Cynthia Morgan: Afrobeats' enigmatic Dancehall Queen
Cynthia Morgan left us all with timeless records to keep her memory alive in our minds and on our speakers.
"What inspired you to write this article?" I was asked by one of the music executives I interviewed about my Cynthia Morgan piece.
A could list a handful of reasons that inspired the article. Amongst these were my love for her music and attraction to her flamboyant persona, but I opted for the more professional answer.
"I believe her impact in the Nigerian Dancehall deserves to be highlighted. No one has written about it and I decided I had to do it," I replied.
The question rocketed me back to when I first saw Cynthia Morgan alongside rising Street Hop star Jhybo in 'Ejo Le Fero'. The 17-year-old cut a confident figure next to the smooth-talking Jhybo. Her genre-bending style, charisma, and carriage convey the making of an artist who was fully aware of the talent she packed and had every intention of showing it to the world.
Indeed, Cynthia Morgan's first three solo releases offered a glimpse of her depth and showed all those paying attention that the Nigerian Dancehall scene and the Afrobeats scene were about to be rocked by a special talent.
Cynthia Morgan: One of One
According to Tony Ross, the producer who assisted Cynthia Morgan in crafting memorable hit records, she has always packed an impressive talent even before taking the bold step to move to Lagos.
"We started working together in Benin and I have never seen anyone that talented at that young age," Tony Ross tells me how he was blown away by a teenage Cynthia Morgan whom he says could do just about anything.
This is a sentiment that's echoed by Ola Oluwasanmi who was one of her early associates when she made the bold move to Lagos and was taken under the wings of Entertainment Executive Mahmoud Olympio.
"Even before putting out her first single, I already knew she was the most talented female artist out there," Oluwasanmi says.
Cynthia Morgan offered Nigerians a glimpse of the talent that wowed those around her in an appearance on Jhybo's 'Ejo le fero' and the result was an instant arrest of public attention. Her flow, charisma, and confidence left no one in doubt of her talent. And the fact that she was only 17 made it more special.
After her appearance on 'Ejo le fero', Cynthia Morgan would again blow away listeners with 'Dutty Whine', her collaboration with General Pype. These records gained industry attention, and according to Oluwasanmi, different labels and promoters attempted to scoop her up.
Even as a teenager, Cynthia Morgan knew what she was worth and what she wanted to make of her talent and this led her to turn down different offers including one from Bay Productions who had Jhybo on their books.
"She was so confident and assured in her talent she once demanded $1,000 for a collaboration even before getting a popular song," Olu tells me in what emphasizes Cynthia Morgan’s unflinching belief in her music.
Perhaps in a less talented artist, Cynthia Morgan's confidence might have come off as cocky to those around her, but for an artist able to effortlessly switch between Dancehall, rap, and Afrobeats while commanding patois, bars, and "lamba" (Nigerian street slangs) with remarkable deftness, her self belief inspired those around her to raise their level to match hers.
And it's with this superlative talent and self-belief that she would cause an eruption in the Nigerian music industry.
The Arrival of a Ready-Made Star
With her trademark flaming red hair flowing down her shoulders while effortlessly rocking a lace bodysuit that showed her sensual appeal, Cynthia Morgan offered infectious energy from a cage hanging from the roof. She oozed the persona of a Dancehall star and ace cinematographer Clarence Peters knew exactly how to bring her flamboyance to life, and he did this in the music video of her first hit record 'I'm Taken'.
While she had previously shown her Dancehall credentials in 'Kuchi Kuchi' before displaying range in the Afrobeats cut 'Don't Break my heart', she didn't become the breathtaking superstar that would rock the industry until Tony Ross produced 'I'm Taken'.
Her breathtaking command of patois, energy erupting flows, effortless melodic maneuvers, charisma, and impeccable imagery won her the hearts and minds of listeners.
"Me got the industry on lockdown," she swaggeringly says in patois in evidence of her ascension to mainstream success.
While she had always been a star to those around her, it was this moment according to Tony Ross that signaled her ability to actualize the lofty dreams she had for her career.
"With Joy Tongo (her manager) in the picture, the music became very serious and she was making moves. Then Jude Okoye's Northside also came into the picture and it was around that time that 'I'm Taken' was released and it instantly blew up," Tony Ross tells me about Cynthia Morgan’s breathtaking mainstream rise.
