Jameson & Mainland Block Party recast old music in a new light with ‘Confluence Project’

Featuring Ladipoe, BOJ, Naeto C, Fave & more

At every moment, Nigerian pop music is in conversation, both with multiple facets of itself and outside influences. When highlife made its way to the country’s shores in the ‘50s and early ‘60s from neighbouring Ghana, legendary Nigerian musicians of the time such as Osita Osadebe, Oliver De Coque, Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya and more ensured that the genre became recognisable by fusing it with traditional Folk sounds close to them. Fuji music evolved from Were, a way of using music as call for Islamic prayers, while Juju applied a variety of modern pop styles and instrumentation, as well as elements of Christian music, to its vivid Yoruba folk roots.

This collective flair for building on a combination of familiar, pre-existing sonic styles and a wide, disparate range of musical inspiration has ensured that Nigerian music is an identifiable, multitudinous, and ever-evolving organism. For the current wave of Nigerian pop music, which has been tracked back to the mid to late ‘90s by consensus, main initial influences were Hip-Hop, R&B, turn-of-the-millennium Pop and progression in electronic production practices. Over time, though, we’ve widened our sonic vocabulary to include Caribbean pop music, while also doing a full circle to incorporate older, popular sounds, from Juju and Afrobeat to Highlife and Fuji.

October 1st, 2020 marked 60 years of Nigeria’s independence from British colonial rule. While the country’s socioeconomic conditions have largely wavered and worsened in those six decades, Nigerian music has constantly fought through rough patches and strained investments to become an overwhelmingly bright spot. In celebration of its rejuvenated triumph in the past two-plus decades and steady incline as a global export, Jameson in collaboration with Mainland Block Party curated ‘Confluence’, a short playlist project comprising merger songs, where artists combine previously released music into something new and striking.

On paper, it seems like the straightforward idea, something that could be done via a DJ mashup or, perhaps, through an Alternate Sound faux-live mix. The thrill of ‘Confluence’ is that it bypasses any easy methods and opts to put these artists in a booth with a producer not involved with the already released songs, giving them the wherewithal to forge chemistry and create unique music from songs that many already know and love. This approach requires dedication, not just from the artists, but from the curators as well, and with the impact it’s had in the Nigerian music space over the last few years, it’s not too surprising that Jameson and Mainland Block Party have gone this meticulous route.

Initially making its mark on the then burgeoning alté scene, Jameson was one of the first brands to fully identify with a movement that still divides opinions amongst Nigerian audiences, even though to a far lesser extent these days. Currently, Jameson has expanded its cultural imprint, growing into a mainstay at nearly every outdoor event, sponsoring shows, and directly investing in artists—to the latter point, the stunning music video for Tems’ breakout smash, “Try Me”, was funded by Jameson. ‘Confluence’ is their latest indication of being in tune with Nigerian music, paying homage to Nigerian music on a present, molecular level, whilst also creating an avenue in the set structure for the betterment of the industry as a whole.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Mainland Block Party was primarily a monthly gathering of young people looking to engage with Nigerian music through the most basic and visceral means possible: dance and rowdy live performances. Organisers also put up a similar forthnightly event in Abuja, tagged Capital Block Party, and they hosted a sole instalment of the Island Block Party in December 2019. With very limited opportunities to throw parties, Mainland Block Party is diversifying its portfolio, recently backing the rise of singer/rapper Victony, and helping in the curation and promotion of this multi-act EP.

‘Confluence’ comprises seven songs combining a duo of artists and their songs at a time, with four slightly unorthodox pairings. The combinations are Naeto C and Joeboy, Ladipoe and Terry Apala, Buju and Alpha P, BOJ and Fave. Perhaps with the exception of the latter pairing, these collaborations aren’t exactly the sort you’d find on the wish list of many fans of Nigerian music, for varying reasons: Naeto and Joeboy are from two different eras, with the former being quite inactive, new music-wise, in recent times; Ladipoe and Terry Apala are cut from “opposite” sides of the Nigerian hip-hop spectrum, and as such aren’t expected to mingle; Buju and Alpha P are both charting their way to superstardom, but their sounds are disparate enough that the thought of a collab seems quite left field.

