Sunday nightfall, I’m bored—actually I feel like munching succulent bread and Vita Milk—so Friend and I go to Spar. We are surprised to see a crowd: a concert is on, a #DefendYourVote initiative, and on the poster are Phyno, Peruzzi, and Naeto C. I’ve never seen Phyno live, or anybody I really want to see live; in fact, I’ve never been to a concert. So we stay. On the stage is that MTV Base video jockey, the sanguine guy with dreadlocks who once mispronounced Phyno’s “Isi Ego” so that it meant “head money/capital” rather than “the smell of money.” He’s kinda sorta a fave. He is rousing the crowd, keeping it hot. The DJ spins them, each greeted by jubilation: Burna Boy’s “On the Low,” Tiwa Savage’s “Lova Lova,” Naira Marley’s ‘Issa Goal,” Olamide’s “Motigbana.” Out of nowhere, 2Baba’s “Implication” drops and we are legit mad. It still is the ultimate Nigerian banger. I’m thinking: Naijapop is so rich, a bit sad that pon-pon has come and homogenized things. I step aside to pick a call. I return thinking: Aren’t they the most blessed of us artists, musicians, to have the power to command crowds. When King Monada’s “Malwedhe” lands, VJ shouts, Nobody should fall here o! Still, the crowd of heads mock-bend at the chorus. All around us people—boys—are dancing, or will say they are dancing if asked, most of them doing the same leg thing to every song.
Generally, the songs are hot. Generally, the DJ is bad, doesn’t know when to switch, always chooses the wrongest moments: pre-chorus, mid-chorus. “He doesn’t have permission to play the full songs,” Friend says when I complain.
Then a talking break: Dreadlocked VJ is saying: How many of you have your PVCs? Raise your hand! Not everybody does and I’m worried. Really worried.
When Naeto C appears, my first thought is to try to remember his politician mother’s name. I can’t. We run through his songs: “5 & 6,” “Kini Big Deal,” “Tony Montana (Remix),” “10 Over 10.” I’m thinking: this guy really had huge hits. Not everybody in the crowd is flowing, singing, even moving, and it strikes me that there are people here who don’t feel Naeto C, or don’t know him well enough, or are trying to remember who he is, or maybe, even though they look like adults, just hadn’t been born in 2008 when Naeto was the Next Big Thing. Fine.
They want to give us a surprise, they say, Naeto C and Dreadlocked VJ, they say it again, but instead of a Surprise, we get this beat, really good, this beat, but nowhere around what I hoped for.
Enter Peruzzi. Jump in Peruzzi. Power in Peruzzi.
Peruzzi has energy, like he set out to conquer the stage, and what seems in videos like an over-featured man all over the place with his artificial swag suddenly comes alive, becomes charisma. Never thought I’d say this: I like Peruzzi. Or, more accurately, I’d like to attend his own concert, with his big voice. But the DJ starts from his least: songs the crowd sings back but isn’t moved by, just singing back, maybe humouring a star. Life returns when his DMW song comes on. “Aza.” You know, the one in which he delivers a killer verse with a sideways dance after Duncan Mighty has threatened to spoil it by screaming, for whatever reason: Ofe nsala! Peruzzi screams it now and it comes out a bit more dignified. I’m thinking: Only “Amaka” can restore the anointing here, his song with 2Baba. But when it comes, “Amaka” doesn’t kick up dust—it comes and is passing like any other song.
“Amaka” is still on when I tell Friend we can go now. “I want to see Phyno,” he says, and I say, “Even me sef.” We move to the left and wait. Someone comes to us: he’s a Facebook Friend, I remember his name even though we’ve never chatted, he’s asking if I’m me, I am. After he leaves, people begin to leave. “Phyno kwanu?” I ask, to the bread-smelling air. “Maybe he was the first to perform,” Friend says. We are walking with the trail of people, out.