Before Cynthia Morgan, the Nigerian music scene had seen a few female artists dabble in Dancehall with Nyore being a notable forerunner. However, Cynthia Morgan brought the required charisma, sensuality, and confidence while also packing the talent needed for a female Dancehall star to succeed.
According to seasoned music journalist and media executive Osagie Alonge, it's these defining features that helped her to stand out.
"Cynthia Morgan came into the limelight at the perfect time. Her brand was unique and she had the talent to back it up," Osagie shares.
At a time when the Nigerian music industry only saw female artists with the “Good Girl Next Door” persona, Cynthia Morgan arrived markedly different in music, personality, and branding.
Aside from oozing the artistic and sensual persona expected of a Dancehall star, Cynthia Morgan had the talent to bring it all to life and she did this through her music and visuals.
Her records 'German Juice' and 'Baby Mama' consolidated her rise and made her a nationwide sensation. With her ability in high demand, Cynthia Morgan was making light work of collaborations as she stood shoulder to shoulder with the biggest Dancehall stars on the continent.
Music Executive Motolani Alake tells me that at the height of her powers, Cynthia Morgan had listeners eating out of her palm.
"She had Burna Boy act as a vixen on her song, that was how big she was," Alake says about Cynthia Morgan's hit song 'Simatiniya'.
Cynthia Morgan's mainstream rise was complimented by great music, a distinct and exciting marketable brand, and an industry ready for her impact.
"She had a great synergy with her producer Tony Ross, Clarence Peters was capturing her brand through the visuals, and Joy Tongo and Northside were making the industry runs to get her in the right rooms," Osagie says about Cynthia Morgan having all the right cards and cashing them in for mainstream success.
Her music added invaluable excitement to the Nigerian music industry when female artists mostly only offered R&B-leaning music.
The excitement her music offered was recreated on the stage where she delivered stunning live performances. These performances still linger in the memory of those privileged to witness it like Media Personality Fola Folayan who recalls the trademark flaming red hair, knee-long T-shirt, and thiwww.youtube.com/watch?v=LsMdMBC0Mr8&pp=ygUYY3ludGhpYSBtb3JnYW4gYnViYmxlIHVw
Her influence cuts across Nigeria and even impacted the massive Ghanaian Dancehall scene when she held her own next to Stonebwoy on 'Bubble Bup'.
Ghanaian media personality Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh describes Cynthia Morgan as an artist whose music inspired the growth of Dancehall even in Ghana.
His sentiment is shared by rising Ghanaian Dancehall act Renner who describes Cynthia Morgan as an inspiration.
Cynthia Morgan's music carved her a niche as Nigeria’s Dancehall Queen and her talent was acknowledged by fans and the industry alike.
In 2015, she was nominated for the Headies Next Rated Prize which was an endorsement of her ability to reach the top. Although she never quite cracked the top, she reached B list status and left an indelible mark in the Nigerian music industry.
The Superstar that never was
Cynthia Morgan held the Nigerian industry spellbound for over 5 years and in that time she reached an unprecedented level of success for a female Dancehall act.
Like several artists of the 2010 era, Cynthia Morgan gradually petered out of the limelight despite possessing the talent to make it to the very top. When it was time to find the next gear to propel her career to the next level, things just didn't work out for Cynthia Morgan who juggled label issues and personal struggles before exiting the scene.
"She was popping for over 5 years and she never dropped an album," Motolani Alake says about Cynthia Morgan's failure to craft a body of work to mark her electrifying run.
Alake's opinion was echoed by Creative Entrepreneur Excel Joab and Osagie who like many fans believed she had the talent to reach A-list status but she never quite cracked it.
I asked Tony Ross at what point would he say things started going sideways for Cynthia Morgan's career and he told me it was after she parted ways with her manager Joy Tongo and label Northside.
"After her initial contract expired, Northside wanted to renew, but it seems Cynthia was having cold feet. At that point, she seemed to have a different vision," Tony Ross tells me about Cynthia Morgan walking away from the label and not being able to go at it alone.
It was an uphill task to excel as an independent artist, especially at a point when there was minimal funding in the Nigerian music industry.