Regardless, half the fun of ‘Confluence’ is in finding out how well it mostly slaps. The other half, if you’re a compulsive music judge like me, is in figuring out what makes these meshing of songs tick. At its most compelling, the project finds an intersection between experimentation and looseness, relying on craft, mutual respect, and a palpable camaraderie from all involved parties. One of the stronger examples on the project is the merger of Ladipoe’s “Man Already” and Terry Apala’s “Champagne Shower”, a truly thrilling combo based on how well both artists bounce off each other at every moment.

Produced by Sess, whose affinity for reimagining already existing songs is well-known via his PRBLM remixes, the combination of a gleefully ominous piano strings and a rattling low end splits the difference between the drill make-up of “Man Already” and the trap stylings of “Champagne Shower”. Together, Poe and Terry find a delightfully oddball harmony, with the former’s boisterous slickness and the latter’s unorthodox rasp meshing into a track that sounds like an improvised live performance. Generally, ‘Confluence’ has a low-stakes, novelty coat wrapped around it, but this particular performance comes across as momentous, partly because both these songs can be considered modern Nigerian rap classics and the rejig works so well it brings their critical acclaim into a refreshing perspective, rather than sullying it.

The two pair off again for a merger of Terry’s “Jangolova” and Poe’s “Are you Down”, and they balance each other with the same improvised verve; it’s not as singularly significant as the other collab, but it’s quite entertaining. As excellent as Terry and Poe’s complementary shtick is, it’s one of the few tricks that makes the EP enjoyable. In the case of BOJ and Fave, they don’t just complement, they combine. Both singers carry distinct voices which have distinct effects, BOJ’s fuzzy baritone floats upwards while Fave’s guttural mezzo booms like it’s trying shake the very foundation of a room. Both artist’s innate understanding of theirs and their partner’s powers is the driving force, and they become so in tune it’s like watching two people finish off each other’s sentences.

The final song on ‘Confluence’ pairs Fave’s breakout song, “N.B.U”, with “Tungba”, a standout selection off BOJ’s joint tape with Ajebutter22. Over Sess’s thunderous, electronic beat, both singers put these songs in conversation, integrating the impassioned swing of Fave’s verses and BOJ’s dreamy hook into an electrifying whole. Their other collab combines BOJ’s “Your Love (Mogbe)” with a Fave song I couldn’t quite recognise (perhaps unreleased), and they adopt the same conversational approach except, this time, they go back-and-forth in a manner that mirrors a discussion between two people on the cusp of a romantic commitment.

From Ladipoe and Terry Apala to Fave and BOJ, ‘Confluence’ largely sidesteps puppeteering or any ventriloquist gestures, and while the results are generally remarkable, it doesn’t always hit the high mark set by its best moment. In the context of the project, the merger of Buju’s “Mind Games” and Alpha P’s “Paloma” is something of a serviceable interlude, but as a proper song, it’s basically a mashup where both songs collide rather combine into a whole track.

For Naeto C and Joeboy, their collabs are a tad stiff and it holds their tracks from taking off properly. Adey’s tropical house beat puts a neon glow on the combination of “Baby” and “5&6”, and while it’s pleasant to hear Joeboy play around with the hook of the latter song, it’s Naeto who trails behind a bit. The combo of Joeboy’s “Faaji” and Naeto’s “Tony Montana” proves marginally better, mainly because both artists sound much comfortable over the stomping groove of Adey’s synth-pop production choice.

Even with its less enthralling moments, ‘Confluence’ impressively achieves its evident aim of combining artists in innovative ways, and Jameson’s implied intention of appreciating Nigerian music as the one thing every Nigerian be unreservedly proud of. For its own good, the project doesn’t masquerade as a broad representation, but it’s a strong representation that Nigerian pop music, specifically from the last decade-plus, is always in conversation with itself, and where there’s conversations the possibilities were always bound to be infinite.

Listen to ‘Confluence’ here.

Dennis is a staff writer at the NATIVE. Let me know your favourite the Cavemen songs @dennisadepeter