Friday, May 22, 2009

The Nigerian diaspora: Musicians

Nigerians have got something of a bad rep in recent years, due to the internet scammming operations emanating from that country, and the involvement of some Nigerians in criminal activity in some parts of the world. Yet often overlooked is the contribution of Nigerian immigrants to Britain (with 3 million people of Nigerian descent), the US (1 million) and elsewhere. In the US, ethnic Nigerians have one of the highest rates of educational attainment of any immigrant group, and are disproportionally represented in the fields of medicine, academia and working for Fortune 500 companies.

There are also a great many folks of Nigerian origin in the music industry, including some who you may not have thought of...

Seriously, how sexy is Sade Adu? Not only is she thoroughly hot, but she's got the breathy pure tones, sexy grooves backing her, and a sexy name to boot. Her full name is Helen Folasade Adu, but I can't imagine a band named "Helen" making quite the same impact with lovers everywhere. Born in Nigeria, her father was a Yoruba lecturer and mother an English nurse. With her band (also named Sade, obviously), she scored worldwide hits like "Smooth Operator" and the Grammy-winning "No Ordinary Love". If I ever get married, expect "Kiss of Life", below, to play some role in the wedding ceremony. Sexy.

His full name is Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel, but most know him just as Seal. While his music has kinda gone downhill since his stunning 1991 self-titled debut album and single "Crazy", you gotta respect the guy. Not only does he have a wonderful voice, but he proves that you can have a skin condition that causes severe facial scarring and hair loss, yet still get it on with a string of supermodels.

There are few female voices more distinctive than that of Shirley Bassey. The Welsh-Nigerian singer has carved out a 50-year career in the biz, but is still best known for her title themes of the James Bond films "Goldfinger", Diamonds are Forever" and "Moonraker". Personally I can't go past her 1997 collab with the Propellerheads, "History Repeating."

As the lead singer of soul-pop duo Lighthouse Family, Tunde Baiyewu scored a global hit in 1997 with the kinda cheesy but very pleasant "High", and is now pursuing a solo career. Interestingly, his mother is married to the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo.

You might recognise Nigerian-born American Tunde Adebimpe from acting turns in recent film Rachel's Getting Married, or 2001 indie flick Jump Tomorrow. But he is perhaps better known as lead singer of so-hot-right-now Brooklyn art-rockers TV On The Radio.

Stereotypes being what they are, you probably wouldn't expect someone who looks like Kele Okereke to be the frontman of an indie rock band, but life's funny like that. The singer/guitarist of indie darlings Bloc Party was born in Liverpool to Ibgo parents.

As much as the world loves Idol and other talent quest shows, how often do they actually produce a decent artist? Lemar (surname Obika) placed only third on Britain's Fame Academy in 2002, yet parlayed that into a successful solo career that kicked off with the great single "Dance (With U)".

Remember "It Must Be Love", massive hit for Madness in the 80s? It was a cover of a song by Labi Siffre, a British singer, musician and poet born of a Nigerian father and a British mother with Barbadian and Belgian ancestry. Siffre's other most notable work is "I Got The", the breakdown of which forms a key sample in two hip-hop classics: Eminem's "My Name Is..." and Wu-Tang Clan's "Can It All Be So Simple". Interesting fact: When Dr Dre requested sample clearance for "My Name Is", which he was producing for not-yet-a-star Eminem, Siffre initially refused to allow its use. He only assented after Eminem agreed to rewrite homophobic lyrics that the openly gay Siffre objected to. The song was released, funky sample intact, and a star was born. Is there irony in the fact that Eminem, frequently criticised for homophobia, owes his breakthrough to the music of a gay man?

London-born Ben Chijioke is better known as rapper Ty. His second album "Upwards" scored a Mercury Prize nomination in 2004, and features the futuristically cool "Groovement", as well as "The Willing", which taps his Nigerian roots in collaboration with Afrobeat's master drummer Tony Allen. Will post that up sometime. By the way, whoever has borrowed my copy of Upwards, give it back now you bastard.

Born to Yoruba parents in Washington DC (a city not known for producing MCs), hipster rapper Wale is making a bit of a splash these days, with his solo releases and guest spots for artists like The Roots and Mark Ronson. His real name is Olubowale Victor Akintimehin.

Can't say I've really dug much that Jamiroquai have done since the early 90s, but can't deny that Jay Kay has himself a smokin' tight band. One of those members is Sola Akingbola, a British/Nigerian percussionist who also is the lead singer of his own band. That's him on the congas in this clip.

Coming up very soon: Nigerian diaspora actors


  1. Don't forget Fela and Femi Kuti, funk maestro Keziah Jones and reggae legend, Mashek Fashek...

  2. Oh snap! Forgot about Keziah Jones, thanks Bonoboboy.

    Although I as much as I love Fela, Femi or Majek, they probably don't count as "diaspora" since they are or were Nigeria-based.

    (What you seriously thought I would do something on Nigerian musicians and forget Fela? That guy IS Nigerian music!)