INTERVIEW – Dami Duro to FEM: Analysing Davido’s 10 years of making smashing hits back to back

Ten years ago, an 18-year-old stormed the Nigerian music industry with ‘Back When’ and ‘Dami Duro’ tracks that swept across Africa.

For many, it seemed like the regular case of  a new artiste hitting luck in quick succession. But for those who had known the teenage sensation, this was the birth of a new star.

The first track, “Back When” was a faux attempt to explore a struggle narrative. But fortunately, David Adeleke redirected his narrative and embraced his privileged status with Dami Duro.

And “Dami Duro”, co-produced by Shizzi, was the perfect introduction to Davido. As one from an affluent family, his background afforded him the leeway to pursue music as a hobbie, but with Dami Duro, Davido stood in our faces,  shouting at the top of his lungs “I am from a rich family, I own my representation and no one can stop me”

10 years on, and Davido has walked the talk. He has had an enviable career laden with multiple hit tracks and lots of real awards to brag with. 

Davido’s story is one that deserves to be told and this week, NewsWireNGR had a chat with Obinna Agwu, a music executive and talent manager to analyse Davido’s success and detail how his career has been a win for the Afrobeats community. 

  • What is the Afrobeat genre?

There’s Afrobeat and there’s Afrobeats.  Afrobeat without the ‘S’ is the music that Fela worked tirelessly to develop over a long period. From his own band Koola Lobitos  to finally refining it to where he started Egypt 80 and everything, and it was because he schooled out there in the West, he took in a lot of their sound and  all of that. But at some point, Fela felt the need to really stand apart from the music he had learnt and he wanted to make it more African than more make it more authentic.

So Afrobeat is the music today that emerged from the genius who spent tireless time in developing and working on it in the 60s.

So now to the Afrobeats with the ‘S’. A lot of people are going to say to you that unlike Afrobeat that is a distinct sound with elements, Afrobeats music isn’t particularly a genre. It is just the overarching umbrella sound of the music out of West Africa. 

Another funny thing is that the word Afrobeat was first coined or used by a Ghanaian-based DJ in the UK called DJ Atlantic. He was on radio at a time, and he had a show on a certain radio station and at that point he introduced a lot of African music. I guess after some time he felt the need to call it something, so that’s where Afrobeat came from. Afrobeat is pretty much a sound from West Africa, the overarching sound of the umbrella music from West Africa.

  • Afrobeats looks like the biggest export from Africa to the world right now, can give us a rundown of the evolution of the genre?

When you talk about Afrobeats music, there are a lot of elements and a lot of people to thank. For example In 2005, people like MTV Base made their entry into Nigeria and to Africa. What those platforms did was that they gave us an avenue to expose our music to a bigger and wider audience within Africa and the world.

However, at that time what we know as Afrobeats hasn’t quite started to happen so at that time  We had the 9ice, we had the P-Square, Naeto C, Ikechukwu, Mo’ Hits, MI and all these people things, so as our music continued to grow I would say it was in early 2010 that Afrobeat started to form and  shape up into something, especially with people like Wizkid, and there’s really no way we would talk about Afrobeat victory without bringing the UK into it. 

Fortunately or unfortunately because the UK ended up playing a huge role that helped in disseminating the sound support, and  it was very obvious because we have a lot of Nigerians out there, a lot of Africans out there. So the UK is really much like an annex of Africa, so the UK and the regions of the UK and the people of the UK definitely played the huge role in helping to disseminate the sound support just like in everything, as you start to earn success, more people want to tap in, more people want to understand what you’re doing. So before we knew it people like Drake came in and wanted to do stuff, J Hus plenty people, Skepta, so many people started to identify with the sound and these people came with their own huge following and their own audience. I’d say that Afrobeat as a sound or as a musical consciousness , pretty much started in the 2010s and yes, we are like ten years deep into all of that now. So shout-out to Davido, shout out to Wizkid , shout to all these people who helped to push the sounds up.

