Live performance is an art that comes naturally to musical exhibitionists. However, most people have to learn it. In Nigeria, quality stage performance in the pop space is scarce like honesty amongst Nigerian politicians.
'DJ Track 1' is a common diss for the lip-syncing antics of Nigerian pop artists. Nonetheless, we have cadres for artistry in music. Part of that extended artistry is the ability to thrill an audience for an extended period of time without letting the energy drop.
Some artists are just so impressive with their stage craft that they exude incredible confidence, crowd control, stage presence, energy, endurance, vocal application and synergy with their band and backing acts.
Their stage craft is something you could write an entire article about. For this reason, Pulse Nigeria has decided to highlight some of these rare gems. Sadly, some great performers missed out on the list, but this list is meant to celebrate the cream of the crop - not everybody. Here are the current top 15 stage performers in Nigerian music;
Falz, Pastor Chingtok Ishaku and MI Abaga just miss out on this list.
Strengths: Great vocals, instrumentalist
Highlight: Bez Live, 2019
Bez has always been an incredible performer with great energy, crowd control and great vocals. Alongside those traits, he is also a multi-instrumentalist who belts out great music all through his stage performances.
Strength: Vocal range, endurance and dance skills
Highlight: Go through YouTube... Try not to get lost at the sheer amount of great stage performances
Mummy Jam Jam has great vocals. Like the woman is a canary, she can sing. To go with that, the woman can perform dance routines for days, like she is a camel. Nonetheless, there's something we've not consistently seen and that's great synergy with a band. That said, she's still amazing.
13) Nathaniel Bassey
Strength: His sheer ability to improvise on stage and speak to the soul of his audience.
Highlights: Visit King's Court, Victoria Island on any given Sunday... After COVID-19 is gone, please dear.
Like Sinach, Pastor Nathaniel Bassey's stage performances are not about high energy - even though unlike Sinach, he could produce moments of high life. What he does is turn any arena he performs at into an absolute haven. Then, when he plays that trumpet, you might start crying.
Strengths: Vocal range, energy, endurance
Highlight: GidiFest 2019
The woman conjures up spellbinding performances, that an onlooker is almost in disbelief as a mix of sultry and attractively ratchet.
She also has a crew of dancers with which she performs some intense routines while singing her heart out. But unlike Tiwa Savage, she can produce impressive moments of crowd control that go beyond, 'sing sing...' and form a synergy with members of her band. These days, she doesn't even need a radio.
11) Burna Boy
Strengths: Energy... Lots of it
Highlight: Felabration 2019 and NPR Tiny Desk
Burna Boy does not have the eclectic tendencies of Nathaniel Bassey or the choreography of Tiwa Savage and Niniola. What he has is a live performance ability that has improved year-on-year. These days, Burna Boy has built on his natural energy levels with dance routines, incredible crowd control - when he's not sending people out of his shows - and an ability to sing with only a band.
10) Yemi Alade
Strengths: Vocal range, energy, dance routines and synergy with her backing acts
Highlights: Yemi Alade in Ethiopia
A lot of Nigerians don't see this woman perform, but if you are lucky to see her perform even once, your mind will be blown by her ability by everything she does. She could go from simply standing still to an intense choreography in seconds.
Strengths: Energy, Vocal range, dexterity, crowd control, synergy with her band and creative medleys
Highlights: Trace LIVE 2020
Before 2018, people always told this writer that Simi could perform, but anytime he saw her perform, he would feel underwhelmed. If we are being honest, those subpar performances were usually no fault of Simi's. But over the past 18 months, everytime this writer has seen her perform, he has been totally blown away.
These days, she does something with her band where they go off into medleys of Nigerian folk while performing some of her songs. Other times, she would just flip some of her songs and send her audience spiraling. At Terra Kulture, the woman had everyone in the palm of her hands
8) Adekunle Gold
Strengths: Energy, Vocal range, dexterity, crowd control, synergy with backing acts
Highlights: Felabration 2018, Adekunle Gold LIVE, 2018
When Adekunle Gold gets in his bag, he's like King Sunny Ade without guitar straps around his neck. With a smile on his face, the man breezes through his songs with an unusual synergy with his band members. He can also sing... When Adekunle Gold starts, he doesn't need you to tell you to do anything, you will just join him.
