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Wavythecreator. Image courtesy of the artist.

5 Artists From the Nigerian New Wave Who Are Shaping the Future of the Music Industry

Get to know Tomi Agape, Wavythecreator, Tobi Lou, Santi, and ODIE.

The music industry is changing faster than it ever has and the rise of social media and new streaming technologies has opened doors for independent artist to mold their own space and shape their own standards. Especially amongst African creatives, there has been a unique renaissance bubbling where traditional norms on culture, identity and even gender no longer define an artist success.

In Nigeria, where afropop reigns supreme, there has been slower progress than places like South Africa for non-traditional afrobeats artists, but there has been a revolution both within the continent and its diaspora brewing. With artists no longer waiting for validation from major labels, they are focusing on their music, branding, visuals and connecting to their fans organically. It is showing the world that disruption can also mean freedom from boundaries created by past generations.

From Lagos to London to Los Angeles below are "5 Nigerian artists shaping a new wave sound and their views on future of the music industry and how they feel about the current African renaissance.


Tobi Lou

Tobi Lou. Image courtesy of the artist.

Tobi Lou is a Nigerian-American musician from Chicago currently based in Los Angeles. His vibrant personality, visuals and delivery have allowed him to create a lane for himself that mixes playful raps and melodies with colorful beats that is nostalgic of vintage videos games and new wave sounds. While he moved to L.A. to pursue his dreams of getting signed by a major, he slowly realized that his vision was bigger than a label and it allowed him to work and evolve his sound and approach to music without label pressures.

His latest track "Troop," featuring Smino, hit over a million views in less than 6 months and he is managed under the same team who work with artists like Jhene Aiko and Anderson Paak. He is currently working on his debut album that will be executively produced by No I.D, an industry legend that has helped shape artist like Kanye West amongst others. While he is yet to reconnect with Nigeria since leaving in childhood, having a Nigerian upbringing and being apart of the community in the States has allowed him to have a unique perspective on the culture and discipline when it come pursuing his craft.

When asked about the current African renaissance he said "When it comes to music and dance we have always been creating but I think you can see the way that African culture has come to the forefront in different genres of art. Whether talking about Black Panther or even my sister Tomi Adeyemi's book Children of Blood and Bone, you see people investing in stories on black people on a new level. People are starting to see that there is value in our stories and what we have to create."


Wavythecreator

Wavythecreator. Image courtesy of the artist.

Wavythecreator is a Lagos-based musician who grew up between Nigeria and the United States. She describes her sound as "wavy" and mixes genres like house, R&B and afrobeats to create a vibe that gets people moving. While she started as a visual artist in both photography and filmmaking working with some of the biggest acts in Nigeria, she only began singing less-than two years ago, but has already performed alongside major artist like Maleek Berry, Skepta, Wizkid and more.

While she doesn't fit in the traditional afrobeats box, she's been able to create a sound that is getting people's attention and ties into her mixed upbringing and interests. Although many women in Nigeria struggle with gender roles and expectations, she has no intention of conforming to norms to please others and wants to build a legacy off of authenticity. When asked about the current African renaissance she said "We are very important pawns in this game. We are needed for the revolution to happen. Our uniqueness is addicting and encourages the curious mind of the foreigner. We are the future of the music industry. I believe so. We have been relaxed with informing and educating our consciousness, but we have finally given room to the term "different" and slowly accepting the change."


Santi

Santi. Image courtesy of the artist.

Santi is a Lagos raised artist who currently lives between cities like Dubai and Nigeria. He is most known for his infectious records like "Gangster Fear" with Odunsi The Engine and has performed alongside artist like Skepta and Wizkid. His latest single "Sparky" was released with OVO sound radio and he is set to drop his EP this summer with a number of visuals.

While his sound take influences from afrobeats, dancehall and the new wave, Santi's main goal is to create his own genre: "I believe with music, evolution is key. We are a time where information is processed faster than ever. So standing out is key. I often experiment with various genres, while always maintaining my essence, so I do not necessarily know what genre I would label my music. I'm pretty sure as time goes by and the journey continues, the people would give the genre a name." In many ways this goes for a lot of music coming out of Africa that opening new spaces. While mainstream media is yet to catch up for many, Santi is using his skills and relationships to build with tastemakers and gatekeepers around the world.


Tomi Agape

Tomi Agape. Image courtesy of the artist.

Tomi Agape is a British-Nigerian singer and songwriter known for her soulful and melodic records that mix neo-soul, afrobeats, hip-hop and R&B. Being able to directly experience the music of London, Lagos and Atlanta opened her perspective to how music works around the world and how important it is to shape culture through presenting innovative strides. Having studied theatre and performing arts in university, she takes her live performances seriously and also sees how valuable practice is.

Growing up she was heavily inspired by artists like Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, as well as sounds coming out of London and Nigeria. When asked about where she sees the future of music going, she said "eclectic. I see It being political.. I see people speaking their unwavering truths. African music to me is going to play a huge role in the future of music, as it already is. African-Americans are already being influenced... they feel that need and want to go back to their roots. They want to be included. They're hearing the beats, the drums, the melodies and they're saying 'that's dope! Not only is that dope but I feel it on a deeper level.' Tomi is grinding through summer 2018 and has a few things in store including visuals and song releases, in the meantime check out her latest record "In The Night" featuring Nonso Amadi.


ODIE

ODIE. Image courtesy of the artist.

ODIE is Toronto-born, Bay Area-raised musician who explores genres like R&B, future sound, indie rock and soul. Some of his earliest inspirations range from Kid Cudi to Fela Kuti. Earlier this year he released a project titled Analogue that was featured on radio shows like Soulection, it also made Apple Music's A-list R&B playlist. Currently, ODIE is on his European tour, performing in cities like Amsterdam and London, and will be touring the U.S afterwards.

