The Nigerian street sound is a blanket description for everything we think soundtracks the inner-city soundscape and determine a culture behind it.
Lagos is the nucleus of Nigerian pop culture. If things fly in Lagos, they will fly in other locations because, there’s a subconscious approval when it passes through Lagos. Asides that, the multiculturalism of Lagos promotes unique concepts.
That said, the Nigerian street sound is not just what people enjoy, it’s a product of inner-city cultural inspiration by Nigerian lifestyles through music which define the industry direction for a particular time.
When it’s all said and done, nothing lasts forever; the baton is passed and trends change hands, giving way to new sounds which then rule for a while before expiring. The idea the Nigerian street sound is cultural as it is ephemeral.
In Nigeria, we seldom had definitive sounds that distinctively punctuate the soundscape. Out of the few we’ve had, the most distinctive remains galala, inspiring the konto culture.
Galala is a lifestyle, representative of the Nigerian inner-city struggles with Ajegunle as the heart and soul – although, it also misrepresented Ajegunle as mostly impoverished and dirt-stricken when it had good, elite zones.
This movement was, however, as synonymous with bare-chested, dreadlocked men in music videos, speaking like the atypical Nigerian youth, who came from the struggle as it was with the dance of the same name.
In 2018, Pulse describes it as, “Galala is the first true dance trend of the streets in the new millennium. The dance originated from the pseudo-reggae sound made popular by artistes like Ras Kimono, Blacky.”
The galala sound was inspired by the reggae obsession that spread across Nigeria like a wild zombie infestation from the 80s till the early 90’s. galala was, however, more uptempo with faster, more fashionable disjointed drum arrangement to enable you dance.
In some ways, the dreadlock and beanie culture that accompanied galala were also brought from the reggae era, but galala was then like more radical offspring of the reggae with more African drums and arrangement.
It is the Nigerian version of dancehall culture that inspired dance moves, rhythms, birthed sonic waves and made livelihoods for ghetto people who must have been subjected to damning indictment on their lifestyles.
At mainstream inception, it had the likes of Daddy Showkey, Baba Fryo, Daddy Fresh, Father U-Turn and a few others as flag bearers.
During the 2000s haze, acts like Marvellous Benji, Blackface, African China and Original Stereoman were poster boys for the madness it inspired and they continued the galala movement with their own unique approach.
But sadly, the social consciousness and political commentary of galala was probably too underrated.
The era that followed galala was Konto – basically a variation of galala that was even more radical sounding, and with more influences of East African dance music. But while galala mostly saw singing in pidgin English, konto majorly saw its proponents sing in Jamaican Patois – another English based creole.
Konto’s timeline is slightly uncertain, but most people will agree that konto was strongest between 2001 and 2005.
Konto is also more melodious, not necessarily faster-paced than Galala with average beat per minute of about 110 counts and various string patterns, sometimes aided by guitar riffs and piano chords, depending on the what the artist wants to make the music sound like. Konto reigned alongside the dance, ‘swo,’ – which came a little while after konto debuted.
Swo is basically a rhythm performed by the legs with the hands raised up above the waist, and the palms in around the diaphragm while the elbow is used to make movements like you’re stretching an elastic rope with your thumbs and index fingers from both palms.
Konto was got overshadowed by the Swo and galala eras, thus it is very difficult to separate konto acts. However, konto acts – strictly due to their sound – would be Junglist and Mad Melon and Mountain Black – the “Danfo Driver” crooners. A modern act that incorporates some konto sounds is Patoranking.
Some will argue konto as progeny to the less distinctive Pangolo era of the late 2000s, championed by acts like, K-solo, Klever Jay, Terry G and Timaya and from the Iju-Ishaga and Agege areas of Lagos, Nigeria. Those claims won’t be farfetched – the Yahooze era basically just wiped the floor for the more impactful and durable pangolo.
Pangolo was basically a more uptempo and more melodious offspring of galala, konto, makossa/soukous and reggaeton with heavy drums and snares to replace toms of reggaeton and the repetitive drums of galala or konto. It also replaced the light guitars on galala and konto with melodious bass guitar riffs – inspired by the makossa/soukous.
For better or worse, this era also cemented the dearth of lyricism that had been brewing for a few years before Terry G dropped the monster hit, “Free Madness.”
These either come at fast-paced 120-130 BPM as in Terry G’s “Akpako Master” or 2shotz and Timaya’s “In Case You Never Know” more slowed down 100 BPM as on 2Shotz’s “Kpef Dey Go” or Timaya’s “I Don Blow.” These sounds are rich on the Galala/Konto influences.
