The MTV crew stopped by in Lagos for the Road to MAMA concert Friday 3 July. Organised every year before the award proper, the Road to MAMA concerts take place in several cities and are designed to keep the MTV audience in the know before the main ceremony.
This year’s event began with DJ Caise. The DJ went through songs by pop stars Davido, Wizkid and Rihanna. At some point, he added President Buhari declaring ‘I belong to everyone and I belong to no one’ to the mix. His set concealed the event’s lateness.
But the audience was late as well, the Federal Palace Hotel Marquee in Victoria Island barely filled as evening inched closer to midnight. Coloured lights and skin appeared to be the theme within the tent; outside a downpour complicated snazzy outfits.
DJ Exclusive succeeded DJ Caise, announcing his entry with cheek: ‘Ladies! If you you’re cheating on your man tonight make some noise!’ The crowd responded with glee, temporarily transformed from partygoers to sinners. Back to back hits ensued until hosts MTV Base VJs Stephanie and Ehiz came on stage at 11:30pm, ushering in the night’s first performer, Lil Kesh.
As Lil Kesh rapped his way through a couple of songs, the audience appeared to juggle three options: to gawk, to record with a phone, perhaps as evidence, or to dance. Unlike his audience, the rapper was single-minded. He came to entertain and he did so by rapping, shaking fans and jerking his upper limbs in the ‘shakiti bobo’ dance step made famous by his mentor Olamide, who although on the bill was a no-show.
Next up, Yemi Alade. She staged an elaborate welcome and then delivered a French version of ‘Kissing’. A competent live performer, Ms. Alade used a band, allowing a spot of use for the stage’s idle instruments. The crowd waited for the song inevitably promised whenever Yemi climbs a stage. Finally, when the lyrics to ‘Johnny’ poured forth, it was accompanied by a dance choreography so energetic Ms. Alade’s audience watched, only a few dancing. Perhaps the best performer now working in Nigeria, Ms Alade made choosing easy. Camera phones readily went up in the air.
Then came Phyno, led onstage by his beard. He lip-synched to ‘Alobam’ and closed with ‘Parcel’. At this point it seemed the official theme for the male performers was a DJ-backed solitude onstage, with instruments forlorn. Patoranking perpetuated the theme, lip-synching ‘Daniella Whine’.
Chain on neck, jeans nearing knees, Patoranking danced and talked, freed from singing what played already. They loved him. The crowd chanted back lines at his skinny frame, never mind most of songs are a cross between Nigerian pidgin and Jamaican patois. The responsiveness to his music showed the eternal allure a career in music holds for many young people. How grand it must be to be the recipient of such adoration.
The singer clearly felt a need to give back, pausing to speak to the crowd. ‘I came from nothing to something,’ he said. ‘I thank you for supporting me.’ It was a follow up to his speech at an award ceremony last year where after winning an award he told the crowd of his impoverished, working class upbringing. ‘If I tell you I was a bricklayer,’ he asked that night, ‘will you believe?’
No such rhetorical questions on the Road to MAMA. Instead he introduced rapper MI. And together they performed ‘Enemies’ off the latter’s The Chairman album. Knowing Africa will be competing at the MTV Africa Music Awards in Durban in a few weeks, MI took the opportunity to proclaim Nigerian exceptionalism.
‘Who runs things in Africa?’ the 'short black boy' queried. The response from his compatriots was emphatic: ‘Naija!’
‘Patoranking,’ MI said turning to the Best New Act nominee. ‘Bring back that award.’
Loverman Iyanya stepped on next. Choosing to play live – he came to stardom by winning a live singing competition after all – his sound faltered.
But the ladies whooped. ‘I’m just waiting for him to take off his shirt,’ one said. Strangely decorous on the night, Iyanya didn’t. But he enacted his coup de grace: hoisting a lady up for a one-on-one waist-gyrating serenade. The lady seemed stunned by the attention and plastered a palm on her own face upon a kiss on the cheek from the ‘Oreo’ crooner.
The sole foreign performer on the night, Diamond Platnumz, offered no kisses but dances. His remarkable moves not enough to sway a Nigerian audience in love with its own above all else. Still he received an ovation.
It was time for closing acts, Reekado Banks and the extremely young-looking Korede Bello, both of the Mavins crew. The duo held the crowd’s unflagging attention with a crowd-pleasing performance of hit songs including ‘Chop Am,’ ‘Looku Looku,’ ‘Adaobi’ and the ubiquitous ‘God Win’.
‘I don pay my rent,’ Korede Bello sang on ‘God Win’. The audience had paid their dues. It was time to go home. DJ Jimmy Jatt set them on their way dancing.