Jidenna: Reintroducing The Chief
Jidenna is posted up at a private venue in upscale Lagos where a barrage of influencers and media personalities are eagerly waiting for their allotted 10 minutes with the star.
He is in Lagos for a short while hosting a surprise pop up to promote his new album 85 to Africa but within that time he has to fit a truckload of activities into his tight schedule including an extensive interview with The Guardian Life. The solution to this dilemma is a ride-along through the quiet inner streets of Ikoyi.
He is warm and welcoming as we’re both seated at the back seat and the driver takes off. The first thing I notice is his aura which immediately puts me at ease and also this being his second feature in the magazine, he was just as calm so we conversed like friends who had been previously acquainted and were just reconnecting.
After a few laughs, we dove right into the interview and of course, the first question pertains to his new less formal look.
Based on several observations, fans of the artiste believed he had changed from the three-piece suit-wearing gentleman they were introduced to on his chart-topping song Classic Man to a more in tune, outspoken intellectual yet he insists that he is one and the same but adds that fans were just getting to see the other side of him.
“I’ve never not been whoever I am now, this is what was under the suit. Everyone around me knows this is who I’ve always been.”
Jidenna maintains that the formally dressed man the fans fell in love with is still very present but he’s just showing another side of him and his multifaceted personality and style.
Even on the song, everyone makes reference to, Classic Man, he insists that there were subliminal hints to indicate that there was more to him than meets the eye.
“On the song, I said keep your gloves dirty but your hands clean. I was just keeping my hands clean then but I already knew everything I wanted to do.”
Finding A Balance
For most Africans in the diaspora, the problem of identity is ever prevalent because most of them are labeled as too American to be African and too African to be American so they feel out of place a lot of the time because what they can make out of the situation is simply that they don’t fit in anywhere. Jidenna has been able to overcome this mentality and credits his knowledge of self to the fact that he is connected to his roots.
“My first seven years [developmental years] were spent in Enugu, Nigeria before I moved to the United States so that means I learned all the primary things here first. It means I learned how to speak English here first, I learned to walk here, my facial expressions come from here, I gained wisdom from Aunties and Uncles here so by the time I got to the U.S everything I saw was from a Nigerian perspective or a wider African lens.”
He clarifies that merely being born in Africa doesn’t make you more cultured or literate about African history than Africans in the diaspora because to truly understand the intricacies of the African continent, you have to read and research as it is so much more than what you are born into.
“Many Africans are miseducated in Africa too, just because you’re African doesn’t mean you know traditional African history. Most people only know what was fed to them by a colonized education system.”
“It’s important to be properly educated because not only do we [Africans] not know African history, we don’t know black American history and the struggles and sacrifices they made so Black people everywhere could have rights, the feeling of not being wanted in the country you call home and having no flag, no land and to have Africans say you’re not African, that hurts them.”
Jidenna strongly believes that everything is open to scrutiny and to truly understand Africa and her people, you need to ask as many questions as possible because that’s the only way you can ever truly learn what is and what’s not.
“Question everything that you thought was Black or African or Nigerian because that’s the only way you can find true answers. If you’re trying to properly understand Nigeria, you have to go through the history of different ethnic groups because these groups have been in existence before Nigeria was amalgamated.”
The Point Of Realisation
What most people don’t know about Jidenna is the fact that he has a working plan and a time frame within which he has set goals for himself which he intends to achieve in record time and it’s safe to say he’s on track.
For a lot of people, the response to a setback is usually wailing and regret but for Jidenna, he had to rise to the occasion after he was evicted by ‘rednecks’ from a mansion in Atlanta he was leasing to make music due to negligence from the property manager in the summer of 2017.
This incident left a disheartening image in his head and marred the last memories he had before going on his U.S tour. He then did a couple more shows in Africa where he decided to stay back and enjoy the African continent.
“It as an eye-opener to be put out of a home at this level of success by rednecks who went as far as threatening my producer’s life right before I went on my U.S tour and then I started doing a couple shows in Africa. I was like forget it, I don’t want to go back there [U.S] and also Donald Trump is president so I just decided to stay on the continent.”
