Arts + Culture
Photo by Roderick Ejuetami

DRB Lasgidi

Interview: DRB’s ‘Pioneers’ Album Is a Party and All The Cool Kids Are In Attendance

'Pioneers' is the genre-bending debut album from the group that helped carve out a space for alté.

The Nigerian alté scene has come a long way since it rose to prominence as a subculture in the late 2010s. It continues to inspire and influence the work of Nigerian creatives across various industries, particularly within the music ecosystem. While origins can be traced to the constantly evolving cultural hub that is Lagos, the alté movement was inspired by and continues to be powered by a mix of experimentalist, and innovative people from across Nigeria.

Think Lady Donli, Tems, Odunsi The Engine, Wavy The Creator, Santi, and many other exciting creatives pushing and infusing into the culture a certain edge that provides the space for the unconventional and advocates for a grounded sense of individuality. DRB Lasgidi played a vital role in establishing the alté movement through the vibrant parties they hosted, the music they have been releasing across the Afrobeats, R&B, Afro-house, Afro-folk and trap genres for over 10 years now, and their self-devised aesthetics, characteristic of many within the alté movement.

Their long-awaited debut album Pioneers, is an ambitious project that captures, not just the multifaceted forms, shapes, sounds, and aesthetics present in the alté culture but also highlights the deep sense of genuine community and cross-collaboration popular within this tribe.

Made up of multi-genre artists Boj, Teezee (who is a co-founder at Native Mag), and Fresh L, who has before now been working actively on their separate careers while remaining active in pioneering some of the most defining moments in Nigeria's youth culture, DRB Lasgidi's Pioneers album is a perfect tribute to the innovative work this group has in one way or another championed or kick-started.

The project is vibrant, refreshing, naturally eclectic, and bursting with an appealing blend of sounds, and it's supported with features from some of the coolest altè kids on the block. The album's tracklist sees DRB Lasgidi in collaboration with emerging and established artists within and outside of the altè scene: Tems, Lady Donli, Maison 2500, WANI, Odunsi The Engine, Prettyboy D-O, and Olamide. Genre-wise, it offers indelible sounds across trap, afropop, rap, and afro-fusion.

OkayAfrica sat with Boj, Teezee and Fresh L to discuss the ambitious aim of the album, the state of the alté community and what it means to host such an exciting party, one that has all the coolest kids in attendance.

Photo by Omofolarin Omolayole

So I know DRB helped lay the foundation for the Nigerian alté scene, was the plan to create a movement that is unique and intentionally lies outside of the mainstream?

DRB Lasgidi: Not really. This wasn't really the plan. We were just doing our thing [making music] you know, it wasn't something we thought about. It wasn't until 2013 that we realized that what we were doing had begun to greatly influence other creatives from different industries. Some of these people were people we worked closely with and others who were on the come up and caught the wave. But it is exciting to see and to be an important part of it.

What fueled the decision to get all these cool artists together on this project?

DRB Lasgidi: So many of the artists on the album, we all came up [the music journey] with. [In one way or the other] we all had a hand in making the alté culture and sound what it is today. So, yes we have all been tight before now, with artists like Santi and many others. We all played our part in making the alté culture as cool and acceptable as it is today.

What were you gunning for while making the album?

DRB Lasgidi: To be honest, the aim is to get the alté sound to the global platform, and of course to create and curate a new platform for the movement. The album is rich with the various sounds and experimental styles the culture is known for and that makes it a pretty great sell.

The structure of the album is pretty interesting. Can you share the thought process?

DRB Lasgidi: The Pioneers album sets out to tell a story in a very chronological form. If you pay attention, you will notice how the moods on the songs complement each other and take you on a musical experience. Highlighting the people in our lives, our preoccupations, and all the things we actually care about.

Photo by Omofolarin Omolayole

I believe this explains the honesty prevalent in the album, the way some of the songs are present in the places you've been and the experiences you've had.

DRB Lasgidi: Yeah, we make music from our experiences, the things we have gone through. Why would we want to sing or rap about things we don't care about or haven't been through? We're not just doing this for fun, so honesty is important to us.

Besides, the real ones last. The truth will stand the test of time, you just aim to be yourself. We just try to be ourselves too.

The alté community is pretty tight-knit, were you hoping this album would illustrate that closeness? Especially the ease with which collaboration flows.

DRB Lasgidi: As we said before, we all grew together in the same neighborhood and schools and we were all raised moving as a unit. This is the most exciting time to make a project like this.

How long did the album take to make and can you share some of the challenges, if any, that came with working together again after about 10 years?

DRB Lasgidi: Well, for one we weren't not together for ten years. We worked on individual projects within and outside music but all in entertainment. The making of the album started November 2018 with the track Necessary ft Odunsi and was ready in November 2019. It took about 3-4 months to perfect the curation of the project and roll it out.

The major challenge was raising funds to execute videos and promoting the music. As we are completely independent. A lot came out of pocket from TeeZee and our manager Tobi.

In light of the pandemic, I am assuming some of the plans you had for the album have now been canceled, how are you navigating this fraught time?

DRB Lasgidi: Naturally, we had major plans for the album before all this, but for now we are focused on visuals. Creating new, creative visuals using the most innovative means available. We're also using this time to visualize new ways of taking tough steps.


6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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