A History of Nigeria Music on the International scene
From a popular perspective, Nigeria music began to gain acceptance on the global stage as far back as 2016, some may even say as far back as 2013, when the D’banj hit single “Oliver Twist” made waves across several countries in Europe and charted in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Romania, Scotland, Slovakia and most importantly the United Kingdom, where it peaked at No 9, still one of the highest peaking African Song on the Chart.
However, If you take a very close look, you will find out, that Nigeria has been on the global music stage for quite a long time now. A dive back into the historical archives reveals the conquest of King Sunny Ade as well as Fela Kuti on the international scene as far back as the 1980s, the dominance of other diaspora Nigerians, such as Sade Adu in the 1980’s and Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel popularly known as SEAL in the 90s.
In the 2000’s acts like P-square, 2face, and Dbanj, experienced relative international success, further pushing the Nigerian sound beyond its boundaries, but apparently, these were not enough, as it was not enough to maintain the momentum on the scene. However, thanks to acts like Wizkid, Davido, and Boy, Nigerian Music has become a dominant genre in the international scene. so without any further ado, here is a history of Nigeria Music on the international scene.
The President and the King.
The Influence and contribution of the Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti on the present international success of Afrobeats and all Nigerian Music can not be overstated. Aside from being the pioneer of the Afrobeat genre, Fela was also the first Nigerian musician to enjoy international success. In 1980 Fela signed an exclusive management with French producer Martin Meissonnier who secured a record deal with Arista Records London through A&R Tarquin Gotch.
The first album came out in February 1981 under the title of “Black President” and on the B-Side “Colonial Mentality” Following the release, Fela performed his first European tour. The tour started in Paris on March 15th, 1981 with a huge crowd estimated at 10000 people, then Brussels, Wien, and Strasbourg. Fela recorded in Paris in July 1981: “Original Sufferhead”, with “Power Show” on the B-side. Fela also recorded the track “Perambulator” in Paris. Arista gave his freedom to Fela at the end of 1981.
When reggae’s biggest star, Bob Marley, died in 1981, his label, Island Records, didn’t bother searching for another Jamaican artist to bring to rock audiences. Instead, label head Chris Blackwell turned his attention to Africa. He wanted to sign Fela Kuti, But Kuti was snapped up by Clive Davis’s Arista label, He then turned to the King of Afro Pop and juju music, King Sunny Ade.
Sunny Adé signed to Island Records in 1982 and achieved international success with the albums Juju Music (1982) and Synchro System (1983); the latter garnered him a Grammy nomination, Making him the first Nigerian Artist to earn a Grammy nomination. His 1998 album Odu also garnered a Grammy nomination.
Sunny collaborated with major artists such as Manu Dibango and Stevie Wonder as well as younger Nigerian artists such as Wasiu Alabi Pasuma and Bola Abimbola. His period of recordings with Island Records opened the floodgates for other world music artists like Senegalese Youssou N’Dour, Mali’s Salif Keita, and many others.
The Relative Success of the 2000s
Going into the 21st century, Nigerian music on the international scene went into obscurity, with just very few songs breaking the continental mold, making waves across Europe and Asia. One of such songs is 2Face’s African Queen. The song was a track on Face 2 Face, 2face debut album which was released on May 15, 2004. The song became a major hit initially in Idibia’s home country of Nigeria but quickly spread through western and southern Africa, and eventually making an impact in Europe as well.
“Do Me” By the R&B Hip Hop Duo, Psquare is one of the few songs of the 2000s that attained relative commercial success in the international scene. The song was a track on the singer’s third studio album, “Game Over”. The album alongside the track received a critical commercial reception selling over 8 million copies Worldwide.
9ice Gongo Aso was also one of the 2000s songs that left the shores of this country, The song was a track on 9ice sophomore album, Gongo Aso which was released in 2008 under ID Cabasa’s Coded Tunes. Gongo Aso won 9ice the Best Hip Hop Artist of the Year at the MTV Africa Music Awards and four further awards at the 2009 edition of the Headies Award.
