Over the years, Nigerian music has made a global statement. At the heels of the development of Afropop are other sub-genres emerging from the West African country.
Though largely unsung, Nigerian Afro-electronic music — characterized by a blend of local elements like percussion with Western electronic influences — is thriving amongst a growing and diverse audience. The past years have seen steady recognition of Nigeria’s electronic scene, championed by a niche community of artists, producers and DJs.
Owing to the occurring expansion of the Nigerian music industry, we spoke to four Afro-electronic players who are holding on to its potential while bridging cultural gaps through their mixes and sonic innovation.
Sigag Lauren is a foremost player in the electronic extension of contemporary Nigerian music with a flair for making eclectic mixes. “I made more styles of music but it seemed people only wanted to hear electronic from me,” he admits, after his remix of Ric Hassani‘s “Gentleman” took on a life of its own.
Lauren boasts of a discography that includes remixes of records like “Wait For Me” by Johnny Drille, “Smile For Me” by Simi, “Fake Love” by Wizkid, and “Jaiye” (with Aluna) by Ladipoe. In July, he released his debut album, Remix Tape, an electronic compilation of records like “Away” by Ayra Starr, “Uyo Meyo” by Teni, and “Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat. “Electronic music has come a long way,” says the 24-year-old. “I once made a remix that was taken down by the artist’s team because it was getting so much airplay and disrupting the original product they were trying to sell at the time.”
Despite the growth, Lauren admits that the potential of electronic music in Nigeria remains largely untapped and can be better harnessed with “significant funding to help branding, content creation, marketing and events where just DJs play electronic music — it doesn’t have to be hits.” Citing the global acceptance of Afropop over the years, he delights in the prospect that “our time will come. I believe one of the electronic producers might discover the next big sound or wave of Afro-music — using certain electronic elements”.
Born Cleopatra Amartey to Ghanaian parents in Lagos, Sensei Lo‘s affinity for electronic music dates back to her younger days. Also a qualified nurse, she cites Black Coffee, David Zowie, and Tiësto as her influences. She started off as resident DJ for a lounge at a popular Lagos beach and has since performed at numerous events including Major Lazer Live in Lagos, Chale Wote Art Festival, Accra and more. Sensei Lo features in the Electronic Music Began in Africa album by Spanish duo Moto Kiatu in the song “Yele,” an Afro-electronic fusion.
Having played in the electronic scene long enough, Sensei Lo reckons “acceptance is our primary challenge because most times people want to listen to what they’re used to.” She continues by suggesting “it could be addressed by making it more commercial. When you have big names do something of that style, then you’ll see everyone doing it.” Her sentiment was backed by citing Amapiano, the South African sound that has become a global phenomenon since 2020. “I reference it [Amapiano] a lot because it was never this commercial until big names started jumping on it.”
Though steady, the recognition of its players in the past years emboldens her belief that the electronic music which emanates from Nigeria can make a global statement “with the help of heavy percussion and local chops. Once there’s anything percussive, it changes the format — so it’s not bluntly electronic like the world might be used to.”
Calix‘s fondness for electronic music follows a bout of underwhelming experiences where most DJs he’d encountered played the same set of songs. “The first time I experienced electronic music was a Diplo record that played on radio,” he says. The thrill from that discovery would later introduce him to similar artists like DJ Snake and Major Lazer — who he later shared a stage with in 2018.
“I had to convince people to listen to the music,” Calix speaks of his early days making electronic music compared to the present; “to see that kind of growth is exciting,” he continues “knowing all that we had to go through, getting gigs, being paid the right fee.” He also extends gratitude to platforms like Gidi Fest “for fostering inclusion despite the second-guesses.” Calix believes the expansion of the Nigerian music industry should be accompanied by diversification that involves “inclusion of lesser known genres at shows and inauguration of more categories like ‘Best Electronic Music’ at award events to push discovery beyond Afropop.”
The 27-year-old is positive that “we have a shot at globalising Afro-electronic music. By changing the song’s percussion, adding African drums while retaining electronic instrumentation or maintaining the foreign sound while the lyrics are in pidgin, Yoruba or other dialects, Afro-electronic stands out and will appeal to a global audience.”
Maze x Mxtreme
The electronic duo Maze x Mxtreme have thrilled audiences at major events like Jamrock Fiesta, BudX, and Ladipoe Live. Their discography includes mixes of “Godly” by Omah Lay, “AG Baby” by Adekunle Gold, and “Woman” by Rema. The duo reminisced about starting out in an untapped realm like electronic music in Nigeria: “We approached radio stations and they were confused as to what it is. We had to explain ourselves for two years after moving to Lagos.”
That experience would inform their liaison with other electronic artists like Sigag Lauren and Sensei Lo to create a community for new entrants. “A lot of young electronic acts are always surprised at the existing community whenever they come in.” This adds to Nocturne Music, an initiative electronic artists can distribute their records through. “These setups are meant to foster our small niche and encourage Nigerians looking to do electronic music.”
The duo however encourages more people to “take the lead in betting on electronic music as it’ll benefit the Nigerian music industry and create more rooms for artists, creativity and revenue streams like in South Africa and other markets.”