For as long as single words can stand alone, we will always have a Tekno song. It used to be mostly verbs and the odd noun: ‘Holiday’ (2013), ‘Dance’ (2014), 2015’s ‘Wash’ and ‘Duro’ (‘wait’ in Yoruba). There was the pronoun: ‘Anything’ (2014). A few months ago, the man arrived at the adverb: ‘Where’ (2016).
Is a question mark missing from that last title? No matter. Tekno is a pop singer; he has no use for punctuation.
He has use for hits though. Every song mentioned above has been a hit. And yet, he seemed to belong to the class of artists with songs more famous than themselves.
This is of limited benefit in the Nigerian music industry where corporate endorsements bring in considerable revenue and bragging rights. But big corporations sign big names and perhaps bigger personalities. They have small use for hits without identities: They may use the hit song for a campaign; getting the artist for an endorsement is a different discussion.
So Tekno was without such an endorsement until a recent deal with telecom company MTN. And yet in the most famous of ads for the company, he was surrounded by artists who, arguably, have not had as many hits as himself. The star of the ad was Falz, an artist with a clear identity as a funny young man; a very good album; and, frankly, a limited number of hits on the scale of Tekno’s.
Never mind that though, Tekno is back with a single. As usual it is a single word title, ‘Pana’; as usual it is going to be a hit. What with its grand use of drums and the rather preternatural feel the man has for winning melodies.
This time the title is not so easy to decipher. ‘Pana’ seems to refer to a woman’s name, close in sound to that other titular lady in ‘Panya’, his duet with the duo Bracket. It isn’t though. The name of the girl here is the song’s very first word:
Folake, give me love o.
Na you dey catch my shot o.
For your sake I go go church o
We go drive around for my Porsche o
They say you like wahala
I get wahala
Anywhere that you go
I go follow you dey go
They say you like cassava
I get big cassava
Going past the title, which ultimately may have no meaning, there’s that curious line about cassava as metaphor for the male genital. Before now, there was the ubiquitous banana, used by everyone from D’ Prince of the Mavin group to Orezi. There is plantain, used by Myro and Oritshe Femi on ‘Plantain’ (2015). In 2013, an artist named Gzik named a song ‘Carrot’. We have also heard about the cucumber and sugarcane. The question that may have occurred to listeners is this: When would the plant-based Nigerian phallus achieve its tuber-destiny?
Tekno has now retired that question.
By now everyone knows that Nigerian pop music is not literary art. The Nigerian pop beat is canvass for the fitting of patterned items. If there were no words, these artists would find something else for use in the inexhaustible jigsaw that is the contemporary Nigerian pop sound. The idea, above anything else, is to fit in pieces to create something pleasing to the ear, and whoever seeks meaning does so at her own risk. Words are not tools to be worked with in Nigerian pop—but obstacles to be worked around.
The song’s video, directed by Clarence Peters, comes close to achieving the same meaningless bliss in its use of colour and calligraphy. But it gives more meaninglessness than it yields bliss so that the colour and Asian characters used in the video come to underline the fact of the video’s vapidity. The video joins a long list of visuals undeserving of their songs.
The other issue with the video is Tekno’s not quite stellar dancing. Like all of his other songs, ‘Pana’ insists on great physical response. With the goofy moves on display, he doesn’t pull it off. But then Tekno has never been a great dancer. Not even when he sang ‘Dance’.
With regards to Tekno’s approach to making music, a comparison may be enough. Wizkid, to whom every pop artist of his time will be compared, is a whimsical lyricist. You get the feeling that whatever comes to mind while he records goes into his songs. Tekno is like that, but he isn’t as interested in words. After finding a way to fit in his pieces, Tekno may adlib some rhythmic gibberish because he knows the potency of his beats.
With every song released, Tekno seems intent on proving that if an artist’s execution must match intention, then only few pop acts are his equal. And for anyone listening, It is no longer arguable that Alhaji Tekno is a master of the pop tune.
It used to be that the lyrics on Tekno’s songs were too slight and needed to be padded by melodious gibberish. But compared to some of his earlier songs, ‘Pana’ is quite worded. Still we get the rhythmic gibberish because it works.
‘Pana’ and similar songs from pop artists are not intended to last past the heady present. They were made to enrich the singer by making the people of his time dance. Tekno and his contemporaries do not care about the future. In the club, no one does.
-A version of this review appears online at musicinafrica.net. Aigbokhaevbolo is winner of the AFRIMA award for Entertainment Journalism.