The big break of Alternative music in Nigeria: Has Alternative music become mainstream?
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Alternative is a local Nigerian slang used to describe artists who perform alternative styles of music, different from the mainstream afrobeats and afro-pop sounds. Alternative music includes genres like contemporary soul, indie-pop, RnB, folk and others not mainstream in Nigeria. The end of the last decade witnessed a drastic growth in alternative music in Nigeria, a big contrast from the days where it was looked down upon and did not have that mainstream appeal. A lot of alternative artists have emerged during recent years, maybe even surpassing the mainstream artists in terms of number. Artists like Cobhams, Bez Idakula, Timi Dakolo, Darey Art Alade and others enjoyed a certain degree of acceptance in the middle of the last decade but it is nothing compared to the acceptance artists like Odunsi, Santi, Wurld, Lady Donli and Tems are enjoying right now. Could this be as a result of the growth of online streaming? or the way they sell their brand. In my honest opinion, I sincerely feel the two conditions were necessary for the growth of alternative music especially in the area of online streaming. Firstly, nowadays artists rely a lot on online streaming to get themselves heard. The last part of the decade recorded an increase in online streaming by music lovers. CD sales have fallen, for example in the UK 132 million CDs were sold in 2008 but by 2018 that reduced to 32 million, in 2016 Spotify recorded 30 million paid subscribers but in 2019 that number had tripled to 100 million, the same thing with Apple music which now boasts of 60 million paid subscribers. Secondly, some alternative artists that emerged at the end of the previous decade caught the attention of the younger generation through their dressing and a certain “wayward” lifestyle that drew the attention of a set of youths and children who want to have fun regardless of the laws in the society. This can be seen in the case of “alte” artists like Santi, Odunsi, Lady Donli, Pretty Boy Do, Zamir, Wavy the Creator who came into the industry with their own dress sense categorized by baggy jeans, overalls, big glasses. “Alte” embraces a retro and vintage style, but is somehow tagged as “new school”, categorized by a fusion of RnB, Indie-pop, Contemporary Soul, Reggae to form a new sound. “Alte” music, on the other hand, was not mainstream but presently is beginning to show some signs of the mainstream with alte artists signing deals with top labels like Universal Records, to being featured on singles by mainstream artists, to having mainstream artists on alte songs and being nominated for awards. Odunsi’s Rare is an example, it was nominated for Best R&B album at the 2019 Headies. Tipsy, a single from the album featuring British songbird Raye was nominated for Best R&B single. Wurld, another alternative artist seized the award for Best vocal performance. Tems and Falana were nominated in the Best vocal performance category alongside top artists like Teni and Waje. 2019 and 2018 recorded a very big growth in alternative music with the “alte” movement at the forefront of all this. A couple of alternative artists broke out recently that gave the genre a major boost in Nigeria. They are: 


  • Odunsi The Engine: Bowofoluwa Oluwafisayo Odunsi professionally known as Odunsi (The Engine), is an English-born Nigerian singer, songwriter and record producer. His sound is made up of Alternative RnB, Afro-fusion, Indie pop and Contemporary RnB. He is currently signed to Universal Music Nigeria and Warner/Chappell Music UK, he is also known as Mr Engine. He is seen as the ring leader of the alte crew. His debut single "In the Morning" was released on December 8 2017 under Universal Music Group. He then went on to release a joint E.P titled “War” with Nonso Amadi. On the 21st of January 2018, Odunsi got featured on “Life Magazine”, a publication of the Guardian Newspaper (Nigeria), alongside Lady Donli, Maka and Santi. The article covered their views on the Nigerian music industry, their art and plans for the future.


In March 2018, he released a single titled “Alte cruise” featuring Santi and Zamir, the song became the anthem for the new wave of young Nigerian artists.

         Odunsi released his debut studio album “Rare” in October 2018, a 14-track album which featured Davido, Tomi Thomas, Santi, Runtown, Lady Donli, Nasty C, Hamzaa, Tay Iwar and more. The album debuted on #1 on Apple Music in Nigeria and #4 in Ghana, it also peaked at #8 on the UK R&B/Soul Apple Music Charts.

         The album has over recorded 3 million streams on Spotify and over 5 million streams on Apple music. He sold out his first headline show in Nigeria "Rare Live" at the HardRock Café Lagos in December 2018.

