europe over the weekend. It accentuates the upward trajectory both acts are on. Our people say that when two elephants fight, it’s the ground that suffers (benefits). In this case, the ground includes the artists in the tier below who are going to benefit from the increased exposure that the Afrobeats scene will get. It’ll also mean that they have to better their craft so as to ensure the gap from the top tier is not disproportionate. It’ll also encourage the spirit of collaboration as there’ll be a realisation that this moment is bigger than any one person and is in the best interest of the collective. What’s better than one superstar hitting KD form? Two.