D’banj: The Making of a Phenomenal Entertainer

D'Banj at the YouTube Week

Everyone stood up clapping as bouncers scurried to form a human shield around D’banj. The aisle, set between two rows of red and white coloured seats, turned into a guard of honour, packed with digital influencers, journalists, and connected people across tech, business and the sprawling professional landscape of Lagos. Two ladies walked ahead of him, throwing white synthetic petals as the host of the event, Jimmie Akinsola, whipped up a frenzy with a roll call of the Koko Master’s ever-increasing nicknames. “Osinawata buru ogaranya, the Koko Master, Eja Nla…,” his voice trailed off, lost in the applause, the hoots and the cacophony of excitement that greeted him. A smiling D’banj eagerly sneaks in quick greetings during his walk-in, acknowledging the love as he climbs the stage. “I am D’banj…” he starts.

The Youtube event, “An Evening With D’banj” was underway. As part of the ‘Youtube Week’ running through July 17-21, Dapo Oyebanjo was being hosted at the Landmark Center by the global leader in video sharing and streaming. The iconic entertainer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, was invited to share his secrets and learnings from winning in different fields including music, Agriculture, branding, and content marketing. Over the years, D’banj has transcended the world of entertainment, redefining himself beyond his music, and building a hydra-headed brand that shines and thrives beyond art. Music has grown from being his main medium and lifeline to a soundtrack for the phenomenon that he has become.

“Who is D’banj to you?” asks Jimmie Akintola. Playing host for the evening, Jimmie has worked with D’banj for many years as both hypeman and backup performer across diverse countries and continents. He moves the mic through the VIP audience seeking answers from the crowd. BBNaija alumni, Tobi Bakre went first. “D’banj is my brother and Baba in the game,” he said, a reference to his mild facial resemblance to the legend. DJ Lambo explains how his music creates a happy reset during her performance sets, and elevated him as “one of the pioneers of Afrobeat.” For OAP Folu Storms, he is beyond description. His power and longevity defy explanation.

A video reel plays on the stage screen, showing D’banj’s achievements. It’s easy to lose grasp of D’banj’s significance; He’s done too much, and won for so long, that his glowing legacy has achieved a mundane level of normalcy for Africans. “Growing up in Surulere,” shares Jimmie, “we use to listen to Tongolo and I watched the entertainer on stage.” he walks the crowd through his personal connection with D’banj, focusing on the singer’s ever-effusive personality and the rapturous reaction that it commands everywhere. It’s a story that resonates. Everyone in the room has been a beneficiary of D’banj’s material. Friends say there’s no dull moment with him, as he leaves with a piece of his energy.  When he performs, he pours it out in abundance, playing high-octane sets. “Every city he has been to, we are received as Michael Jackson,” Jimmie continues. “I felt like I was watching Michael Jackson.” Interestingly, one of D’banj’s earliest self-provided nicknames was “African Michael Jackson.”As D’banj climbs the stage, the hall falls quiet. He perches on a stool, in his all black fashionable ensemble, and begins to talk. He takes off his hat when he is praised, to make room for his expanding head, before diving into his process.

“As an entertainer, you are not limited to being on stage and being on the studio,” he says about his operational principle, “I always believe that the energy you bring out is important.”

As he spoke, the workings of his mind become clearer to everyone in the venue. For D’banj, there are no days off and every aspect of his consciousness can be commodified for profitable content. It is this hyper-curational approach that has made him one of Nigeria’s most documented creators. “To be a creative, you have to see beyond where you are now. You have to be confident, and you have to have the right story,” he says.   

One of the most popular pieces of Nigerian content originated from D’banj’s effort. It’s a video of a session from his reality defunct TV show, Koko Mansion. In this video, a humorous explainer from one of his contestants on the show remains one of the most recognizable and viewed viral content from the country. Laughter rings through the hall, as the video comes on, Jimmie reminds everyone that this evergreen video has held this same effect for over a decade. That fact is not lost on the crowd as D’banj links it to his famous quote, “Content is the new crude.”

While a glance at his past offered perspective and inspiration on the night, true excitement came with a glimpse at D’banj’s future. He isn’t stopping anytime soon. In July, he is launching a new content series – “Adventures of the Koko Master” – with heavy support from Youtube. He’s also ready for a new album, he announces, before premiering two videos from the forthcoming project. “Which of them should I release first?” he asks. The crowd shouts their responses back, but there is no clear winner.

The night rounds off with D’banj kneeling on the stage, and hoisting a congratulatory Youtube Silver Play Button (called ‘plaque’, by normal people), for reaching over 100,000 subscribers on his Youtube channel. Photographers scurry to capture the moment, as guests scrambled to record it on personal devices. Up next for him is the Gold Button, an honour that requires a million people to subscribe. Knowing D’banj, that is a huge possibility.

The celebration hits it’s zenith as performance time begins. Slimcase joins in for the first ever performance of ‘Cover e’, a song off his new project, before D’banj enjoys a victory lap, dancing with fans, and backed by a live band, as his conveyor belt of smash hits roll. “Oya suddenly, step in the club they’re loving me…” he sings.

Everyone loves D’banj, and on this evening we are all reminded why in many ways. For me, the night’s most powerful content occurred mid-performance of “Fall in love.” It was the live scene of a fan bringing a phone camera close to join in the performance. D’banj leans into him, and syncing in a brief dance routine, as bouncers struggle to keep the crowd at a distance. There was no air, no restriction, and above all, no VIP to him. This is D’banj, the Kokomaster. This is why everyone loves him.

Photo Credit @3188Studios

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