How Ibadan Is Fashioning the Next Generation of Music Stars

sounds powered by the historic city

Ibadan comes alive slowly, and even when it does, it moves with a calmness and serenity that exists with people—minus the city’s micra drivers—who don’t leave on edge. It’s a serenity that seeps into life in the city, from businesses opening with no urgency to the art the city creates.

Ibadan is a historic city which began as a military camp in the 1800s. Its diverse neighbourhoods provide a unique and insightful view of the city’s culture and past. Each area has its distinct architectural style, from the traditional brown roofs of Bere and Mokola to the old-money structures of Bodija and the modern developments of Akobo and Jericho. The city’s neighbourhoods embody its diversity and resilience, reflecting its ability to adapt and evolve.

Its storied past has seen the city grow into a city unfazed by the constant pursuit of success, content with itself, and an understanding that time affects everything. For artists like SoulBlackSheep, Ibadan is a place illuminated by the tawny sun, capturing her curious mix of historic and contemporary architecture and the unmistakable sense of peace that almost feels otherworldly on “Ecstacy,” a deep cut of his 2018 project titled ‘Ecstacy, Just Chill.’ When SoulBlackSheep released ’Ecstacy, Just Chill,’ the melancholic blend of R&B with Lo-Fi set him apart and captured the attention of fans in Ibadan and, more importantly, nationwide. Soul had rediscovered music and started creating with WeTalkSound, while he was still a student at the University of Ibadan.

“To nurture that type of sound, the nature of the city you grew up in is very important,” says Moss The Fireman, another of the city’s promising acts. “The music we make here is not music you can make if you grew up in a place where you have to be in traffic for six hours a day. It is music for people who actually get to places in 15 minutes, 30 minutes.” 

Moss, who appeared on Show Dem Camp’s ‘Clone Wars V – The Algorhythm,’ is one of the city’s foremost rappers and the founder of Retour Entertainment, a collective and entertainment company that created some of the most impactful visuals out of the city between 2018 – 2020, the early stage of the city’s music scene.

In those early days, collectives like Retour Entertainment and WeTalkSound (WTS) were instrumental in creating music and building a community within the university and, later on, Ibadan. “WTS were the ones that were able to meet up with the volume of releases that you need to say, OK, we are actually playing in the industry properly,” Moss continues. “They were very pivotal to that whole movement. There were also organizations and communities, like Longstrell and Retour.” 

While Retour Entertainment was heavy on visuals and WeTalkSound on music, Longstrell, a dance and art brand, was instrumental in creating spaces for the music to be experienced. Moving the music from outside the university into the city, where performances found a home in New Culture Studios and Alliance Française.

From its inception in 2016, WeTalkSound served as the platform through which a lot of artists, from Eri Ife to Vader the Wildcard, SirBastien, and Jola Bello, released their genre-meshing music. Alongside them, producers such as Audio Monkey, Audio Chemist, Bash the Piper, and Timbun spearheaded experimentation in the scene and pushed away from mainstream Afropop sound that had come to be associated with the city.

Before the University of Ibadan began minting stars, artists like Oyinkanade, Fabulous P, and Qdot had pushed a resurgence of music in the city. Their unique blend of Afrobeats, which incorporated traditional Yoruba styles, like Agbe and Apala, with a mix of Yoruba slang and adlibs resonated with an enthusiastic audience within a city that had been left fallow since the 80s and 70s. 

The roots of Ibadan’s musical heritage trace back to the 1950s and 1960s, when pioneering artists like Alhaji Dauda Epo-Akara and Ganiyu Kuti (Gani Irefin) introduced Wéré music—an exquisite blend of Islamic chants and traditional Yoruba melodies. The infectious rhythms of Wéré quickly captivated the Muslim communities in Ibadan and eventually found their way to Lagos, where artists such as Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister would evolve the genre into the beloved Fuji music.

Fuji became a sensation in Ibadan, taking root in various neighbourhoods and nurturing its constellation of stars. The 70s and 80s saw the rise of Juju and Highlife in the city, with venues like Independence and Paradise Hotels hosting weekly local band sets and opening their doors to some of the biggest national musicians, from Victor Uwaifo to Ebenezer Obey.

In the 90s, the rise of genres such as Reggae and Hip-Hop saw music become more central to Lagos, where artists began borrowing elements of Western genres and retooling in unique ways. During this time, Ibadan experienced a lull in its musical influence and became an occasional pit stop for national tours. Yet, its relevance never weaned, serving as the birthplace of renowned artists like 9ice or a nurturing ground for then-rising stars such as Wizkid and Dremo.

Now, the city is brimming with a new set of creatives who defy the confines of traditional Afrobeats, fusing genres like Lo-fi, Bedroom Pop, R&B and more to create music that authentically reflects their experiences and the city’s spirit. Their music resonates with a distinct flavour that can only be cultivated in a city where journeys take minutes, not hours, in traffic.

With frontrunners like SirBastien, Tega Ethan, and Inioluwa, Ibadan’s calm indie scene is discovering audiences in niche sounds and slowly building momentum through collaborations. SirBastien’s ‘Mango,’ released in 2019, introduced the producer-artist to the music scene at a time of deep innovation from the country’s alt-Pop scene. His sophomore project ‘Mango Island’ uses sounds to create pictures of a tropical vacation filled with memories and feelings, SirBastien has been slowly carving a niche for himself, creating music with a simplistic approach, using guitar loops and relaxed, dreamy vocals.

While the current crop of artists is altering the scene’s palette and expanding the sounds of the city, there’s no denying the influence and glamour that Lagos poses for artists looking to make their big break–both locally and internationally. To address this, many budding artists in Ibadan are creating their own spaces to share music and connect with fans. Brands like Pull Afrika and The Brown Roof Party, pushing a growing event culture.

