MTV The Wrap Up resident Afrobeats columnist, Nonny Orakwue, sat down with Africa’s biggest pop star D’banj for an in-depth chat. D’banj talked about how he feels to be the first African artist to headline mainstream festivals like Wireless and the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend. He also hinted his new album may be called ‘The Entertainer Repackage’because he is trying to introduce the western world to hit singles like fall in love which might get a remix from Rihanna or other star and also suddenly.
The Wrap Up: Hi D’Banj! Let’s get straight into it. How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t yet heard your music?
D’Banj: My sound is Afro-pop, meaning an African sound. I know a lot of people have heard of Afrobeat, but I like to say that Afrobeat was in the time of the late legend Fela Kuti. Just the way that music has evolved around the world, you can’t compare rap from the 90s with the rap we have now, you can’t even compare R&B from the 90s with the R&B we have now. So the Afrobeat of today, with my generation, I would call it Afro-pop. ‘Oliver Twist’ is Afro, but the sound is pop. Other colleagues of mine who are making music back home, you can’t call their music Afrobeat but it’s Afro-rap, Afro-hip hop, Afro-jazz, Afro-soul and some still do Afrobeat.
TWU: You’ve performed numerous times in the UK to sold-out arenas, but how does it feel to be the first African artist to headline mainstream festivals like Wireless and the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend?
D’Banj: I feel very honoured, I feel very privileged but I also feel very scared. I think I have to beg all of my fans to come out because, usually, I’m used to headlining major festivals but with my African people. I’m looking forward to it and I’m begging all of my fans to come out and support because this is a big moment for everybody, not just for me. I just hope the UK fans will be pleased with the kind of sound that they’re going to hear and those who’ve never heard us before, I hope they’ll be won over.
TWU: Is there anyone on the line-up that you’re looking forward to hearing?
D’Banj: Definitely! Well, I’ve watched most of them but just in a different continent, like when they’ve come to Africa to perform. I’d like to see Nicki MInaj on stage, Tinie Tempah and I’d like to see Rihanna – everyone knows that I like Rihanna! (Laughs) Obviously, I’d like to see Jay-Z and even people whose sound I haven’t heard, like Chase & Status. I’d like to hear some drum & bass! I know I’ll look odd, but music is so universal and speaks to everybody.
TWU: You’re known for your love of the ladies, so what does it take to be a kokolet?
D’Banj: A kokolet is a well-endowed woman with good intellect, I believe. That means not just a pretty face and someone who knows what they want and has a mind of their own. Growing up, people asked me, ‘What’s your definition of an ideal woman?’ I’ve seen that has changed with time, and now I’m more affected by what someone has got up there to offer.
TWU: Your current single, ‘Oliver Twist’, is out now. Why do you think the West is now taking interest in African artists?
D’Banj: I think the world is interested in Africans in general now, not just on the music side of things. For the last five years, from the oil and gas industry to the capital and banking industry, you see a lot of banks that are in Africa now coming here and to America to open because the world is bigger than just continents, it’s now one. It’s the same thing with the music. After meeting Kanye West in Dubai, with him inviting me over, a lot of people started coming over to Nigeria to come and pick acts. The world likes something different and new, we’ve been left out of the scene for a long time but what’s good about it is that now that everybody has gone everywhere, Africa looks like it’s doing something brand new. I remember when I first found out that they wanted to release ‘Oliver Twist’ again; I was like, ‘Ah! Ah! That came out last year in Africa and it did over 330,000 downloads in the first three days.’ I’ve had people even tell me that I should bring out my last album, ‘The Entertainer’, all over again and call it ‘The Entertainer Repackaged’. The Western world can hear and know the tunes like ‘Fall In Love’ and ‘Suddenly’ because they were massive songs and have someone like Rihanna or Cheryl Cole sing on ‘Fall In Love’. The fact that people already think that it’s possible shows that it can be a big thing. I’m just begging for people to have an open mind and accept us.
TWU: What three items can’t you live without?
D’Banj: I can live without anything. The only thing I can’t live without is God, and that’s the honest truth. Recently, I’ve been travelling so much that I even forget my phone and my shades. When I was in Africa for nine years, no one saw my eyes and recently I’ve gone into meetings and forgotten my glasses. I wear them because I wanted to have something separate to hold for myself. Performing on stage for me is very radical, I take off my shirt so that’s like me already taking off a lot of things, so I was like, ‘What can I keep that people won’t see?’ In Nigeria, if I walk around without my glasses, people don’t recognise me until maybe when I open my mouth and talk, but if I’m just eating in a restaurant or there’s no security around me, people don’t realise. It’s my superman look! D’Banj was the first black superhero till Hancock came (laughs).
TWU: (Laughs) If we were to have a cheeky look in your iPod, what music could we expect to find in there?
D’Banj: You’d be so surprised, because I have everything! I’ve got Adele and right after her, you’ll see ‘N****s In Paris’ by Jay and Kanye (laughs). For me, music is universal. Last summer, my favourite song was by Martin Solveig with ‘Hello’, and I’d listen to it before I’d go on stage. I’ve opened my eyes and my mind to listen to different things in the last two years. I was somewhere recently and the driver was playing hip-hop. The driver told me that because I was with Kid Cudi and my people, he thought that we wanted to hear hip-hop – I asked him to turn it to a local radio station. In 2008, one of my people even showed me on the net that they’d sampled one of my songs all the way from India, which meant a lot to me. It shows that we’re not bound by our continent or our region, music is so huge that it can speak to anybody.
TWU: And lastly, what can we expect to hear from your forthcoming album – which is rumoured to be called ‘Mr Endowed’?
D’Banj: No, things have changed now. ‘Mr Endowed’, which is the single, came out last year and ‘Oliver Twist’ has taken over now so I don’t know what the album is going to be called now. I’m caught in between reintroducing my last album, because my new album is going to have some songs from my last album to reintroduce people and let them know this is how I am. Maybe it’s going to be called ‘The Entertainer Repackaged’ – but it’s not my field, I let the professionals choose. Maybe it could be called ‘Entertainer X’ or something like that, and then I could have five songs from the last album and then five new songs. I’m not sure yet, but just make sure you’re ready for it!
D’Banj’s new single, ‘Oliver Twist’, is out May 13
Credits: Nonny Orakwue