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Santi’s Genre-Bending Sound Is Helping Usher In a New Naija Music Wave

Santi (aka Ozzy B) is adding a fully refreshing sound to afrobeats and Nigeria's music scene.

Santi’s (aka Ozzy B) song and video for “Gangsta Fear” appeared on my radar as a glimmer of dope in the oversaturated world of Nigerian afrobeats—a world that has produced many bangers, but one that has also leaned towards a certain trajectory of sameness.


On his latest album, Suzie’s Funeral, the Lagos-born musician provides more of the jams but less of the same.

He borrows elements of R&B, dancehall and even UK dance music to create an atmospheric sound that stems from a different locus than your average afrobeats tune, but is still rooted in the musical vigor that made the genre a global phenomenon in the first place.

I couldn’t be more ready to hear something other than the same-old that’s been dominating the scene for quite some time now. With his revitalizing sound, Santi is helping fill a creative void and thankfully, he’s not the only one.

We spoke with the artist and he assured us that there is an abundance of artists, like himself, that are experimenting with various genres and expanding the scope of contemporary Nigerian music in the process.

Santi calls this emerging group of musicians “New Africa,” and though it’s quite an ambitious title, from what I’ve heard so far, they seem to be living up to it.

Read our conversation with Santi below.

Tell us about yourself and how you got started making music?

My name is Santi, although I am still referred to as Ozzy B. I am a creative who specializes in music and visuals and I represent the side and sound of Africa that needs to be heard. I developed my passion for music at an early age, probably around the age of seven. My dad had a lot of old records and threw parties almost every weekend—I wasn’t allowed to be with the guests because I was young, so I was always upstairs listening to the music they played.

I never had a favorite genre. I loved everything I heard, from Fela to Kool and the Gang to Billy Ocean and more. My dad played a huge part, unknowingly. On his way back from work he always bought the latest albums. At that time it was R. Kelly, Eve, Shaggy and the rest. I was never really the type to leave my house or have friends, so I spent my hours daydreaming, watching movies and listening to music.

It helped me daydream better and at one point I just thought to myself “I would like to make the music I daydream to.” Music is the only way of recalling emotions and memories you cannot see again and it is the only way to escape into another world. Each chord, each melody, Each note has meaning, it might remind you of a time spent with someone, it might also make you imagine spending time with someone you are yet to meet.

 

The connection between sounds and emotions was what really made me develop a personal desire to make music. Growing up in the '90s, birthday parties made me adore music, there was always a certain sequence of songs. As a kid you didn’t know the name, but you knew that was your song. Every party you went to, the same songs were played, the afternoon had all the reggae and current hits, and the night settled with LL Cool J and songs for our parents to dance to as well. I cherished these moments because it gave me a chance to connect with the one thing that allowed me relate to other people: music.

Fast forward to the year 2000, more technology came and we were exposed to the Western world. We took every trend we saw and adopted it, there were more music channels on TV, so I spent hours appreciating every single sound that was on TV, from Fatboy Slim to Ja Rule, to U2 and Paul Play, Daddy Showkey, Prof Lincon.

I was raised on Allen avenue, in Ikeja Lagos, so in as much as I was exposed to the Western world, my roots and surroundings allowed me to learn more about music. The gateman or the house help had songs they would play and I was around them most of the time, so I loved local music just as much or even more. It just got to a point whereby I didn’t see myself doing anything else, music was the only thing I understood.

How would you describe your sound and who are some of your biggest musical influences?

I would describe it as the “New Africa." I say New Africa because I am not only one with a sound different from the norms on radio. There are a bunch of us who have been fortunate enough to be blessed with the knowledge of music from a foreign as well as a local angle and it is this mix that allows us to create the music we make and that’s why we are able to bend genres easily.

My music isn't one particular genre, but I mostly refer to it as "world." I grew up listening to all  genres of music thoroughly, but the ones that influenced my sound the most are, hip-hop, R&B, reggae/dancehall, indie/alternative and the 1998-2004 UK dance era (the likes of Bonnie Bailey, Milky and Sunset Daze). I combined every thing I have learned from these genres and with the music and knowledge from my roots to produced my sound.

I was influenced by a lot of artists but the main ones were Santigold, Nelly, Drake, Bone Thugs, Owl City, Sean Paul, Kanye West, Milky, Pharell, Vampire Weekend, Nate Dogg and Bonnie Bailey. Over the years I've acquired more knowledge by listening to the likes of Kendrick, Travis Scott, The Script and Sampha. I've also revisited music from the '70s and '80s to gather more knowledge. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t influenced by a lot of people, the list goes on and on.