“Lagos is saturated; it’s a hustle to be seen or for you to push your craft for it to make a difference,” says Moyo Onipede, an events specialist who was been behind Bella Shmurda Live in Ibadan and the The Cavemen live with fourth journey, some of the biggest shows in the city. “There are a lot of people who are doing great stuff in Lagos, so it’s now another thing for you to now decide it’s not like I’m doing badly, but why not make that difference in Ibadan? So a few of the guys from Ibadan, who were able to make it in Lagos, decided to come back to Ibadan to grow and develop here instead.”

While this is true, the past year has seen SirBastien, Tega Ethan, and Taves move out of the city to further their career. “I feel like the mistake that we’ve always made from the jump is, you know, removing that qualification because of where people stay,” Moss says. “It’s a maturing market, and if you are trying to do things to the level that we want to push IB forward, you have to play in the biggest arena possible, which is in Lagos.” 

As the world tunes in to Ibadan’s emerging music scene, it is becoming clear that this ancient city has a new story to tell—one that resonates with its past, embraces its present, and holds promise for a future filled with musical brilliance. 

If you are new to Ibadan’s music scene, here are five artists from the city to bring you up to speed:

Artist: Tega Ethan

Notable Release: ‘McCarthy Street’

Tega Ethan’s official bio opens with, “On a cold December night in 1898 – I was most definitely not around – I wonder what sad songs people listened to.” In a way, it captures the curiosity and inspiration that drives his music. A singer and songwriter who, despite having been writing songs for years, only began to consider himself an artist in 2017, Tega Ethan’s voice captures the intimacy of closely shared moments.

Understanding the intimacy his lyrics and the longing of an acoustic guitar can evocate, he leans more towards performances, either on stage or in front of a camera. His social media pages are littered with videos of him and his guitar as he creates songs based on everything from names to Ibadan, coffee, and heartbreak.

His debut EP ’McCarthy Street,’ showcased his versatility as a songwriter, effortlessly transitioning from Afropop to heartfelt Folk ballads. Whatever ’McCarthy Street’ lacks, Tega Ethan makes up for it by delivering emotive live performances that have seen him host his own shows in Ibadan and Lagos and tour with The Cavemen.

Artist: 6th Quan

Notable Release: ‘Rebirth (Deluxe)’

Born Etim Essang, 6th Quan, is a musician, digital artist, and producer whose creative process sees him use colours to signify the stages of his life. The cover art of his debut project, ‘Threnody’, features a ray of light passing through a prism over a picture montage of pictures of his sister, symbolises his artistic birth influenced by his sister’s death and covering themes of heartbreak, loss, and grief through a blend of R&B, Alternative, and Hip-Hop elements. 

Taking a break from music for most of 2021, 6th Quan started exploring creating digital art, and music production, playing with elements of Drill, Afrobeats and Amapiano – the groundwork that led to his new project, ‘Rebirth.’

Rebirth explores his personality change, fast-paced emotions and his interpretation and startlingly modern take on conventional mainstream genres. At five tracks, Rebirth hops from genres with a cohesion that is powered by fleeting emotions. 

Artist: Achezy

Notable Release: “Special Memories”

Achezy grew up in the choir, like a lot of artists. Not being much of a talker growing up, music became the best way he could express himself. Pouring all his emotions into the songs he creates, his music exists in a tricky place; Afrobeats that somehow retains the homely melancholic feeling and rawness of folk music.

“Special Memories” captures the emotional yearning of a broken heart. Over lo-fi strings, he sings of not wanting love back even though his actions scream for it. “Yanibo,” his follow-up to the 2021 “Special Memories,”  is a pursuit of love, realising his mistakes and wanting a chance to prove himself again and not let love go.

Artist: Alté

Notable release: “Elijah”

With only two singles, Alté has proved to be one of the voices of Ibadan. Last year, he released “Elijah,” a plea for a miracle sung with the heartfelt sincerity of a devout Pentecostal Christian. 

“Cause the devil follow me talk/ Say my gbedu no go reach up /And the mandem wey follow me come go shoot me for club if gbegele burst/ Show me cause only you wey know me/ And only you fit to control me/ It could really get pretty lonely,” he sings.

As if in answer to his prayers, “Elijah” rapidly gained popularity throughout the city, breaking first in the University of Ibadan, where everyone assumed he was a student, before finally giving Alté his first big stage as an opening act for Bella Shmurda.

“Freedom,” his more uptempo follow, features his gruff voice, and also calls down the Holy Ghost’s fire on whoever Trieste to move to his babe or his freedom as he sings, “kele for table/rozay for table… ojoro dey the game/but me no let no man play me.”

Artist: Taves

Notable Releases: “Eleyele”

Since making his debut in 2021 with “Betterment” followed by ‘18,’ a lovesick four-track EP showing even with teenage love, there’s no simplicity to love, Taves, despite being a teenager, has won the respect of more established artists in the city and gotten Buju to ride for him. His teenage sad boy R&B style, coupled with near-perfect vocals, makes him one of the city’s most promising acts. 

His latest single, “Eleyele,” named after one of the city’s neighbourhoods, opens with “I dey for Eleyele/ Where you leave me overthinking everything/ Am I wrong for what I feel or are you insane? /I still crave you, but you dey for Eko-Ile,” channelling the same heartbroken melancholy that runs in the city’s art.

Newer artists like Laolu, Iyanu Osho, Pheropizzle, Ory G, Harnar, Fifty Four, Teibo David, and FDray, are slowly building a name for themselves collaborating and performing at some of the city’s biggest events.

Featured image credits/NATIVE