  • It’s impossible to discuss Afrobeats rise without mentioning Davido, a man who recently clocks a decade in the industry. What do you think has defined his career so far in the industry?    

Resilience and Passion. At the initial stage a lot of people did not consider David to be the most obviously talented person.

But one thing you could tell from David was that this kid was hungry, this kid wanted this thing, this Kid is going to do anything to get it , as God would have it he seems to have financial support on his path,  but why I would not talk so much about that is that before David and even after David, we have seen a lot of rich kid , right? So money is not the only reason David is such a star. As a manager and an administrator, I have run with people who have money but their money is for their lifestyle and it’s not for the music and when it’s time to invest in music they would not, but with David , David realised that okay, I have the wherewithal to do what I need to do, he really put his money where his mouth is and he went all out for it.

So I would say resilience and passion first of all and over time we have seen this guy improve and get better and better. So it’s not hard to say that David has been growing because over time he has shown us that.

  • Over the last 10 years, Davido has undergone a lot of evolution to stay relevant. What has been the biggest?  

For me, his biggest evolution has been his ability to spot great songs. His ability to work with amazingly gifted people and you must understand that sometimes these people are not necessarily the most affordable people to work it but David has displayed creative maturity over time. 

In Nigeria a lot of people at his level wouldn’t be open to come and say ‘somebody wrote this song with me,  or I took the song from somebody’. But, we have seen David do that from time to time . From ‘Gobe’ to T Spize that wrote ‘Aye’ to collaborating with Peruzzi on a lot of songs, to working with Adekunle Gold on One Milli , so you can tell that David has a mentality that a lot of his peers and people do not have.

He is open , he understands music, he goes to a place and hears a song and says Yo, this song, I want this song, I need to sing this song, I would buy this song off you, what is it going to take , so over time David has shown that he is an incredible Musician and he has the ear for good music and also likes working with with gifted people.

  • A lot of people say his special sauce is creating monster hits, how true is this? And how easy is it?

His special sauce is recognising monster hit, so when somebody tries to downplay David’s greatness and say he is not talented,  I’m like yoo, it takes a lot of talent to spot hit, it was this boy who spotted ‘Gobe’  and he bought it, this guy who spotted ‘Aye’, and he bought it, he spotted even ‘Fem’. 

He said some people were working at his studio, the song was not even meant for him, he now pulled up, he heard it and he was like yoo I’m using this work, it takes talent to be able to spot those things you know and the ability to collaborate with very gifted people, all these things are talent, these are things his father’s money cannot afford him. So yeah, Davido definitely has superpower for creating songs that are amazing. 

‘IF’ was written by Tekno so you can tell that this guy is actually steps ahead of his peers. He is able to collaborate with the right people and he is able to spot amazing songs and say so you know what we are going to do with this one.

  • There’s a difference in delivery even when one buy songs 

Definitely, and he does that well. Like ‘Gobe’, he ended up not using the actual beat and he got.bI think he got Chizzi, and David has done so many things like this with his songs. So you can tell that this guy really has something, he knows something, something that can’t just be learnt, something his father’s money can’t buy.

  • What other elements of music marketing has Davido mastered to keep him going for over ten years?

I think his use of social media has been very impressive over the years and that’s why If I am not mistaken I think he even has more followers than Wizkid on Instagram. 

That says a lot because Wizkid is quite a superstar. But for some reason, that followers count means that more people are trying to see something on David’s side than on Wiz’s side and it’s just that when people love you and they admire you , they want to know more about you and David let’s you in. You see his friends, you see his travels, you see his kids and even when he’s ranting he puts it up there and another thing, David is so giving off his platform, that’s something we have seen over time,  I’ve seen and then when he sees something that’s amazing, he is always  making sure he finds a way behind it through his platform  I think in some way these things get to people and they love you more and support you. 

