Jola Naibi

Writer and amateur photog. I seek to inspire and inform with the words I write and share and the photos I take. I have written a book of short stories: Terra Cotta Beauty, and I am working on a lot more. Reading and writing fuel my energy. In reading, I explore this vast and diverse world, in writing, I employ my over-active imagination and address the 'what-if' questions that life often throws at us.


American Idol – the Anglophone West Africa version

By on April 3, 2007

Bella Naija has been doing an excellent job of keeping folks updated on the Idols -West Africa …I must admit that after the initial auditions, I lost track of who was shortlisted. So lately, I have been catching up on Bella’s blog. It is a bit difficult not being on the ground in Naija but a combination of Bella and the show’s website, I have been able to get enough information to draw a few conclusions, the most important being that the show is a huge disappointment for me as a West African.

I was a bit surprised when I noticed that none of the performances featured any African songs and was curious enough to skim through the profiles of the contestants. One of the questions that they are all asked is ‘ Favorite Artistes’ and with the exception of one general response which I think read something like ‘a wide range’ all of the contestants named singers like – Usher, Alicia Keys, Maxwell, India Arie, Jill Scott, Celine Dion, Beyonce, Whitney Houston.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against these singers and love their music just as well…but for the West African Idols, shouldn’t we be showcasing some home-bred African talent.

I understand that the contestants are entitled to their own opinions and pick THEIR favorites…but did none of these people grow up listening to Ebenezer Obey – that ketekete song is an all-time classic or Sunny Ade – Ori mi ye o ja funmi or Aiye nreti Eleya mi o or was it Victor Uwaifo who sang if you see Mammy Water o. There is Majek Fashek Send down the rain and a few other songs which now escape me. I can’t believe no one has even sang Onyeka Onwenu’s One Love or that song in Ibo called Bianu…I don’t know what she is saying since I don’t speak Ibo but that is a song…whatever I am doing whenever I hear that song (and like I said on Bella’s blog, it’s been a while)…I am put in a trance. And don’t even get me started on Fela or Femi- I can’t believe that there have been remixes of soulful songs by American singers and no one has thought to remix a Fela song…I would love to hear a soulful version of Animal in Human Skin…Animal dey wear agbada. Someone told me (and I don’t know how true it is) that there may be copyright restrictions in terms of Fela songs these days but please if someone on West African Idol can do a version of Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely by the Backstreet Boys(?) surely something can be arranged. No one has thought to do Bongos Ikwe’s Only Last Night I had a dream or I have been searching for – speaking of which I am searching CDs or LPs or Bongos Ikwe’s songs

One of the highlights of the American version of the contest is when the established singers come forward to encourage the contestants…I have to admit that I have not watched American Idols seriously but I do remember one season that Barry Manilow showed up and a few of the contestants performed his songs with a little bit of coaching from him. Here’s an idea – I don’t know the name of the singer who performed the theme song for New Masquerade and sadly did not spend anytime in the East when I lived in Nigeria, but someone who did told me that he was quite a popular musician in the East back then…I am not sure if he is still alive and kicking (pray he is) but wouldn’t it be a special treat if they had him on the show the night someone performed an R and B or soulful version of Oyi ba beer bwo bwo (I know that my spelling of the lyrics is awful so I won’t go further). I think it would be a great and special treat because for one thing it would put the spotlight on a little known Nigerian artiste and bring back a ton of memories…I mean anyone of those contestants and all Nigerians of a certain age who lived in Nigeria know the New Masquerade …it is forever etched in our collective memories and there is nowhere in the world where you would hear the theme song and not stop and wonder…yours truly heard it playing in someone’s car on a side street in London years ago and did a double-take walked over to the car which was about to take off and made a new friend.

Another idea would be to have some excellent instrumentalists on the show-Kunle Ajayi and Tee Mac come to mind – and have them perform an accompaniment to whatever song. Kunle Ajayi does a wonderful instrumental rendition of Heaven Come down wouldn’t it be great if one of these contestants performed a lyrical version with him in the background. I don’t believe there are any restrictions on performances of religious songs such as this since a couple of the American Idols have performed Christian songs…but then again, I am not sure about these things.

And rather than restrict it to Nigerians, we could have some of the contestants perform songs by Miriam Makeba, Salif Keita, Manu Dibango or that wonderful Ipi Tombi song – Baby Baby I love you forever, etc etc

Also, I don’t know whose idea it was to call the show West African Idols for one thing with the exception of Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone the rest of West Africa is either Lusophone or Francophone. Even the website that they have up there is not translated into either French or Portuguese so many of the people in the non-Anglophone countries would not be able to follow whatever it is that is going on since a large majority do not speak English…but then again what is there to follow since all of the contestants are from the English speaking part of West Africa.

