Op-Ed

What Do Wizkid and Kah-Lo's Grammy Nominations Really Mean for Nigerian Music?

Dissecting the importance—or lack thereof—of a Grammy nod for Nigerian artists like Wizkid and Kah-Lo.

For a Wizkid song, "One Dance" is unexciting.


His own, more memorable hits are so many. Tracks like "Pakurumo" appear to have been minor jams when, in fact, it's 'shutdown season' every time they come on at gatherings.

"One Dance" is a safe middling point for Drake and his clever excursions into genres that are not native to him.

The beat is that of dancehall which has since taken root in Nigeria, germinated into galala and has flowered into afrobeats, though many have continued with the original form.

For his part, Drake isn't new to this. In fact, a clever approach of his is to brighten his own musical galaxy with the shine (and musical styles) from other stars.

Jumping on the remix of "Versace" by Migos back in 2013 was perfect for both parties. The hit that it became brought Migos wider exposure with significant financial benefits, no doubt.

What did Drake get for his trouble? Moves like these bump him up from relevance to tastemaking.

It's as much a marketing strategy as it is a genuine interest in absorbing from other genres. In the end, both his music and bank accounts are enriched.

The story goes that Skepta played "Ojuelegba" for Drake who, ever osmotic, jumped on a remix. "Ojuelegba" was already a wave, Drake came in and crested it.

He also did an admirable job altering his Canadian-American accent to fit Wizkid’s, but never quite molting into an afrobeat singer.

There have been other instances of Drake’s borrowings: "Work" and "Controlla" from dancehall, early West Coast overtures to Kendrick Lamar until he became an imposing competitor before downsizing to YG, subsuming Quentin Miller’s demo tracks into If You're Reading This It’s Too Late: siphoning a portion of The Weeknd’s darker, moodier material for his sophomore Take Care: and, adopting British ebonics since linking up with Skepta and BBK which, by and large, led to Wizkid’s Grammy nomination.

But, what does all this mean for Wizkid?

Since 2014’s Ayo, he's had a stellar career dropping one big single after another and even more collabos.

He's won multiple awards, the better known of which are the MOBOs for Best African Act, AFRIMA for Best Act and now a Grammy nomination no less—as part of Drake's Album of the Year nomination for Views.

In light of this, recent reports that he's cancelled his December and January gigs for health reasons is not only understandable, but encouraged.

A Grammy recognition for Wizkid brings corporate respectability for afrobeats and favourable reflection on other artists in the same sphere.

Drake takes credit for helping to speed up this uptake into the mainstream of pop culture in the US, UK, Europe and everywhere else "One Dance" has spread to and charted.

Sony has woken up to the possibilities of afrobeats having signed another juggernaut in Davido, as well as Ycee and Tekno. Tiwa Savage is also said to have signed a deal with Roc Nation.

The precise nature of these deals—whether developmental, distributional or otherwise—hasn't been made public. The hope is that they are made under sound legal advice.

True to bandwagons and people who jump on them, other record companies are surely paying attention and making decisions on who to poach. Label execs and arbiters, if clued on, are keeping a keen eye.

For Wizkid in particular, his (and Davido’s) next major release on Sony will be the real acid test for afrobeats and its momentum towards global domination, if that's the goal.

D'banj signing to G.O.O.D. Music was a hallmark which his departure scuppered. Now he's the Moses to Wizkid’s Joshua, who will usher the still nascent genre into the promised land. If not that, then at least a separate category for afrobeats at the Grammy someday. Other milestones are available.

Another Nigerian artist called Kah-Lo has also been nominated for her song "Rinse & Repeat" with Rinton, a veteran British DJ, under the Best Dance Recording category.

"Rinse and Repeat" peaked at #2 on the UK Dance Chart and at #13 in the Singles Chart, as well as charting in France, Scotland and Belgium.

The title phrase, "Rinse and Repeat," she has said in interviews, is associated with Christmas in Lagos where she lived before moving to the US to study at Hofstra University.

