A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

On the Horizon: Zdon Paporrella
By Sope Ogunyemi

Hip-Hop is a global phenomenon, and like the rest of the world, Africa has gotten the memo.  All over the continent, artists mix traditional African music with Western influences like Hip-Hop and R&B.  African Contemporary Music is the voice of a new generation of Africans who are mixing traditional rhythms and languages with Hip-Hop beats and rhymes.  Zdon Paporrella, a Nigerian artist who is part of the New School Revolution, saw some success with the initial release of his album, Experience Da Zee, and a hit single "Na U."  I recently had the opportunity to discuss the impact Hip-Hop is having in Nigeria, and why it's about more than just the music.  According to Zdon, the revolution will be televised.

Can you describe the kind of music you make? What is the "New School Revolution?"
It's African Contemporary Music (ACM), which is African music with a fusion of some of the genres you find in the Western world, Hip-Hop, R&B, Reggae, Salsa. It's African, yet contemporary.  [In Nigeria,] we have 2Face Idibia, Faze, Sound Sultan, Ruggedman, Mode Nine - the list is endless… ACM is a medium that we're choosing to express ourselves, just like what Hip-Hop used to be in America.  It's bigger than you can imagine.  It's becoming a way of life back home here. 

What do you mean by "way of life?"
Take fashion for instance.  These days, people are dressing the way we are dressing.  We have Western styles made in African fabrics, like suits made in Ankara. We have the Nigerian flag adorning most of the things we wear - sneakers with green and white.  People are waiving green passports around these days. I have a lot of friends who are British citizens.  These days they choose to travel with Nigerian passports. We have people trying to project the Nigerian image in such a positive way. People are proud to be Nigerian. Because African contemporary artists are doing this in their videos, people are doing it.

And it's not just in Nigeria.  You go to Ghana these days, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, they're playing 2 Face Idibia in the club alongside 50 Cent. They're incorporating some of the [pidgin] (slang) we have here.  Most of the awards that take place here in Africa, these days go to Nigerian music/artists.   D'banj, won the best African act category at the MTV Europe awards, and it's the 2nd time that a Nigerian has taken the award in that category.  It tells you that the International community is giving African Contemporary Music a lot of attention.   

Why do you think ACM has such a powerful impact both in Nigeria and Internationally?
We have the strength and the power of the media, so we're getting a whole lot of attention. We are singing African music and we're expressing it in a medium that will be acceptable to the whole of the world.   Music is a global thing. People from other parts of the world should know what's happening in Nigeria.  Music is all about that, it's all about disseminating information to people across the world.

What is your role in this music scene?
I had a fantastic album but sadly, it wasn't well distributed. Our structure of distribution here is totally different - we have marketers distributing things back here.  I had issues because I didn't get a marketer to distribute. My company released it and got people to distribute. But the marketers didn't pay too much attention because they didn't have the money invested in it. I was caught up in a game that was twisted.

How is your new album, Call Me Zdon Paporrella, different from the first?
I wanted people to really feel me… to see my versatility. So what we decided to do was to re-release the [first] album in a re-loaded fashion.  I rap, I sing, I do a little bit of rock.  It's really establishing and promoting my brand - showing people my skills.  We remixed some of the fantastic songs, added new ones, put a better package and got a marketer to distribute. I learned a lot.  And things are changing [in the industry] but it hasn't yet.  We're starting to play by the rules this time and things are working out really fine.

From a business perspective, what did you do differently?
We got a new marketer. All you need is one marketer. The marketer now provides the link, the network. They've taken time to tighten up their network, that's why it's very difficult now for you to work without them. You work with one marketer, he gets you signed on, you have some arrangements going, he produces, tells you, "I've got a 100K copies" and distributes the CD.  The industry still needs a structure and we're working on it now.  We have issues just like any other country. Americans have got the [the best] technology in place, but they've not been able to totally phase out piracy.

The first single, "Nonsense" talks about these issues that affect the industry. And that's part of the effect of African Contemporary Music I'm talking about. We're talking about things that affect people, they're listening and things are happening, successes here and there. That's the revolutionary part of the whole thing.

What else have you been working on?
I collaborated with Emmanuel Jal, who is from Sudan and is based in the UK.  We did a song entitled "Africa".  I met him on the street in London when I went for African Music Awards last year in August. In the studio, he listened to my stuff.  He liked it, and was like "Man, I need you to do something on this track." I just did my thing and it's a part of his forth coming album.

I'm a partner at my label, Culbeed music.  I'm an ambitious artist, I want to grow and get the very crest, the very peak of my career.  I need to do whatever it will take to get me to that level.  Basically, you keep doing whatever you can do, you have to do a whole lot of research, talk to a lot of people in the industry, try to open doors, try to open windows and take it to the next level.  It's a standard thing, all over the world.  So, it's best you get the job done rather than whine about it.  

Zdon's music can be found online via his Myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/ZdonPoparella