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Is soco definitive sound of Nigerian pop music in 2018?

The definitive sound of Nigerian pop in 2018 was decided in 2016 when producer Northboi created the beat for Soco, the hit song by the quartet of Wizkid, Terri, Spotless and Ceeza Milli.

The definitive sound of Nigerian pop in 2018 was decided in 2016 when producer Northboi created the beat for Soco, the hit song by the quartet of Wizkid, Terri, Spotless and Ceeza Milli.

Released in February this year, Soco has been streamed over a million times on Soundcloud and its video has so far racked up 13 million views on Youtube. The modest figures may belie the popularity of the song in Nigeria and the world over, and its abiding influence on the current output of Nigerian pop, five months after its release.

An increasing number of producers and artists have adopted the sound, reimagining Northboi’s composition and often, the cadence, vocal flourish or lyrical boasts by all four singers.

Immediately by Mystro and Wizkid faithfully copies the marimba and conga drums from Soco, but also the chorus’s melodic refrain kijo, kijo. The song was also produced by Mystro who, perhaps encouraged by its near 80 000 streams on Soundcloud, has followed up, this July, with “Do Like This” – another take on the ‘soco wave’ that features Tiwa Savage and DJ Consequence.

Tiwa Savage, for her part, has made two in Tiwa’s Vibe and Labalaba, as has Reekado Banks with Pull Up and Bio Bio with Duncan Mighty. Other examples include: Again O by Lil Kesh, Enough by Dice Ailes, Pempe by Sean Tizzle, Overload by Mr. Eazi, Tupac by Wande Coal, Onana by Smoothie, Agidi by D’banj and Askamaya by Teni.

Speaking via whatsapp messages from his base in Lagos, Northboi, who is 25 years old and a relative newcomer, says Spotless, a producer in his own right and brother to Tekno, was of “great assistance” in crafting the hook for Soco along with Wizkid who “created the idea for the chorus and gave it the twist that made it a hit.”

On exactly what this ‘twist’ is, Northboi is not forthcoming. When asked what it is about Wizkid’s song making that inspired such a catchy melody and assured hit, his answer was simply “God”. He is less vague about the precise element, which caught Wizkid’s attention, the marimba melodic line that continues all through the song. The marimba is a resonant percussion instrument and a variation on the xylophone whose goodness is derived from its conflicting rhythms. Additional instruments – Rhodes piano, conga drums and kalimba (otherwise known as the “thump piano”) – combine to create the lush melodic bed.

Traces of the ‘soco wave’ have also emerged in Ghana, which is historically, and sonically a sister market to that of Nigerian music. One good example is Anfara by Miyaki, the 17 year old wonderboy of Ghanaian pop who is also Hausa and so presents a new dimension to the ‘soco wave’ with not just the language – rarely used in top layer pop in either countries – but also the melodies and humour particular to Hausa folk songs.

Far from lazy reproductions of Northboi’s arrangements on Soco, many of the producers introduce a myriad of instruments to their own recreations. Sunclaves and shakers maintain a steady rhythmic pattern on Enough (Diles Ailes) produced by Lush who also employs the soft bass-synths synonymous with the ‘pop pon’ sound that dominated Nigerian pop in 2017.

Electric guitars and drum rolls bring a dramatic flair to Tiwa’s Vibe (Tiwa Savage) made by Spellz. Chopstix adds a roving bass guitar and horns to Agidi (Dbanj) in a manner that firmly roots the format in afrobeat as practised by Fela.

Dance waves universally help to propagate hit songs, and the release of Soco in February came at a time when it was becoming clear that the shaku dance was succeeding shakiti bobo and (the still persistent) shoki as the on trend dance. The combination of conga drums, marimba and sunclaves lend themselves easily to the slow sashay of the dance though the music is also varied by layers of pianos, kick drums and guitars.

“Music is spiritual, the beat is spiritual. So soon as I heard it, I knew it needed something easy but extraordinary. Something legendary,” says Teni (The Entertainer) of Spellz’ production on Askamaya, but when asked if the beat and song writing was directly inspired by Soco, she says: “Not at all, if you know spells you know he’s a sound curator. We were just having fun that day, and we didn’t take it too seriously.”

Askamaya she claims was written and recorded under two hours, an approach she has developed through habit: “when I write I don’t overthink, I just play with it and ride the beat. You have to be in control. Think of all the places you’ve seen, things you’ve done or other people’s experience and sing about it or make up a story.”

It remains to be seen if the ‘soco wave’ will dominate the second half of Nigerian pop in 2018, but with so much momentum going into the middle of the year, when parties, concerts and festivals are more frequently held, it is hard to imagine another sound eclipsing that which has been created by Terri, Spotless, Ceeza Milli and Wizkid.