Lagos is a city that never sleeps. Home to roughly 15 million people, the coastal megacity and economic capital of Nigeria is always on the go. Though Lagos is often viewed as the country’s epicentre for quick success, in reality, it exists on two extreme edges: one side is a sea of people determined to “make it”; while the other is home to an erupting creative scene, the beating heart of Africa’s art community. It’s crowded, chaotic and crackling with culture, and by night, Lagos is transformed by the thousands of generator-powered lights that set the stage for its parties.
“The nightlife scene in Lagos is big business,” says DJ Kaywise, an award-winning DJ and tastemaker in the city. “From the cognac-dipped clubs to the big boys block parties, down to the money, glamour and fast cars, our party culture in Lagos is rich, luxurious and fashion-driven.”
While glamour may be part of it, what really drives the nightlife is the soundtrack. Dance music in Lagos is a unique variant, a percussion-heavy sound that’s unlike the popular club styles of the West. The throbbing, four-to-the-floor beats that characterise house sounds more familiar in the West (and some parts of Africa) are replaced by a pitter-patter of percussive progression.
“It’s the African instruments,” says Yinka Bernie, a Lagos-based producer, about what makes the sound of Lagos special. “The drum elements, like the shakers and the congas... it gives it a different bounce, the shakers especially; ‘shaker 101’ to be exact. It’s what makes our sound distinct from European dance music.”
Dance music fuels Lagos’ energy. And as Nigerian popular culture is informed by street culture, Lagos’ dance music scene is necessarily dictated by the streets — and the streets have their own genre: street-hop. Street-hop has a long history as the soundtrack of Lagos’ slums. It’s a mutating sound: even its most basic elements are in motion, influenced by hyperactive, ephemeral street trends. Its roots can be traced back to the early ’90s, and to the slum of Ajegunle, an inner-city neighbourhood where ‘galala’ — a pseudo-reggae sound made popular by artists such as Daddy Showkey, Baba Fryo and Blacky — first emerged.
“The rise of galala from Ajegunle into the mainstream kickstarted the dance scene back then,” recalls DJ Kaywise, a leader in street-hop. Growing up in ’90s Lagos, Kaywise witnessed the birth of street-hop as it morphed from one phase (and slum) to another, and the dance moves unique to each phase — a trend that has continued. “I’d use the word spontaneous,” he says, explaining the origins of these dances. “Nigerians move with vibes. It’s all about how you’re feeling, so the music guides the kind of steps we put out.”