By Pelu Awofeso
The fans have waited five hours for this moment. Its Felabration Week and we’re all inside the Afrika Shrine in Ikeja, enjoying musical tributes to the memory of Afrobeat creator, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti; what’s more: the hall is so full there is little space to walk around without rubbing shoulders with someone, but there is more than enough booze and cigarettes to go round.
All night, there have been performances by May D, Weird MC, Sound Sultan and a dozen or so other upcoming acts, all backed up by the fantastic DJ Dr. Step and the random yabis and jokes by comedian Omo Baba. But as hit maker and Nigeria’s current musical darling Davido strutted onto the stage at 4am in a t-shirt and sagging patterned trousers, the mostly youthful audience hollered jubilantly.
Catcalls and excited screams rent the dark and smoky air. Under the multiple coloured stage lighting, Davido’s gold neck-chains are instantly visible. So also are his ear-rings and wrist chain. And with him is sidekick Shina Rambo, wearing just three-quarter shorts and singlet. Together they spit out song after song from Davido’s recently released, wave making album ‘The Genesis’.
First up is ‘Back When’, the track that speaks of Davido’s pre-stardom years, when the girls shunned his advances and acquaintances gave him no chance of making it as an artiste in Nigeria’s already crowded and competitive music market; as things would go, it is the song which made the billionaire’s son a favourite of radio DJs and launched him into an instant celebrity in Nigeria’s high-octane, money-guzzling music industry.
The crowd, drenched in their own sweat and numbering in the tens of thousands, lurches repeatedly back and forth like a sea wave. The security personnel, up until then having things easier, now have a harder time controlling the surge. This crowd wants more performance and showman Davido proves well able to deliver just that, in-between periodic pauses.
Then comes ‘All of You’, a song that has become my own favorite, one I have listened to repeatedly over the past week and put on ‘repeat’ moments before stepping into the venue. Like ‘Dami Duro’, another of Davido’s hit songs, every line of ‘All of you’ is a statement in pomposity (which I like), a deliberate stone throwing at no one in particular, but clearly directed at rival camps.
In the song, Davido credits his current success to God and praises forerunners like Tuface, P-Square, and D’banj, all of them longstanding musical giants and multi-millionaires with impressive reputations across Africa—and beyond; he appreciates his many fans for making him ‘bigger than all you’. The rest of the song is filled with praises of himself (richer than you), his manager (smarter than you), his beau (taller than you), his HKN team (stronger than you) and, of course, Shina Rambo (badder than you), who happens to be his half-caste cousin.
By this time, the commotion in the hall has trebled as many reach for the tip of the stage area to catch a better view of their young idol. Davido reaches forward, shakes hands with the fans and throws a couple of notes in the air. I choose that moment to climb to a first-floor balcony at the back of the stage, where I get a panoramic view of everything.
Davido’s sagging trousers, held in place by a black leather belt, reveals a purple underwear; many of the photographers around have been forced to move up onto the stage; and a bouncer follows Davido’s every move, ensuring that he is not mobbed. At some point, he hands him a bottle of water and wipes his face with a white handkerchief.
If anything, that is the height of pampering and it goes with the territory. Interestingly, there was nothing like a ‘Davido brand’ this time last year. At Felabration 2011, the artiste was like many other obscure artistes hoping to make their marks on the stage. “I saw someone bump into him when he was called to perform that night,” one Afrika Shrine staffer recalls. “He was so tiny and timid I really felt for him. I told him ‘sorry’ but wondered what a lad like him was doing at the Shrine at that hour of the night.”
This year, the ‘lad’ was ushered into the Afrika Shrine premises like a ‘Big Man’ by three heavy-set bouncers and at least four members from the Felabration Organising Committee. “He is the main act of the night, what else do you expect?” says one of the ad-hoc staff handling protocol. Later same day, Davido clinched the award in the much coveted ‘Next Rated’ category at the Hip-Hop World Awards (christened ‘The Headies’). Earlier in the year, he signed a multi-million naira deal as the face of MTN pulse, and he has since been twitting about his car acquisitions and shopping sprees, among other excesses. Indeed, what difference a year can make.
Awofeso is Managing Editor at waka-about and a winner of the CNN/Multichoice African Journalists Awards (Tourism Category).