"Ade Bantu has been trying to bring me here for two years." That was 1990s Nigerian reggae star Blackky announcing his entry to the Afropolitan Vibes audience this past Friday, following an entree by singer Dammy Krane. Like a certain kind of maiden, every pop artist likes to be chased. This one sounded jubilant at being caught.
And given the context he was right to be jubilant. It was the third anniversary of the monthly concert that started with a handful of fellows—artists mostly, writers, photographers and visual artists. Today it has become a phenomenon, encouraging people to clear their calendars for one night each month, propelling women to ‘disgrace their families’ by climbing onstage for a dance, and forcing volumes of palmwine into the hands and throats of a willing audience. The band has gone beyond Lagos, performing in Berlin and Abidjan.
Tonight the vat of palmwine would empty quickly, and folks would turn to other sources of light intoxication. Being a third birthday, slices of cake would find a way to the grateful fingers of friends of the concert. A DJ would carry on playing at Freedom Park till the early hours of morning. And on social media afterwards, the festival would express gratitude. "We thank you all for your consistent support since March 2013," they wrote. "It has been a roller coaster ride and we have reached dizzying heights of success in building a dedicated fan base and hopefully contributing to the growth of the live music scene in Nigeria"
For now, though, it was up to Blackky to keep up the festivities. And so he opened with ‘Bang Belly,’ one of his hits with the unlikely topic of an unwanted pregnancy.
In between he called, “When I say who am I say, the black man!” The Afropolitan audience, a compliant one, did as told. And it was time for ‘Rosie’, an anthem of a different sort—about a lady who wouldn’t reciprocate the man’s dance impulse. "This song is 25 years and yet you people never let it go," he announced. A lady came and briefly played the coy maiden. When it was time to sing the self-flattering line "She know no say me na Nigeria Mr Sexy," he did so with a grin, knowing it was less true now than then. An audience chorus of 'Rosie' ensued. And with a howl, the man in a black t-shirt was gone.
“We would like to thank each and every one of you for coming out to support good music and support us,” Bantu said as he came onstage. "To be honest with you it has not been easy. When we tell you to drink the palmwine, we mean it. We need the money. We need all the support we can get. So if you know anyone that can sign a cheque…”
The night coincided with the birthday of the band's other lead vocalist known only by the mononym Mide. A section of mostly women sang a birthday tune to the man. And then Wole Ojo, actor and concert regular, clambered onto the stage singing Stevie Wonder's ‘Happy Birthday’. He was followed by the half-German singer Nneka. Blue shawl on her head, guitar-wielding and very nearly stationary, she cut a different picture from Blackky and the Bantu band before her. They pranced while she stood still. She held a guitar; they held a microphone. If they considered the third anniversary a thing of celebration, she considered it one for reflection. "Sofry, Sofry, with my love," she sang as firmly as on her studio releases. Softly, softly with jubilation, she implied. If there are two ways of celebrating a birthday, the guys were all for dancing and drinking. Nneka was for the other approach: introspection.
When the Bantu band succeeded her, they did so with a Yoruba song with a chorus that says: “Where are we going?” Considering the circumstance, it was a great question; and for Afropolitan Vibes, there's only one answer: the future