Before Daddy Showkey released “Diana” in 1999, I’m not sure he had an inkling of how successful it would be.
Yet, a song that came from one of the most disadvantaged places in the country exploded beyond Ajegunle and its impact was felt nationwide.
A new sound was born and had come to take its rightful place on the Nigerian music scene – Ajegunle Dancehall Reggae.
A genre inspired by marginalisation, hunger, deprivation and injustice.
Those days, as a schoolboy commuting to school from the central part of AJ City, I used to brag about Daddy Showkey’s classics before my peers in class.
He was our biggest export.
While the rich ones couldn’t identify with the ghetto life profiled in his songs, videos shot in slums, energetic female dancers twerking sinfully in bum shorts, bare-chested contortionists and the weird galala dancers plucked from the streets – they were so much enthralled by the ghetto culture.
The fact that they knew songs like “somebody call my name” and “fire fire” and loved them, gave me a sense of pride.
Besides Daddy Showkey’s success, less popular Ajegunle stars like Daddy Fresh and Baba Fryo were also giving this interesting music genre more volume.
But African China’s 2004 album ‘Crisis’ was what shot Ajegunle music into new grounds, all the way from shantytown, Orile.
Every commercial vehicle at the time was blasting the sensational Crisis album, to the extent that one of the tracks “Our government bad” elicited a response from an offended ex-president Obasanjo.
Ajegunle dancehall reggae could not be stopped. It was mainstream as Hip hop and R&B were throughout the late 90s to the early 2000s.
Daddy Showkey was still the godfather of this genre, leading the pack – closely followed behind by Baba Fryo and Daddy Fresh.
But their popularity had started to dwindle in the latter part of the 2000s.
Thankfully, Ajegunle based acts like Marvellous Benjy and “Danfo Driver” singers Mad Melon were putting out hits, of which somehow kept the genre alive.
Unfortunately, their success wasn’t on the level of African China’s, blame it on weak record labels, and a shift of attention from the masses at a time when stronger music labels like Kennis Music dominated the industry with more mainstream hip hop and r&b artistes.
Meanwhile, African China’s legal woes in London took him off the scene for a while, the lawsuits kept his music-making journey at a pause.
When he eventually did a comeback with the mildly successful “London Fever”, too late – Ajegunle dancehall had stopped being a main commodity.
Not that ghetto-originated music depreciated in Nigeria, it didn’t.
Unlike the originators who took pride in their unrefined materials and OWNED IT, the newer generation of Ajegunle-raised artistes wanted no part of it – they distanced themselves from a genre that told their realities, opting to build their careers with club bangers as it seemed a bit more sophisticated.
So there were no successors to rise to the occasion!
In all of this, Blackface Naija could have been another competent torchbearer, even till date. His songs including “Hard life” are enough proof.
He has always had that unique street sound, that never-say-die attitude, that Rastafarian quality and everything that symbolizes dancehall reggae – but his notoriety is a story too embarrassing to tell.
Talk about the death of Ajegunle Dancehall Reggae, a genre that would’ve been a thing just like Afrobeat and the rest.
Credit: Bismark Ekene Benson