Oladapo Daniel Oyebanjo, popularly known as D’Banj, has been pounding the Nigerian entertainment industry like yam since the release of “No Long Ting” back in March 2005. Lately, the Koko Master has taken his brand global on the success of the Good Music fueled single, “Oliver Twist.” The 35-year-old singer-songwriter has been sweating like a she-goat to celebrate his 10-year anniversary with the release of a seven-video compilation featuring Akon, Ice Prince, and more untold surprises.
Last month saw the release of his first international EP, An Epic Journey. Here, the courter of controversy checks in with EBONY.com to discus his relationship with Kanye West, digital streaming in Africa, and the future of music on the continent.
EBONY: The “Confidential” video caused a stir among the kokolets. Did you teach Idris Elba pidgen?
D’Banj: That’s the beauty of the movement. It’s an African movement. I didn’t have to teach him. Idris Elba is African. He understands pidgin very well.
EBONY: You’ve made massive achievements and experienced drastic changes, not only in your career, but in the Nigerian entertainment industry. Ten years ago, artists did deals with distributors in Alaba International Market. They would be paid large cash sums for their masters. Now, a decade later, how is the climate different?
D’Banj: Prior to now—for not only music, but for Nollywood—the Alaba Market was like the hub. Now there are many revenue streams. You have ringtones and streaming on different platforms. You can make revenues of up to 500,000,000 naira in six months. Music Plus has the same amount of subscribers it took Spotify to get in about three years.
Ten years ago we barely had malls; now we have Shoprite. Now we have digital.
I have songs that aren’t on iTunes yet because I have an exclusive deal here with a platform, and it’s generating a lot of revenue for us.
The same things that are happening in America are happening here. People are getting into streaming and downloads. Alaba Market is still important to getting the music to the people in the streets, but streaming is growing because people want to keep with the trends. Africa is growing faster than people know it.
EBONY: What are some of the popular Nigerian digital streaming platforms?
D’Banj: My company has a deal with Music Plus where we supply content, not just music. We’ve broken records with our content where we’ve generated over 50,000 subscribers in two days. This was with African Content. There’s also another streaming platform called Cloud 9. I just look at these two and say, imagine when we have Apple Music here in Africa. Now imagine if we can collate all of that into one platform. The numbers don’t lie.
EBONY: You’re not just a Beats by Dre ambassador.
D’Banj: Beats by Dre is by Apple. When I got my contract, it said Apple. As a businessman, I don’t want to limit myself. This is an emerging market. I was once asked, “Do you have Beats by Dre in West Africa?” I said, “Of course we have Beats by Dre, but we don’t have an Apple Store. If that could be created, my people would buy!” That’s what I want to work on.
I’m working on my own line of Beats by Dre coming out in December. We need to have these kinds of partnerships. I’m excited that one of the biggest companies in the world, Apple, is realizing it. All we ask for is a chance to prove ourselves to the rest of the world.
EBONY: You were one of the first African acts in recent years to break out globally. There was the association with Kanye and the “Oliver Twist” single. Now Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys are dancing to Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba.” Looking back, how do you feel having led the charge?
D’Banj: They say first you must crawl, then learn how to walk and then you fly. I won’t say I was the first. I will say I was privileged to have had opportunity. All eyes have been on Africa for a while, but people have been skeptical of how to come in, unsure of how to exploit it, unsure how to bring it to the rest of the people. For me to have met Kanye in Dubai to doing what we are doing right now, being on the stage at the World Bank and other international stages, is amazing.
Now we are on the same charts as Western music. It’s something I’ve always wanted. Being at the forefront of all that is great, because we always wanted to transport and export the music from here and be based here in Africa. Being at the forefront of that has just opened my eyes. Now we have visible hope.
Now, [major record labels] are coming to have a base in our home. It’s what we wanted. We’ve been able to do things in music for the last 10 years without structure, without any major labels. But now what you see is many of our major acts running over there, following in the footsteps of D’Banj. But they must remember to keep the balance.
D’Banj: To remember to balance Africa as well. It’s important for us to know that the audience, Africa, is already here, and we control the world. We are the emerging markets.
If we needed to prove to them that there is something here, I believe that is done. This is why I can release and stay in Africa and tour around the world with the right structure in place. It took a while.
Europe knows. They are acquainted with afrobeat and they’ve known of the Fela Kutis for a long time. But America is a big market, and now that we are getting their attention, we must use it. Now they know it’s not just D’Banj, but there’s P-Square and there’re acts in East Africa and down in South Africa. I’m very excited looking at the next two, three years. Like country music, I believe African music can challenge country music in terms of revenue.
EBONY: Are you still with GOOD Music?
D’Banj: My deal was always with Def Jam Universal. It was a joint venture with GOOD Music, but it was interfering with some things I needed to do. The relationship is still there. You may see Kanye and Big Sean on the new album.
EBONY: Have you bumped into Jay Z’s cousin, Bee-High?
D’Banj: I was actually in the States performing at the World Bank when Jay Z’s cousin was here in Nigeria. I have not met him, but I’ve met with some people who are already in bed with them and it’s going well.
EBONY: If content is the new crude, what is your role?
D’Banj: In Africa we have been able to create the model in our own way. We have our own Tidal, our own Spotify, and they are beginning to give us the kind of revenues that I would believe that if the Arcos and the Pandoras and the Tidals knew about this, they would probably have bases in Lagos. My job, call it like an aggregator, is providing that bridge and showing people where we need to go. We’re already making thousands of dollars monthly from our own streaming on our own platforms.
I’ve sat with them and said, “You are losing out on money in Africa. When you make a Nicki Minaj album, you spend millions of dollars to market it, but when you release it, you never think of Africa, you never think of Nigeria.” But literally, I believe they could make the same amount of money in Africa if they invested those marketing budgets. And what we want in return is, when we spend marketing budgets here to release our songs, we want platforms there. Because we have consumers, millions of them, spread out across America and Canada who want to buy our songs but don’t have access. Why don’t we stream our own African content or songs to them?
I think now the relationship should become a symbiotic relationship, since now they will be making more money in Africa.
If the government could get involved and organizations like Bono’s One can get involved, it is time for intellectual property laws [to be put] in place. Ten, 20 years ago, when everyone was focused on oil and gas, we could only dream about this. They were only interested in the land, and people paid dearly for it. But now content is the new crude.
Suede has spent a decade between the America, South Africa and Tanzania creating content for print, TV, radio and digital media. His interests include photography, pop culture, social media and travel. Follow him on Twitter @iamsuede.