“What if ‘Pon pon’ eventually becomes a genre?”
This was the conversation I had with my colleagues Segun Akande and Abiola Solanke, last week during the recording for Pulse’s “The Sound” podcast. It was a reactionary conversation to the music dominating Nigerian radio.
During the height of Davido’s war with Wizkid in June, one of his missiles he threw was that Starboy was out of touch with Nigeria and hence his influence on the local scene was waning. Davido was partly right. Wizkid was making inclusive music for RCA Records, while Davido was back home, banging in the hits with ‘If’ and ‘Fall’.
“Na ‘pon pon’ sound dey reign now ooo!! NO JONZE!! ALL OTHER SOUNDS NAH D LEAST FOR NOW LMAO,” Davido write on Snapchat. Unknown to him, he had supplied a name to the dancehall and Hiplife music composition and style, from which he had drawn his hits from. The name ‘Pon Pon’ has grown, and slowly becoming a part of Nigerian music. With ‘Fall’ and ‘If’ Davido continued what has been a stylistic trend for Nigerian music, with a characteristic influence from Ghana.
“It’s the trend,” says producer Kiddominant, who produced ‘Fall’, and is soaring high with Mayorkun’s ‘Mama’. “People want something that they can relate to, so we gave it to them. Pon pon is reigning.”
Since 2015, Nigerian music has undergone a reduction in speed. Moving away from the energetic pace of sounds which Terry G championed, and the dancehall of Timaya, the industry had begun to embrace mellow Highlife. When Kiss Daniel’s ‘Woju’ and ‘Laye’, became hits, and it was swiftly followed by Tekno’s ‘Duro’, the music was never the same. Trends in Nigerian music arise from hit songs, and if Kiss Daniel and Tekno could do it, anyone could.
“There’s no specific reason why it is popping, it’s still part of the Ghana bounce,” says Ayzed, a producer based in Lagos. “Every year we get a new sound for the Nigerian music industry. This one just happens to be the sound of 2017.”
Mr Eazi came in 2016, crossing over into Nigeria with ‘Skin tight’, a song heavily influenced by Ghanaian Highlife and synths, supplied by the British-Ghanaian producer, DJ Juls. Eazi would go on to greatly influence the sound, with the infusion of the melodic, relaxed, vibes-oriented, Highlife tune, defined by the ‘Alkayida’ synth. By December 2016, such was his meteoric rise, that he scooped up the Headies Next Rated Awards and won the Best New Artist trophy at the Soundcity MVP Awards.
"Skin tight’ basically changed my life,” Mr Eazi said during a pop-up show on Apple Music’s Beats 1. “I feel like in the next 20 years they’re still gonna be playing this song."
Things hit a new height after the success of Tekno’s ‘Pana’. Released in July 2016, the song produced by Krizbeatz became hugely popular across the continent. So huge was its influence, that Columbia Records signed a deal with Tekno and his representatives to re-release and distribute it in the US.
From there the situation went uphill (or downhill) depending on your viewpoint. Runtown scored ‘Mad over you’, which catalysed a number of songs to be created from this formula, utilising the style of music to make records.
“Well, the so-called pon pon sound, is a preamble to a full fusion of Afrobeat and Electronic Dance Music,” Krizbeatz tells me. “A lot of people just find it catchy but don’t understand what it is.”
There’s very little to suggest that the sound would be going away anytime soon. Different artists are working on iterations of the structure, fusing it to create new records. Wizkid who recently released his “Sounds From The Other Side”, returned to Nigeria and recorded music within the sound. Working with producer Masterkraft, the singer has released three records ‘Medicine’, ‘Odoo’, and ‘Medicine’ remix which features Flavour and Phyno.
Another speculative hit record in the country is Mayorkun’s ‘Mama’, which tapped from Davido’s ‘Fall’ in its styling. Rapper Falz also blended his rap with Hiplife on ‘Jeje’. He worked with producer Studio Magic.
“The only two songs I have made that are similar are ‘Fall’ and ‘Mama’,” Kiddominant tells Pulse. “It’s what people want to hear. You just have to give it to them.”
What makes ‘Pon Pon’ sound so appealing? Why has Nigeria connected with the sound? And how long will it last?
“I don’t think there’s anything special about it,” says Kore Brown, a former OAP on Top Radio 90.9 FM, who now holds a position in the streaming platform, Boomplay Music. “Nigerians love anything that is imported from another culture. It wasn’t something we were used to, and when it blew everyone jumped on it. It will not last for long.”
For Krizbeatz, who has benefited immensely from the dominance of Pon pon, the sound has already served its purpose, and the country is looking up to a new music structure. “I think fusion of AfroBeat and EDM is the future, Pon Pon is just a link to the future. So it depends on how fast we want to graduate. For me personally I have moved on.”
Music history has shown that trends come and go. Nigeria as a market has proven over time that nothing really lasts forever, and music movements undergo constant changes, giving rise to new fusions and sounds. ‘Pon pon’ sound will have to obey it.