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In his new hit single “Ojapiano”, which is taking TikTok and the African music scene by storm,
Kcee combines Amapiano (currently South Africa’s most popular music genre) and the sound of
the traditional Igbo flute, the Oja.
Amapiano uses log drums that produce a deep but less heavy bass, piano melodies, a touch of
jazz and South African rhythms.
A variant of the South African log drum also exists in West Africa. The Kailain, a traditional log
drum of the Limba, is widely used in Sierra Leone. The sound of the log drum varies according
to the size of the log, the width and length of the top slit, and where and how the log is struck.
The Igbos’ Oja is made from bamboo or wood, and has a unique high pitched, melodic sound.
When used in traditional ceremonies, it is combined with other instruments, such as drums, bells,
rattles and gongs.
It is easy to see why Nigerian musicians are increasingly incorporating the Amapiano sound in
The deep bass of the log drum in Amapiano shares a lot in common with the sound of the
famous West African or Yoruba Dundun talking drum, which was historically used to send
messages to distant places and, especially among the Yoruba, adorns music genres like Juju and
The Nigerian musician, Asake, whose music is highly popular among young people, combines
Amapiano sound and the traditional Yoruba Fuji call-and-response style and crowd effects to
create a melodic and irresistible sound. My son doesn’t understand Yoruba but is a big fan and
rates his music highly.
I listened to Kcee’s interview on a Nigerian YouTube channel a few days ago, in which he and his
interviewers celebrated the Ojapiano sound as potentially the new game in town.
Kcee announced that he already has multiple recordings of the sound, which he will release as an
album. He boasted that Ojapiano will chart a new trajectory in Nigerian and African music.
Kcee is not a rookie in the Nigerian — indeed African — music industry. He rose to fame in the
early 2010s with two smashing hits: “Limpopo” and “Pull Over”.
I had relocated to Sierra Leone in 2013 when those two records hit the airwaves, nightclubs and
dancehalls of Freetown.
Every evening, for almost a year, I enjoyed the sweet melodies of those records on the balcony of
our house, thanks to the wind conditions of the Lumley valley that allowed the sound to travel
over a long distance from a popular nightclub in the neighbourhood.
Kcee disappeared from the music scene (or at least failed to sustain his early success) after those
two blockbusters. His “Sweet Mary J” single in 2020, which is a fusion of reggae and afrobeats, was
It is clear, however, that he has a huge talent. His ambition to turn Ojapiano into a music genre,
or at least a sub-genre, should be taken seriously. He has his work cut out.
The current top dogs of Afrobeats — Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Kizz Daniel, Ayra
Starr, Asake, Yemi Alade, Rema and Ruger — will face a serious challenge if Kcee runs with this
Unlike reggae, rock, R&B, country, jazz and blues, Afrobeats cannot be reduced to a single
sound. An incredibly wide variety of sounds have been fused to create Afrobeats — borrowing
from the melodic style of R&B, jazz, Jamaican dancehall, Fuji, Highlife and other traditional beats.
Anyone familiar with the music of Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido and Asake will agree that their
sounds are very different, even though they are all lumped to together as Afrobeats.
Burna Boy even prefers to describe his sound as Afro Fusion. And some of the music of Wizkid
and Tems can pass as R&B. Tems’ “Free Mind” has enjoyed the Number 1 spot for 17 weeks on
the US Billboard’s R&B/Hip Hop Airplay chart. And “Essence”, performed by both Wizkid and
Tems, reached the top 10 spot on the R&B/Hip Hop chart in 2021.
The complexity of Afrobeats reminds me of a joke about how to define an elephant. When faced
with this challenge, someone retorted that he didn’t know how to define an elephant but could
identify it if he saw one. It’s the same for Afrobeats. I can identify an Afrobeats song if I listen to it
but will struggle to define it.
Creating a new music genre or sub-genre depends, however, on whether other artists can link up
and aid the genre’s development.
Asake, for instance, now has a competitor in Seyi Vibes in pushing his Fuji-influenced call-and-
response Afrobeats sound. If more artists join them, their sound can become a sub-genre of
Afrobeats — or even an entirely separate genre, if it generates a large output and following. The
crowd effects technique in Asake’s music is now being used, even if sparingly, in many Afrobeats
Will the new Ojapiano inspire other artists to push the frontiers of this great sound? Only time
But one thing seems clear: traditional African music provides a rich reservoir of sounds that
contemporary musicians can mine to further enrich the African music landscape.
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