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2023 Round-Up: The Year In Music

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With Wizkid’s EP, Soundman Vol. 2, arriving ten days to the close of the year, 2023 has delivered an experience that confers on it a special place in Nigerian music lore—an album by each member of our putative big 3. Timeless, Davido’s well crafted, much appreciated comeback piece arrived in March, while Burna Boy’s seventh studio album, the sonically brilliant but thematically petulant I Told Them… debuted in August. It is the first time since 2020 that these three stars have aligned in a single year, but this convergence is only one in a long list of the truly significant events of Nigerian music in 2023.

The music scene this year has delivered the expected good, with underground artists breaking through barriers to emerge the year’s most successful singers; the unexpected bad, in the mysterious death of the young, promising Mohbad; and the numerous ugly, best-forgotten events, like when artist Oladips appeared to fake his own death in promotion of his new album. To navigate through this topsy-turvy sea, here is our round-up of the biggest Nigerian music happenings in 2023.

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Our 2022 edition of this round-up was expectedly dominated, much like the year was, by tales of the exploits of Asake, who was a mainstay in the year’s music scene, successfully arresting the attention of an entire country with a series of hits, each a little more fiery than the last, until his debut album arrived to cement his place in Nigerian music. 2023 has seen him continue his run with no break in stride, as he released his sophomore album, Work Of Art in June, which spawned tracks like “Lonely At The Top” and “Amapiano” that ensured his name continued to ring out in the new year. At the same time, it was also a gathering of the harvest of last year’s sedulous work. He received Headies Awards for Album Of The Year and Next Rated, a Trace Award for Best Anglophone artist, and a nomination for the inaugural Best Afrobeats song at the MTV VMAs. And with his song, “Amapiano” already receiving a nomination for the 2024 Grammy’s new Best African Music Performance category, it remains to be seen if Asake can bring his dominance to a third consecutive year.

Elsewhere, other rising stars continued to follow the paths that were first charted years ago. Rema, long earmarked to be Afropop’s future prince, took several large steps towards his throne in 2023. The most visible of these was securing a global hit, “Calm Down”, which, with its Selena Gomez–assisted remix, was a fixture on UK and US charts, eventually peaking at number 3 on Billboard Hot 100 in September. For these exploits, accolades came in droves, from national platforms like The Headies and Soundcity, to African award organisations like AFRIMMA and Trace Awards, with his crowning moment coming at the MTV Video Music Awards, where he clinched the prize for Best Afrobeats song alongside Selena Gomez. Seyi Vibez, another artist who had made a standout showing of consistency last year, sustained his momentum in 2023 with two albums and two EPs released over the course of the year.

As these stars ascended the next stages of their respective careers, 2023 provided a new set of upcoming acts writing the first chapters of their mainstream stories. Two of them, Odumodublvck and Shallipopi, spent the year dividing opinions for the sounds and themes of their music, but what is surely beyond argument is how much progress they made in 2023, propelling themselves to clinch the headlines this year, for good and bad. Odumodublvck released Eziokwu and its deluxe, that held fan favourites like Dog Eat Dog and Declan Rice side by side with new entries like “Blood On The Dance Floor” and “Kubolor”, ensuring he remained in circulation on radio channels for most of the year. Shallipopi’s debut EP, Planet Pluto and album, Presido La Pluto also debuted to strong reactions.

And 2023 was a year that would bring the spotlight to emerging female acts as well, which merits acknowledgement in Nigeria’s male-dominated music industry. Qing Madi’s “Ole” featured Bnxn, and was propelled by its combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite delivery and smart collaboration to a spot in the top 20 of the Turntable top 100. She quickly built on this with her eponymous debut EP, which included other tracks like “Vision” and “American Love” that are providing her with.

Bloody Civilian is another female act whose career has been driven thus far by a combination of talent and an eye for ingenious collaboration. It was how she made her entry on the most auspicious of stages, singing opposite Rema on “Wake Up”, a track off the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever album. If that debut flew under the radar for most Nigerians, then her feature on “Blood On The Dance Floor”, providing a piquant variation to Odumodublvck and Wale’s rugged sensibilities, did not. In 2023, she released first her debut EP, Anger Management in June, before its sequel arrived in November, this time sporting remixes from the original that featured stars like Joeboy, Odumodublvck, Fave and more. For female acts higher placed in the ladder of Nigerian music—Tems, Ayra Starr and Tiwa Savage, and Fave—it was a relatively quiet year, so we can expect a lot more in 2024, especially from Tems, who has already released two singles in anticipation of her debut album.

A dark cloud was cast over the musically prolific year with the passing of Ilerioluwa Oladimeji Aloba, AKA Mohbad, best known for tracks like “Feel Good” and “Ask About Me”, under circumstances that are yet to be fully understood. Whilst the initial outrage over his maltreatment at the hands of Marlian Music, his record label, has now waned, Nigerian music lovers still carry in their hearts the memory of an artist whose music brought peace to millions, even as it seemingly eluded the singer himself.

As Nigerians struggled, and still do, to accept his untimely death, a few other singers took to the studio to pay him proper homage. Bella Shmurda released “My Brother” in his late friend’s honour. Chiké and Zoro released their cross-country collaborations with the artist, titled “M.A.D.” and “Egwu” respectively. The latter took his tribute a step further, pledging the proceeds from the song to Mohbad’s family, a wholesome gesture similar to that made by fast-rising singer Khaid when he released his own tribute to Mohbad, “Forever”.

2023 was also a year for big albums by big artists. Already counting the projects by Davido (Timeless), Burna Boy (I Told Them…) and Wizkid (Soundman Vol. 2), other Nigerian music veterans glided the year with full length projects, including Wande Coal (Legend Or No Legend), Olamide (Unruly), Adekunle Gold (Tequila Ever After) and Kizz Daniel (Maverick). Also sustaining Nigeria’s relatively new album culture were the younger stars, who logged in albums like Ru The World (Ruger), Boy Alone Deluxe (Omah Lay), Emeka Must Shine (Blaqbonez) and Tears Of The Sun (Teni, making a long awaited return)

In all, a lot of indicators from 2023 suggest Nigerian music’s global flight will not be ending anytime soon—with global music platforms like The Grammys and MTV carving out categories for Afrobeats, and Wizkid and Burna Boy bolstering their UK profiles with performances in Tottenham Hotspur and London stadiums respectively. In sound, Nigerian music gained more depth and diversity, with artists like Odumodublvck, Zlatan, Blaqbonez Jeriq and Kcee helping to incorporate Igbo culture, and especially its iconic Oja flute, into mainstream music. With so many young talents making their entrances, and a host of seasoned veterans showing no signs of slowing down, 2024 promises to be an even more enjoyable experience for lovers of Nigerian music.

This article was written by Afrobeats City Contributor Ezema Patrick – @ezemapatrick (Twitter)

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