“Why are people saying it’s taken forever, infact, shey na only me never drop? Abeg, make them free me.” These were Davido’s first words to me. We were sitting at the Signature Lounge in the Filmhouse Cinemas IMAX, in Lekki, Lagos. Young, hearty and humorous, the 23 year old African superstar had arrived in a luxury black Audi R8 sports car, surrounded by a contingent of friends, assistants, managers and hangers on.
This was a special occasion for man. His new video, the first in over 8 months was to be shown for the first time in the public. Davido had signed to international major label, Sony Music in January 2016, and had become the first in a growing list of African stars to get a major deal with the record label. Over the ensuing months, he had spent a lot of his time in the US, working on international collaborations, with Usher, Future, Popcaan, Trey Songz, Tinashe, and many more stars, with the aim of breaking into the US music market.
“I was cool, I was travelling, I doing things, I was recording, I was living life, I was in America. It kind of was very fast for me, because I was moving so much, I was just setting up plays. I was setting up plays for the future.” Davido remarked when I pressed with his whereabouts during his ‘absence’ from Nigerian music. “Killing them crazy though, everything big budget, Kamal, send the email now.” His excitement was contagious in a room filled with people who turned out for him. Kamal Ajiboye, his manager, was in charge of screening all who were in the room. His bodyguard, Tijani, loomed, a towering figure who never left the singer’s side.
His recording in America and the insistence by Sony to withhold new material had taken their toll. Back home, Davido’s relevance had taken a beating. A star of his magnitude can rarely survive an extended period of drought in the market. Davido had failed to release new music, subsisting on past glories, and guest spots in third party collaborations. He needed to fuel his rated position at the top of the music industry with new music. Something for the home fans.
“I was hyped that they (Sony) came to me.” He says, as he reaches for a bottle of water. Talking to the press after all, was a thirsty business. “When they told me that this is going to happen, it’s a sacrifice that I had to make. I did so much in four years, I did a lot, every award, I have it.”
In many quarters, Davido’s deal with Sony had polarised opinions. While the general feeling about the deal had been one of celebration, few critics had expressed reservations about a Nigerian signing up to a major label. A few Nigerian artistes had earlier been involved with major labels, and their stories had failed to inspire trust in the international music business models.
Nigeria is blessed with a rich history of music stars who have had business with international recording companies. Signing an international deal hasn’t exactly been a tale of sunshine, rose petals, and everything nice. It has often resulted in the downfall, wane of influence, and stagnation of the artiste.
Majek Fashek, the guy everyone loves to point at as a pariah, and the SI unit of how-not-to-live-your-life-as-a-musician, is a genius who exported Nigerian music in the same vein as these new breeds. His clout rose internationally, and his fame was rewarded in the early part of the 90s.
Tracy Chapman, David Letterman and number of others were interested in his story, which hit a height when he was signed to Interscope Records. But that didn’t work right. He went through a downward spiral, which was gradual at first. His music slowly lost the signature influence, and at home, things fell apart. The record label dropped him, Island Records tried a failed rescue mission, as he poor handling of his music, and all that it means to Nigerian, alienated his fans.
Another local pop star, who was a direct influence on Davido is D’banj. He too has been a recipient of a major label mismanagement. His deal with Kanye West’s