The relative success of the 2000s ended with Dbanj’s Mr. Endowed featuring Snoop Dog. The track was released on May 23, 2010, by Mo’ Hits Records. Produced by Don Jazzy, the song appeared in the track listing for Mr. Endowed, an unreleased album. Like other international songs in this period, the song made waves all over Europe and America but unfortunately did not make any official chart.
The Early Success of the 2010s.
The Koko Master ended the 2000s with Mr. Endowed but opened the 2010s with the international hit single “Oliver Twist” which made waves across several countries in Europe and charted in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Romania, Scotland, Slovakia, and most importantly the United Kingdom, where it peaked at No 9, still one of the highest peaking African Song on the Chart.
In April 2012, the Afrobeat duo remixed their 2009 hit single ‘E No Easy’ with Matt Houston, and it became the first Nigerian Afrobeats song to reach the top 5 on SNEP – French Official chart and top 10 on Ultratop- Belgium official, spending 29 weeks and 16 weeks respectively. The song was the First Afrobeats hit in France, which in turn boosted Afrobeat’s visibility in the francophone countries.
The Early success of the 2010s continued in 2014, following Wizkid’s release of Ojuelegba, his self-titled second studio album, Ayo (2014). Although the song did not make any official chart, it received numerous airplay on all major radio stations across Europe and peaked at number 1 on Capital Xtra’s Afrobeats Chart for February 2015.
The official remix of “Ojuelegba” features vocals by Canadian rapper Drake and English grime artist Skepta. It made its premiere on OVO Sound Radio in July 2015. The song was ranked 12th on The Fader’s list of the 107 Best Songs of 2015. Mr. Eazi continued Afrobeat’s international breakthrough with his breakout single “Skin Tight” which made a wave in the United Kingdom. The genre further gained prominence after Beat FM in North London became the first British radio station dedicated to Afrobeats.
The rising attention of afrobeats in the US also reached music radio stations, which began airing afrobeats, something they typically would not do before. Davido’s “Fall” which was released in 2017 became a top 20 radio hit in America, 24 months after it was initially released. “Fall” also began rising on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay and U.S. Shazam charts, also becoming the longest-charting Nigerian song in Billboard history. The song later became certified Gold in Canada and the U.S.
The Late Success of the 2010s
The early success of Afrobeats in 2010, helped establish Afrobeat as a major music genre in the international scene, establishing local Nigeria stars as international superstars. In the late 2010s, international record labels Universal and Warner Music began to invest money into Afrobeats artists following Wizkid’s collaboration with Drake on One Dance, He signed with RCA Records in 2017, which became the biggest deal an African musician has ever received.
Prior to to Wizkid deal, Davido had also signed to Sony Music through RCA Records in 2016. Burna Boy, who was previously signed to Aristokrat Records in Nigeria got signed with Bad Habit/Atlantic Records in the United States and Warner Music Group worldwide. These deals helped establish Afrobeat as one of the dominant genres in the international scene.
In addition, to commemorate his major-label debut, Burna Boy released his studio album “Outside” in 2018. The song’s sixth lead single “Ye” attained international prominence, making waves all across Europe and America. Burna Boy further cemented his status with the release of his 2019 album “African Giant” which contained the international hit single “On the Low”. The album attained critical acclaim and was nominated for ‘Best World Music Album’ at the Grammy Awards.
Wizkid On the Other hand released Come Closer Featuring Drake as the lead single for his third studio Album ” Sound From The Other Side” The Album featured numerous international stars of that moment such as Chris Brown and TY Dollar Sign “Come Closer” became certified RIAA Gold in 2020, 3 years after initial release.
Davido on the other hand released his second studio album, A Good Time, which includes international hit tracks like “If” and “Fall” and his collaboration with Chris Brown “Blow My Mind”. Other notable hit records within this period include Starboy’s Soco, Rema’s Dumebi, Tiwa Savage’s Malo, and many others that made waves all over Europe