Nigerian Music To The World – Through Hollywood

the connections between the Nigerian music and film industries are layered

Across the globe, Nigerian music is on the ascendancy, soundtracking the lives of people, parties and festivals, and stamping the names of its stars on the lips and hearts of listeners. Following behind is its film industry—popularly known as Nollywood—creating homegrown content with improved technicalities for both Nigerian and worldwide audiences through partnerships with international streaming platforms. According to a PwC report, the Nigerian entertainment industry is one of the most profitable industries in the country and will generate $14.8 billion in revenue in 2025. 

“Due to heavy leverage on digital platforms, the Nigerian entertainment industry has gone global,” said Professor Umar Danbatta, the Executive Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (EVC/CEO) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). He further added, saying, “Nollywood is one of the biggest movie industries in the world. In fact, more movies are produced by Nollywood yearly in comparison to Hollywood…[and] Nigerian music stars are in hot demand worldwide because of their popularity and brand recognition on social media.”

The connections between the Nigerian music and the film industry is layered and manifold. Stakeholders in both industries have found common grounds to deepen ties between themselves and lay the foundation required to become a “mammoth cultural force.” With the current mantra of “Afrobeats to the World” signposting the march of Nigerian artists with their music, the film industry has also contributed in no small way to the moment that our music stars now enjoy. 

In 1983, the same year he released his album ‘Synchro System,’ Nigerian Juju veteran King Sunny Adé starred in Jim McBride’s Breathless. The following year, Adé became the first Nigerian artist to get a Grammy nomination. In 1985, Adé and his band, the African Beats, featured in Robert Altman’s film O.C. and Stiggs and contributed substantially to the film’s score. In his piece for Burning Ambulance, Phil Freeman revealed that both films were his introduction to the music of Adé and his band. “The footage of them performing ‘Penkele,’ from their 1983 album Synchro System, captivated me,” he wrote. “The lilting Yoruba vocals; the shimmering waves of guitar, bolstered by synthesizers and zinging steel guitar; the conga polyrhythms and the amazing-sounding talking drum; it was like no music I’d ever heard before, and while I never spotted any of his albums in record stores, I filed his name in my head for future reference.”

Fela Kuti is another musician in that era whose music has inspired countless artists around the world and has been made part of the soundscape of many Hollywood productions. In 2021, Kuti’s “Let’s Start,” off his 1971 live album with Ginger Baker, soundtracked the trailer of Jeymes Samuel’s The Harder They Fall. His tracks “Open & Close” and “Je’nwi Temi (Don’t Gag Me)” were part of the soundtrack for Tom McCarthy’s 2007 film The Visitor; so also were his tracks featured in the TV series Narcos (“Who’re You”), Atlanta (“Shakara”) and Stumptown (“Zombie”), among others. Kuti’s “Zombie” was also sampled in Beyoncé’s 2019 concert film Homecoming

King Sunny Adé and Fela Kuti weren’t the only ones from Nigeria’s musical past whose songs entered the sphere of Hollywood. In Season 6, Episode 4 of the American TV series Homeland, Segun Adewale’s “Ojo Je,” Joe King Kologbo’s “Sugar Daddy” and Vocal Slender’s “Aje Gunle” were part of the soundtrack. “After story, music is the strongest emotional cue in film,” notes Ben Stamos. “Music adds to a movie’s narrative in several ways: It sets the mood, it focuses attention, it foreshadows what’s about to happen, it reflects the characters’ emotions, and it influences the viewer’s perception of certain characters. It even dictates how scenes are cut. Music is a powerful narrative tool that can make or break a movie.”

As the 2000s rolled in, the soundscape of Nigerian music experienced changes as artists incorporated their unique homegrown idiosyncrasies into Western sounds. “African Queen” by 2Baba—previously known as 2Face Idibia—ushered in a renewed awareness about the musical talent on the African continent and made a splash in foreign scenes. “Africa Queen” was part of the soundtrack for the 2006 Mo’Nique-starring American film Phat Girlz, alongside Mad Melon & Mountain Black’s “Danfo Driver.” The latter parts of the 2010s witnessed the rise of Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy and Yemi Alade, and those artists have contributed to making Nigerian music the dominant force that it is today. They have also caught the attention of the film industry, with their songs soundtracking films and TV series such as Pacific Rim Uprising, Ballers, Top Boy, Bitten and Sex Education, among others. 

In 2019, a host of Nigerian artists were featured on the Beyoncé-curated soundtrack for the musical drama The Lion King. They included Wizkid, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Tekno, Mr Eazi and Yemi Alade. Two years later, Davido appeared in a cameo role to perform his song “Assurance” in Coming 2 America, the sequel of the celebrated film franchise starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. He also featured in the film’s soundtrack alongside Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage and Tekno. 

The newer Nigerian music stars are ensuring that the pipeline connecting music and film gains more strength. Rema and Tems’ vocals were on the teaser video for 2022’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and they both featured on the film’s soundtrack alongside Fireboy DML, Burna Boy, CKay and Bloody Civilian. The British sci-fi TV series, The Power, which is currently airing on Amazon Prime Video, features songs from The Lijadu Sisters (“Orere-Elejigbo”), Obongjayar, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe (“Osondi Onwedi”) and Lady Donli (“Hello Lady”). Days ago, news broke that music from Wizkid, Tekno and 1da Banton featured in the third season of the American comedy TV series Ted Lasso. These developments are evidence that Nigerian music is on the right track. With more channels to promote their music, Nigerian artists can be sure that their art will reach larger audiences and that the legacy of their works will live for years to come. 

Featured Image Credits/The NATIVE

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