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Meet the queen of house music in Nigeria

Editor’s note: analyses the budding career of the third runner up at MTN Project Fame Season 6. Niniola seems to have cornered the untapped house music market in Nigeria and Ikwuagwu tells us why this is a good move. 

Niniola, Excusive


In 2012/2013, Nigerian artistes- inspired by Billboard run of Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Pitbull- began to experiment with electro, techno and house, mixing commonplace afro-pop tunes with electro inflection. Omawumi, having enjoyed radio success back in 2008 when In the Music debuted, decided to repeat that EDM formula on Sizzle Pro-produced When the Boss is Coming and Stay Alive, and sprinklings on her sophomore album Lasso of Truth while her BFF Waje made a hit on Ijeoma. Dance Floor and Steady Steady were the results of 2Face’s studio tests. On his own part, 2Face’s protégé Dammy Krane invited DJ Cuppy over for Lobatan. Legundary Beatz, E. Kelly, and Blaze laced some cool beats for the son of a carpenter Brymo in his Choc City days.

Though these cases seem like one-offs as the aforementioned acts hardly delved into the genre, making a name as a house or electropop or techno artiste. Perhaps the reception that then-pop princess Mo’Cheddah got on her South African adventure in 2012 led many to dismiss its acceptability in the Nigerian market.

But one artiste continues to hold strong to the genre that has a big fanbase south of the continent, hoping to leave an imprint on the Nigerian music scene.

That artiste is Niniola Apata.


Bespectacled Niniola shot to limelight after emerging third runner up at MTN Project Fame Season 6, the reality show she performed hits by Beyoncé, Celine Dion (her most noticeable musical influence, and most preferred selection at the show), Angélique Kidjo, Mariah Carey, Gloria Gaynor, Natalie Cole, Tiwa Savage, etc. On Project Fame, she came off as introverted, shy and unassuming perhaps due to her song choices that focused solely on vocal dexterity—that was at first a limitation as she was stuck in predictable corner. Speaking with on her experience, she said Project Fame “was a great stepping stone,” adding that “it helped shape me up—the hurdles prior to that time are experiences I’ll always cherish.” She has been through growth process and part of that experience was witnessing the assassination of her father. Events like the aforementioned could render the most talented extroverted kid a loner, shutting away his/her gifts as the cloud of grief subdues. But, instead of taking that path, Niniola chose to remember the memories of her father through sounds. In secondary school, she became the human music box- classroom voice through secondary school- entertaining her peers at every free period on her ‘request show’.

Lagos-born Niniola has a big voice on her, but a big voice does not a big artiste make—the act must combine vocals, songwriting, production, and direction for aural bliss! And this, she initially displayed on Cobhams Asuquo-crafted Itura at Project Fame, receiving praise from judge/prolific producer TY Mix: your songwriting is beyond average…I wasn’t expecting anything less from you! Six months after the reality show, Niniola proved she was indeed ready for the music industry with the release of the Sarz-produced Ibadi. On the debut, she launched a subtle rebirth (or, should I call it birth?) of naija house genre in Nigeria though it should be noted that DJ Klem and Alexander Yangs under Beatworx started experimenting a decade earlier. Ibadi infused folk songs into the house tune for one of 2014’s music highlights, as Niniola took a big first step towards stardom switching from English to Yoruba effortlessly. Though she was a bit self-conscious in her debut video, she has since grown to own the three platforms of audio, video and stage.

Gbowode served as follow-up to show she wasn’t a one-hit wonder, and was performed in the Egun dialect spoken primarily in Benin Republic, Togo, Lagos, Ondo and her hometown Ekiti. Niniola channeled the spirit of her Agolo performance at Project Fame. She names Beninese Angeliqué Kidjo as one of her musical influences and sure reflects the same vocal prowess, spirituality, and energy on Gbowode. You bet; she stuck to the winning house music though this time crafted by Jospo as she sang about hardwork, fruitfulness, thankfulness, money on the social conscious record doubling as a dance track. Trance-inducing Gbowode contains elements of highlife and folk beautifully.


Early 2015 saw the invasion of Masterkraft’s Indomie which later became ubiquitous not only for its house production or star-feature of Olamide and CDQ, but for catchy hook. Aside from the house production, Indomie contains interpolation of My Name Is performed by Busiswa Gqulu. It was in this era of house getting referenced by king of the street Olamide and translating into a street staple that Niniola released her fourth single Soke, a reunion with Sarz. Soke was a masterpiece when it dropped, she again infused folk songs into her house rendition, and in the video she was way more expressive, less self-conscious and debuted vivacious persona like none seen. Niniola the vocalist, Niniola the songwriter, Niniola the performer, Niniola the comic, Niniola the disciple of Ijo Shina fused well with no one persona overshadowing the others. It’s much a delight to see the bespectacled Nini’ evolve into a complete artiste. Though most of her features have been on r&b, pop and world tunes- where she showed her brilliance- when given guest spot on DJ Osas’ electropop Aunty she made it her playground. As a Valentine’s Day gift to her fans in 2015 she premiered house&b Akara Oyibo and “thought it will be a good idea to give the lovers a gift” in visual form in 2016. On Akara Oyibo translated as cake- in this case, wedding cake- she delivered the verses in a mix of English and Yoruba and the hook followed same pattern, singing about love matters. The last minutes of the house and r&b song will definitely make a vocal purist’s evening and songbook—I’m yours to claim, the number tells vocal critics and love interest before the priest. So, it’s clear: This house is not for sale, Niniola lives here!

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