A unique aspect of his work is his ability to not be afraid to be vulnerable. He credits that to his Nigerian parents because they were very open growing up and allowed him to explore and be his authentic self, which was not always the norm for other young Africans. ODIE wants to speak his truth and in turn he hopes that other people can see the importance of living their own truth.

While many traditional norms haVE often made young Africans afraid to explore things out of their comfort zone, things are changing and a new generation is breeding the future.

It's artists like those above who will shine light on Africa in a new way and show innovation in the global sounds of tomorrow.

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Collage by Ta'Ron Joyner

I Would Rather Breathe Than Think Outside the Box

South African artists were already working for little to no pay, but the pandemic has unleashed a flood of exploitative work requests right when we need money the most.

This essay is part of OkayAfrica's SA Reframed series, featuring personal writing from some of South Africa's best young writers edited by Verashni Pillay.

On the radio the other day, I heard a small business owner of a costume design company being interviewed and asked how they have managed to:

a. Reinvent themselves during this period, and

b. Think outside the box while doing so.

Their conversation made me think about how I have not managed to wrap my head around any sort of future, or reinvention outside any kind of box—beyond the one that wraps itself around my immediate reality. When the lockdown was announced, three friends and I withdrew to a remote area where internet access was dubious and, most times, simply not available. I would need to walk a bit of a distance to locate a spot under a tree or up a mountain to be connected for thirty minutes, or so.

Then I would do a basic comb through my emails and respond to work or requests that were already underway pre-lockdown. I only responded to new requests that either afforded me the opportunity to earn an income or those that allowed me to be productive on my own terms.

I was tired, lowkey grateful for the global pause, and no longer interested in the overly productive, overloaded nature of my previous normal. Something about the forced halt made me realise that I was on the edge of everything—myself included. I turned down anything that required me to join the endless online festivals, zoom panel discussions, Instagram takeovers and live readings. I refused all opportunities that needed me to grapple with any sort of forced normalcy. The ones that offered data or airtime or solidarity as compensation or assumed that I had gone pro bono. I needed a moment. I needed the space and time to re-bargain with the point of it all.

The pause was both useful and scary. It brought to the surface fears and revelations about the shortfalls of our industry and how creatives are positioned within the productivity machinery and economy of South Africa, or rather all the ways we fall outside of it.

As Minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi mentioned in a briefing two months ago, "On the issue of freelance workers—unfortunately with the current legislation they fall outside. Maybe what we are going to do is that after this we will have to re-look at it in terms of our legislative amendments and start a debate about that." Why are there laws that have gone unchallenged? Who should be challenging them? Why are artists hearing, out loud for the first time, of convenient loopholes that render us outside of an economy that taxes us like everyone else, and consumes us and our work. Yet, in times of crisis, this same economy engages with our art and our productivity and our products, but still deems us on the margin, outside, and non-essential. If we are not assisted financially, how can we be productive, how can we acquire the resources to produce? How can we apply our minds to anything else outside of survival and scrambling to stay afloat.

Pandemics do not mean that artists have gone pro bono

When you approach an artist with the assumption that they have gone pro bono during this time, when you draft an email to request a collaboration, a commission, a participation, a productivity of any kind, please bear in mind that artists are up against an unconcerned and corrupt government that has failed to provide aid and assistance to their sector during this time.

Theatre critic Sara Holdren says "Art is hard and most of it fails—either in small ways or catastrophic ones." In South Africa, the process of making art is hard, sure, but more than that, the conditions and the context in which we make work fails us in catastrophic ways that will require more than a debate and amended legislation. It will need, for starters, a minister who cares about the arts and understands its soul and mechanisms. This pause has brought about more questions and concerns for me than inspiration to reinvent or think outside the box. I have questions about the box itself and why I feel asphyxiated and trapped by its design.

I would rather breathe than think outside of the box

This pandemic has made me question what my career, livelihood and stability have been built on; what has been propping them up all this time, and what has been allowing me to appear valued and valuable in this economy? What does and will the spectrum of value look like in a normal that has been disrupted and now sits in a near distant future that may or may not be near?

Then I find myself vacillating between hope and concern. My hope is that when the pandemic is no longer with us, artists can have a come-to-jesus conversation about what has contributed and exacerbated this attitude and disrespect toward our practice and industry, I hope we can challenge the legislations that we have been dared to challenge, I hope we can be productive in ways that serve us and make sense for our well-being, that we will be paid our worth and that our society will realize that without the artist producing, there will be no art, or music, or films, or books and things that have kept people entertained and creatively nourished during this time.

My concern is that the "free"content artists are currently creating and the free access to art or performances, will not make this realisation possible, and that this kind of access, that was already undervalued and exploited, will be irreversible. The exploitation dialogue is tiring. Being treated as non-essential is tiring and terrifying too, and while most of the world can slowly start going back to work, most artists will probably have to hang tight until 2021, maybe even 2022.

While artists deal with a hoax of an arts and culture department that is dead to us and a minister who tweets more than he does his job, in an ideal world, I wish that artists could afford to indulge uncertainty, and fear, and pause, in ways that allow them to heed the call made by Nicholas Berger in his piece The Forgotten Art of Assembly [Or, Why Theatre Makers Should Stop Making] "We must lean into this pain. We must feel the grief. We must mourn. Mourn the loss of work, the loss of jobs, the loss of money, the loss of life. Mourn the temporary loss of an art form that demands assembly. Lean into the grief. Lean in. Lean in. Lean in. We must remind ourselves that mourning is a human act, not a digital one."

Koleka Putuma is an award-winning poet, playwright and theatre director. Her bestselling debut collection of poems Collective Amnesia is in its 10th print run and her play No Easter Sunday for Queers Sunday for Queers won several awards.

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