Major Lazer Have Embraced Africa, Africa Is Embracing Them Back!
Excellence. That’s the word that describes what Nigeria has seen as Major Lazer performed in Lagos for the Sound System Live Concert. Diplo, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire, flew into the country, hit the stage, and set the city on fire. As sounds from their stage drove the crowd wild, women screamed and wiggled their butts, as guys pumped the air and moved their waists.
Walshy Fire handled the hyping for the most part, Jillionaire, with his full hair and beard, stuck to the deck, and had the music on lockdown. Diplo? He did a bit of everything; from part hyping to part dancing, part flag waving, and also, he did spend time at the deck too.
Major Lazer are an interesting sell. A trio of superstar music producers, they possess one dominant trait, a keen ear for a wide range of quality music. Studying sound cultures from the Caribbean, through Africa, and down to the US, UK and Europe, the group have made hits across markets, discovering, picking and fusing sounds, via the artists that make them, into mega-smash hits across the board. From Hip-hop to Dancehall and EDM, Major Lazer’s discography reads like a wet dream to musicians across the globe.
Major Lazer has embraced Nigerians and their sound. Their deep exploration of art around the world opened up the country’s music offering to them, and they have found new ways to benefit from it, while also putting some of Nigeria’s finest on. One of their earliest works, the remix to ‘Run up’, featured Skales, Yung L, and producer Chopstix. They have since done some collaborations, both as a group and as individuals with Nigerian artists. Runtown and Walshy Fire did release the hit record ‘Bend down pause’, Jidenna and Ice Prince were instrumental in the smash hit, ‘Particula’, Wizkid has Diplo on ‘Naughty Ride’, while Mr Eazi signed a deal with Diplo’s record label, Mad Decent, and continues to work extensively with him across numerous projects.
This is Diplo’s second coming to Nigeria. In April 2017, the producer played a headline set at the Gidi Fest. He came through with Walshy Fire, and together they left many happy memories. Looking back, that seemed like a test of the waters, because in 2018, they have gone hard in Africa. First, Mr Eazi was called upon to sweeten ‘Let me live’, a record that is co-owned with English band, Rudimental, and also features singer Anne-Marie. Burna Boy anchored a special release ‘All my life’, which featured elements of Nigerian culture, most notably, the proud Dambe fighters. Kiss Daniel is crooning pretty on ‘Loyal’ with Kranium, while South African singer, Babes Wodumo, is on ‘Orkant/Balance pon it.’ And then there’s also an Afrobeat Mix from the group, released in September, which also features music from Niniola and Davido, among many others.
All of this is strategic. Major Lazer’s business is designed to seek out new markets to extract value. And that’s what they have done here. Releasing music is just one part of the business, touring is the other juicy half. And yes, they have done their work in Africa, and through releases, built up a momentum that they are profiting off of. Lagos isn’t their only stop on the continent. They had already packed out venues in South Africa and Malawi. And after Nigeria, they have Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda in their sights.
“Over the past few years we’ve had the chance to tour extensively and work with artists across Africa,” Diplo told Complex. “These music scenes continue to inspire the music we make and sets we play. We wanted to bridge our music as Major Lazer with all these new sounds and genres coming out of Africa.”
The concert organized by U-Live Africa was packed full. People poured out from different parts of the city and country to experience their set. Major Lazer have done all the right things in the build-up to this moment, and it was time for them to reap through it live music. Such is the efficacy of their campaign, that many Nigerians who have never listened to a Major Lazer song, have picked up their scent, caught the euphoria and showed up looking to discover them for the first time.
As is always the case, a Major Lazer set is a baptism of high-octane EDM, punctuated by sonic inclusion of their records, mixed with pop songs. Sometimes, they throw in a pop record into the mix, but the dance base never changes.
“Lagos is the best place to be,” says Diplo onstage, as he screams into the crowd that “Nigerian music is having a moment.”
Watching them go through the motions, and listening to their wide range of music, drawn from around the world, the arguments against Major Lazer’s intentions are definitely bound to come up. A regular accusation against these men, describes them as “Culture Vultures” who run around the world, and searching for foreign sound cultures to appropriate and benefit from. Considerable critics of their business model opine that they take more than they give, and their claim to “bridge cultures via music,” is simply a euphemism to validate their selfish ways.
Music, as an art form, is made for the benefit of both the entertainer and the entertained. Major Lazer are entertainers, and the artists that they partner with to create fusion art have never complained. In many markets, musicians lobby to be on a Major Lazer record, as a strategy to reach non-traditional consumers of their local genre. In Lagos, singer Skales, hung around them on stage, and received two minutes to join in their set. The happiness from that feeling, validated him so much that a few hours after that incident, he showed up on Twitter to finally take shots at me over my criticism of his art.
He tweeted: “I don’t tink I’ve hurt any1 I make the best music out of Africa I get backlashed by many for fun & pple like Joy Akan out of hatred he has 4 me always write bad tings bout me but it neva stopped d international scene 4rm appreciatin me beta than back home..”
Think of the numerous musicians like Skales, in their respective countries, waiting for a chance to claim “international appreciation,” because of Major Lazer. Go to them and raise the issue of culture vulturism. They are more likely to turn into vultures and feed on you, rather than entertain the thought.
Of course, Major Lazer profits from their globetrotting. They would be fools not to. But they do contribute their quarter in creating and exporting art, introducing it to a world of fans that would never have known of its existence. Also, their music is genuinely great and has been a source of joy to many fans, across dance circuits in major cities.
You could feel this in Lagos from the fans. As night turned into morning, Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire waved Nigerian flags, while wearing Super Eagles famous jerseys. They were cheered on by a crowd that had not only received a good time, but they were also begging for the end to never come. If this is what culture vulturism looks and feels like, these people didn’t mind. In fact, they loved it, bathed in its warm glow, and demanded that they come back for more.