Also, David is actually a businessman and he is very clinical about these things. If you get on YouTube and say you want to sit down and watch David’s videos, you’re going to spend a lot of time there. And you know that these videos are shot by Clarence Peters. If you put it into naira and kobo, you would see that we are talking about hundreds of millions so a lot of people make money and they struggle putting that money back into their business but not David.

He’s a great businessman and his use of social media has been very impressive and he has a heart of working with the right people.

  • A lot of people have pointed at his humility in recalling Asa, as a key moment in his career 

You see what he displayed, these are the things people love about David. David’s ability to be honest and to just come out of a situation and say this is what it is. 

Like the project he did with Sony, that international project, David would openly say to you, I don’t like that project, that project carries my name but I do not like it, I don’t think it was me, I don’t think I was allowed to do what I really wanted to do. It’s not a lot of artistes who are able to look at their work and say ohhh I do not like this work . 

And that’s a big level of honesty and sincerity and I think people can really connect with that.  And on a human level when you have that type of understanding, it puts you in a place where you can learn and get better.

To Asa, I happen to be there to some extent. Asa started out working for his uncle’s record company, Storm records, and of course you know  Storm records at the time in Nigeria were like the biggest record label  Nigeria. So that gave him a platform, that gave him access to do a lot of things and meet a lot of people. So I remember there was a time when Asa was hosting club nights in a lot of big clubs or Storm was handling PR for a lot of big clubs and it was him who would directly manage that relationship. So overtime, this guy had a strong contact base and I saw him first hand deploy all of this to push his music forward. 

And David is very clinical in his actions. He knows what he wants to do and he goes for it.  We talked about “Back When”, do you know that he paid Naeto C for that  feature? One would think that because Asa is his little cousin things would come easily, no, that feature was paid for and it was business, at that point how many people were paid? I think he paid about a million naira for him to do the audio and then be on the video. The video was shot by Clarence Peters, and over time we have seen how many more Clarence Peters videos he has made.  Meaning that he wants the quality of the work to be good every step of his way .

I can’t say how the disagreement happened, but these things happen, at some point they fell in and then Kamal came in and a lot of things.     But it takes a lot of honesty and sincerity for you to look at something and  say, I should go back to this guy, this really loves me and was out for my best interest and he did just that. 

And from a manager’s point of view, that was for me a key moment in the industry because I don’t remember seeing stuff like that happen a lot of times. When an artiste falls out with his manager, and they go back to do their thing and honestly say ‘you’re the person who can do this thing, I’m sorry about everything, let us just keep going’. I strongly believe that as we celebrate David we ought to celebrate Asa as well.

  • A lot of people think 2016 was Davido’s biggest  moment. I saw a video on twitter and it was a thread of different renowned celebrities singing those 2016 fire songs, FIA, IF and Fall. There was even a Kanye West sample. How did David crack the international scene with those songs?

Like I said, David is very passionate, very driven, when he feels like it’s time to get things done, he goes out to get it. Yes, he was already shutting things down on the Africa front, but that ‘IF’ victory was a calculated promo plan on their path.

I’m sure he must have sent them back some decent dollars to some announcers in American and possibly gotten some help with the international labels he was in at that time. This was someone basically saying I think it’s about time we get this thing done and he went all out and then made it happen. It took some time but eventually the figures and everything started to add up. That was another coordinated plan by David and his team. 

  • Davido has amassed over a billion streams so far and I think that’s very rich, how critical is digital streaming to the growth of Afrobeats?

Very critical, and it is not like we have a choice because digital streaming is where the parties are right now. There’s nobody who is trying to engage with your physical products anymore and  there’s nobody trying to buy your VHS or anything.

So it’s not like we have a choice but it’s a good thing people think that we were deemed enough to engage in those platforms and we woke up to the right technology and partnership of technology early enough. Imagine that we made all these things happen without our own numbers being registered on platforms like Spotify. Spotify just only came to  Nigeria this year. So it just shows that despite all the numbers you have been seeing on Spotify, Nigerians in Nigeria our numbers are not even there.

