Tuesday, 31st January 2023
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Pepsi: The Official Soft Drink Of Afrobeats

As far as it has travelled, Nigerian music hasn't enjoyed the smoothest journey. Its transition from a catchy mix of western and local genres into an in-demand global sound has been plagued by an Achilles' Heel; the lack of infrastructure. Legal disputes borne out of hastily made "Whatsapp" deals have broken the internet and Instablog9ja on more than one occasion. Few venues in Nigeria can host a music festival. And year after year, artists and fans alike are robbed by the sheer scarcity of resources they need to deliver and enjoy the best experience.

As far as it has travelled, Nigerian music hasn’t enjoyed the smoothest journey. Its transition from a catchy mix of western and local genres into an in-demand global sound has been plagued by an Achilles’ Heel; the lack of infrastructure. Legal disputes borne out of hastily made “Whatsapp” deals have broken the internet and Instablog9ja on more than one occasion. Few venues in Nigeria can host a music festival. And year after year, artists and fans alike are robbed by the sheer scarcity of resources they need to deliver and enjoy the best experience.

The DIY nature of Nigerian music has held things back some other ways; not least of all in funding. Anyone who listened well enough in Economics class will tell you that nobody brings money to a crazy town with no rules. But the millions of listeners who have shot artists like D’Banj, Wizkid and Burna Boy to global repute would beg to differ in this case.

Pepsi’s support of Nigerian music and the afrobeats movement dates back over a decade. After years of consistently propping up the culture and coming to define the live experience, as evidenced by the viral Disembaa campaigns – 2017’s “No Shakin Carry Go Disembaa”, and 2018’s “No Chill Disembaa” – it’s fair to say Pepsi is one of Afrobeats’ biggest and most vital ambassadors.

For Nigerian artistes, hosting shows represents a career milestone more than an obvious next step. Even the biggest pop stars would struggle to pull off a multi-thousand capacity show with no help. For many years, that help has come from Pepsi. More than any single brand, Pepsi has become synonymous with live shows and late December nights when your favourite artist is on stage, and you’re losing control in a multitude of fans with cups filled with Pepsi and something strong. Perhaps the best case in point is Pepsi Rhythm Unplugged, a seminal show organised by Flytime Entertainment that is the most enduring live series of the Afrobeats era. The Pepsi Rhythm Unplugged stage has hosted the progenitors – D’Banj, 2face; the vanguards – Davido, Tiwa Savage, Wizkid and likewise, the new generation; Mr Eazi, Fireboy and more. 12 years after the first edition, Pepsi is its most prominent and long-standing sponsor.

Today, Pepsi’s support of live shows is so definitive that Pepsi’s event calendar for December is essentially the guide to enjoying Lagos during the festive season. Yet, arguably no live show goes as far as defining Pepsi’s strategic contribution quite like the 2011 Lynxxx and Friends Campus Tour and its support of DJs culminating in 2018’s Lituation Parties. Touring in the side of the world is a hero’s feat, one that is so daunting that so-called global tours routinely ignore African tour dates entirely.

In 2011, riding on the strength of pop hits like “Change Your Parade” and “Alabukun”, Lynxxx set out to convince fans across the country through his aptly-named university tour. A sponsor that could travel the country, even on the Northern leg, and connect with the fans was the platform Lynxxx needed. Pepsi signed on and 8 years later, the rest is pop culture history. That university tour, as well as the partnership between Lynxxx and Pepsi, created a template for artists that’s still followed to this date.

Any fan will tell you that the crowning moment of any December is seeing their favourite artist, emerging to a loud ovation, at the own headline event. Yet long before Eko Hotels became the scene of many coronations, Pepsi single-handedly propelled the country’s biggest stars through some of the most profitable endorsements in African history.

At a time when few Nigerian stars were genuinely bankable, Pepsi anointed Afropop’s golden boy, Wizkid and its leading woman, Tiwa Savage, right as they were on the cusp of crossing over, with an endorsement that was impressively valued. Beyond simply endorsing these artists with the goodwill of a time-tested brand that’s recognised and loved by millions across the world, these endorsements have become one of the most important sources of income in a very disjointed marketplace.

More endorsements have followed since, and each announcement has seemingly elevated that artist firmly into the upper echelon. The announcement of Davido secured the giant 3 for the brand shortly after. Tekno was next to join the ranks in 2017. DJ Spinall, DJ Xclusive, DJ Obi and DJ Cuppy followed in 2018. This year, as one would expect of a brand with its finger on the afrobeats’ pulse, Pepsi signalled the change of guard by announcing Burna Boy and Teni, the two biggest stars of 2018, as its newest brand ambassadors.

