In Conversation with The Jide Taiwo, a storyteller intent on immortalising Nigerian music
"It’s for people coming after us, because the future is not just some distant phenomenon—the future is now"
"It’s for people coming after us, because the future is not just some distant phenomenon—the future is now"
Like many adolescents and young teenagers, Jide Taiwo had an idea of the career path he wanted to trudge. Unlike many, though, he’s currently seeing it through. When young people are asked to project their future careers, especially young Nigerians, the common answers are lawyers, engineers and doctors. With a strong inclination towards the arts at an early age, nurtured by a mother who always encouraged him to write, and a bone-deep love for Hip-Hop and Nigerian music – which coincided with his exposure to reportage and storytelling – Jide Taiwo looked towards music journalism, a largely unconventional path by every definition in Nigeria’s conservative society.
“I remember running into Hip-Hop World Magazine, I must have been in JSS2 at the time – you know how it happened for Paul on the road to Damascus – it was a visceral moment for me,” he recalls to me over the phone. Intrigued by the stories and lifestyles of prominent artists, and enamoured by the idea of documentation, he decided to take a shot at music journalism in his adult life. Some years after leaving Uni, he landed his first main gig on this chosen path, working with Bubbles Magazine, a now defunct, physically distributed publication covering the happenings in Nigerian music at the time. Years later, Taiwo joined online publication theNET NG, going on to head the company’s media operations for around three years.
These days, he’s a “streaming storytelling exec.,” working as the Head of Content at popular streaming platform, Boomplay. With just over a decade working actively in Nigeria’s still growing music journalism terrain, Jide Taiwo’s dedication to telling the stories of Nigerian music remains unwavering. For proof, read his recently released, debut book, History Made: The Most Important Nigerian Songs Since 1999. In twenty-one chapters, the newly-minted author flips through the years in contemporary Nigerian Pop music, highlighting the most important song of each year, and justifying his picks by detailing the circumstances surrounding them.
#TheHistoryMadeBook is available in the following stores:@Rovingheights – online and instore: https://t.co/K4z5coltjI@BooksellersNG – online and instore (Lagos and Ibadan): https://t.co/ZpsxpHWeds@litireso – online: https://t.co/5dOevBBex0 https://t.co/h821fJr1Lv
— The Jidé Taiwo (@thejidetaiwo) January 5, 2021
With “importance” as the central emphasis and a heavy focus on context, History Made is a treasure trove of stories, with an aim to provide clarity on essential songs of the last two decades, both for the previously naïve and those partly familiar. Largely self-curated, the picks were gathered from Jide Taiwo’s keen observation of Nigerian music over the period, with the criteria being the symbolic weight of songs to the artist’s trajectory and the development of Nigerian music.
For example, he deems Chidinma’s “Kedike” to be the most important song of 2011, over Wizkid’s “Pakurumo”, a decision that might baffle many. However, the way he explains it in the book, “Kedike” instantly turned Chidinma from ex-talent show winner to superstar and advanced the pan-African blueprint several Nigerian artists have run with since then – is quite eye-opening. “With History Made, part of it was to push the conversation and for people to also bring their perspective in as well,” he explains, placing the book as more of a two-way conversation with Nigerian music lovers, rather that an outright, authoritative take.
According to him, it’s also an avenue to further the agenda of wholesomely documenting Nigerian music, a facet of our growing music ecosystem that has often lagged over time. In its own way, it’s a reminder that the past, present and future aren’t too far apart, the link between them are the stories detailing the events happening at each point in time, lest everything is totally forgotten.
Our conversation with Jide Taiwo, lightly edited for clarity, follows below:
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The NATIVE: When did you decide to start working on History Made: The Most Important Nigerian Songs Since 1999?
Jide Taiwo: It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do, not specifically because I think I’m the know-it-all, but once I discovered how we treat stories in this side of the world. Imagine how Burna Boy has been moving in the last few years, and then, say, ten years down the line, some guy from France will come and tell us, “this is what happened,” and we start to argue about the facts. But at the time, we that were living in that moment could have documented it properly. I don’t know whether that’s because of our peculiar societal issues, and it’s not just recently. Even ab initio, think of the great dynasties in Nigeria – there’s no written record. It’s something that I felt so strongly about that it didn’t matter if I was going to write for long or whatever, it just had to be done. With History Made, part of it was to push the conversation and for people to also bring their perspective in as well.
When exactly did you put pen to paper?
So, in 2019 I was working on another book for my previous employers but that bottomed out. I had been thinking about History Made for a while in my head, I just didn’t transition into putting pen to paper, but in December 2019, I decided that I was getting it done in 2020. I gave myself that deadline, and it was deliberate because it probably wouldn’t have happened yet if I had left it open-ended. I sent out a tweet sometime around then, announcing that the book would be out second quarter, because in my head it’s not that hard to write. These are stories that I knew and I was certain of the format I wanted to use already, so I started writing in January 2020. Then the pandemic set in, and I thought I would be very productive in that time, but I just couldn’t write. Everyone was worried about where the world was going, so I took a break, got back to in July and by December it was out. Again, it helped that I had a print background, so I knew what printing was going to take it.