It just shows how much better these things are going to be, and we have Audiomack, we have YouTube, we have Apple music, we have Spotify  these brands have also realised that we Nigerians are an important market. And shout out to Nigerians in diaspora, they continue to push the culture forward. I like to think that they are the unsung heroes of Afrobeats music, because Nigerians everywhere and we can make music everywhere. Maybe that’s the advantage we have over other countries because of the chances that you’re going to find Nigerians everywhere. We are always travelling so It’s easy for our music to travel as well. Hopefully, the internet data can get cheaper and more people can be able to access smart phones and all these gadgets and then stream it down and more people can be able to jam in and help grow this ecosystem.

  • Burnaboy and Wizkid, recently bagged the grammy awards, will Davido get one soon?

I think David is very close to it, because away from the music, the Grammy sometimes can tend to be like a popularity contest sometimes and, David is quite high up there and more than anything this dude has shown us that he has the ability to continue to bag out this heat. I don’t think there’s any stopping that soon. This guy is not even 30 years old yet so David definitely has a lot of time on his clock to go out there and make it happen. He has the pedigree, he has the connections, he has the finance, he has everything, and ultimately he has music.

I like to think eventually, David is going to be on his stage, hold his neck and say ‘E choke’ at some point.

  • In a recent interview with Ebuka, Davido said stuff like, Grammy no be by force. Do you think he can be as intentional as Burna Boy was or probably deviate from his light hearted niche?  

I don’t think so. I think David has found his sweet spot. It’s almost like we have forgotten but the huge positive uprising that happened last year, which is the EndSARS movement, David’s song ended up being the song track for that whole movement. 

So this man makes impactful music, he has the pedigree to back it up, He has the fanbase, he has the people, he has everything. So David has found his sweet spot. I don’t think everyone has to sound the same.

For Burnaboy from the job, for those of us who were following him,  everyone saw the view that at some point this guy called Burna Boy is going to win a Grammy. I’m one of those people who wasn’t surprised. I was literally just counting down to the day, he’s that gifted, and his international appeal and his close relationship with Atlantic. Atlantic realised they had a gem in their hand and they really went out to position him like one.

How do you make an album like that and you do not have a Grammy? It’s impossible. Diddy is your executive producer, Anderson Park is playing drums in there and Youssou N’Dour is in there, you know, and all this other thing, and then you have the world’s famous Coldplay’s Chris  Martin’s on that record. So every step of the way, you know this was a Grammy product, this was positioned for that and it eventually got it. Besides, a year before he had gotten a nomination, the one that he lost to another African legend Angelique Kidjo, so everybody just knew that it’s only a matter of time, this guy is gonna get this nomination again and he’s going to win. So, I have no doubt in my mind that as long as David continues to do his thing, he is going to win it at some point. 

  • Would there be any career regret if Davido never wins a Grammy?

No, there will be none. He is an accomplished artiste as it is. It was this year that Nas got his Grammy for the first time and there are plenty of other people that never got the Grammy but we know that these people are some of the finest artistes. Do you know Snoop Dogg never won a Grammy?

So there are plenty of other people like that, so sometimes these things happen. Maybe you dropped a project in a year, well then just so happened to be like a bigger or more popular project and then, you know there are those variables and these things that happen. So in my opinion David is really an accomplished musician, he has traveled round the world, he has met everybody, he has made money, he has made a clout, I mean what else is there to do? At this point he just needs to keep making music because that is what he has feelings for.

  • What can young hungry artistes out there learn from Davido?

Be open to collaboration. Know that using a songwriter does not mean you’re a terrible musician, sometimes you write alone, sometimes you need to sing somebody’s perspective to give your music that bit of freshness.

Second, you need to show that you want it, you need to be hungry about this thing, like I said before, David is not the first rich kid we have seen, but we have seen plenty of them who didn’t seem to have that fight in them.

Third, you have to be passionate, this is what you love, submit to it. One vibe you get from David is that this brother has genuine love for music.  Just follow your heart, be passionate, be hardworking and if you have money to put in, put it in, be an entrepreneur.

