Nigerian Music: How food has a sweet relationship with our pop music

At the Davido X Orange Culture Capsule Collection at Selfridges
Of all of Flavour’s lyrics in his new album “Ijele – The Traveler,” there’s a song that stands out –  “Catch you’. The record which is a sexual recording to express all the naughty things the sexy hunk will do to a lucky girl, features Tekno, with a video already released.
But guess what, the first two lines of the chorus reads like something from a musical about food: “If I catch you, I go chop you like carrot oo. If I catch you, I go chop you like banana.”
Somehow women find these sexy; a man threatening to transform their sexy bodies into food and treat it in the very same manner he eats carrots and banana. Weird.

These lyrics are just an example of how food items can be used in the creation of Nigerian music. We Nigerians love food. We love the thought of it, the look of it, the feel of it, the taste of it, and also, the sound of it. Ever since Flavour had sung the line, ‘My jollof rice eh, how you dey do today, my tomato Jos, I don dey think about you…” in his single ‘Oyi’, there has been an explosion of it.
Anna Banner and Flavour, on and off love birds Anna Banner and Flavour, on and off love birds
(Live Ofofo )

Nigerian artists have found ways to equate food with love. Women are generally offered food, likened to food, or eaten as food.
Tekno in his 2016 smash hit record, ‘Pana’, equates his penis to a food item, and offers his ‘Big Cassava’ to his love interest. He would go on to still repeat that promise to her as a peace offering in ‘Yawa’. (“Only you go chop belle-full…Cassava for two.”) The food here becomes a penile sexual object, which is intended to cause happiness to women. Cassava is somewhat a new invention. The usual suspects are ‘Cucumber’, ‘Banana’, and sometimes Plantain. Anything consumable and phallic in natural design makes the list.
Tekno loves the controversies or is he just stating the facts Tekno loves the controversies or is he just stating the facts
(Instagram/Teknoofficial)

Food is also used as an expression of romantic service in more traditional roles, such as cooking. Runtown in ‘Mad over you’, assesses the quality of his Ghanaian girlfriend via an assumption that she could cook ‘Waakye’, a traditional dish made of cooked rice and beans. He isn’t alone. Mr Eazi, the self-styled Nigerian defender of Ghanaian music, has a single titled ‘Tilapia’. And no the girl isn’t likened to a fish on that one. She is simply implored to serve romantic fish for dinner.
Don Jazzy also sings his heart out on the 2014 single ‘Adaobi’, likening a lady’s love to the food she has made him eat: “Girl I’m addicted to you…I don’t know what you did to me. Omo wetin you give me chop. I no mind to dey chop dey go.”
In Nigerian Hip hop, the incidence of food is meatier. Here there are hardly bananas, cucumbers and Cassava. These rappers hate fruits. Instead, masculinity is measured by the size and strength of ‘Beef’. Beef is a slang which means trouble, or a disagreement. But trust us to find new ways to make it culinary. In his single ‘Beef’, M.I attacks former aggressors, Kelly Hansome and Iceberg Slim, and details their refusal for any other kind of protein other than beef.
“Kpomo e no chop, fish e no chop, goat e no chop…He say he wan beef.”
You could find references to cow meat all through Hip hop. It’s a sub-culture of the genre.
Three mixtapes and three albums have been released by M.I in almost a decade. Three mixtapes and three albums have been released by M.I in almost a decade.
(Instagram/MI_Abaga)

All of these aside, the Nigerian artist who can lay claim to the throne of interweaving music and food is Yemi Alade. The Nigerian pop singer utilises food items an integral part of her songwriting, creating whole songs dedicated to the sweet stuff. She has likened intense love to ‘Tangerine’, walked giddy streets due to a romance that reminds her of ‘Sugar n Spice’, and throws in the popular line “Soup wey sweet na money dey cook am…” in ‘Ferarri;’.
But where she takes the most credit is on the single ‘Tumbum’.
Yemi Alade shows boss moves at her New York show Yemi Alade shows boss moves at her New York show
(Instagram/Yemialade)

On her 2016 album Mama Africa, Nigerian artist Yemi Alade explores sounds from all over her continent, but the video for ‘Tumbum’ sticks closer to home. In a riff on the food-themed lyrics of the song, Alade plays a restaurant cook who serves up tasty Jollof and fufu in a rural Nigerian community. With a playful storyline starring Nollywood luminaries Ime Bishop Umoh and Beverly Osu, it’s a hilarious accompaniment to the Selebobo-produced track.
“I know you like Nkechi jollof (eh Nkechi Jollof)
I know you like my beans (eh you like my beans)
I know that she giving you fufu
You put am for my soup
Baby what you gonna do”
And of course, she’s received some flak for it. Not everyone likes their food being dipped into pop records and made the focal point of records.
“In Nigeria, food isn’t just for consumption but is a cultural representation,” Alade tells Fader. “Different states in the country are known for their indigenous delicacies.
“Permit me to say, ‘by their food you shall know them.’ It’s true that the “Tumbum” video only briefly sheds light on rural areas in Nigeria; I wanted it to be relatable for Africa as a whole. There are many examples and uses of food in Nigerian music.”
She isn’t wrong. Nigeria loves her food and her music. Putting them together to make relatable music always makes perfect sense.

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