D'banj: The making of an Oliver Twist

Source: JIBRIL MUSA - Nigeriafilms.com

The meaning of Oliver Twist, off hand or off the pages of a dictionary is simple: someone who is never satisfied. The definition can be simplified further as “someone who always asks for more.”If you are looking for an example, look no further, D'banj is your man.

He has a record. Three years ago, he was one of the first sets of the “privileged few” to get on the groovy GLO celebrity ambassadors train.

Handed a mouth-watering annual endorsement deal, a sign on fee, alongside N2million-per-show GLO marathon Campus gigs that was to take him round 36 locations across the country, the 'Oliver Twist' in him reared up -”Please, sir, I want some more -he demanded an upward review of his contract. For asking for more of the “pudding,” he lost the plum package. On another occasion, he reinforced his growing notoriety. Invited by Zain (now Airtel), another telecommunication company, to perform free of charge at Nelson Mandela's birthday in London. The Kokomaster declined the honour. His excuse - he doesn't play free shows.

In his recently released single, Oliver Twist, he confirms his motivations. From the opening line, (“I have a confession”) D'banj rambles about his insatiable appetite for a bevy of famous women that ranges from the trio of R&B divas, Beyonce, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, to Nollywood stars, Genevieve and Omotola, to Ghollywood gal, Nadia Buari. He wanted them all. Need he remind us what we already knew about him? The public knows that D'banj is Oliver Twist by another name.

Acting Oliver Twist, however, is not the same as gluttony. Who says there's anything wrong in asking for more of a good thing? It is by perpetually “asking for more” that D'banj today propelled himself to international reckoning. His “long-throat” paid off. Now he is hobnobbing with rap legends Snoop Dogg and super producer/musician, Kanye West. If that is what it means to be an Oliver Twist, then in D'banj, we have found a new meaning: to be an Oliver Twist, is to be ambitious.

How to rate him: the man or his music?

Since hitting headlines in October 2004, after a yeoman's performance at R70's Nigerian independence gig held in London, D'banj (full name Dapo Daniel Oyebanjo) has refused to leave the spotlight. Not because he is a superlative musician. No, he is not the best singer from Nigeria. If you weigh him on a scale in terms of voce and vibralto, he is a flyweight. Neither is he the best songwriter of his generation. Dancing is not even his forte. For crying out loud, D'banj is not even convinced about his art. Once, asked to describe his musical style, he mulled: “I play the harmonica and I sing Afropean (African European) music. My music is from the heart. Is it Afrobeat? I think it's just uncategorisable.” By what calibration is he one of Nigeria's top three?

He is an entertainer. His stage performance, a brilliant combo of artistry, angst and antics. D'banj has his humour, his harmonica and his creative rascality that gobsmacked and galvanize audience into frenzy. Once he came on stage wearing a white towel branded with the map of Nigeria.

His style, swagger and slangs enjoys a cult following. He is a performer par excellence. With 12 A-rate awards, including MTV Africa Artiste of the Year Award (2009), MTV Europe Best African Act (2007) and Channel O Awards in 2007, it is difficult to slight his musical genius.

But there is good music and there is great music. The former is timely; the latter is timeless. In many years to come, Tuface's African Queen will still be rare and refreshing; Darey's Not The Girl will continue to get listening ears; Asa's'60's soul-based Be My Man will still be golden. D'banj's songs are not cut from the same calibre, inorganic and kitschy. D'banj steals the moment, then dashes off to catch up with the future. His joker is his Warholian attitude of grabbing “15 minutes of fame” wherever and whenever possible.

His Tongolo remix video set the pace in sleazy videos. The Fall in Love video featured Genevieve Nnaji, leading Nollywood actress and it sparked off speculations that lasted for a long time. The storm had hardly died down when the he came along with Mr. Endowed remix. Still D'banj did not allow the stir to simmer, when he dropped the Kanye West's bombshell. While he is still basking in the glow of the coup, the Oliver

Twist controversy flared up. The new single brewed double storms of controversies. Allegedly banned by National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), for a 'lewd line', the censor roused the rage of hip hop fans. The second storm was deliberately sparked by D'banj and his Au Pair producer, Don Jazzy. The pair and a motley crowd of Mo'Hits crew kick-started an Oliver Twist video furore when they coaxed fans to shoot and upload videos to feature in an online competition tagged with a $2500 bounty. At the moment, Oliver Twist Dance Competition is the rave on blogs, twitter, facebook, and YouTube. Put together, that amounts to over 24 months of running publicity. And still, he has a never-ending list of wacky ways. There was once a running spew of venom and vitriol between D'banj and Durella, another hip hop artiste, over theft of style. It is needless to say that controversy is the yeast of his persona.

Kanye and Koko Master

At the time D'banj debuted in 2005 with No Long Thing album he had just one ambition: to be the biggest living African artiste in the world. That means he has to go global. Four albums later and five years on, he is on track. His last album, the 2010 Mr. Endowed, has American rapper, Snoop Dogg, featured on a remix of the album's title track. Teaming up with Kanye further upped the ante.

Meeting Kanye West was a happenstance during a trip to Dubai. But the circumstance is a clear demonstration of the working of his mind. While at the airport, an excited fan, who confused him for Kanye West, asked D'banj for his autograph. D'banj took the cue. The 'Oliver Twist' in him came alive. “Oh no, I'm not Kanye,” he protested, then turned to his manager and said, “Kanye is coming here. All eyes open. We must get him.”D'banj cornered Kanye West, and he played his music for him. After listening to the songs for five minutes, Kanye West asked: 'Who produced this? Where are you from? You need to come to New York.”

After sealing the deal that brought him and Don Jazzy into the stable of G.O.O.D. Oliver Twist'' became D'banj's first effort under the Kanye West Label. The deal also stirred some controversies. A school of thought lampooned the supposed “dream signing” as sham. But Kanye West made a surprise appearance at the Koko Koncert in London, where he performed his smashing single “All of the lights”, after which he performed the traditional “chain handover” to publicly endorse D'banj as the latest artiste on G.O.O.D. Music. End of story? A lot of people, especially his fans think there is still a surprise sequel waiting in the wing. A duet with Beyonce or Rihanna? Or Nicki Minaj? Read the Oliver Twist lines (See I like Beyonce, but she dey with Jigga/ I like Nikki, her yansh is bigger/I like Rihanna, she dey make me day)

In this age, where popular music is a mix of cultural crossovers and curios, a video, for instance, needing an exotic infusion can draw from D'banj's motifs and makeovers. What if Kanye West and Jay-Z decide to spawn a big concert or another Broadway production that needs some exotic add-ons, probably an African fusion? And Tongolo Master shares the stage with the two rap legends, Jay-Z and Kanye West. So, what if he pays G.O.O.D. Music to belong to the label as been insinuated in some quarters? No long thing! D'banj is an Oliver Twist with visions.