Nigerian and Afrobeats artists are hot right now. How hot? In November, Lagos singer and songwriter Wizkid became the first African artist to sell out London’s O2 Arena – twice. Before that, rapper/singer Burna Boy’s 2020 album Twice as Tall won the Grammy for Best Global Music Album. But who’s the guitarist behind these artists’ smash-hit songs?
Quest for stardom
Ifiok Effanga, better known as Fiokee, is a Nigerian guitarist who has been quietly revolutionising African guitar for 20 years. Best known for digitising his guitar sound and applying effects, his playing and unique sound can be heard across a host of big Afrobeats hits.
Fiokee won Star Quest, the reality talent TV show in Lagos, in 2008. He had an even bigger break in 2010, when he played on Scape Goat, a popular track by Zaria-born singer D’banj that also featured a little artist known as Kanye West. Since then, Fiokee has been paving the way for the next generation of Nigerian guitarists – and the world as a whole.
Last year, Fiokee was selected as part of the Fender Next 2021, a list of 25 global artists that the brand considers to be expanding the world of the instrument. When you talk to him about Nigerian music, it feels like talking to a proud dad watching his kids blossoming.
Here, Fiokee discusses his digital treatment of recorded guitar, the challenge of adding value to the name of African guitarists, and how he owes his mainstream breakthrough to Afrobeats guitar.
Beating the drum for Afrobeats
“For stage performance, I use my Fender Strat or Ibanez jazz guitar,” says Fiokee. “It depends on the feel I am trying to get. And the same thing applies to the studio recordings. There are some songs that require a particular feel and colour, the kind of sonics I want to achieve on that song.
“Because most of the songs I record are Afrobeats songs – when I say Afrobeats, it means other genres under it; some songs might have pop, rock or R&B on them – I know the kind of feel and the kind of guitar setup I might need. Sometimes I process my guitar through the Boss GT-10, then I send it to Logic.”
He adds: “I have some plugins I use if I want to cross my rules, like some good reverb and delay. I also have an analogue delay and some more from the software. Knowing how to work with mood and knowing how to cut the frequencies and kind of tones I want, it depends on the kind of music I’m working on. [On] every song there is a particular feel, so that depends on the kind of mix I want to use.
“For stage performances, guitar more likely has to be clean, so I can use other effects depending on the song. On studio recording, it’s a different mentality – I can twist the guitar the way I want it.”
Since his breakthrough on Scape Goat in 2010, Fiokee has been a huge contributor to the sound that’s helped the Afrobeats genre achieve the global recognition it’s currently enjoying.
It’s even more remarkable that, alongside artists such as Wizkid and Burna Boy, Fiokee was able to break into the mainstream as a guitarist, the first Afrobeats musician to do so. The music industry in Nigeria isn’t designed to allow for such things, so Fiokee’s emergence onto the world stage is massive for the country’s musicians. Hopefully it will boost instrumentalists’ confidence and lead to a wave of similar players. But for now, Fiokee has a new album to promote…
Fiokee’s debut single, Independent Woman featuring Jumabee, landed in 2017. After that, he went on to release Very Connected featuring Flavour, appeared on the Ric Hassani track Sweetest Thing, and released Dumebi featuring Davido and Peruzzi. His last big hit, 2020’s Osan featuring DJ Coublon and Teni, received massive airplay.
“I have influenced 70 per cent of Afrobeats hit songs,” says Fiokee. “I think I have served, contributed, known the business side of music, and I have grown enough to be a MAN.”
Man for all seasons
MAN is that album. It’s Fiokee’s debut LP, and features a combination of instrumental and vocal songs. It’s also a gift to himself.
“I turned 40 on January 10,” says Fiokee. “This is part of my 40th birthday gift as well.”
“The process of recording my album was actually a good flow for me,” he adds. “I had so many producers I collaborated with and a variety of artists who brought in creativity. Also I had a writer on board and it was easy working with these artists because the sound inspired them. So what I did was make sure that I directed everything.
“I didn’t want artists to sound like themselves. I wanted them to sound like how I wanted because it’s my project. If you listen to MAN, every artist involved doesn’t sound the way they used to sound on their projects! I call it the Fiokee way.
“I referenced every sound, the direction and every song that the artists had sent me. I had to bring them down in my studio and redirect, restructure the music to have a direction. Some of the artists we created together from scratch and I am very proud of every sound that came out.”
The artists that Fiokee is talking about include urbano duo Jean & Alex from South America, R&B star Maua Sama from Tanzania, and hip-hop artist Lirical from the Netherlands, as well as a host of top Afrobeats artists from Nigeria.
Fiokee may be just one man but he’s helping to bring the world together through the power of Afrobeats guitar.
MAN is out now.