Kingsley Ighobor: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 October 2023:
The Award-winning songwriter says African music can only get better and bigger. Afrobeats is captivating the global stage; its rhythm pulsating with African vitality.
The acclaimed Nigerian maestro, Young John, and other extraordinary talents, including Davido, Wizkid, Burna Boy, Rema are now commanding packed stadiums worldwide.
But what is igniting this fervor for African melodies?
Africa Renewal Kingsley Ighobor interviewed two luminaries of the industry: the mesmerizing singer, record producer, and songwriter, Young John, and the music video producer, Justin Edet.
Young John’s ascendance in 2023
Young John (birth name John Saviours Udomboso) embarked on a remarkable collaboration with the enchanting singer Tiwa Savage and the rising star Ayra Starr, birthing the resplendent anthem, “Stamina,” which swiftly ascended to the summit of Apple’s Most Played Songs in Africa.
The previous year witnessed Young John’s sonic masterpiece, “Xtra Cool,” reigning supreme in Nigeria for several weeks, an exceptional achievement considering the abundant musical talent within the nation.
Dada, a remix featuring the eminent Davido, epitomized Young John’s breakthrough moment, etching his name in the annals of Afrobeats.
Known in the industry as ‘The Wicked Producer’, Young John has indelible marks on illustrious compositions such as Olamide’s “Wo,” Lil Kesh’s “Shoki,” Kiss Daniel’s “Mama,” Tiwa Savage’s “Ello Baby,” and Naira Marley’s “Issa Goal,” to name but a few.
In 2016, Young John claimed the prestigious Headies Producer of the Year award, followed by the African Producer of the Year accolade in 2017.
What does it feel like to unleash hit after hit?
Young John reveals the immense joy that accompanies crafting chart-topping melodies for big artistes. However, he unveils the hidden toil behind the scenes—the meticulous arrangement of harmonies, the pursuit of sonic perfection, and the unwavering commitment to delivering quality.
“Producing big songs for big artistes is amazing, but there’s a lot of work behind it: arranging the music, making sure the sound is at the level you want it to be, and that the quality is high,” he says.
“There’s no such thing as perfection. Some of us don’t easily get satisfied. So we keep going back to the project, as many times as we can. You keep going at it until you feel ‘Okay, this is what I want it to sound like.”
“Sometimes it doesn’t even take long. You could be in the studio and bang! you have it.”
The Unsung Heroes
While music enthusiasts often extol the singers, the producers dwell in the shadows, obscured by their own creations. Young John acknowledges the shifting tides, recognizing the evolving appreciation for the producers within the African music landscape. “It’s getting better than it used to be, obviously,” he says.
“Time makes everything better. So, as producers, especially the African producers, gradually, I feel we are getting there.” He believes that the industry is marching forward, carving a path where recognition and reverence for these creators will find their rightful place.
Amid a spirited debate about the genre of music emanating from Africa currently— Afrobeats or Afro-fusion—Young John argues that African artistes have become maestros of fusion, blending diverse genres into a singular tapestry of musical brilliance.
“In the current era, everything is being fused. Unknowingly and unconsciously, everybody’s fusing a little bit of this with a little bit of that. It’s a fusion of all the genres,” he says.
Africa’s time is now
The surging popularity of African music stands as a cultural revelation, one that comes as no surprise to Young John. “The time for Africa is now. We always knew this time would come; we just never knew when. I’m happy that my generation is very instrumental in the birthing process.”
But will this be a fleeting moment in history?
Young John dismisses such doubts, emphasizing that the present phenomenon is enduring. “I don’t think it will end. I think we will keep getting better and bigger. It’s about the industry. The industry is bigger than those who sing and produce. We have producers, singers, songwriters, recording engineers, mix and machine engineers, promoters, managers, PR team, digital marketers, and so on.”
Music and socio-economic development
Beyond the melodies, the music industry breathes life into the socio-economic development of nations. Young John affirms the profound impact of entertainment, particularly for the African youth.
“I think entertainment generally provides jobs for African youths, because, really, without entertainment, there’s not much for the youth.” Music also contributes to other causes, he says.
“Everybody listens to music. Language is not a barrier. Music brings people together: people of different races, different countries and different cultures. It can be used as a tool to convey important messages to these people. Messages of peace, for example.”
As he highlights the role of Nigerian artists in addressing economic and political issues, citing the #ENDSARS movement (a movement that successfully got the government of Nigeria to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad accused of brutality) as an example, Young John emphasizes that African music has always been a vessel for voicing societal concerns.
In the tapestry of melodies, the continent’s triumphs and tribulations find their place. “We have songs with messages of political freedom. The thing about African music is that our whole situation is always in our songs.”
Young John urges governments to invest in the sector. He advocates for providing a platform for emerging artistes, nurturing them from the grassroots level. Young talents, he believes, are yearning for recognition and support that will propel them forward.
“I feel like there’s a lot of young talents in Africa that are yet to be discovered and they lack the platform, they lack the funding. Another way to help our talents, old and new, is to make policies that will bring profit for artists and producers, to encourage them to go the long mile,” he says, citing copyright policies as an example.
Crossing boundaries through melody
Do Nigerian producers incorporate diverse beats to captivate listeners abroad? He explains: “One of the principles for the creative process is freedom, regardless of boundaries. There are no limits. Personally, when creating most of my music, I’m just doing me, regardless of where it ends up. I’m not thinking I’m making music for certain people. I’m just making the music that comes out of my head. Luckily, most times, our music criss-crosses borders even more than we expect.”
On what the future holds for African music, Young John says: “We’ll keep evolving.” As the industry metamorphoses, so too does he envision his own journey: “I intend to keep putting out more music, enlightening and increasing my audience, my reach.”
To aspiring producers across Africa, he imparts a resounding message: “Be ready to put in the work” because “talent is not enough. The work rate is what matters the most. With each opportunity, with each shot you give, you get better. Work crazy.”
In a light-hearted moment, Africa Renewal playfully probes Young John’s moniker—will he remain “Young John” when he turns 40? With laughter, he responds, “I am young forever.”