Stars were born- and reborn.
Writer and visual artist TJ Benson has been on the grind for a while publishing his work in several journals around the world as well as a collection of short stories. With his first novel The Madhouse, Benson conjures up a weird kaleidoscope of Nigeria past and present in which people bonded by blood ties navigate tensions. He was recently selected by The University of Iowa for the International Writing Program.
After receiving endorsements from Burna Boy and Zlatan Ibile, Buju started out the gate this year with an attention-grabbing assist on Ladipoe’s mega hit record, Feeling. He soon became known as the guy to deliver the perfect pop hook to compliment any verse and would score a memorable collaboration with Wizkid on Mood off Wiz’s Grammy nominated deluxe version of Made in Lagos. Capitalizing on this attention, Buju put out his own body of work, the 7-track Sorry I’m Late.
“Who the fuck is Ckay?” Someone once snobbishly asked. No one is asking that anymore. Thanks to his TikTok conquering, globe spanning mega smash Love Nwantiti and its dozens of remixes, Ckay- born Chukwuka Ekweani- has become one of the most sought-after artistes in the world. Love Nwantiti became the little song that could, pulling record streaming numbers across several platforms, the likes of which have never been reported for an Afrobeats tune.
Akinola Davies Jr
In early February, the jury for the short film competition at the pandemic induced virtual Sundance film festival announced the Nigerian film, Lizard as winner of the Grand Jury Prize, the highest honor for that category. Akinola Davies Jr, 35, Lizard’s director and co-writer (alongside his famous brother Wale, better known as Tec, one half of the rap duo Show Dem Camp) accepted the prize from his home in the United Kingdom.
Lojay’s very good, successful year came about as a result of a strategic creative collaboration with iconic record producer Sarz. After being impressed by his talent and skill, Sarz suggested they team up for an EP. The resulting LV N ATTN, an eclectic melding of R&B and electro sounds birthed the amapiano flavored banger Monalisa as well as a surprise Wizkid collaboration.
Mr Macaroni has always imbued his comedy skits with doses of socio-activism but it was in 2021 that he emerged fully as an activist leader in his own right, using his clout and person to draw attention to causes that are important to him. Mr Macaroni started out the year being beat up and arrested by rogue police officers when he showed up to protest the impending opening of the Lekki toll gate. He would later demonstrate genuine commitment to his causes in his work and via personal example.
We knew Niyola already as the pop singer and one-time first lady of the Banky W fronted EME music label. This year, thanks to Kunle Afolayan, she was reborn as an actress. Niyola- born Eniola Akinbo- was a surprisingly capable presence in Swallow, the Netflix supported adaptation of the Sefi Atta novel. Boasting no film experience beyond her music videos Niyola carried the film credibly playing her character, Tolani as a somber presence uninterested in the world around her.
Michael Omonua has a modest profile that belies his talents and the acclaim that his work has generated around the world. Perhaps best known as the third wheel of Surreal 16, the film collective he founded alongside CJ Obasi and Abba Makama, Omonua opened the year with a Berlinale competition screening for his potential Oscar qualifying short, Rehearsal. By August he joined his collective colleagues to present their latest short story collection, Juju Stories at the Locarno film festival.
Born Prince Jacon Osinachi Igwe, this 29-year-old artist works at the forefront of merging digital art with non-fungible tokens. Osinachi is billed as the future of the industry as his technological awakening is paving the way for African artists to seize their own agency when negotiating value for their work. The self-taught Osinachi created his first crypto art in 2017 and became the first African artist to show a NFT series at Christie’s in London.
The music industry is one huge boys club so it is always refreshing to see a woman break through and dazzle at the biggest levels. Ayra Starr- born Sarah Aderibigbe- was one of the biggest music successes of the year thanks to her appealing voice, endlessly catchy tunes and a terrific marketing push by Don Jazzy’s Mavin music. Following through on the early promise of her warmup EP, Arya Starr put out her stellar debut album 19 & Dangerous establishing herself as a hitmaker and certified vibe killer.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.