The Ultimate Guide to Listen to Nigerian Music When You’re Woke

Navigate your way around the landmine of Nigerian music

I’m going to start by stating that whatever side of the fence you sit on before reading this article, Nigerian music is a very enjoyable art form. And while some certain songs may suggest otherwise, like most art, creating popular music takes time, dedication, effort and let’s not forget, skill. So while it may look like we regard certain artists over others for their lyrical content, this isn’t an indictment on any Nigerian artist.

Now that we are through with disclaimers, let’s dive right into this. The incompetency in most of our industries means we can’t exactly rely on government alone to handle music censorship. Especially right now, when a lot more people care very much about the quality of the music they listen to and the message it is sending. If you want to navigate the treacherous waters of sexual innuendo and praise songs dedicated to Chache boys, this is your list.

Ignore the words, the beat would save you

Nigerian songs are delightfully melodious. Thanks to improved music production tools available to producers and forward thinking producers experimenting with sounds, we have never been short of dance music. Sadly same can’t be said for music to muse to. It’s almost as if the confidence in the producers is having a negative impact on the artist cause the more groovy the song, the more likely an inappropriate line like “omo to dope die bi ti whitney” or “baby aliya cause you fly die” would feature. And because of how infectious these songs are, it’s hopeless to think you can avoid them so just zero in on the beat and wear it like a protective shield.

Forget about radio all together
Because radio will take a good while to catch up on censoring music for its content rather than how much the artist who made it can grease the OAP’s palms. You’re probably better off avoiding mainstream music if you can’t ignore the words. Radio DJs will play anything for the right price so it’s never a good idea to rely on their music tastes.

Make Soundcloud your best friend
Perhaps it’s the desire to get noticed by big labels or just the freedom from the commercial hungry politicking, indie artists tend to pay more attention to their lyrics. You’re better off surfing through Soundcloud releases to discover artists making music of whatever genre of your preference. Their releases seem propelled by a conviction that their positive message is uplifting enough to get listeners through the everyday Nigerian struggles.

Just don’t watch music videos: Because your eyes would be offended
Lately, watching music videos in the living room has slowly become something to do in passing, from the corner of your eye. The slightest noise will throw you in a frantic rush for the remote in order to avoid ridicule for watching explicit videos with PG 18 booty shots and shirtless men walking around unquestioned. So unless you want to look suspicious or you just don’t give a fuck, don’t bother with the videos.

You need a checklist of all the “alternative” artists with “conscious” themes
If you want to have a sanitized playlist that doesn’t glorify cultural appropriation, racism, bigotry or sexism, you might have to thin out your herd of potential favorite bands and artists. Often the rad stuff is so catchy you find yourself half way through before you realise what they are actually saying, so you need to be able to recognize the artist and swerve before the first note even starts playing. Artists who discuss our social realities in their music consistently enough to be quoted in essays and maybe even political arguments are a good place to start. Asa and Bez are the more obvious options but asides alternative artists, we also have hip-hop artists like Falz the Bahd Guy and 2 Face for Afropop.

Choose parts of Fela to follow
Fela is the go to artist for any music enthusiast from any part of the world trying to show his depth in music. But legends’ narratives often get skewered into folklore and Fela is no exception. While his government criticizing songs are a plus, sometimes he can get a bit misogynist and that is an obvious no.

Brace Yourself – One good song means there will be ten others like it
This isn’t even specific to Nigeria. You’ll have to get used to the phenomenon of hit songs replicated in different songs through the year. The laid back and minimalist wave initiated by Tekno’s “Pana” is still making its round in the soundscape and until something more interesting blows up, be prepared to suck it up.

Always be twitter finger ready to start a thread: If you ignore these rules
Because there’s absolutely no other way around it. You either follow these rules or listen to the most provocative lyrics and given how inconvenient these rules are, you should be prepared to announce your discomfort on social media. So, just don’t do it.

Like the food, It is called Jollof music because it is bright and happy
Hey no shade at the beloved meal but nothing is perfect. While we appreciate how enjoyable the music is, some of these artists make it hard to ignore the faults. So be careful out there.

Featured Image Credits: Instagram/debzywayne


You are meeting Debola at a strange time in his life. He wandered into a dream and lost his way back. Tweet at him @debola_abimbolu

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