Audio

What Exactly Is Nigeria's New "Pon Pon" Sound?

Get to know "Pon Pon," the new sound that's been dominating Nigerian airwaves.

What is the “pon pon” sound pervading Nigerian pop today?


Back in June, Davido shared a snapchat saying “Na ‘pon pon’ sound dey reign now ooo!! NO JONZE!! ALL OTHER SOUNDS NAH D LEAST FOR NOW LMAO.”

It was widely believed to be a shot aimed at Wizkid whose singles from Sounds From The Other Side relied heavily on dancehall, when much of Nigerian pop was settling into an era of calm production, an import from Ghana.

Davido, for his part, has found new heights for success since the release of “If” at the beginning of the year, followed by “Fall.” The production on both songs is also today referred to as “Pon Pon.”

Other well known examples have been “Mad Over You” and “For Life,” both by Runtown, as well as others from Falz, P-Square, and more recently from Flavour and Wizkid.

So, “Pon Pon” has been used to describe both the dancehall and hiplife influences, while being markedly different from each other.

The signature percussion in dancehall is the dembow, while that which is borrowed from Ghana is “characterized by its mellow vibe and soft-hitting synths, mostly in pairs, hence the name "Pon Pon" says Sess The Problem Kid, the formidable producer whose beat tape we premiered early this year.

Speaking over WhatsApp messages from his base in Lagos, Nigeria, Sess says “I can’t say where exactly it originated from, but I can say that people started paying more attention to it after ‘Pana’ by Tekno.” He also adds that “the pair of soft synths is not always compulsory. It’s just a common feature.”

“Pana” was released, just over a year ago, in July 2016 and is now now closing in on 45 million YouTube views. Tekno’s first big single was the heavy-rhythmed “Dance” in 2014, before re-establishing himself in 2016 with the mellow “Duro." He dropped other singles but it was “Pana” which took him to new heights, also ushering in this era of calm.

Some will point to Mr Eazi’s “Skin Tight” (2015) which was produced by Juls, who is Ghanaian & British, and whose style rarely veers off the mid-tempo or mellow as evident on his delightful album Leap of Faith.

“Skin Tight” doesn't have the precise arrangement of soft synths referred to as “Pon Pon” but is defined by an insistent-yet-soft piano and percussion that made it a hit across Nigeria, Ghana and London at a time when the dancehall-influenced version of "Pon Pon" was in rude health.

Osagie Alonge, editor-in-chief at Pulse Nigeria and host of a pop culture podcast called Loose Giant, believes the confusion over what exactly is “Pon Pon” is symptomatic of a bigger societal concern in Nigeria “the confusion goes back to us not clearly defining things, and when we don’t define things, we mix them up.”

Both Sess and Alonge appear more interested in how much listeners have taken to the sound, and less about agonising over it’s origins or any talk of appropriation. Alonge believes “it’s just another wave that comes into the music industry and everybody rides on it until someone veers off. This has been happening for over a decade now since ‘konto music.’ Terry G and Timaya had their own styles and everybody also went on that wave.”

Do people ever know why they like a particular piece of music? Everything can be described physically—the stacked percussion on a trap beat, the knock on the dembow, the gong an ogene makes—but are these the specific reasons why people take to any one sound?

The answer may well be neurological or even spiritual, but beyond the emotions they evoke, or dancing and singing they encourage, only the particularly interested will worry their heads with the sound’s ontology.

Despite being a producer himself, Sess is more interested in how well the sound has been received “I feel like what makes a song last goes beyond what it sounds like. If people can connect on a personal level, it becomes a part of them and so it resonates”.

Sess would rather not guess how long the Ghanaian-inflected "Pon Pon" sound will dominate, and if by next summer a newer wave would cascade into another as trends tend to. The bigger problem, Alonge insists, is that “we’ve failed in curating the periods in music and basically almost everything in Nigeria.”

Mr Eazi, who is of Nigerian & Ghanaian heritage, ruffled feathers in January when he tweeted saying “Ghana’s influence on Nigeria music cannot be overemphasized” an open secret that continues to be a hidden truth.

The many who slagged Mr Eazi off for stating the obvious in January could not have imagined just how pervasive this latest borrowing from Ghana will become by August.

As pervasive as the trend is, and as easy as the sound is to sing to, not every artist could have adopted it successfully. I ask both Sess and Alonge for examples songs based on Ghanaian-influenced "Pon Pon" which have failed and neither will give examples, perhaps to avoid offending industry colleagues and friends.

Alonge does one better by sending to me an Instagram montage (above) of the many Ghanaian-style "Pon Pon" songs made so far, which shows how indistinguished many are, but also how ubiquitous and continuously soothing it is.

The reader and listener will judge what songs are failures and which ones are successes.

This YouTube Account Is Sharing South African Audiobooks For Free, And We Are Here For It

Listen to audiobooks by Steve Biko, Bessie Head, Credo Mutwa, and more.

