2baba thrills the crowd at Chocolate Club in Beijing

Solomon Elusoji

After the clocks struck one a.m. at Chocolate Club in Beijing, recently, the question on everyone’s lips was ‘where is 2face?’ Onstage, a tall dude was rapping to the inconsequential delight of, perhaps, a rented few who had moved forward to provide support. Earlier, some half-clad women had done half-incredible things with poles and giant rings.

About two days earlier, 2Face had arrived Beijing and was welcomed by the concert’s promoters, Peterson Entertainment and Faaji House Beijing, at the airport. He was treated to some Chinese cultural performances and, the next day, he attended an interview session at Startimes Headquarters in Beijing.

“We are trying to put the good things about Nigeria in the face of other people,” Mr. Peter Eze, the CEO of Peterson Entertainment, had told this newspaper some weeks before the concert.
When 2Face did finally appear, some 45 minutes later, it was a slow transition, almost inconspicuous if not for the temperature change – heat filtered in, spread through the hall and waited, suspended in the air above. When 2Face, who was sporting a white T-shirt over stripped blue jeans and white sneakers, pointed to the crowd and blurted ‘I see you’, the heat broke and washed over the crowd, like rain.

A great concert is a collection of stories. Perhaps this is more difficult for a solo concert to achieve, where the artiste is tasked with entertaining a crowd with his body of work without the variety that numbers often offer. So the artist – and his body of work – should be dynamic. There are crowds, of course, who prefer – and even pine – for a certain kind of monotony, stability, but the consensus is that while, as humans, we want to laugh, there is also the niggling need to find tears. And this, the agility to move between two extremes without sacrificing panache, is why Tuface excels.

When Tuface (Passport Name: Innocent Idibia) released his first solo album in 2004, Face 2 Face, he was most popular for ‘African Queen’, a slow, soulful song about the majesty of the African woman. But he refused to be defined by it, recording faster songs, what some might describe as ‘shallow, club bangers’ touting sex and booze. That, too, has never defined him. It is hard to find a lover of Nigerian music who describes Tuface as shallow – whatever that means. There is a word that might summarise a typical voxpox on what kind of artiste he has turned out to be: complete.

It was that word, complete, that lingered in this reporter’s mind as he ‘shook body’ with the Chocolate Club crowd that April morning while Tuface told, not a story, but stories. The first one was about Nigeria. At a point, he stopped the music and started rapping into the microphone. “Very soon, our dead body go soon dey walk,” he said, referencing Nigeria’s Protest Society, an abstract organisation his music, not body-sacrifice, gives him access to. He did that – stopping the music to speak extemporaneously – often, working the crowd like a radical politician, like a frenzied prophet. Twice, he stretched out his hands and blessed us. “Receive,” he cried.

When he sang ‘See me so’, a song about brotherly love from his ‘Grass to Grace’ album, this reporter was reminded of the blooming friendship between the two Koreas who, the day before, had signed an agreement to end war between the North and South and denuclearise the Korean Peninsula. But thoughts soon changed as, during another monologue, Tuface called out for someone, a beautiful lady, to be his African Queen. The crowd squealed back in delight, reminding him he had one back home, in Nigeria. “Make we pretend like sey Annie no dey here,” he replied, grinning.

And thus the night went, sifting through heavy topics like government corruption (‘For Instance’), tolerance (‘Only Me’), while ‘gaga-shuffling’ and ‘implicating’ ourselves. In the end, he advised the ladies: “Let somebody hold you.”

“I was excited that I got to see 2Face for the first time,” Menyene Patrick, a Nigerian student in Beijing, told THISDAY. “And the nostalgia was incredible. He reminded me of so many memories from way back. I loved the energy, the sense of humour and everything. I totally enjoyed myself. It was an amazing night.”