I think the West African Idols would have been a great idea – but it is it has lost its authenticy when it comes to Afrocentricity – I think it would have been better if they had just called it the American Idol – the Anglophone West Africa version

  1. Reply

    Vera Ezimora

    April 5, 2007

    Jola, I COMPLETELY agree with you. You see, that is the thing with us (Africans). We idolize the non-Africans so much that we never stop and smell the roses (enjoy other Africans). I dunno what da heck is going on, Jola. it’s like they want the world to know that they r internationally aware, so to say. They want people 2 know that they know American/non-African singers. But will you ever hear Usher saying his favorite artist is 2Face?

    I’m currently listening 2 2Face’s new CD and it is great! More grease to the elbows of Naija/African artists.

  2. Reply

    Jola Naibi

    April 5, 2007

    @vera -Thank you my sister…it is so disheartening…not ONE single contestant has performed an African song…and even if not any of the oldies I had mentioned even one of the newbies Dare and Co.

    What many fail to realize is that in a bid to ‘internationalize’ as you put it …we are losing our authenticity…meanwhile, folks are looking for something new and original. All those Whitney and Celine songs have died a painful death in karaoke bars all over the world that no potential talent scout worth his salt would do a double take but give them a good African rhythm and you might just get their attention…you know a nice song with a powerful beat (a la Olori Oko) which is not so popular internationally and you just might turn a few heads and catch someone’s ear…I can’t wait to see the outcome of this glorified karaoke that we are presenting to the world as Idols West Africa…I am so disappointed…my heart is broken

    Thanks for taking time from your party planning to stop by, my sister

  3. Reply


    April 5, 2007

    In s functioning society you would earned yourself a job with the producers of the idol program. Too bad sha. Great insight. Thanks for stopping bye.

  4. Reply

    Jola Naibi

    April 5, 2007

    @omodudu – Thanks for the compliment…although something tells me that the current producers have these ideas also, but instead choose to pander to the whims and fancies of popular culture rather than take the time to carve a niche for themselves which is perceived by many in this business as ‘shudder’- too risky

  5. Reply


    April 5, 2007

    What we have in that competition is the colonization of the world by MTV.
    A number of the contestants in the earler rounds tried to sing traditional songs but the judges repeatedly insisted on Western hip-hop/pop

  6. Reply


    April 5, 2007

    What we have in that competition is the colonization of the world by MTV.
    A number of the contestants in the earler rounds tried to sing traditional songs but the judges repeatedly insisted on Western hip-hop/pop

  7. Reply


    April 6, 2007

    nice post and wonderfully rich with observations and suggestions. i’m not really into all the whole idol stuff…sorry.

    about remixes of Fela and Nigerian songs of old there have actually been quite a few (remember copyright hardly works in Naija), but majority were not quite remixes per say but samples. if you were based in Naija i’m sure you must have heard a few. search google for “fela red hot riot”.

  8. Reply

    Jola Naibi

    April 6, 2007

    @laspapi – something told me that it was pressure from the organizers that is dictating the contestants’ choice of songs. That is a shame really
    @trae – I am not really into the whole idol thing myself…I have only caught a few episodes here but I think the concept if done well could have been a great opportunity to showcase African talent on the international stage.
    Thanks for the tip…we are huge Fela fans over here and I’ll be sure to search for those remixes. There are quite a few American bands who are taking on Afrobeat remixes and some of them sound just like Fela

  9. Reply


    April 13, 2007

    american noseDOL as i call it. in this case i’ll call it ecowas noseDOL (cant think of a better name right now) i heard about it and it was funny to me, but knowing how nigerians are we rewrite the rules to everything.

    ur quest for afrobeat music. i dont know where u live but during my numerous rounds of internet and NYC waka waka. i have found stores where i could buy cd’s by nigerian artists. as an afrobeat fan, i have the cd, trae talked about, i has remixes by artistes like common, mos def et all. theres also this music group that plays pure unrefined afrobeat ANTIBALAS is the name of the group. havent done much research on them yet( research meaning i havent taking time out to go buy their cd and listen to it) but the lil i heard from one of their songs sounded awesome to me.

    if u are interested i could help u find the store websites.

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