The same year, Pepsi went further, by embracing the men and women who keep our bodies moving and our playlists updated – the DJs. Despite their immense contribution in pollinating new audiences, DJs had been relegated to the status of bit-part players in Nigerian music for years. In many ways, Pepsi’s DJ campaign was the first to remedy that. In the space of a few weeks, the soft drink giant announced it had signed four of Nigeria’s top DJs – DJ Xclusive, DJ Cuppy, DJ Spinall and DJ Obi.

Weeks later, the software giant shut down Lagos for the party of the year: four DJs, hundreds of hits, a great ambience and a Lituation, as the party was tagged.

Today, Pepsi boasts a roster that would intimidate any African record label – Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, DJ Cuppy, DJ Spinall, DJ Xclusive, DJ Obi, Teni, the list goes on. The official drink of Afrobeats? It wouldn’t be a stretch to say so.

Sponsors abound in the Nigerian music scene, as you would expect in a scene where the vibe, not the dotted line, comes first – more often than not. Pepsi’s mark has come by connecting with fans, not as a benevolent provider, but as a fellow fan – only with enough money to capture and accentuate the spirit of Naija, be it through endorsements or shows.

For Nigerian fans, one of the biggest hallmarks of 2018 was a campaign that focused on capturing Nigerians’ immense national spirit – aptly tagged ‘Naija All The Way’. The vehicle? A star-studded TV ad that united some of the country’s biggest personalities – Jay-Jay Okocha, Wizkid, Davido, DJ Cuppy, Tiwa Savage, Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa, DJ Spinall, DJ Xclusive – and that could well go down as a moment of its own.

There’s no better evidence of Pepsi’s loyalty to the Nigerian sound than its unwavering loyalty to one of its leading ambassadors; Tekno. The singer broke out in 2016 on the strength of a mid-tempo take on Afropop that defined the year in music. 2017 came around – and as one would expect, Pepsi named him among its ambassadors.

The years since have been eventful for Tekno – just as he was on the cusp of joining the Afrobeats To The World train, the singer suffered a number of setbacks. Label disputes were quickly resolved but no sooner had he returned to hit-making than he suffered a serious throat injury that kept him out of the limelight. Brands typically strike deals with artists on the strength of their marketability – it’s why Pepsi’s roster is so definitive. When an artist can no longer command their audience, there’s little justification for supporting their art.

Yet, through all of Tekno’s troubles, Pepsi retained the artist on its roster, even going as far as featuring him in promotional campaigns. Tekno’s return to the charts with “Skeletun” has been widely celebrated; the subtext is that, while he struggled in the doldrums, he had a strong friend and ally in Pepsi.

In Nigeria, among young people and concert-goers, the last month of the year has come to be known as Disembaa – 2 years after Pepsi’s 2017 “Detty Disembaa campaign painted the town red and blue and changed the face of Nigeria’s concert season.

This year, Pepsi has released its events schedule as is the norm. And in keeping with its tradition over the years, it’s curating the year in Afrobeats for old listeners, new converts and returnees. As usual, it’s gifting Nigerians with a bevy of special experiences under one tag – “We Got Taste”. And the events are as tasteful as advertised.

Pepsi Rhythm Unplugged returns for its 13th edition, with Pepsi as its lead sponsor. But as Nigerian music continues to become a veritable global commodity, Pepsi has taken the important jump to connect local audiences with the world’s biggest artists. This year, after enjoying one of the biggest runs in hip-hop history, social media phenom, Cardi B will be performing in Lagos for the first time at the Livespot X Festival, courtesy of Pepsi.

Other events include Burna Boy’s “Burna Boy in Concert”, Megan Thee Stallion’s debut appearance in Lagos, Teni’s “The Billionaire Experience”, Pepsi’s Wizkid Live concert, DJ Cuppy’s “Cactus at the Roof Party”, DJ Xclusive’s “All White Party” and DJ Spinall’s “Party Of Your Dreams”.

Has Pepsi got taste? You decide.

The brand is also supporting the new generation of artists; this year, the custodians of the Alte scene will rage and rave in the dark at the fourth edition of Nativeland, courtesy of Pepsi.

It may not be the norm to name fizzy drink brands in the history of our culture’s biggest exports. But as you go out this December, be sure to look out for the concert flyers, the billboards, TV ads, and more – all the reminders that Pepsi, for over a decade, has been one of Afrobeats’ biggest and most important allies.

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