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Remembering Durella, King Of The Zanga


Today marks the tenth year anniversary of Durella’s debut album King of the Zanga, the singer’s official introduction to mainstream Nigerian.

Released by TC Records, KotZ was the birth of something special. The album exposed the country to Durella’s boundless energy, contained hit singles such as

“Enu O Se”, “Wiskolowiska”, “Shayo” and “In the Zanga”, and helped to popularize a handful of street slangs, some of which are still in use to this day.

King of the Zanga set the charismatic singer apart as one for the future.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Durella had all it took to become one of the most important pop stars of the last decade; it’s not only disappointing that he didn’t become one, it’s also actually a surprise.

Durella credits his mum with his early experimentation with music, but it wasn’t easy. The singer and his family had to survive in some of the toughest neighbourhoods in Lagos.

What’s worse, they did it with Durella’s father out of the picture for most of his childhood. But in spite of their circumstances, Mama Durella encouraged her son’s dream to become a singer.

According to him: “I remember the early days when she would give me money to go for recording sessions because she knew that I had the talent”.

At first, Durella experimented with R&B music, at one point, going by the prissy stage name Durel. But it wasn’t until he added the “street” element to his sound that things truly started to connect for him.

The singer claims that it was the feedback from the Lagos underground scene that made him add a suffix to his name and with that, a lot more edge.

Durella discovered aggression as an effective way to grab the listener’s attention, relying less on melody to carry a record and more on his undeniable charm.

As a result, “Queen of My Zanga” was the only song on the KotZ album that sounded anything like a ballad. Practically the rest of the album was delivered with Durella’s high-octane energy that would become his trademark.

There are two other qualities that would distinguish Durella’s music: The first is his extensive use of slangs and innuendos, the second is his uninhibited sex appeal.

The OJB-produced “Wiskolowiska” was the perfect convergence of the two. Durella turned, what was essentially a gibberish chorus, into a bonafide hit.

He then spent the better part of his verses describing sexual activities in a manner so graphic NBC officials must have had a heart attack the first time they analyzed the lyrics.

Durella’s style of music might have been intentional but the moment that turned his career around was anything but. It came in 2006.

Durella was performing at a fashion show in Ibadan and executives from TC Records were in the audience. They liked what they heard, tapped up the singer and signed him to a contract within a week. The rest, as they say, is Nigerian music history.

Durella’s talent would receive a further stamp of validation when he was crowned the winner of the first-ever MTV & Zain Advance Warning, beating the likes of Overdose, Terry tha Rapman, Terry G and Waje.

Unluckily though, just before Durella started his career ascent, another artist had begun making Nigerian music history too — his name is D’banj.

Kokomaster burst onto the scene in 2005 and immediately made the hyper-sexualized, super-energetic male popstar lane his own, so much so that all artists that came after him were seen as copycats. And there was no one more similar in style than Durella.

Both singers were always quick to take off their shirts but slow to take off their shades. Both singers packed their songs with innuendos, new slangs, and double entendres, and played dumb when pressed about them in interviews.

Durella would find some success with this style in his own career but D’banj grew so big, so fast that he inadvertently sentenced the “Gunner’s Anthem” singer to a lifetime of unfavourable comparisons. The two men would go on to have a complicated personal and professional relationship and would collaborate for the first time in 2013 on “Ibadie” off D’banj’s D’Kings Men compilation album.

However, comparison with his musical nemesis wasn’t the only thing that stole Durella’s destiny.

There were allegations of a lack of focus due to alcohol abuse and womanizing (which he vehemently denies), rumours of a falling out with his label, the artist himself going on long sabbaticals, and his handlers consistently dropping the ball at the moments when his music was white-hot.

Durella’s would follow up his debut album with 2010’s reconfigurated and continued to deliver hit songs like “My Life” and “Club Rock”. His run lasted a few more years but he never quite lived up to his early promise.

The singer has been plotting a comeback with a long overdue third album tentatively titled Back, Better and Bad.

When it does drop, a now 40-year-old Durella would be lucky if the throne he abdicated for so long is still there, never mind whether it has a vacancy for him.

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