You've described the music video for “Gangster Fear” as an ode to Lagos. What does the city mean to you and what influence has it had on your music?

The video for "Gangsta Fear" was my way of telling Lagos thank you. If I wasn’t raised in Lagos, I may have never been able to know, appreciate, and understand music the way I do. From the '90s-2000 parties, to the nights with no power— where you're looking at the sky waiting for NEPA to come through—to the aunts and cooks who raised you and disciplined you, to listening to the radio on a busy traffic Monday on the way back from school. I am so happy I grew up in Lagos, and I am grateful because although I had a good life, my parents always kept me in touch with my roots.

The discipline, the culture and the people makes Lagos more than a state, it's an emotion. Lagos is everything to me, I experienced everything in Lagos, wrote almost all my music in Lagos, kissed my first girl in Lagos. The thing about Lagos was that no matter what she went through, the people always remained together. When the Super Eagles are playing and the whole street is screaming when they score, when you're all gathered around the television watching a movie, trying to explain to your help or aunts who can't understand but are trying their absolute best to. Lagos holds all my memories and the only way I could thank her was by shooting this video.

Can you tell us more about the places we see in the video?

Basically the "Gangsta Fear" video is a portrayal of my life in Lagos. It could be described as a drive from the mainland to the island. The video starts off with the local and natural environment. Those are my roots, regardless of learning from and living in the West. I was raised in Ikeja, so regardless of the life I had, I had to communicate and experience my Nigerian roots. Africa in general is always portrayed as a place of suffering and hunger but the world needs to know that in as much as there is suffering, people are making the best out of it. We decided to show Lagos for what she really is: a strong woman who never fails to smile regardless of the pain and suffering.

The first part of the video is an ode to the mainland, where I spent my whole life, from the little girl dancing, reminding us of our days when we danced in parties, to the Okada men who took us around when we snuck out. Demola (the director) and I tried to give praise to everyone in the video. The man in the beginning holding the phone represents the gateman, the gateman plays a vital role in every Nigerian home, he either covers up for you or tells on you to your parents. Nonetheless, he is part of our upbringing.

Through the video, I show appreciation for everything I grew up with. From the food to the surroundings, just making sure that we maintained the aesthetic feel and colors we were going for. I also wanted to show Lagos from our side of things, the side that has not been seen, and the side of things from a new perspective. There was a transition in the video that showed Old Lagos and the channel flips continuously, briefly showing the situation and problems in Lagos and how it does not stop us from having a good time. The night scenes represent the island. In the night scenes, you see us all dressed up and partying because that’s all we do on the island, it’s a place you go to celebrate and enjoy, but the mainland still remains home.

Your sound and aesthetic are a refreshing change from what we’re used to seeing from other Nigerian artists. Is this intentional on your part?

Well you could say the music is intentional. As much as the demand for afrobeats is growing, Nigeria is getting left behind in all other genres. There is more quantity than quality because of the “quick route” mentality. I keep saying "New Africa" because I am not the only one, Tomi Thomas, Odunsi, Tay Iwar, Nonso Amadi Sute, Zamir, Bridge, Briss, my collective the Monster Boys(Consisting of GMK who produced "Gangsta Fear," Banky and Genio) and all the talents in Abuja as well (Aylo and Lady Donli).

The list is so long, we are just doing our part to be heard and appreciated because we all can't make the same music, it does not show growth or progress in one's craft. Although this side of Nigerian music has not yet been fully appreciated, the listeners are increasing everyday and by the Grace of God it will spread to the world. All we can do for now is keep on creating these sounds till the world appreciates it.

Staying original is one of the most difficult things to do, we often see fans falling out of love with certain acts when they go fully mainstream, so it is important to be able to stick to your sound while still pleasing the fans. I am fortunate enough to do this interview because of my originality, so it is very important to me that I stay original and keep improving my sound. We all want to eat and make money, but we want to improve our craft as well.

We're all working to raise the standards in Nigerian music. There is so much undiscovered musical talent here that can represent the country on a world stage and hopefully we build the road and get there eventually. We need to pave the way for the younger generation of creatives and make sure that they continue from where we stopped.

Keep up with Santi on Twitter and Soundcloud.

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Photo: Courtesy of Saphir Niakadie

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