Much has been made of her father being a four time ex-minister in Nigeria and currently a chieftain of the ruling All People’s Democratic Party in Lagos. None of which should matter, but little is known about Kah-Lo, and so every bit of information that would demystify her is poured over.

Her first name is Farida and her stage name, Kah-Lo, presumably takes after the great Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

Kahlo and Rinton struck up a friendship online which led to their collaboration. As is customary in dance, the song has been remixed several times by other DJs all of which are available on her Apple and Soundcloud pages, along with another song of theirs "Betta Riddim."

Little else of her work is available online to give a better sense of what type of rapper she is.

One of her monikers is “monotone rap princess,” but then her monotony is actually in keeping with the genre she operates in. Dance, to the untrained ear, would sound like one beat kept in an eternal loop. Except that it's not, and I'm sure not because I know, but because so many people seem to like it. It's called dance after all.

Wizkid is credited as writer and producer on "One Dance," also featuring Kyla. He isn't on the song, not in any audible way that matters, and is one of many contributors to it, on an album of twenty songs, each with its one group of contributors.

Rinton made the beat on Rinse and Repeat and Kah-Lo wrote her verses, as far we know. The contrast is not to shade one over the other, but rather to highlight the significance of her work on it.

Sabo Kpade is an Associate Writer with Spread The Word. His short story Chibok was shortlisted for the London Short Story Prize 2015. His first play, Have Mercy on Liverpool Street was longlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award. He lives in London.

Interview
Sarz. Photo: Manny Jefferson. Courtesy of the artist.

Interview: Sarz Has Powered a Generation of Nigerian Music—and He Isn't Stopping Anytime Soon

We talk to the star producer about his role in the rising global popularity of Nigerian music, spanning his production on massive singles from the likes of Wizkid, Skepta, Drake and more.

"I think more than the music, the narrative is more important these days," says Sarz as he sits at the offices of his press agency. "So one great song with an amazing narrative can get you farther than five great songs sometimes."

When Sarz talks about music, his eyes light up. They dart with excitement as he runs through topics like sounds, production, trends, and innovation. These are all words that represent his life's work of impactful music production, which has powered a generation of music in Nigeria, and is currently playing a role in its international future. Sitting at the offices, decked in a white t-shirt, red trousers and Nike kicks, he makes a point that he rarely grants interviews. And when he does, it's in spaces like this, in rooms and studios where his business is conducted, and his work is birthed and refined for public impact.

Born Osabuohien Osaretin, the 30-year-old music producer discovered sounds by accident when his ears would automatically pick apart music and focus on the beat. Interestingly, he discovered that he could remember every beat in detail. It was the entry point to a career that took off in 2010 when he scored his first hit on Jahbless' "Joor Oh" remix—during the formative stages of the current Nigerian pop success—and has provided sounds that have shaped the culture and given it its biggest moments.

With afrobeats' global ambitions taking off, Sarz's production is playing crucial roles in celebrated cross-cultural projects. He's helmed Drake's "One Dance," unlocked the chemistry between Wizkid and Skepta on "Energy (Stay Far Away)," and added composition on Beyoncé's Lion King: The Gift album.

"I'm inspired by the thoughts of how far I can take music. Just thinking about where this music can take me to," Sarz says, taking swigs from a water bottle. The producer has also worked with the biggest stars in afrobeats, and a look through his catalogue has hits every year since 2007.

He talks passionately about his work, the source of inspiration, where good music originates from, and how he identifies where to direct his energies. He runs an academy that has been a vehicle for delivering new producers to the culture. Sarz converses with range, a brimming energy, and a humility that is tied to purpose and achievements. He never shies away from topics that examine his revered place in this ecosystem, admitting without bragging that he is no one's mate. Even his 2019 SINYM EP is affirmation that "Sarz Is Not Your Mate." He has seen a lot and has a lot to say.

Sarz. Photo: Manny Jefferson. Courtesy of the artist.

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