"Several artists don't understand that their labels put in a lot of work for them to succeed. they think it is just their talent driving their success and they only find out the other factors at play after walking away from their labels," Osagie says about Cynthia Morgan's inability to survive as an independent in the market.
Despite being a generational talent and having listeners eat from her palms, Cynthia Morgan never cracked superstar status. This failure particularly hurts Oluwasanmi who tells me he knows the lofty heights Cynthia had for her music and her commitment to actualizing them.
"She had clear dreams of what she wanted to be even from a very young age. That's why I find it painful that things turned out the way they did."
Like him, many fans wonder what could have been. Whenever one of Cynthia Morgan's timeless hit records comes up, they are reminded of the superstar that never was.
The yet-to-be-filled void she left behind
Everyone I spoke to in the process of putting together this article agrees that Cynthia Morgan's void in Nigerian Dancehall and by extension the music industry is yet to be filled.
No female Dancehall act is making the breathtaking music she offered nor is there any packing the charisma and influence she wielded during her mainstream run.
Years after her exit from the limelight, Cynthia Morgan's seat remains vacant, and not even she who now goes by Madrina has been able to reclaim it.
Cynthia Morgan or Madrina if you like at different points floated the idea of re-entering the music scene. In one of the most promising moments, she attracted the attention of Nigerian megastar Davido who seemed willing to give her hand. However, none of these moments materialized into something tangible.
Osagie tells me that aside from funding, listeners mostly care about famous, trending, and successful artists and without falling into either category, Cynthia Morgan invariably found it hard to inspire the same feeling she did from listeners.
Motolani shares Osagie's sentiments. He tells me that once out of the limelight, it's difficult to restart a seemingly ended career.
"If 2baba drops an album, listeners will say he's just extending his legacy because he never left, but with Cynthia Morgan, she will be attempting to restart her career and this is very difficult."
However, Tony Ross, the man who assisted Cynthia Morgan in crafting several notable hit records sees things differently.
"I don't think she ever truly attempted to make a comeback. I think at some point she fell out of love with the music," he tells me about Cynthia Morgan's failed rebirth as Madrina.
Having stepped away from the limelight despite being once considered the next big thing, I wondered if Cynthia Morgan held a resentment towards the industry. I considered this especially because of some of her unflattering comments towards her colleagues and the industry.
Osagie thinks that her exit from the scene was a painful one and it affects the way she now sees the industry. He tells me that the thought of her contributions going unnoticed and unappreciated is what contributes to such reservations.
A contribution worth celebrating
Cynthia Morgan might have stepped out of the music scene but her contributions to Nigerian Dancehall continue to endure.
While she didn't stick around long enough to partake in the "Afrobeats to the World" largesse, her impact continues to linger in the memory of fans and manifest in the music of a new crop of artists.
Perhaps the biggest artist that carries the range, persona, and confidence of Cynthia Morgan is Ruger whose music is currently shaping Nigerian Dancehall.
While fans occasionally engage in nostalgic conversations about Cynthia Morgan's contributions to Nigerian mainstream music, artists seem reluctant to credit her for influencing them.
This culture of withholding credit and praises is hugely unfair to early Afrobeats artists who toiled so future stars could thrive
"If during an interview, female Afrobeats stars like Ayra Starr or Fave refer to Cynthia Morgan as an inspiration this would make her feel that her contribution to Nigerian music is appreciated," Osagie tells me and I couldn't agree more.
This sentiment is echoed by the rising Ghanaian Dancehall sensation Renner who specifically instructed me to tell female artists to support each other more and collaborate to promote the future generation of female stars.
Cynthia Morgan's mainstream run is a memorable one that marks one of the highest heights for Nigerian Dancehall. Perhaps she might have caved under the unbearable weight of massive talent and failed to crack the top despite having all it took to make it. However, she made her mark and left a void that's yet to be filed.
A day after I tweeted about having a profile article on Cynthia Morgan in the works, one of my big brothers in the music industry sent me one of her new recordings.
The song had elements of the dashing music with which she wrote her name in the sands of Nigerian mainstream music. Although I know listeners might never get to hear it, she left us all with timeless records to keep her memory alive in our minds and on our speakers.
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