Audio Books Masters is a YouTube channel that uploads audio versions of South African books and short stories.

Recent additions include Life by Bessie Head, Crepuscule by Can Themba, Indaba, My Children by Credo Mutwa, among others. South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who passed away three weeks ago, also gets read. You can listen to his poem No Serenity Here. More books you can stream include I Write What I Like by Steve Biko, Africa is my Witness by Credo Mutwa, among others.

Audio Book Masters was started by two friends, Bonolo Malevu (24) and Hahangwivhawe Liphadzi (23).

Malevu is a University of Pretoria BA Drama graduate, who is currently doing his LLB. Liphadzi is an LLB graduate, who is completing his LLM this year.

"I found a hobby of narrating books to craft my art skill after reading Credo Mutwa's Indaba, My Children," says Malevu in an email to OkayAfrica. "After reading the prologue, I knew that this book was meant to be converted [to] many different formats such as stage plays, series, movies and audiobooks."

Then came the idea of creating a YouTube channel. That was when Malevu teamed up with Liphadzi.

They both bought themselves high quality recorders, and started reading, recording and uploading.

Authors from the olden days such as RRR Dhlomo and HIE Dhlomo, whose audio versions of their books are available on the channel, are older than 50 years and their copyrights have since expired.

The rest, though, Liphadzi and Malevu say they are trying to get in contact with the publishers, but it's not easy.

"We have contacted the Department of Trade Industry (DTI) regarding this issue," they say. "We have been in contact with various copyright holders and we are still in the negotiation process. However we are finding it difficult to contact certain publishers, and the consistent uploading of their books is to attract their attention."

The two friends say they started the channel to bring books closer to people who otherwise wouldn't have access, and to get people to appreciate literature, especially African authors. "We want to bring such literature to the digital age in the form of storytelling which has been a unique African form of literature," they say. "The channel also helps develop our voices as we are a voice company that offers all kinds of voice services. We also identified how South African authors lack audio books, and found that there is a gap in this market, and this could really create many job opportunities in South Africa."

The two are currently developing stories in indigenous languages for children in English medium schools. "This is drawn from the fact that in such schools, a lot of African students struggle to speak their own native languages. So we approach various schools to sell them such literature. We are freelance voice over artists who also do radio, content production, news reading and radio adverts."

We are so here for this.

Subscribe to Audio Books Masters' YouTube channel and follow them on Twitter.

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Nigerian Actor Sope Aluko On How She Landed a Coveted Role in ​'Black Panther​'

Marvel's Black Panther is already on the brink of being a blockbuster, as it already broke box office records within the first 24 hours of it's pre-sale. Beating Captain America: Civil War's record in 2016, Fandango reports results from a user survey, stating Black Panther was 2018's second most-anticipated movie after Avengers: Infinity War.

One up-and-coming actor who will star alongside Lupita Nyong'o, Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan (to name a few) is Sope Aluko. Come February 16, we'll see the Nigerian-born actor play 'Shaman' in the film. Her previous credits include recurring roles on Netflix's “Bloodline," NBC shows “Law & Order SVU" and “Parks & Recreation" and guest appearances on USA Network's “Burn Notice" and Lifetime's “Army Wives."

Her film credits include supporting roles in feature films including Identity Thief, 96 Minutes, Grass Stains, The Good Lie and more. Raised in the UK, Aluko studied acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). Aluko speaks four languages, including her native language, Yoruba, French, and Bahasa, an Indonesian language.

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Music

Femi Kuti Spreads Some Much-Needed Peace In the Video For 'One People One World'

Watch the music video for the first single off Femi Kuti's upcoming EP "One People One World."

Femi Kuti drops the music video for his single "One People One World," the title song from his forthcoming 10th studio album.

The energy boosting music video sees Femi Kuti delivering an electrifying performance in the Kuti family-owned New Afrika Shrine in Lagos.

On the track, the accomplished musician promotes an unwavering message of peace and unity—things that the world could perhaps always use more of, but especially so in today's Trump-dominated political climate. His message of positivity is illustrated with graphics that appear throughout the video, showing various country flags and symbols of love and peace.

"Racism has no place, give hatred no space," Kuti sings atop brassy instrumentals. "Let's settle the differences, it's best to live in peace. Exchange cultural experiences; that's the way it should be," he continues.

"One People One World," (the album) is a plea towards global harmony and solidarity. When you look at what's going on in Africa, Europe and America, it's important to keep the dream of unity alive," the artist told OkayAfrica in November.

"When I was a boy, I listened to funk, highlife, jazz, folk songs, classical music and my father's compositions, so you will hear those things in the music."

"One People, One World" by Femi Kuti and his band, the Positive Force, drops on February 23 via Knitting Factory, and is now available for preorder.

Femi Kuti, 'One People One World' cover.

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