There’s some controversy about how we talk about Afrobeats and its place in the world. While Africa maintains its place as the home to many kinds of musical genres, some critics have highlighted the danger in boxing African music and art under one label – Afrobeats. The term which was initially used to label mainstream Nigerian songs has somehow become this infectious tag that inappropriately labels vastly different musical genres together. When you’re Nigerian everyone usually expects you to be a certain way; dress-speak-engage in one way. What unconventional songs like Melanin prove is identity is not monolithic – there is no one way to be Black, Nigerian, Woman and African.
“There’s always room for creativity and newness in sounds. One of the things I’m very interested in as a creative is bridging sounds and making music with no restrictions, in a way that is true to me. I think music is very fluid and shouldn’t be boxed in. My aim as a Black African woman, who is also Nigerian is to be able to create in a way that knows no bounds but presents endless possibilities.”
I grew up with Naranie in a small town in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and only reconnected recently in Africa’s most populous Black city – Lagos, after almost 15 years apart. If you haven’t been in this kind of situation before, imagine the thrill that comes from finally seeing a childhood friend after such a long time. This reunion would have felt very off-brand if we didn’t spend most of it in traffic, Lagos is notorious for that. As she goes on to connect her phone to the auxiliary cord, we listen and take in the tender song for a while, only to discover the artist behind it was this familiar soul I had been out of touch with.
“Melanin was made a week before I returned to Nigeria after being away for over 10 years so I like to think it was an awakening, to come back to me – myself. The process was very organic. I invited a friend of mine Kobena Aquaa-Harrison, who is Ghanaian – to the studio and he brought with him an indigenous instrument – a gyil.”
The instrument, typically played in funerals by men, who learn to play while young, is what ushers in the song. It is the gyil that gives Melanin it’s final stamp of African realism and diversity. It highlights the multiplicity that comes with being African, predisposed by unique contexts but still delightfully linked – a Nigerian woman singing in a familiar way, as the Ghanaian gyil embodies the heartbeat of her plea to Mother Dudu. [Dudu which is the Yoruba word for black]
“The sounds of melanin came to us organically as Kobena played away on the Gyil and Guitar, words that so vaguely yet powerfully reminded me of our Identity fell on my tongue. Melanin is an appreciation of the beauty in our blackness, and the continent that birthed us.”
“Oh Mother Africa, what a glorious dance it is – to be birthed from your womb
Oh Mother Africa, bless my melanin skin
I’m using some dudu to wash it clean
Oh Mother Africa, bless this melanin
I’m using some dudu to wash it
In every way, listening to Melanin alongside it’s author felt like the first time we saw each other; maybe again or perhaps for the first time, as we were only kids when we lived back home. This song dedicated to Mother Africa asking for a renewal and cleansing of spirit was all that we needed on this day, especially in a global climate that constantly feels anti-black. It is riveting to come back home to one’s self among the company of others, in a familiar place where everyone is allowed to just be – Dudu.
“Music is my truest source of expression, It’s the best way for some of us to communicate what we feel internally, a response to what we experience externally.”
My Favorite thing about Melanin is how Naranie’s Voice reassures the listener to relax and give way to her, Mother Africa – the intercessor, to intercede on your behalf. It is in the way she echoes “GLOW!” almost as an order or an incantation during a hymn procession. Naranie’s deep gritting soul is manifested through her strong and compelling vocals, which is the reason we are inclined to listen, understand and trust her. I think that’s the reason we enjoy music, as much as we go to it for safety, we also go for revival, a start over and as a reminder of self. Melanin is not just a soothing song but a manifesto on how to love, especially in the presence of those who fated your life’s journey. It is a welcome home.
Written by Christina Ifubaraboye
Christina Ifubaraboye is a full-time writer who works in Advertising and across various media, like podcasting and filmmaking. Her interests are film, popular culture, media and the power it possesses in the digital age, while her focus is on challenging commonly misconstrued narratives in society. You can find her on twitter and instagram.