It would not be an exaggeration to say that he is currently Africa’s most marketable pop artiste. He has sold more than 11 million albums and signed a deal with Sony Music Entertainment through its RCA Africa label. He combines music with a wicked sense of humour, a high-octane stage show and sharp business acumen.
The release of a new compilation album featuring songs by D’Banj and artistes signed to his record label was accompanied by a huge publicity blitz and a swanky concert in Lagos, Nigeria.
Thirty-three-year-old Oladapo Daniel Oyebanjo, whose stage name is a combination of the first letter of his name and part of his last name, is a musician at the vanguard of a musical style called Afrobeats. His smash hit Oliver Twist, a hard-driving dance tune in which D’Banj lists the famous ladies he fancies, was a top 10 single in the UK charts in May 2012.
It created such a phenomenon that a recent musical production in London’s West End theatres was named Oliver Tweest.
Since its release in 2012, Oliver Twist has inspired dance moves, a viral video and attracted massive adulation for D’Banj the world over. The world may have just known of D’Banj last year, but the artiste had been recording for seven years before the global success came about, a fact that he is always eager to remind his audiences as he tours the world.
This native of Zaria in Kaduna State, Nigeria, is the son of a military officer and was expected to follow in his father’s career path. However, all this changed when he picked up his first instrument, a harmonica, what he now calls a spiritual instrument, after the death of his 17-year-old brother Femi in a plane accident in 1994.
On his debut album, No Long Thing, he sings about the struggle against his parents’ military aspirations in the song All da Way.
His second album, Rundown in 2006 including the hits Why Me and Tongolo, while the third album The Entertainer was released in 2008 containing Fall in Love, the song that earned him national stardom in Nigeria.
It has been a whirlwind year for the Nigerian who has won a host of high profile awards: Best African Act at the 2007 MTV Europe Music Awards, Artiste of the Year at the 2009 MTV Africa Music Awards, Channel O Music Awards and the Best African Act at the 2012 MOBO Awards in the UK.
Just like other Nigerian musicians, the influence of the late Fela Kuti, the country’s best-known musician, is impossible to ignore in the career of D’Banj. Just like Fela, he sings in Yoruba, English and pidgin English and is at the vanguard of a music movement called Afrobeats, adding the letter ‘s’ to the brand associated and popularised by Fela.
He has performed at The Shrine, on the same stage where Fela produced some of his legendary shows. Unlike Fela’s radical political and social commentary, D’Banj and other contemporary Nigerian artistes sing party songs about girls, cars and the glamorous life.
He says times have changed and the battles that Fela fought have yielded the greater freedoms artistes have to express themselves today.
He is not totally apolitical though. During the 2011 elections in Nigeria, D’Banj recorded a campaign video in support of the incumbent presidential candidate Goodluck Jonathan. Many in the country were incensed when he didn’t join other Nigerian music and film stars in the protests against the government’s decision to remove the fuel subsidy in 2012.
Last year, D’Banj had a public break up with long time collaborator and multi-award winning producer Michael Collins Ajereh, aka Don Jazzy, who produced his first three albums. The two met while D’Banj was a student in London and formed the Mo’ Hits Records company in 2004.
After years of success and attracting the interest of international stars like Jay Z, the two partners wound up the company last year with D’Banj forming DB Records while Jazzy launched his own Mavin Records.
After several months of speculation, D’banj has released the first album on his new label, D’Kings Men (DKM), which as the title suggests, is a compilation of songs from the artiste and recording artistes under his label like Kay Switch and J. Sol.