Modern Afro House star Niniola teams up with Afrobeat legend Femi Kuti for a sweet and luscious track “Fantasy”, featuring Femi Kuti on saxophone and African Giant producer Kel-P on the mixing boards.
Two eras of Nigerian musicianship collide on “Fantasy”, bringing together Niniola, the “Queen of Afro House” and Afrobeat legend Femi Kuti for a smooth and modern collaboration. PAM sat down with Niniola to get her take on the track and what it means for her musical evolution and Nigerian music in general.
Niniola came onto the scene in 2014 with an Afro House banger “Ibadi” produced by Sarz who produced two tracks from Wizkid’s Ayo album. Since that initial success, Niniola has included a healthy diversity in her sound, rooted in Afro House, touching on r&b and afrobeat, and singing in both Yoruba and English. Her work culminated in the 2017 album This Is Me. “The exploration will always continue” Niniola said when speaking to her musical diversity, but, she says, “I make Afro House because Afro House is music you can dance to. I’m a dancer so I love music with rhythm.”
Afro House is a relatively modern sound when looking at Nigerian music, and it’s a sound that’s been gathering international attention. A great example is Niniola’s breakout hit Maradona. The track was so contagious it eventually got picked up by DJ Snake for a remix, was sampled on Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” project for FIND YOUR WAY BACK, and got shoutouts from the likes of Drake and Timbaland. When speaking about Maradona Niniola remarked, “it was a turning point for everything… DJ Snake brought my music to a whole new audience.”
We asked how all this attention from European and American superstars fits with an Afro Centric mindset and Niniola told us, “I just do what I love and I stay true to myself…I work with whoever I want, and English is my language so I sing in English…I have a broad appeal with my music and different types of fans, some who just wanna hear me sing, others who want to see me dance. I welcome everyone who wants to listen to my music.” That said, it doesn’t seem the collaboration will cease anytime soon. When asked if there are any surprises for her future projects, Niniola that she’ll, “be working with Timbaland on some tracks for (her) next album.” We asked for more info, but Niniola told us with a smile in her voice that, “It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you.”
International collaboration has been a norm for Nigerian musicians since the days of Fela Kuti, however, on Niniola’s latest track Fantasy there is an internal collaboration that builds a bridge between heritage and modernity. We asked Niniola how she linked up with Femi Kuti. Apparently “Femi said yes to work on the track before even hearing the album.” He had been a fan of Niniola’s previous work. “It’s such an honor, he’s a true legend” she says, “He’s so good he just does what he does with the track and it’s great.” Knowing Femi was able to show up and lay down the sax on Fantasy with an artist that has in many ways built a career on a new Nigerian sound, is a testament to the roots and influence of Femi, Fela, and the Afrobeat generation.
Whether it’s Afro House, Afrobeats, or the many iterations of R&B and Hip-Hop that are sparking up in Nigeria, it’s clear that there remains a great respect for the country’s previous and current masters. This love and respect is perhaps best incarnated in the producer of Fantasy, Kel-P, who, most notably, produced Burna Boy’s Grammy nominated album African Giant. This isn’t the first time she’s worked with Kel-P. Her 2019 single “Boda Sodiq” also had the markings of the Afrobeat inspired producer. When speaking of Kel-P, Niniola says, “He’s so talented and loves Afrobeats…he’s easy to work with and an awesome collaborator”
Using Afrobeat inspiration isn’t new. It’s a formal and respected recipe for Nigerian artists in today’s music scene. What is worth noting, however, is the flexibility and ease with which the genre is imbued into Afro House, carried by the sweet and skilful voice of Niniola, and complimented by the smooth and precise saxophone of Femi Kuti. All-in-all Fantasy is a great track and example of where Nigerian music and Niniola come from, and where they’re heading in art and sound. Niniola said it best when in our conversation she mentioned, “there is so much great music out right now to listen to” and lucky for us Niniola’s has more new music and exciting projects to add to the Afro House movement.