The Nigerianification of the world: Why Lagos is now a global tastemaker city – Pulse Nigeria

By Phiona Okumu – Head of Music Sub-Saharan Africa, Spotify
It wasn’t that long ago that if you’d asked someone what they knew about Lagos, they’d probably only point to the most intense traffic jams on the continent. But the bustling city, home to some 21 million-plus people, is rapidly building a new reputation: that of a global tastemaker.
In August 2020, the fifth season of the Lagos-produced Big Brother Naija became the most-watched live entertainment show on Showmax, according to OkayAfrica, with 50% of viewership coming from South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, Botswana and Uganda combined. Today, Nigerian languages and popular lingo have also become a part of a huge cultural movement. It almost feels like you can’t go anywhere in the world without noticing the assimilation of phrases such as ‘abeg’, ‘oga’, ‘no wahala’ and ‘na wa o’ into local lexicons – as noted by one Marius Kothor in a recent tweet contemplating this phenomenon.
While this elevation feels like it happened overnight, it’s actually been decades in the making with the city’s musicians having built a legacy of popularity not only across the continent but internationally too. Lagosian artists headline international festivals and collaborate with global superstars including Drake, Madonna, and Ed Sheeran.
While not a Lagos native by birth, Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti deserves a lot of credit for bringing Nigerian music to the global stage. When he moved back to Nigeria following a stint in the USA in the late 1960s, Kuti set up headquarters in Lagos. He travelled frequently, performing at numerous international festivals including the Berlin Jazz Festival and Glastonbury. The depth of Kuti’s influence can be seen in the various films, documentaries, and plays about his life that have been produced around the world.
Despite not having any real links to Lagos, it would be remiss not to mention the role of an artist like Prince Nico Mbarga, whose song ‘Sweet Mother’ did much to expose the wider world to Nigerian music. With 13 million copies sold, the track is more popular than any individual title released by the Beatles.
A more recent pioneer deserving of recognition is 2Baba, whose song ‘African Queen’ became a breakout hit in 2004. After gaining initial popularity in Nigeria, the song quickly spread through West and Southern Africa before eventually making an impact in Europe. The song was also the first played on MTV Base Africa and transformed the continent’s music scene.
The work done by those pioneering artists undoubtedly paved the way for the new wave of Nigerian artists like CKay, Tems, Burna Boy, Fireboy DML, and Ayra Starr who’ve all embraced the opportunities provided by music streaming to boost their international appeal and build audiences in places that label executives wouldn’t have dreamed of promoting them in.
The proof is in the numbers. Recent data from Spotify shows tracks like Love Nwantiti’, ‘Wait For You’, ‘Last Last’, ‘PeruandBloody Samaritan’ enjoy streaming audiences in countries as far-off and unexpected as India, the Philippines, New Zealand, Poland and Turkey.
But those artists have done more than just bring the Lagos sound to the world. The cross-cultural viral popularity of these songs, which have become fast favourites on international social media (even when people don’t know what they are about) are further testament to this. And, at Spotify, we are fully invested in driving the spread of Lagosian and Nigerian culture, as well as bringing people together despite creed, through on-platform features like our socially shareable lyrics.
In much the same way as Nigerian music has transcended borders, so too has the Lagos aesthetic. At this year’s Met Gala in New York, actress Danai Gurira stunned in a royal blue gown designed by Nigerian born designer Taofeek Abijako. Abijako told Vogue magazine that his design had been inspired by the performers outfits at Festac ‘77, an international arts festival held in Lagos in 1977, which featured some of Africa’s leading creatives and musicians.
Lagos is many things to many people. It’s big, invigorating, and crowded but it’s also increasingly a global tastemaker city. A generation of artists, powered by online streaming, have got it to this point. At Spotify, we’re committed to ensuring that the next generation of artists are empowered to help it keep and enhance that status. Thanks in large part to music, the world’s been given a taste of Lagos. Going forward it’s only going to want to keep coming back for more.
By Phiona Okumu – Head of Music Sub-Saharan Africa, Spotify
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