09 August 2015

Nigeria #1: Where's Johnny?

Nope, we are not looking for Wally nor Waldo today. Nope, we are here to look for Johnny. Who is Johnny? Johnny Depp? Johnny Cash? Johnny Winter? Johnny Knoxville? Johnny Carson? We may never know. But what we do know is that there is some good* music coming up in this post. (*This statement is highly biased and debatable.) This time we are heading to Nigeria.

Wikipedia: Nigeria

It is always a special occasion whenever there is a African post in this blog; this is the fifth post coming from the continent and this blog has been up for nine months now. I have multiple times mentioned (and obviously am going to mention yet again) that I am not very familiar with African music, but in past few months I have made a point to familiarize more with. And I aim to blog more about African music too and for this month I actually have two African blog posts scheduled, so there is that to look out for. But now to Nigeria.

Nigeria is a country in West Africa in the coast of Gulf Of Guinea. It has the population of over 177 million people, making it one of the most populated countries in the world and the most populated one in Africa. So obviously there has to be great music to be found. On a side note, Nigeria is not to be confused with its neighbour Niger, that has more land area, but only a tenth of Nigeria's population. One thing that confused me was how to people from these two countries are called: person from Nigeria is Nigerian and person from Niger is Nigerien. That is the lesson of the day, though I still think I will be having issues when I will be blogging about Nigerien music eventually. But we are good to go with this post.

Here is the first artist of this post: Iyanya. Born as Iyanya Onoyom Mbuk (I am not even attempting to pronounce that) in 1986, he comes from the city of Calabar, that is located at the southeastern parts of Nigeria and of which climate chart I am jealous of (I do not mind the rain if it is warm). Iyanya started his professional career in 2008. He graduated with a Business Management degree, after which he worked at a hotel and a bar while developing his vocals singing karaoke. In 2008 he took part in a reality show singing competition called Project Fame, which he won and that made him famous in Nigeria and abroad.

The first song from Iyanya is Away. It was released in 2014 and to my believe it was a big hit in Nigeria. Iyanya sings in two language: English and Efik. Efik is a Nigerian language spoken by about half million people as native language and it is an official language in the state Cross River State, from where Iyanya comes from. I have no knowledge on the Efik language (honestly, I only now heard about for the first time), but I assume that the none-English parts of the song are in Efik. The song itself is catchy and fun, a bit summery to fit the current season. To me it sounds quite ethnical, partly thanks to the lyrics also.

Iyanya (why is his name so hard to write, even when it looks so simple...) has said he wants to be versatile and do different styles of music. So far he has released two studio albums. His first album is R&B album, while the second album has also more afropop and afrobeat sounds to it too. Afrobeat is a music style that combines traditional music of Nigeria and Ghana with other music styles like jazz, funk and highlife. The last one of those might also be a bit less known genre for most of us, but highlife is a popular genre in West African, drawing inspiration from different African music styles. But yeah, Iyanya wishes to be versatile with his music, which is something I like, since I find it very boring when artists take the safe road of sticking to the same style and not trying out new things.

The other song from Iyanya is called Le Kwa Ukwu. The song was released in 2013 and I think it is safe to assume that the title is in Efik. To that I have guesses as what the title actually means, nor what he is singing about. The song has a sound that even if I did not know who was singing, I would immediately connect to Africa. And I really like it: It is fun and rhythmic. The beat gets stuck into your head and I can clearly imagine the bongo drum players in front of me. I have no idea if there really is bongo drums being played in this song, but that is the feeling I get. Truly enjoyable song.

Iyanya has not released an album after these single releases, so the songs are currently not available on albums.

Ah, the question of the day: Where's Johnny? Brought to you by Yemi Alade. But before we go hunting for Johnny, let's talk about Yemi. Yemi Eberechi Alade is a singer coming from Abia State, that is located in the southeastern parts of Nigeria. Main portion of the state's population is Igbo people, which is also Yemi's mother's origin, while her father is of Yoruba origin. Yemi was born in 1989 and she has an university degree in Geography. In 2005 she debuted as a singer in a girl group called Noty Spices. The group was not very successful and Yemi went on to become a solo singer, hitting famous in 2009 after winning a reality show contest Peak Talent Show. Her debut studio album was released in 2014.

But what about Johnny then? Johnny is the title of Yemi's 2013 single, lead single of her debut album. In the lyrics, Johnny seems to be a bit fly guy: one day he is in Toronto, then the other time in Tokyo. Johnny seems to be a bad guy, ie. talking about wanting to marry Yemi, but disappearing again. And Yemi is looking for him. We do not know much about Johnny and the lyrics of the song are quite messy: English, some African language and French perhaps? Well, that is not much to go on with, but if you see Johnny, let Yemi know, okay?

Johnny was a big hit in many countries right after its release and even before it was officially released. Currently the video has around 25 million views on YouTube. There is also a French version of the song, so I suppose I am not too far off with my guess of the song being partly in French. Johnny is very funny song and highly catchy. It has an ethnical sound (West African sound?) and it sound very interesting, to say the least. And if the song itself is not funny enough, the music video is funny too. Totally weird, but funny. Is this guy actual Johnny or just an actor? Did they catch him long enough to shoot this music video? We may never know.

Okay okay, let's get more serious now. Though this song either is not all that serious. This second song from Yemi is called Taking Over Me. It was released as a single in January this year. I find this song very catchy and I really love the beat. Yemi's vocals sound very interesting here and they fit the music perfectly. I know there is a word I would like to use the describe this sound, but as I can not think of it, I have to go with deep and strong. That is not all that great description, so you just have to listen to it. Taking Over Me has not reached the success of Johnny, but I love this song a lot. Actually I have been listening to this a lot lately and it is my favourite song from Nigeria.

Both Johnny and Taking Over Me are from Yemi's debut album King Of Queens, released in 2014.

Taking Over Me also features a rap part from a rapper called Phyno. Though, as per usual, the guest rap appearance is short, I was interested on looking for more music from Phyno too. Even if my love for Taking Over Me is thanks to Yemi and the producers that made the beat I love, there is a possibility for me to like this guest rapper too. Plus I never skip a change to hear different kinds of music. So did I like this dude?

Phyno is the stage name of Azubuike Chibuzo Nelson, who is a rapper and record producer coming from the Enugu State. (I just now learned that Nigeria's most recent former president's name is Goodluck Jonathan. Oh, these African names.) Phyno is known for rapping in the Igbo language. While in school, Phyno played many instruments and started rapping. In 2010, he moved to Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, to focus on his musical career. His music turned out to be successful and he released his debut album last year. Phyno's stage names was given to him by his high school friend and it comes from the word phenomenal.

I am not too big fan of rap music overall, and African rap music has not really belong to my favourite music styles. I still found some decent songs from Phyno, which I am sure many other people would love, but that were just not for me. That was until I came across Man Of The Year (Obago). To somewhat my surprise, I actually liked this song! It is quite catchy and fun sounding. The beat is strong and dramatic, and Phyno raps good. Parts of the lyrics are in English, though mostly the song is in Igbo, at least I assume it is Igbo. The music video for this song was banned from broadcasting, which I find rather odd since I did not catch anything weird in this video. But then again I am use to weird stuff, so. But the song is really good whatsoever.

Man Of The Year (Obago) is from Phyno's 2014 debut studio album No Guts No Glory.

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