         Odunsi performed at "The BBK Homecoming concert" in 2018, a concert which also featured Skepta, Nasty C, Naomi Campbell, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Davido and many more. He has since gotten a lot of award nominations including Best R&B Pop album in the Headies with “Rare” and Best R&B single with “Tipsy” which is off the “Rare album”.


  • Santi: Osayaba Andrew Ize-Iyamu professionally known as Santi, is a Nigerian singer and cinematographer, who initially went as Ozzy Bee. His sound is made up of RnB, Reggae, Hip-Hop. He is one of the artists at the forefront of the “alte” movement. He released a mixtape in 2011, titled “Diaries of a Loner” as Ozzy Bee and then changed his name to Santi and in 2013, released another mixtape titled “Diaries of a Loner: Birth of Santi”. He released his debut single “Gangstar fear” alongside Odunsi in 2016, and later on his debut album “Suzie’s funeral”. In 2019, he released his second album titled “Mandy & The Jungle” to critical acclaim, the album spawned tracks such as Rapid Fire, Sparky, Freaky, Raining Outside. The project featured Nonso Amadi, Goldlink, DRAM, Shane Eagle, Amaarae, Krisirie, Kida Kudz, Seki, Tay Iwar, Tomi Agape. He has recorded local and international music collaborations and has shot his own music videos as well as music videos for artists such as Odunsi, Wavy the Creator and others.

  • WurlD: Sadiq Onifade, known professionally as WurlD, is a Nigerian singer and songwriter, born in Lagos, Nigeria. He describes his style of music as electro-fusion. He developed a serious interest in music while he was in College. In late 2012, WurlD released his first single, "Beyond Our Dreams" from his debut EP titled “Evolution”, which he released in 2013. The music video for Evolution's second single, "Alive" was premiered exclusively via MTV: The Wrap Up. On May 2, 2013. WurlD also teamed up with Timbaland's artist, BK Brasco as a featured artist on "Beautiful Girls”. In 2015 WurlD went certified Gold with his Sony Music released track "Follow You" with Polish DJ, Gromee. In May 2016, WurlD released "Show You Off" an Afro-soul record featuring Walshy Fire of Major Lazer and Afrobeats producer Shizzi. In June 2016, WurlD released the collaborative track "Better Days" with Sir Felix; it became the official anthem for DelfSail 2016. In 2017, he received a nomination for Best Diaspora Act at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards alongside Rotimi and Wale. He released a hit song with Sarz called, “Trobul” and they went on to release an EP called, “I LOVE GIRLS WITH TROBUL”. The extended play spawned tracks like Mad, Ego and previously released Trobul. In 2019, he won the award for Best Vocal Performance(male) at the Headies award. He co-wrote Davido’s “Blow My Mind” and was featured on Davido’s “Sweet in the Middle” of his “A Good Time” album.

  • Lady Donli: Zainab Donli known professionally as Lady Donli, is a Nigerian singer and songwriter, born in Cleveland, Ohio and grew up in Abuja. Donli’s music is a mixture of Contemporary Soul and Afrobeat. Lady Donli released her debut project, an EP titled “Wallflower” in 2016. She would shine on through this project. She would later release another EP titled “Letters to Her” in 2017, the same year she released singles Ice Cream and Kashe Ni. In 2019, she released her debut album “Enjoy Your Life” which houses tracks such as Cash, Suffer Suffer, Zaman Lafiya. She got nominated in The Best Alternative Song Category at the Headies in 2019 for “Cash” which is seen to many as her breakout single even though she has been in the industry for some time. The remix of “Cash” was released alongside Davido in December 2019. She has been featured by a few artists in the industry. She was featured on Show Dem Camp’s “For a Minute” off their “Palm Wine Music 2” EP. She was also featured on MI’s “+” alongside Odunsi The Engine off the rappers “A Study On Self Worth: Yung Dxnzl” album among others.

