How Danfo Drivers shaped Nigeria’s pop culture of late 90s and early 2000s

Danfo Drivers
Danfo Drivers. [CREDIT: 024kid]

Last Thursday, the managers of the pop rave of the early 2000s, Danfo Drivers, announced that Mad Melon (Oghenemaro Emeofa), one half of the duo from Ajegunle, a suburb of Lagos famous for churning out sports and entertainment stars, died after a battle with an ailment suspected to be tuberculosis.

Mad Melon’s death is a big dent on Nigeria’s pop culture history. The nurseries that nurtured Nigeria’s burgeoning pop culture that has become ubiquitous in entertainment scenes around the world was dug up and manured in the late 1990s and the early 2000s.

While Ajegunle was the pop culture Mecca of the era, the entire area around Apapa – a once upper-middle-class neighbourhood that stares at the Atlantic – was an incubator of creative talents. Those often-forgotten ghettos in Orile, Agboju, Maza Maza, Amuwo, Kirikiri. Okokomaiko and Satellite Town were churning out pearls like a creative mine. Daddy Showkey, African China, Stereoman, Daddy Fresh, Yellowman Denny, Baba Friyo, Nico Gravity, Sound Sultan, Marvelous Benji and many other that ruled the music scene of the era were from that axis Lagos.

The fountain of creative abundance from these economic castaways even flowed to nearby relatively upscale Festac Town and gave birth to perhaps Nigeria’s greatest pop star in the last quarter of a century – 2face Idibia.

While the musical talent of the era satisfied the entertainment needs of the era, they hardly attained iconic status. Perhaps this is because they were mostly flashes in the creative pan – they were mostly one hit or one album wonders. Like the high from an illicit substance, the allure of their arts burnt out quickly and many of them were unable to replicate tunes with which they originally captured the fancy on the street.

Stereoman had just two memorable tracks – the energetic “Ekwe,” and the somewhat mournful “E pain me.” Marvelous Benji was only popular for “Suo” – the track and the dance. Daddy Fresh never lived up to his potentials. Baba Friyo of the eye-patch fame tried to remain relevant for a while but, after “Denge Pose” and “Notice Me” there was nothing else one could point to.

An ironic and indeed sad twist of career trajectories of these ghetto-bred entertainers was that they were also consumed by similar circumstances that catapulted them to fame – the ghetto is a cruel place. Paradoxically, fame and money sometimes exacerbate rather than soothe the pains wrought in the slums.

Also, many of them fell prey to poor management; as some of them were barely literate, they signed themselves away into slave contracts. Instead of collaborating, many of them saw their contemporaries as rivals. In fact, some carried this rivalry to their graves. It is still shocking that there was no single collaborative work by the artist of that era worth mentioning.

Danfo Drivers

Daddy Showkey was, without a doubt, the most enduring and commercially successful of the popular musicians of that era, only the Danfo Drivers and African China came close to snatching the spotlight from him.

However, Danfo Drivers had the Nigerian mass singing and dancing away with their self-titled debut. Unlike many of their contemporaries, who had fleeting claims to fame, Mad Melon and Mountain Black (Olotu Jimoh) made hits after hits to prove naysayers wrong.

Perhaps, Danfo Drivers heralded the decline of Daddy Showkey (could this be the reason for Showkey’s unkind “If dem de tell people, make dem dey hear” on Instagram after the death of Mad melon was announced?).

The name Danfo Driver did not only capture the duo’s very essence, but it was also a relatable name for the mass of the people who they chose to entertain. Before their love affair with music, the duo were commercial bus drivers eking out a living moving commuters around from Ajegunle to other parts of the city in the iconic danfo bus.

It was only natural for them to adopt the name and to name their debut song similarly. What is there not to love about “Danfo drivers”: its lyrics is authentically from the bus stop and its singsong chorus was an easily sing along. It was also a chronicle of their everyday hustle as danfo drivers in the unforgiving streets of Lagos.

Anyone who had been inside a danfo, Lagos’s most enduring means of mass transportation, would certainly understand what they meant by “Omo, mash carbon”! And truly from there, their career took off to the skies!

