Lagos: Love and respect dominate MI Abaga concert

On Thursday 2 March, at Freedom Park Lagos, the rapper MI Abaga staged a concert ahead of the release of his forthcoming projectThe Love EP.

MI Abaga, right, looks on as Loose Kaynon performs.
MI Abaga, right, looks on as Loose Kaynon performs.

To set the scene for MI Abaga's music, the Chocolate City in-house DJ, DJ Lambo, played ballads made by Seal, Boyz II Men, Nosa, Chris Brown, Whitney Houston and others. The crowd sang along.

While the publicity material called the show an "exclusive performance", onstage Brenda Uphopho of the British Council by way of an introduction, said, "Wecome to...I don't know what we'll call this thing. MI what do we call this thing?"

The rapper, ostensibly preparing backstage, offered no response. When he got onstage, he informed fans the EP wasn't ready. "We are waiting for the visuals," he said, and then added. "I think I take too long to work on music. I'm 35 years old. I don't have too much time to make music. [But] this project is something I've had in my heart for so long. The Love EP is my story and other people's stories."

The music started. A singer identified as Debbie Romeo stood beside the rapper providing backing vocals. Behind both artists, scenes from the films 'Anomalisa', 'Frida' and others were projected on a screen. 

First song of the night was titled 'I'; the next, 'L'; and so on. Together the song titles spelled I Love U. 'V' was the most up-tempo of the songs, and had MI dancing at intervals. The last song, 'U', said MI, was written for a love interest a dozen years ago. The EP what with its peculiar titling continues a schtick that has seen MI release songs on a sophomore album, MI 2, all of which were arranged to mimic the structure of a motion picture. His third album, The Chairman, had songs in pairs, one a word or phrase, the other its opposite; the unpaired middle song was titled 'The Middle'.

In between the six songs from The Love EP, two actors showed stages in a relationship. These scripted interludes presumably will be transformed into skits when the EP is released. While the songs seemed to celebrate love despite challenges, the acted scenes ended somewhat ambiguously: From an initial meeting, the amorous pair travel to a break up and then the lady finds another lover. Whether this means she is doomed to repeat romantic failures or maybe this means love is eternal was unclear. Whatever the case, the songs were well received by a cheering audience. It was easy to believe the 'Number 1' rapper when he said, "The Love EP is going to be so beautiful. I promise you." 

Thereafter MI Abaga performed older songs. First off was 'Short Black Boy'; then 'Action Film' whipped the audience to a frenzy. 'Undisputed' and others followed. Then members of the Chocolate City family Loose Kaynon and Koker came on. Yung L as well. The calmness of what had gone disappeared. MI Abaga's younger brother, Jesse Jagz, and the rapper Vector came on briefly.

"Me and Vector came to pay homage to the king," Jagz said.

"Don't listen to Jagz," responded MI. "That's how he scams me everyday."

Vector performed an unaccompanied rap. Tec of Show Dem Camp, and Poe performed. And then Ill Bliss. Most of these unexpected artists paid respect to MI who tried to deflect their praise with jokes. While Tec of SDC said MI was the first artist to work with the rap group, Ill Bliss spoke about MI's encouragement when his music was yet to find an audience. Ruby Gyang sang the night's last song and spoke about knowing MI since he was a young man, back when he was known more by his given name, Jude Abaga.

The "exclusive performance" was supposed to be the night of a concert featuring forthcoming material from one of Nigeria's most loved rappers. It turned out to be more: A night fans were reminded of MI Abaga's quality, and then reminded of the respect the man and his music command within the Nigerian hip-hop music community.

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