Let’s start with a song in praise of the unsung Nigerian youths, our homegrown stars making waves and making good money all over the world with their brand of Nigerian pop music that is at once catchy, infectious, irresistible, danceable, melodious and above all original.
In their songs, you can hear the inborn creativity of Nigeria, our Nigeria. You can hear the spirit of excellence and the determination of Nigerians to excel. You can hear the beat of Nigeria. You can hear the best of Nigeria. In a country that had been smirched with all kinds of negativity, these musical youths have come to redeem Nigeria’s image, beaming powerful floodlights of hope and attention on a country that still has so much to offer the world. Whether it is the O2 Arena in London or Coachella, California or the biggest showbiz stage anywhere in the world, Nigerian stars—like Wizkid, Davido, Mr. Eazi, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage and my favourite singer Teni—are weaving their musical magic and charming the world like the legendary Pied Piper of Hamelin, creating large following globally, making the newly converted fans of Nigerian music—black, white, yellow, brown—all scream and dance in their racial diversity to the beat of one Nigeria. Not since the Super Eagles of Nigeria shook the world at the USA 94 World Cup, followed by Nigeria winning the Olympics soccer gold have I seen anything like this with Nigeria taking centre stage and Nigerian stars becoming household names globally. Today, names like Davido and Wizkid are Nigerian global brands known everywhere and whose concerts sell to a rapturous full house.
In our younger days, it was American soul music that held sway. We shunned homegrown music in favour of American music—the music of James Brown, Kool and The Gang, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass, Donna Summer and all that funky stuffs now old school music. But today, our conquering youths have turned the tide in favour of Nigerian music. In those days, it got to a point where an angry and frustrated Fela attacked James Brown, even though Fela also took from James Brown, before he evolved his ‘Afrobeat’. Like reggae’s Bob Marley, Fela is an inspirational father figure behind today’s Nigerian pop music. You can hear Fela’s influence in the music of almost every one of them, from Wizkid’s Ojuelegba to Burna Boy whose song Dangote is a chart-burster. You can write a whole book on the new wave of Nigerian music, its evolution and direction.
One trend today is the celebration and the glorification of two of Nigeria’s richest men: Aliko Dangote and Mike Adenuga. Two men who symbolize the Nigerian dream, the tenacity, can-do spirit, hard work, doggedness, visionary leadership and the never-give-up mentality of Nigerian entrepreneurs. Two men who have become role models and aspirational figures to youths. Two icons whose successes have inspired praise songs from our youthful pop stars who with all the money they have made in show business, are still praying and dreaming to be like Aliko Dangote and Mike Adenuga. Two brands you can proudly brandish as Made-in-Nigeria. Two double-barreled brands—personally and product-wise.
It was Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright who once said: “Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.” Another role model quotes I like very much is by Michelle Obama: “Be the flame of fate, that torch of truth to guide our young people toward a better future for themselves and for this country.” Yet another by the poet and singer Lana Del Ray: “Find someone who has a life that you want and figure how they got it. Read a book, pick your role models wisely. Find out what they did and do it.”
Today in Nigeria, if you are to do a referendum among youths to choose one or two role models they would love to be like, the two names that you will hear like a repetitive song is either Aliko Dangote or Mike Adenuga. I was interviewing former President Olusegun Obasanjo for a forthcoming book on 2 Nigerian business titans. I had taken my son Babajide along as I usually do, mentoring him on the craft of biographical writing. Obasanjo had given me a great interview at his Green Legacy Resort hotel in Abeokuta. And as we ended, he sprang a surprise, asking my son: “Young man, who would you want to be like when you become a big man?”
Babajide recalled the encounter in a piece he wrote here titled MY OBASANJO MOMENT: “I was shocked. I never saw it coming…I paused for 3 seconds and a lot ran through my big head. I first thought of saying Olusegun Obasanjo, but I felt he would sense that I was being diplomatic. I also thought of Mike Awoyinfa, but he would still know I am being biased. Lo and behold Aliko Dangote came to my head, and I knew for sure that he really likes him. Immediately I mentioned Dangote as the man I would want to be like, he gave me a pat on my shoulder and said: ‘Young man, you need to work very hard then.’”
Babajide is not alone. If you listen to Ayo, the single from Simi’s latest CD Omo Charlie Champagne, you would hear her praying to God to make her as rich as Adenuga. The same prayer was echoed by Wizkid in his song Jaiye Jaiye (featuring Femi Kuti) where he prays to be as rich as Adenuga. In Juju music, acts like Yinka Farinde, King Sunny Ade and Ayefele have all paid homage to Adenuga. Ebenezer Obey even released a “Special live album” tracing Adenuga birth from April 29, 1953 to date, extolling the humility and greatness of the business icon 66 on Monday.
As for Dangote, you will hear him on Burna Boy’s latest hit: “Dangote, Dangote, Dangote still dey find money o…Who I be? Wey make I no go find money o…Alakija dey find money. Dangote dey find money. Otedola dey find money. Adeleke dey find money. Adenuga dey find money. Why me no go find money?”
From Reekado Banks in his debut Spotlight featuring the song Dangote to Zlatan, Dammy Krane and Olamide in the latest dance track Jo, it’s the same glorification. Teni who sang: “My Papa no be Dangote” dramatically changed her tune when she met Dangote at a party, saying Dangote is now her father. Money indeed is king. But this column is not all about money. It’s a call to Nigerian youths to find what they are good at and leverage on that to create a product or service that the market needs. It’s a call for them to work hard like their heroes who made it young. By heroes, I mean real heroes. I don’t mean those in politics dancing around and flaunting wealth from our common wealth. Such men don’t inspire pop songs like hardworking Dangote and Adenuga. In the words of comedian and Glo Ambassador Bright Okpocha, alias Basketmouth: “Why Nigeria is on the global map right now is not our government but musicians, comedians, actors, painters, people in the arts. They are the ones that represent us well. So let’s appreciate them more.”