Speaking of format, why did you go the context-heavy route instead of discussing, say, the quality of the song?
I think, firstly, because I didn’t want to shit on anybody’s work. I’ve been a critic at some point, and I think critics are actually very good for the culture, but on something as massive to me as doing my first book, I didn’t want to say a song is bad. Also, some of the stories are so rich and interesting that I felt it would be a disservice not to talk about them, and just decide to highlight why a song is good or bad. Like the first chapter on [Tony Tetuila’s] “Omode Meta”, I saw it all happen and I remember how I felt hearing 2Face’s voice for the first time, so I wanted to put everything into context so people who were not around at that time, or didn’t know the story, can trace the premise of how it came up.
What year was the hardest to decide?
What I did was, there were shortlists for songs in each year, and I went through each one to determine what I’d consider to be most important. The one that I argued with myself over the most was the chapter about [Chidinma’s] “Kedike”, I even tweeted about it, because it’s impossible to ignore Wizkid’s beginnings. However, there was also Chidinma back then, and that song was massive for her. Wizkid’s trajectory was kinda gradual, he had “Holla at your Boy” and a few others, “Pakurumo” took off after the album came out, but “Kedike” changed Chidinma’s life damn near overnight. I had to remind myself of how Chidinma’s journey went, it was clear that she, as an artist, was created to target the pan-African audience, and it worked immediately for her, until she later decided that it wasn’t what she wanted to do anymore. That year gave me a tough time with those options.
You mentioned taking that decision to twitter, did you have any other contributors that helped?
No, not so much. That was something I avoided because I know myself, I’m easily distracted and if I was listening to people it would change the direction and context of what I wanted to do. It wasn’t a secret that I was working on something, but I didn’t want to open it up to a lot of contributions, I wanted to retain the originality – warts and all. If anyone’s going to find issues with it, let it be that I’m going to be the one responding, not multiple people at once. There’s the saying about too many cooks. So it was something I held close to myself – I limited the number of people in my ear about it.
As much as the book focuses on the context of the most important songs, there’s an implied nod to the sonic evolution of Nigerian music over the period. Is that something you’d want to expand on in a project sometime soon?
Oh yeah. I felt like this book wouldn’t be enough to properly chart the musical evolution of Nigerian music, there’s just so much to cover, so much research, so many people to talk to, all of which matters to do that as well as it should be done. Also, I’m aware that Ayo Shonaiya is doing a documentary on the backstory of Afrobeats – that should be out sometime this year – and I was privy to some of the conversations that happened, and in my head I’m like, “wow, there’s just so much to tell that won’t fit into 180pages.” Having said that, there are plans to do a more comprehensive analysis sometime down the line, I will make the announcement at the right time.
You still speak about Nigerian music with a burning passion, which is not something you’d always find amongst long-serving music journalists. How much longer do you plan on telling these stories?
Well, one of the reasons I also wrote this book was, I found out that I was losing passion for Nigerian music, I’m not going to lie. Current Nigerian music didn’t appeal to me as much, maybe because I’m a father now and I have to buy milk on the way home, but I wanted to remind myself of why I got in, in the first place. So I had to listen to a lot of music – admittedly I still prefer a lot of the older stuff, not to be the grumpy old man in the room. But I’ve seen the evolution of things around here, and I’ve also seen how music and culture journalists have evolved in more established terrains as they grow older. Someone I’d point out is Elliott Wilson, he turned 50 the other day and you can see how he’s navigated the ever-changing media landscape.
I’ve also studied companies like Netflix and Disney, and you see how people evolve themselves. I started out with Bubbles Magazine, which was print, then I moved over to theNET NG, which is online, and I headed their media operations for just under three years, at a time when they were transitioning formats. Now I’m at Boomplay as Head of Content, which is great because we’re only starting to scratch the surface of streaming in Nigeria. At various times in my career, I’ve been lucky to always be on the cutting edge of new possibilities, and I’ve done stuff that’s not necessarily creative-related –I’ve done the hard and ugly job of numbers, keeping my eyes on the business side of it. So, as for remaining here, the medium would change – I might be writing today, tomorrow it’s a documentary series – but I’d like to be in service of entertainment for a long time, because it’s possible.
What does history mean to you, and how do you think we can contextualise it better since it’s happening right in front to us?
History to me is a factor of human life, and it would be a disgrace if we’re not recording it. There’s a popular saying about the victors always writing the stories of the vanquished. Nigerian music is on the up and it would be disgraceful if those of us witnessing it first-hand aren’t documenting it properly. There are some things that need time to evaluate, but there’s others that are too obvious to not highlight properly, like Burna’s recent album run. While I’m not entirely sure of what history should be, I know a 100% that it shouldn’t be nothing. My greatest peeve is foreign publications sending in journalists for paltry stories and that becomes definitive, because it won’t be as encompassing as what we’d do if we’re doing it properly. It’s not just for us now, it’s for people coming after us; because the future is not just some distant phenomenon – the future is now.
[History Made: The Most Important Nigerian Songs Since 1999 is available for purchase here.]
Featured Image Credits: Instagram/Jide Taiwo
Dennis is a staff writer at the NATIVE. Let me know your favourite the Cavemen songs @dennisadepeter