It’s not every day that an artiste weaned off from a music reality show like MTN Project Fame takes us by surprise. We are used to seeing most contestants, after departing from these platforms, make a few decent singles and then the noisy singles, in alignment with the industry’s go-commercial-or-go-home climate, release a hastily-produced album…
It’s not every day that an artiste weaned off from a music reality show like MTN Project Fame takes us by surprise. We are used to seeing most contestants, after departing from these platforms, make a few decent singles and then the noisy singles, in alignment with the industry’s go-commercial-or-go-home climate, release a hastily-produced album that gives off a mirage of success, and, when we are not even noticing, evaporate into oblivion.
But for Niniola, there is a derailing and the impression that she has come fully formed. When she emerged as third runner-up in the sixth season of MTN Project Fame, expectations were not bloated, though the forecast about how she would fare in the cold, murky world of the music industry was anyone’s guess. Three years after that epoch and she is already known for a string of hit singles.
Her first, Ibadi, received positive reviews and was massively played by radio stations. Her follow-up, Gbowode, was used as a soundtrack in the second season of TV drama series Gidi Up. At that point, the fog on her artistry had started to lift, but nothing was definitive. Skepticisms were neatly contained. The wonder, though, was that Ibadi and Gbowode had the tendencies to be commercially lumped under the vibrant, mainstream afro pop genre.
Almost as if Niniola was aware of this, she released Shaba to make a proper distinction. Shaba is frothy, a more definitive afro house sound with its rolling percussion and semi-playful intro. “Ide esu ninu aye mi odigba o,” Niniola sings in the part before the chorus. The robust, unapologetic usage of Yoruba is what gives Niniola’s brand of afro house its originality.
This ethnic element of language surfaces in Jigi Jigi, which feels like a near-perfect complement to a languorous relaxation on the beach, the sun waning and feet burrowed in the sand. Or if you are in a car driving on a traffic-free Lagos road on a weekend. Jigi Jigi isn’t as commanding as Shaba, but it more or less solidified Niniola’s afro house credentials.
Niniola as a featured artiste on tracks like DJ Spinall’s Ojukokoro shows her flexibility and willingness to step out from the relative non-competitiveness of her preferred genre. In preparation for her debut album, she recently released Maradona, a single produced by prolific hit maker Sarz and it’s currently gaining airplay. Sarz has had a hand in Niniola’s early hits, and apparently they both look like a match made in music heaven. There is no pressure, it seems, for Niniola to “blow” because she is, almost luxuriously, working by her own pace.