Shortly after the release of Rema’s self-titled debut EP, a fan accused Don Jazzy of changing the young artist’s sound.
But Don Jazzy was telling a half-truth — at least going by the new song ‘Dumebi’.
Clearly influenced by Wizkid’s ‘Manya’, which was influenced by ‘Ahomka Womu’ by Ghanaian band VIP, ‘Dumebi’ appears to be a song about a boy wooing the titular girl. She gets pregnant at some point but maybe that doesn’t stop our love-struck boy’s designs. Frankly, the lyrics are not the most cohesive anyone has ever heard.
But within the song’s scattershot lyrics and its heavily percussive production are the evidence of Don Jazzy’s tampering with what most persons familiar with Rema’s social media videos think of as his sound.
Those videos tell its viewers that this young talent is quite interested in the trap, hip hop, and R&B traditions. ‘Dumebi’ has none of that. It is pure Nigerian pop, that genre that frequently cannibalises other genres for its lyrics, melodies, and adlibs.
But Don Jazzy hasn’t gotten to his position by only deploying half-truths. He is aware Rema is a teenager, a sponge in other words, and by having him make a clearly Nigerian pop song he has opened a new path of success to his young signee: He can clearly rock a hip hop track as well as excel at a regular pop song.
An artist with potential for expanding his sound is what a label that has lost its major star needs. That you can’t teach old dog new tricks is one reason pop music and its record labels have always favoured the young and, at 17, Rema is as young as any Nigerian label is likely to get. (In this sense, Rema recalls Wizkid. Like Wizkid, he has started very young; like Wizkid, he is able to work in different genres. Like the young Wizkid, Rema has a label boss who has done some writing, producing, and performing. One hopes the Rema-Don Jazzy arrangement ends better than the Banky W-Wizkid liaison.)
In what strikes me as a concession to Rema’s out-of-mainstream roots, the video for ‘Dumebi’ has none of the traits of the Nigerian pop music video: there are no shaking backsides, no expert choreographies, no crowded party scenes. Instead, the video is story-driven but with an off-kilter narrative style.
A group of friends is on what seems like an excursion. Some tension exists between the character played by Rema and a girl we have to assume is the titular girl. For a few seconds, it appears the man and his crush will be together but that hope is extinguished at the last moment.
Thus: While the song is mainstream pop, its video reminds viewers of the singer’s original background. Rema works well within both spaces, proving his adaptability but that would be impossible without the guiding hand of Don Jazzy. The hit is Rema’s; the vision appears to be Don Jazzy’s.
As for the enjoyment, that is the purview of the many listeners (and viewers) who have made a hit out of ‘Dumebi’.
First published by Music In Africa