Finding The Way Back Home
While in Africa, Jidenna shuttled between various countries within his first few months on the continent and all the experiences he picked up from his travels formed the album “85 to Africa”.
“I decided to stay out here on the continent and I lived between a few countries for six months. I started in Nigeria and then I lived in South Africa for a while before moving on to Swaziland, Mozambique, and Namibia. These six months on the continent helped to shape the album that became 85 to Africa.”
Jidenna proudly recounts how every city and every country he visited played special roles and contributed to the completion of the album.. To tell the story properly, he had to start at the very beginning of his journey which was home in Nigeria. Multiple tracks on the album were inspired by his personal experiences in Nigeria.
“There are a few tracks that have soul samples especially the hip hop tracks that were inspired by the stories and experiences I had in Nigeria.” “The first record is called Worth The Wait and it features Seun Kuti, I implored him to collaborate and bless the album”“The song 85 to Africa is a Fela sample, the rhythm and sounds on Zodi and Sufi Woman, of course, are directly inspired by Nigerian music..”
Regardless of all the fame, success and money that has come over the years, Jidenna is still very much appreciative and remembers his humble beginnings.
“I remember thinking out loud on the song [Worth The Weight] like who knew that I would be here at this point in life? Me that little boy that used to run around Independence Layout in Enugu.”
He sees the album 85 to Africa as a tool for unity, something that would connect people of African descent anywhere in the world and give them a sense of pride and belonging.
“I want people to feel proud to be of African descent anywhere in the world. The album really is a soundtrack of global black music without borders, without tribes if you will. I want people to feel that anywhere you go as a descendant of Africa,, you [can] [can] feel at home with other descendants of Africa. I want black people from America to come to Lagos and feel like they are in the midst of family and I want people from Dar Es Salaam to be able to go to Russia and if they see an African community from another country, they still feel at home.”
Seeing The Vision of Afrobeats
Long before the world got on the Afrobeats train, Jidenna was one of the first international African artistes in the diaspora to experiment with the genre. On his track A Little Bit More, the beat and the vibe was highly infused with Afrobeats and he went on to feature Burna Boy on the remix because he had foreseen that Burna was going to be successful in pushing Afrobeats on the world music scene and it’s safe to say his guess was right.
“I’ve always known it was going to take off, I and my crew just didn’t know if Americans were ready a few years ago but we knew that eventually, it would happen. In A Little Bit More phase, I put Burna Boy on the remix because I believed that he would be the one as a personality to cross over.”
Of course, he rated other artistes but had a really good feeling about Burna Boy.
“I did a song with Wizkid when he was in the U.S making music with Drake and Chris Brown, I was the third artiste he worked with while he was out there. We just didn’t put out the music at the time. I really felt like Burna’s personality would work to push him to different cultures like the Caribbeans and the Black Americans who like his style..”
He understands that Burna Boy is the rave of the moment right now but he also recognizes all the people that came before him and paved the way so it would be slightly less difficult for him to break into foreign markets.
“We have to shout out to people that helped to pave the path like of course Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage and D’banj before all of them because these are the legends that preceded and on the stateside [U.S] Akon bridged the other way for Africans in the diaspora so he’s like a predecessor of me.”
His attention isn’t just on the Nigerian big shot artistes alone as he equally identifies the talent in Nigeria’s underground [alternative] music scene.
“An artiste like Santi is fresh to me because he’s not just good with the music but with videos too, Odunsi, Rema as well. If I were here, I’d probably be closer to the Alternative crowd but I’d still have a couple of hits with the heavyweights because I’m in-between both worlds, the whole cool kid alternative thing, and the big Afropop stars. I chill with them [Alternative crowd] and I’m excited for the world to get to hear them.”
Jidenna is an avid believer in potential and possibility so of course, he strongly believes that the fast-rising underground artistes can grow and achieve greatness. He believes that if they stay consistent, it’s just a matter of time before they break into the global music market like their predecessors.