Strengths: Everything Kendrick Lamar is revered for as a stage performer with a dash of Fela.
Highlights: Headliner at Gidifest 2019
Patoranking is the most underrated live performer in Nigeria. If you stopped a random Nigerian and asked him or her to mention the best live performers in Nigeria, his name will rarely - if ever - come up. Yet, everytime he takes to stage - he mixes Seun Kuti-esque expressions with weirdly exciting dance routines with scary energy and endurance levels.
Like Simi, when you see Patoranking perform, you will see that he practices a lot. There's also this amazing thing he does with his backup singers and his band at the end of every song - it's like a bridge between vocal strumming and freestyle. It is amazing.
Strengths: Her ability to simply leave any member of the audience be spellbound without doing anything that could be considered out of this world.
Highlights: Any live show
Asa is a good performer because everything happens at her pace. In-between songs, she even tells stories and gets your heart warm. Watching Asa perform is usually like watching Shreya Goshal with a dash of Chris Martin and a lot of Asa. Nobody can do what she does and it's always amazing to witness.
5) Mercy Chinwo
Strengths: On stage, her use of that amazing vocal range is unrivaled - simple.
Highlights: Go and look for her, thank me later... You're welcome.
A Nigerian idol contestant turned gospel music maven, Mercy Chinwo was the 10th most-streamed Nigerian artist on YouTube in 2019. She doesn't really jump around, but whenever she opens her mouth, it's like she telepathically passes energy into your body through the shivers that run through your entire being.
If you close your eyes while Mercy Chinwo is performing even for 15 minutes, you might see music in multiple colours when you open those eyes.
4) Tope Alabi
Strengths: Mercy Chinwo with a dash of energy and God-driven panegyrics
Highlights: Anytime Tope Alabi performs 'Igba Ti Moro'
Tope Alabi is one of the greatest Nigerian artists of her time. She has conquered everything from secular circles to gospel circles. Yet, anytime she gets on stage it feels like the earth is going to open and swallow the building.. Asides how she controls her crowd without saying anything directly to them, she feels like 10 people on any stage.
She's like Bola Are when she's energetic, like Sinach whenever she stands in one place and like a secular pop singer whenever she breaks into those God-drive panegyrics.
Strengths: Energy, Vocal range, dexterity, crowd control, synergy with her band and creative medleys at high energy
Highlights: Everytime Experience comes around, hustle your way in
At Experience 2019, I saw Eben flip DJ Ykay's famous zanku rhythm into a gospel song while jumping around and making grandmothers break into dance routines. Before he did that, he was on an eclectic wave of ballads and soft rock, killing it like Dr. Whitley would do a victim. He takes his live performance so seriously, he created an alter ego for it.
Strengths: Endurance, Adaptability and Skill
Highlights: Brymo Live 2019
One of Brymo's greatest strengths is his ability to simply keep going and going. His band is a gift and so is that ability to speak through the themes of any song he performs. Like a lot of people, he never jumps around. But when he needs to thrill his audience with one of his faster-paced numbers, he morphs into prime Orlando Julius and shuts everything down.
Asides that, he makes like easy for his band members and his ego shines through his performances.
1) Femi Kuti
Strengths: Energy, vocal range, dexterity, crowd control, synergy with her band and creative medleys at high energy.
Highlights: Even when Femi Kuti is simply rehearsing, he's bringing the heat. So, fill in the gap.
Just pack everything everybody has on this list and put them in the body of vibrant 58-year-old and you'll get Femi Kuti on stage.
Femi Kuti is unrivaled as Nigeria's live performance supremo. The man produces joules of energy with his impressive footwork and dance routines alongside his far younger backup dancers. He then gets on the microphone and belts out ranges of his vocal while playing multiple instruments. If he then gets angry, he can hold a note of his saxophone for 30 minutes just to show off.
Oh calm down, he's not tired yet. When you've seen him perform for three hours, he could then start the pogrom-inducing 'Se Were' or 'Evil People' while controlling his band with something as remote as the movement of his lips. Even if you have seen Femi Kuti perform 50 times, he's always fresh. He remains timeless and he always put his fists up in celebration.