I want to add something else, just in case we don’t get to touch that. Let us not forget that in the history of artistes who run record labels, we possibly have not had anyone that has been successful as DMW. So away from being an artiste, even as an executive or a label guy, David has been hugely successful, Mayorkun is big, Perruzi is big, Dremo, all these other people, so unlike all other guys who have tried to start a label, even the people he’s competing with, a lot of them do not have anything going on that level, but away from David being this guy, he has also successfully built a platform that is huge as well, so David the executive also deserves a lot of kudos. 

  • Has Afrobeats peaked with this Grammy win and its present level of influence?

I do not think so. If anything, it’s possible that we’re just getting started. I was recently saying to someone, these days it appears like the producers outside Nigeria are even starting to make better Afrobeats production or songs than us. People like Jay Five, people like P2J, there’s this guy in Los Angeles who does work for Tiwa savage and Seyi Shay plenty of these people, these guys are making incredible stuff. You know how a black American cannot really really say hip hop is our thing anymore because in Asia they now make hip hop, Africans make hip hop, a lot of people make hip hop, so that’s the beauty of your tradition on your product going across. It sort of gets to a place where it feels like it’s no longer yours anymore because a lot of people have now bought into your product and they love it so I see that happening with Afrobeats. 

Another thing is that these guys are still young and they’re going to continue making music. Wizkid is a big superstar, look at what he did with Made in Lagos, so projects like that help to reinforce the importance of this genre, people like Burna Boy, Burna Boy is only just getting started, Davido is a young man, he’s just getting started, let’s not even talk about the younger people who are coming behind them, Buju, Joeboy, Fireboy DML, Tems, all these people, so I think we’re only just getting started.

  • How can the government key into the million dollars Afrobeats industry now and provide active and actual beneficial support to the growth of the industry now?

Maybe that ship might have sailed because before we got into this digital age, we used to beg the government to come and help us stop piracy, come and help us stop this people who are creating our CDs and selling, come and help us stop these people in Alaba who are faking our products, but now with digital, nobody even cares about them anymore, so you find out that more and more we don’t even need to talk to these people, we don’t need them for anything. The labels have stepped up, were getting investments, international labels are coming in to partner with our local guys here, we have big artiste development and artiste relation companies like Platoon, like ONErpm, like Empire, like Orchard and all this people coming to Nigeria to set up shop, so it appears that through our own sheer determination and hard work, we have taken this thing to a level where it has really taken off, all the government can do is to congratulate people where the would help us.

  • So there’s no role left for the government now?

Perhaps that ship has sailed, so maybe they should perhaps help us add more event centres, you know just put in laws and regulations that help people to do business more easily. But generally, the success has gone beyond them.  

  • Fans of Davido, Wizkid and Burna Boy are always pitching against themselves on social media. Is this beneficial to the artistes or can it be very damaging to their career and industry growth in the long term?

There’s nothing we can do about it. Because these people are the people who speak up and drum up support for these people that helps to take them to the next level. So now the onus is on the artistes and their handlers to understand that hey, you people must remain friends ooh. You must know that these people would always come with these competitive problems but you guys must know that hey, fans are just doing what fans do. 

However the competitiveness is what makes it fun. A lot of times, if there’s no competition people are not really bothered to go the extra mile, so there’s nothing you can do about it.

Davido coming to tweet and say ‘Yo, my fans stop doing this doesn’t change anything’, yeah, you get on Twitter you would discover that there are a lot of handles that are dedicated solely to these guys and all they do is talk about them, tweet them and drop fights and  everything. So at that point it is out of your hand, it is just up to you to understand that now it’s part of the game, but these people are my brothers and we should not let what the fans say make us enemies but however, the noise that the fans are making out is important. 

Obinna Agwu is a music executive and talent manager who has had in his clientele MI Abaga amid a plethora of other artistes. 

Listen to his expert analysis of happenings in the entertainment industry on  Listening Session Podcast

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