October 1st 2004. The Big Nigerian Independence Intro Jam. The Ocean Venue, Hackney London. This was supposed to be a relatively easy event to produce. The year before, my partner DJ Abass and I had produced the maiden edition, the first Nigerian concert showcasing Nigerian hip hop artistes performing live on stage in the UK. That first edition was supposed to be our test run. The one for us to learn how to do it, the process of applying and securing Work Permit Visas for the artistes, planning a concert, promoting the event, and also hope enough Nigerians in the Diaspora will show up and pay £20 a head to watch Tony Tetuila and Trybesmen headline a show with supporting UK based Nigerian acts.
The 2003 concert gave us a little more than experience. It gave us an insight into a budding cultural shift in the UK. Young (and some older) Nigerians coming out to watch a live performance by artistes other than Fuji artistes. My 4 years prior to 2003 was as the international manger for King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, so I know the trend. 2003 was our “experimental” event, so for 2004 we were going to do it BIG!
As for the Work Permit process for the artistes we were bringing for the 2004 concert, things had become a little easier at the UK Embassy in Lagos. They had introduced the “drop box” application and I didn’t need to travel to Lagos. The application was smooth and Visas issued, so I only had to Lagos for the press conference (which we didn’t do previous year) and to return to London with the artistes and crew. The press conference itself was new for me because I had to do all the talking since DJ Abass (the “face” of the production team) was back in London handling other things. Apart from the Press, I had invited the PMAN Chairman at the time, Charly Boy, to grace the event with his presence, and my friend Gbenga Adeyinka the 1st had volunteered to MC.
At the press conference, the artistes to perform at the concert, the group Maintain and headliner Eedris Abdulkareem (who arrived fashionably late), expressed their joy at going to the UK for the first time to perform for Nigerians abroad, and their hopes of making Nigeria proud with their music. I gave a speech as well (I can’t remember a word I said) and Charly Boy gave his blessings.
On the day of travel, the artistes and crew got to the airport quite early for the Virgin Atlantic flight. As always, we were filming the whole experience for the Intro TV Show. I remember Eedris with the big white towel all through the checking in process and refusing to take it off while they were checking his passport picture. I remember the extra searches by the Nigerian Customs because we were “musicians”. Among the traveling party was also then journalist Steve Ayorinde, who was going to cover the event live. Our movement on that day was epic. About 12 of us marching through the Airport to board a flight for a concert in London for Nigerian Independence!
The flight itself was uneventful, at least for me because I slept all through! Landing in London we were escorted by an Immigration Officers from the plane to Immigration counters. At first, Eedris asked me quietly if there was anything wrong and where were they taking us. I told him we were being given special treatment because we are artistes and they are going to process all of us as a group instead of scattered individuals. This made Eedris walk majestically behind the Officers like the King that he was then, and of course with his big white towel over his head.
We came out to the waiting UK production crew led by DJ Abass with artistes’ vans and TV cameras. Paparazzi everywhere. Such a contrast to the year before, when we quietly took 3 mini cabs from the Airport to the hotel. Getting to the hotel this year was grand. Everyone checked in okay. Smoking rooms for Eedris’ crew of course, but the first incident was going to come from one of the Maintain rooms. Allegedly Maintain’s manager Big Bamo had pulled a fire alarm and the hotel had to be evacuated!
On the night of the Concert, the queues to buy tickets was as long as the eye can see. This was our first sold out concert. This year the promo campaign was strong. People were actually looking forward to this show. The people who missed the previous year were not going to miss this one. The stage was set for a fantastic concert. In the line up we had Dr. Sid, JJC & 419 Squad, Wale Thompson and of course Maintain and Eedris Abdulkareem. The MCs were Wale Gates and also making his debut on stage in the UK, Gbenga Adeyinka the 1st.
The 2004 edition of the Big Nigerian Independence Intro Jam was significant for many reasons. This was the first sold out Nigerian hip hop concert in the UK. Although it was a musical concert, it also included stand up comedy in between the performances. An unexpected change of line up, due to some internal issues within the JJC & 419 Squad crew, saw a relatively unknown artiste named D’banj make his solo debut on stage and wowed everybody. The duo of Olu and Tolu Maintain shut down the venue lights just as in one of their famous songs, and Eedris Abdulkareem performed his tribute song to Brenda Fassie (who had just passed away then) before kicking into the Mr Lecturer song series and Oko Omoge. The show was actually closed out by Wale Thompson with his now evergreen song La La Le Friday.
Looking back now, exactly 15 years later, this was the beginning of the UK involvement and huge contribution to the development of the genre we now call “Afrobeats”. The genre was created in Lagos Nigeria, travelled to London, exposed to the diaspora, then bounced back to Nigeria before the big boom to the world. I am producing a documentary right now called “Afrobeats: The Backstory”, chronicling the rise and rise of the music genre from Lagos to the world. Watch this space.