When “danfo driver” was released it was an instant rave. Mountain Black’s “Mad Melon’s ‘pon your window ooo. Yeye hmmm, my lord, Mountain Black is on your window oo.” Got almost everyone singing along and dancing.

The song’s catchy chorus did it a lot of good as well: “shebi you be danfo driver, suo! I am a danfo driver, suo!” Melodious, unpretentious and captivating!

The song was also released at the perfect time. Months before, Marvelous Benji had swept the energetic galala – which imitated the footwork of a boxer – popularized by Daddy Showkey an ex-boxer himself, off the floor with the wavier and less physically exerting ‘suo’. All you needed to do was to roll your arms in a circular motion while bending your hips as low as it can go and your legs in an open-and-close motion.

For months, Danfo Drivers debut song enraptured the senses of Nigerian like the whiff of suya on the street at dusk.

While Daddy Showkey bullied the non-descript car (perhaps a Benz) with the plate number LA 774, from obstructing his path to success, Mad Melon and Mountain Black rode on the yellow ubiquity of the danfo bus to fame.

From there the do-rag-wearing duo didn’t look back.

Other hits

Just like their debut street anthem, “Danfo drivers”, Kponlogo which also captured their ghetto realities cemented their names in the annals of Nigerian pop culture.

It was a story of aphrodisiac laced, locally brewed gin. They first took their fans down memory lane, reminding them that they were only following the path cleared by their forebears who, “in the olden days” celebrated with “aroma Schnapp” [Aromatic Schnapps]. They, however, sang about the variety of options available to them such as “sepe”, “monkey tail”, “soldier root,” “small leaf,” “pepper soup”, and “dongoyaro” available in these days while warning people of the potency and perhaps for them to drink with moderation (una go wound o).

The song caught instant fire on the streets and perhaps helped in removing the stigma attached to these cheap aphrodisiacs by an uppity middle/upper class who hitherto looked upon these drinks with scorn.

“Sensimilla” was a celebration of defiance. As a tribute to cannabis, Danfo Drivers produced perhaps their best creative work ever. The song tapped lavishly from the reggae roots that pervades the ghetto dancehall of the era.

The song kicked off on a defiant note basically telling authorities to mind their business and stay off their porch as they were not prepared to answer questions about their consumption of the illicit substance (who be that wey dey knock on my door ,kor-kor-kor, the rude boys dem dey take indo koro,kor,kor you be army or policeman Lord knows say we na go open the door…).

With “Iya mi” a panegyric to their mothers, the hunky duo negotiated a truce with older demography of their fanbase who would have ordinarily recoiled from their sex, drug and alcohol-infused lyrics. Through this song, the Danfo Drivers revealed to the public that underneath their tough looks, lied a softer side.

The Decline

Mad Melon and Mountain Black, without a doubt, were the biggest Nigerian musical stars between 2003 and 2005. They went on a European tour- something that was huge at the time and their song “Danfo drivers” was one of the two Nigerian songs (The other was 2Face’s African Queen) as soundtracks in the Hollywood movie, Phat Girlz, in 2006.

After “Danfo Drivers” and “Success Story”, their first two albums, the duo released Meshango in 2008. The lead track of the album, “Meshango” was another alcohol-theme song. But it was a song that was released perhaps three years late. By then, the public was already weary of Ajegunle-bred entertainers and had moved on to a slicker movement of pop musician championed by 2Face.

Perhaps the biggest undoing of the Danfo Drivers was not a lack of creativity but poor management. Later the duo lamented that they did not make much money from their first two albums. They also accused their promoters of conniving with pirates to mass-produce their album. By the time they broke ranks with Cornerstone Records, the record label that released their first two records, they were on a decline and despite their best effort, their music did not just resonate with the public afterwards.

In June 2018, they were transported back into the consciousness of many Nigerian music lovers after they accused a singer, Tekno, of sampling, “Kpolongo” without permission. It took a viral outcry of Nigerians on social media before they were compensated, and the matter resolved.

Unfortunately, last week, a part of that pop era, an era which is hardly acknowledged and which now seems like it never existed, an era where artistes only go to “sample” without crediting, died with Mad Melon!

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