By Ehis Ohunyon
Loud, unrepentant with distorted elements in the background, which were elements of a badly mixed sound used to be the signature of most Nigerian hit songs – or so I thought – until I sat in the studio in preparation for my afternoon show over the weekend.
The in-house deejay kept telling his protégé to stick with the mid BPM level playlist. Then it struck me that most of the songs on that playlist despite being slow, were radio hit songs.
What is a BPM? It is an acronym for Beats Per Minute, a term largely used by producers and deejays to reflect the amount of times that a beat appears on a song within a minute, basically suited for dance-oriented and party songs describing the pace or tempo of the sound. An average hip-hop song has a tempo of 80 to 120 BPM, while House and Techno sounds have higher BPMs.
To score a hit in the Nigerian music industry, it is generally believed by music lovers that the best route to mainstream success is by churning out a heavy hitting beat with thumping kicks producing a fast tempo single targeted at the clubs or dance halls.
The general narrative is that the street is too busy to listen to your lyrics and a large percentage of the audience who are not literate would care less about the subliminal messages or composition of the music: the audience just wants a feel good song that will help them dance away their sorrows. Therefore the faster the beat can go, the closer you are to scoring a hit.
From the late ’90s when the hip-hop and pop scene took the front row in Nigerian music down to the 2000s, this template has proven successful as we have seen fast paced songs like Eedris Abdulkareem‘s ‘Oko Ashewo’, Faze‘s ‘Kolomental, P-Square‘s ‘Busy Body’, Lil Kesh‘s Shoki, Terry G‘s ‘Free Madness’, Wizkid‘s ‘Show You the Money’ and the likes dominating the charts.
But over the last couple of years, there appears to be a shift in trend. The average tempo of our sound is beginning to decrease by as much as 15-20%.
Songs like Mr. Eazi‘s ‘Skin Tight’ and ‘Leg Over’, Davido‘s ‘IF’, Tekno‘s ‘Pana’ and Runtown‘s ‘Mad over you’ whose the tempos range between 80-100 BPM have become mega hits on the radio and music charts. This is however not just a Nigerian trend: internationally, down-tempo songs like ‘Despacito’ have also found its way to the top of the charts.
Mr. Eazi’s Life is Eazi project is perhaps the biggest instigator of this trend as the EP, which has seen him rise to the top of the charts, relied heavily on this mellow, down-tempo vibe which has now been further highlighted with the acceptance of the reigning ‘Pon Pon’ sound that a lot of our artistes have jumped on.
Down-tempo songs are not exactly new but it is usually restricted to ‘RnB’ artistes and very rarely become club hits in continuous successions. So what has changed, why exactly has the tempo of Nigerian music reduced or is this just another trend that will soon pass away? Could this also have happened because the fans sought something different or the artistes just tested new waters?
Songwriter and rapper Dusten Truce aka D-Truce, suggests that he is not surprised at all with the current trend.
‘Sadly the Nigerian music industry is a bandwagon association, where once one sound works, most of the industry jumps on it. The likes of Mr. Eazi and Tekno made it work and now everyone is doing it.’
When pushed further if his recently released ‘Butterfly’ single is not also borne out of the trend, he explains, ‘I made Butterfly in 2016, I have been making slow vibes before it became a thing, that is why I am not surprised at its success.
Slow music is beautiful as it gives the artiste more room to express themselves and captures the mood better, it’s like you have outfits for various occasions, so also there are jams for every mood and emotion; hence the place for slow tempo sounds.’
As for Mayowa Balogun, writer and talent Manager who currently manages acts like Lady Donli and LasGiidi, he’s of the opinion that ‘Our industry has waves or styles that trend at certain times.’
‘Slow music did not begin today, it came from a fusion of Ghanaian and U.K influenced sounds and if you go back, artistes like R2bees have been doing a similar type of music, even Sarkodie but I think the emergence of Mr. Eazi was the biggest influence in merging/crossing over that sound into the Nigerian industry.’
‘Around the same time Tekno was also doing it so immediately ‘Pana’ blew, we had a new wave to ride on.’
He continued, ‘I don’t think it’s a good or bad thing, the idea of merging and evolving sounds based on influences isn’t entirely new, another wave will still come and we will move on.’
Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of these mellow sounds are the music producers themselves, who previously have been tasked with delivering the next hit sound, but with the success of slower sounds, many now have the ability to make more personal sounds.
For many, this shift in trend is quite welcome as industry observers have long complained about the saturation of uptempo sounds but like every development in the music industry, a downside has already emanated especially with the so called ‘pon-pon’ sound which now makes every song sound monotonous.
Authenticity may also be lacking with this sound and no one can tell how long this phase will last; but mid-tempo sounds are having their day in the sun. Like Davido shaded on Snapchat, ‘Na pon pon sound dey reign, all other sounds na the least, for now.’
BPM Credit: Songbpm.com
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