Transitioning from an underground or niche act to a mainstream artist in Nigeria is both a difficult and calculated endeavour, especially because of the structure of the music…
●22nd April 2021
Transitioning from an underground or niche act to a mainstream artist in Nigeria is both a difficult and calculated endeavour, especially because of the structure of the music industry. Several upcoming or underground acts have to pay through their teeth to get their songs heard on the radio, they have to appease the so-called gatekeepers while also mostly tweaking their sound to pander to what the masses want to hear. However, in the mid-2010s, several young acts started emerging both home and abroad with a unique take on the music coming out of the country and an organic, fast-growing fanbase. One of such acts is Nonso Amadi.
In January of 2016, he released his lustrous breakout single “Tonight” which catapulted him to the public eye and ultimately earned him two Headies Nominations (which he was unfortunately stripped of) and a performance at Davido’s annual event, 30BG Concert. He also received co-signs from other big-name artists and several acts also put their artistic spin on his song with pop sensation Mayorkun delivering one of the more memorable covers. He was fast becoming one of the most promising, emerging musical talents around. However, just about a year before the fame started rolling in, he had released his debut project, Alone, a five-track EP that saw him honing, experimenting and refining his sound.
The EP kicks off with the somewhat precarious title track which sees Nonso looking to fill an emotional void. He sings: ‘And I don’t know who I’m looking for / Are you the one I’m looking for?’ with the bewilderment of a confused chauffeur at the airport. One thing he’s however sure of is he doesn’t want to ride solo as he repeatedly sings, ‘I don’t wanna be alone’, on the hook. While the opening track might have been imbued with a lot of uncertainty, the confessional “Suicidal” is the complete opposite. Here, Nonso bares his heart out over mellow and lush production. ‘It took a lot to step up to you / Show me your love, I’ll let go with you / Hope you even remember my name / And they say never is worse than later you see / So close your eyes and wake up with me,’ he sings in the opening verse simultaneously showing vulnerability and confidence. He also makes superfluous, cliche promises like every other jejune loverboy. You can however hear the genuineness in his every word.
On “Angels”, Aika Jones delivers a short and heartfelt spoken word performance which nicely segues into “Long Way Home”. While Nonso is always the bright spot on both his songs and features, his simplistic musings here let him down slightly. Skweird on the other hand delivers more sturdy lyrics. His opening lines, ‘Said the eyes speak louder than the mouth / And baby I’ve been shouting out aloud,’ are as witty as they come. The song closes out with a short dubstep beat switch that provides one of the more zestful parts of the EP.
Most of Nonso Amadi’s songs generally follow the same warm, mellow pattern. His temperate singing and profound lyrics mostly take center stage while the dulcet, intricate production mostly serves as a sweet backdrop. His more recent releases also do not pass the sixty to eighty bpm threshold. However on the more experimental “Gele”, he’s outside his comfort zone, crooning over rhythmic, bubbly drums and shakers. While the beat is pretty infectious, sincere lyrics like ‘Baby see I love you no be lie / Look at the world in my eyes that you bring to life / It’s quite a fortune that you’re by yourself / I wanna love you, girl, like nobody else’ also standout.
In the summer of 2019, Nonso Amadi released his sophomore project, Free which features more slick, refined and radio-ready tracks like “Better”, “No Crime” and “Go Outside” and big names like Mr Eazi, Simi and Juls. However, Alone is the work of a much younger Nonso, diligently polishing and honing his unique brand of R&B-inflected Afropop.