The short reign then led directly into what was the infamous virality of Zee World, Damoche and Skally Mental with their very transient vaunting of vulgarity on wax that encapsulated Nigerian youth firmly within its grasp for the better part of 18 months and sadly sent well-meaning but fun-loving youth spiraling out of control on dancefloors across the nation.
The major dance that accompanied this era was alanta.
Overall and for impact, we have had more dance waves than distinctive sounds to impact and punctuate generations and that’s nobody’s fault. Our evolution just hadn’t caught up… Until recently.
The meteoric rise of street savvy acts like the proponents of the pangolo movement, Dagrin, Olamide – and his many minions and imitators – has culminated in and precipitated our most distinctive sounds since the galala movement was birthed.
The wobe sound – credit to Young John and Pheelz, base for Olamide’s hits liked “Duro S’oke,” “Owo Blow”, “Wo”, “Story For The Gods”, “Bobo” and so forth. The sound also aided the success of acts like Lil Kesh, who later aided the rise of the classic dance, Shoki.
The sound is basically a more organized and reworked, but slowed-down version of traditional Yoruba music that soundtrack public traditional events like masquerade dances, heavy on drums, hi-hats, toms, bells, triangle and other forms of percussion for dance-worthy rhythms.
The sound pretty much found itself a niche, but was appealing because it was basically bringing traditional Yoruba sounds to the mainstream, championed by a street king.
In a way, the sound can be argued as building off Reminisce’s smash hit, “Too Mussh.”
The Wobe Sound can also be credited as precipitating what can be the Nigerian version of Drum ‘n Bass – perceivable on songs like “Awon Goons Mi” by Olamide, “Cause Trouble” by Lil Kesh.
While it came in variations of pace and beats per minute, the Wobe Sound generally featured influences of traditional, Yoruba masquerade festival music, Yoruba folk music and promoted Nigerian Street life, everyday hustle, lingering tit-bits of damaging debauchery and insights into lifestyles in inner city, Lagos.
Naturally, it resonated with the larger populace because it was understandable, relatable and most importantly, it represented early forays into documenting our contemporary culture, successes, downsides and buccaneering I misses as a generation.
Most importantly, it promoted enjoyment of indigenous rap music, and unshackled it from the pressures of living up to conventional rap, by American standards, taking a cue off the the “Boom-bap pop influence.”
The wobe sound has since become tilling ground and fundamental conception for what has become another viral, distinctive and widely imitated sound – Shepeteri, a variation between Wobe and the South African Gqom and Kwaito.
After a few forays trying copying Ghanaian pon pon, East African dance music and South African gqom, the new Nigerian inner city sound is the direct offspring of an advent popularized by Wobe.
However, it only made what seemed like saunters for virginal forays into sonic and cultural virality around June 2017-to-late-2017 from acts like DJ Real, Idowest, Small Doctor, Slimcase, Mr Real, DJ Enimoney and in no small part aided by the advent of Shaku Shaku, another dance step from densely populated Agege in Lagos.
In some ways, Bariga and acts like Lil Kesh also influenced what has now become the shepeteri sound. This era not only laced pop culture with a new word like shepeteri, it also gave us words like “St. Sami Ganja” and “Oshozondi.”
A typical shepeteri sound can be identified as fast paced, danceable percussion running on at least 130-135 Bpm garnishment with heavy African percussion; gainfully arranged hi-hats, snares, snare drums, triangles, toms and other sound effects.
More often than not, shepeteri sounds have very little string attached to them, it’s all about the dance rhythms and the catchy hooks, which now heavily include auto-tuned hooks, riddled with special effect mixes as in “Ogo Agege” by Yung Effisy featuring Small Doctor.
The sound is currently Nigeria’s version of American trap culture and mumble rap. The similarities are evident; celebration of crime, drug abuse, alcohol and sex overkill, adulation of extra-legal means of wealth, appropropriation of women, heavy radio plays, affinity with the younger generation and the ability to create stars almost out of the blue.
Equally, shepeteri is also similar to American trap for its ability to help underground acts create sufficient underground fanbase, from which they can make money from live shows, and negatively, the very ephemeral nature of some of the acts.
The shaku shaku dance was as synonymous with shepeteri as anything.
Shepeteri and the Agege movement have have a new crop since evolved with the of entry of acts like Danny S, Zlatan Ibile and others with a new dance move to boot, Zanku (Legwork).
Equally like trap music, shepeteri sounds are Nigeria’s most distinctive Hip-Hop sound at the moment with Indigenous rhyme patterns, mostly Yoruba and street lingo ruling the airwaves.
Currently, the movement is being headlined by rapper, Zlatan, formerly called, Zlatan Ibile – he also created Nigeria’s current viral dance, zanku. Zlatan claims zanku means ‘Zlatan, abeg nor kill us.”