2017 was quite the excellent year for music in Nigeria, and not just because of pop culture-defining hit singles alone. Beneath every No. 1 hit were dozens of equally pleasing musical gems created by superstars, indie artists, and newcomers alike. With club bangers and radio-friendly tunes like Leg Over, FIA, Romeo and Juliet, et cetera, topping last year was only going to be an uphill struggle.
But this year hasn’t done poorly for itself so far. Top acts keep extending boundaries hit after hit. However, with the steady barrage of new music from top artists flooding the airwaves every day, it’s pretty daunting for up-and-coming acts to stand out from the noise and get their voices heard.
It’s a case of who has the loudest voice and it takes a unique catalyst to transcend beyond anonymity; releasing a song as a relatively unpopular musician in Nigeria is something of a lottery. So it’s not uncommon for un-hyped or under-hyped musical gems to dissipate, unnoticed, like candle smoke in a storm.
This writer has had the pleasure of scouring the web in search of and stumbling on some truly scintillating pieces of music released in online spaces since the year changed calendars, which you may have missed. Selected from across a large genre pool; from good ol’ Afro-pop and R&B music, alternative, to the downright eccentric and experimental sounds, here are 10 of the very best songs by relatively unknown music artistes for your listening pleasure. I’ll accept your thank you’s in advance.
Not every time, shake your body. If you ever need a slow song that feels like a cup of tea on a cold night, 411 will be your best friend. This deeply emotive song packs a lot of feels to sound like an experimental cross between Charlie Puth and Ed Sheeran. The song’s persona is someone that’s been broken before but can’t help himself from falling again. By the time he begs, “I don’t give my heart that often, please don’t break it,” you want to call up that love interest and make a pact.
Not exactly an unknown artiste, but it’s been a long wait, and with 504’s playful reminiscent story about finding love in an old car, the “Uncle Suru” crooner warms his way into our hearts again. His deftness in telling a full love story of first times in just under four minutes is something worth applauding. Not sure you’ll ever look at Peugeot cars the same way again.
No doubt Cobhams Asuquo knew he was telling a lot of young artistes’ stories when he released this original song not so long ago. In a country where musicians cannot rely on record sales, a single hit song is all it takes to “blow” into the limelight – the direct consequence of a culture of trial-and-error attempts at fame. A rapper based in the University of Nigeria, Vjosh sampled the hit song, introducing two punchline-laden rap verses and delivering bars in a way that manages to be showy, funny, and yet still be as touching. With crafty lines like many people tell me you’re one of the best on the mic / I see the fruits of my labor but when the thing go ripe? and steady I no dey shake Olorun ni temi / I go blow to the point wey Cobhams go fit see me, you can’t not be impressed with his effort. What stands out though is when he simulates a voice call towards the end to portray the hustle that is every young creative’s burden in the industry.
It’s usually difficult to find gospel music in any top-anything list, but Chen Emmanuel teamed up with the famed “Ekwueme” singer to make sure this song squeezed its way in here. As with many worship songs, He’s Been So Good relies on repetitions and employs actual instruments in place of electronic beats to make for a calm, pleasant listening experience. The choir gives a sweet account of itself. Hard to find anything wrong with this song.
These vocal powerhouses aren’t exactly up-and-coming, but they make this list as they aren’t particularly mainstream either. But how this attractive song managed to fly under the radar is what’s baffling. A song about inner beauty and strength of a woman, Clay, best known for her efforts at adapting alternative rock for the local market, manages to make such a cliché-laden song into something remarkable ─ well if you can get past all the overt motivational cheesiness and appreciate the vocal delivery in play. it’s a song worth waving both arms to. Produced by Coldflames Beats, as always, the guitar play is a delight, and the drums are unobtrusive.
You’ll be forgiven for finding this song a tad crowded on your first listen. This writer, however, finds it to be deliberate. Once you’re able to get past the initial clutter, this record, which is the lead single for his forthcoming Vertigo EP, easily becomes an acquired taste. A playful song this one, home to lyrics that stay with you. With lines like Folasade, how are you? I heard you were sweeping compound, it is somewhat poetic, wistful, and maintains a Nigerian aura without being cheesy.
Another gospel song. Only, this one doesn’t fit into any stereotypical boxes. It is fun, catchy, nonlinear, and engaging. A tidy song characterized by decent vocals, a delightful bridge, and a breathtaking crescendo. Perhaps the only downside to this song is that it needed better production, but since according to him, it was recorded in the singer’s off-campus lodge, let’s cut him some slack.
Chike gets on his guitar to create this gorgeous blend of folk and afro-soul that draws you in and doesn’t let go of the first hum. Chike shows his storytelling dexterity in this song about the significance of people and the impact an individual alone can make in one’s life. The beginning is a little slow, but patient listeners are rewarded eventually as the violins, the drums, the backups, everything comes together to a thrilling end.
The two-act nature of this song makes it feel like a 2018 throwback to Eminem’s Stan from years of yore. In Open Letter, Terry Tha Rapman gets very candid. In the first parts of this brutally honest confessional, mellow song, his persona reads a letter from a former admirer disappointed in his giving up his conscious rapping for mainstream hip-hop, his pointless controversies, decline, and then his hiatus. In the last verse, he slide-tackles himself, acknowledging his admirer’s sentiment, and promises that his new mixtape (Life of Joe Spazm) will be the Terry old fans remember. In between verses, Lady Donli is a calm influence for when things get intense.
This truly amazing experimental song, eclectic of Jon Bellion’s style, is a deeply introspective piece of art. From an artiste who self-styles himself as “Boxless”, it’s hard to fit this song into any boxes. The word “Ishafusi” in itself does not mean anything, and according to the singer-songwriter, is a gibberish word – an electronically rearranged pronunciation of the phrase “in this fashion.” In an insanely paced world, it’s easy to lose sight of little things that matter. The artiste decides he’ll take a pause and breathe in some air because he matters. Ishafusi is subtle yet quirky and possesses an enchanting ambiance that makes you want to fall into the song from the very first listen. The cathartic chanting at intervals and mellow latter parts make for a satisfying end to a truly sublime effort.