Above is a video of Afro-dance maestro Niniola’s debut performance as a musician on Glo X Factor just to give you an idea of how much she’s changed in a few short years. The shy girl with a chipped tooth who won the competition’s judges with a pitchy but heartfelt cover of Celine Dion’s Love You More made her debut on national television just like any other hopeful, but we had no idea we were chancing on greatness.
On MTN’s Project Fame is where she really cut her teeth, honing her tastes and stage craft and finding confidence in her voice. She didn’t win, but it got her noticed and since then she’s slowly won our hearts and the respect of every critic that thought she’d become of one Nigeria’s many reality show specters, recognized vaguely by the general public but unable to break into mainstream Nigerian music.
With her latest single Shaba, Niniola lands the holy grail, a trifecta of wildly successful and critically acclaimed consecutive afro-dance singles without an album. To give you perspective on how huge this is, the last female musician to try this was Tiwa Savage and her third try Without my heart featuring Don Jazzy crashed and burned. The last person to successfully do this is Wizkid with his first three singles from the Star Boy Album. Yes, it really has been that long.
All spawned from her surprisingly successful collaboration with producer Sarz, the first single Ibadi, heavily influenced by reggaeton had Niniola drawl sultrily to a repetitive trance 8 beat about seducing a reluctant voyeur on the dance floor. It was a sleeper hit, building momentum from the video was released in late 2014 and peaking in mid 2015. Everyone was talking about Niniola, but cautiously. The burn rate for Nigerian dance pop stars is notorious. A sophomore single always separates the wheat from the chaff.
Almost a full year later came Soke. Sarz didn’t stray too far from the formula with this one, he kept the tinny gong, the simple percussion beat running through the song, beefed up the pockets of silence in Ibadi with a heavy bass guitar and some synth trumpets and upped the tempo. The Niniola in Soke is different too, she is no longer reticent, she sings almost entirely in Yoruba, and delivers one of the best opening lines we’ve heard in a while. Soke borrows from the soulful vibe of 70’s Nigerian pop, playful, ironic with the sensuality thinly veiled. It’s like Edna Ogoli, but on speed at a rave.
Ibadi was the break out song, but Soke took Niniola from beat player to the dance artist to beat.
Niniola doesn’t wait another year to consolidate this new title, Shaba comes a quick six months after Soke, finally defining her sound.
Synths, a floor tom and a four-on-the-floor beat that trots along is all Niniola needs to craft a hit. There’s some talking drum in there to switch things up, but ultimately we come and keep coming for Niniola’s story craft and stellar delivery.
Akara Oyibo is a blip in her otherwise stellar discography, and while it made us hesitant for an album from Niniola, Shaba has helped us set our priorities straight.
We need that dance LP, like, stat.