  • Tems: Temilade Openi, popularly known by her stage name Tems, is a Nigerian singer, songwriter and upcoming producer. Her music is a mixture of Alternative Indie and Contemporary Soul. Tems released her debut project, an EP titled “Time Swap” in 2013. She would later release another EP titled “Illumination” in 2018. In 2019, she released her first official single “Mr Rebel”, which according to her was just because she didn’t have music out for some time and she wasn’t expecting the massive reception. After the release of her first official single “Mr Rebel”, she started receiving a lot of attention from artists and she featured on some projects such as Ladipoe’s “Falling” off the “Talk about Poe” album, Collectiv3’s “Kiss the Fire” alongside Show Dem Camp and Tomi Thomas, Show Dem Camp’s “Shadow of Doubt”, off the “Clone Wars IV; These Buhari Days” album. She then went on to release “Try Me” and “Looku Looku” around the same time of which “Try Me” emerged the bigger song and is currently rocking airwaves and charts. She was nominated in the Best Alternative Music category at the Headies for “Mr Rebel”. Tems also featured on Show Dem Camp’s “Tales by Moonlight” and “Too Bad” off the “Palm Wine Express” album.

  • Nonso Amadi: Nonso Amadi is a Nigerian singer, songwriter and music producer with musical genres of Afro RnB and Soul. He embarked on his music career in 2012 while he was still in school. He released his debut EP, “Alone” in 2015 and in 2016, he released his hit song “Tonight” which received massive acceptance and rocked airwaves. In 2017, he was nominated in the Best R&B Single and Best Vocal Performance categories at the Headies. In that same 2017, “Tonight” was featured on the “Urban Pulse, Vol 17”, an album made up of Various artists by Pulse Tv. 2017, was a productive year for the singer as he released singles like “Long Live the Queen” and “War’. In 2018, he put out “No Crime” and “Dial Me” ft Kida Kudz and in 2019, he released an EP titled “Free” featuring the likes of Simi and Mr Eazi. He has been involved in a lot of collaborations since his break out in 2016, artists such as MI, Tomi Agape, Mystro among others.

  • Funbi: Funbi Emiola simply known as Funbi, is a Nigerian singer with musical genres of RnB and Funk music. He released his debut single “Hallelujah” in 2016, which had a very great reception. “Hallelujah” got him nominated for Best Recording of the Year at the Headies. In 2018, he released a single called “Serenade” which got him 2 nods at the Headies for “Best R&B single and Best Vocal performance. “Serenade” is a single off his “Serenade” album. He has worked with artists such as Show Dem Camp and Odunsi on their projects. He is a member of the Collectiv3s, a group formed by him, producers IKON and Kid Konnect, singer Temi Dollface, rapper Poe, rap duo Show Dem Camp, guitarist and producer Nsikak and has worked with them on their projects.

  • Tay Iwar: Tay, born Austin Iornongu Iwar is a Nigerian singer and producer. Tay Iwar describes his style of music as Afro-fusion or Neo Afro-pop which is a blend of various elements and sounds from Afrobeat to classic R&B. He has released a total of four albums. His first being “Passport” in 2014, followed by Renascentia in 2016, “1997” in 2018, “GEMINI” in 2019 and “GOLD” in the latter part of 2019 alongside Le Mav. Gemini, his latest project enjoyed a global release and is the most successful of all his projects. Gemini houses “Utero”, the song that got him his first nod at the recent Headies Awards for Best Vocal Performance. Tay Iwar’s nomination at the Headies is just one among his numerous award nominations, as he has been nominated five times at the Nigerian Teen Choice Awards winning the awards for Best Male Artist and Best producer. He has worked with artists such as MI Abaga on the “Yung Dxnzl: A Study on Self Worth” album and Odunsi on his song “Desire” among others.

  • Falana: Falana is a Nigerian singer born in Canada to Nigerian parents. Her sound can be described as a fusion of R&B and Soul. She released her first body of work in 2014, an EP titled “Things Fall Together”. She, however, took a break from releasing music although she was still performing her songs, this has built her performance skills. She does covers of songs a lot during her shows, trying to make them different, portraying her sound but at the same time still trying to maintain the originality of the artist. She does this with the use of instruments. She is a lover of instruments. In 2018, she broke her four-year hiatus and released “Ride or Die”. In 2019, she released her debut album “Chapter One” with its lead track “Repeat”, which got her nominated at the Headies Awards in the Best Vocal Performance category. She was featured on Show Dem Camp’s “The Garden” off the “Palm Wine Music, Volume 2” album.

By Cephas Oboh

IzikJon Exchange