In the past weeks, I have found myself in front of the mirror, trying on some hippity-hopping, body-lifting, seizure-inducing excuse for a dance. I wonder how many more like me are out there: Practicing in isolation, fine-tuning what I’d like to call the “scissor suicide” hand moves, mastering the right timing for the leap, while hoping for the best.
The best here really means that you successfully execute your rehearsed mission without disgracing your lineage in public. At the very worst, you trip and fall or become a show of shame in your bid to join millions of Nigerians in the “gbe body.”
Zanku it is indeed… Zlatan, Abeg, No Kill Us.
There is a very visible difference between the green-haired man who has just made his way upstairs and the golden-haired lad we interviewed in the early months of 2018. The latter was an excited young act who had just been slung into the mainstream out of obscurity but this version of him seems calmer, more collected, very calculated, and highly aware of the pop culture royalty that he has become.
Fresh off another interview, Zlatan Ibile and his team members quickly socialize with Viktoh and Chinko Ekun’s entourage; all of whom arrived earlier for their own engagements. As expected, the air is boisterous and filled with collaborative hood energy: the kind that can be felt through songs like Chinko’s wildly successful single- Able God, featuring Lil Kesh and the Kapaichumarichopaco crooner. He still won’t share the meaning of the strange tongue-twister but here’s breaking it down into digestible syllables.
‘Olamide made it possible for me and for so many other uncountable artistes from the east, west and south.’
“Ant wey get belle na pregnANT” says Viktoh, as the gang become engrossed in a rave-of-the-moment trend that has just hit social media. One of Chinko’s guys comes up with “Ant wey no dey smell na deodorANT”, and they go on and on.
Chinko is at one end of the space we occupy, having a discussion with an executive while Zlatan is seated, waiting for me as I have a few words with his manager. He is a bit knackered; needing to make one last trip to the bank before calling it a day. One random glance around the room helps me realize something interesting. All the artistes present have one common denominator.
Viktoh joined the YBNL family in 2014, Chinko Ekun followed suit the year after but there was something unusually different about Zlatan’s affiliation with Baddo (who as we know, is very quick to sign talent that interests him). Olamide came across one of Zlatan virals on social media, after which he hit him up via direct message to keep up the showcase and keep working on his craft, with the hope that they’d work soon. Two years later, Olamide rang Zlatan up, asking the rookie to join him on the road for a show and the result of that trip was the breakout single- “My Body”.
In the comment section of this video, a certain David Michael writes:
“This is what makes Olamide have an edge over [every] other artistes in the industry, he is not too proud to work with upcoming artists or even the ones that just started…just to encourage them.”
David tells no lie. Over the decade, Olamide has effortlessly blended the art of being a king and a kingmaker and in one lengthy stretch, Zlatan passionately tells me the depth of Baddo’s influence on a new generation of indigenous hitmakers.
‘Olamide is the reason why I am doing this right now because I never had plans of doing music. I remember when I was growing up and we had the likes of 2face and Dbanj. I didn’t really pay attention then but when Wizkid and Olamide came into the game at their young age, I was able to see myself. I followed Olamide up from Eni Duro, I listened to all his songs and I loved all of them. I also observed how he gradually rose.
When I started music, I started with English but I was listening to Vector’s album that had just come out then (The Second Coming) and I thought to myself, can I really make it in English rap? I was not sure that I could do better so I went back home and tried Yoruba. When I saw that it worked, I had to switch to proper Yoruba indigenous rap.
Olamide is the baddest guy ever liveth. 7years, 7 albums. I believe that if Olamide goes a whole year without dropping anything, he will still be the same Olamide that he has always been because he has done so much. He is among those that made it possible for me and for so many other uncountable artistes from the east, west and south. Olamide has done so much for so many people by putting them on, including myself. He is one person I respect so much.’
‘Walking on the street doesn’t make you a street boy. It is what you have seen and what you have been through.’
Zlatan’s music foundation was first laid in the church, where he spent most of his time as a drummer boy but it was not until after his WAEC in 2012 that he began considering a career path. He followed his friends to the studio regularly and by the time of his admission into Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, he had 2 or 3 unmixed songs to his name.
For someone who did not believe in luck, 19-year-old freshman Zlatan, wound up as the regional winner of Airtel’s One Mic; a competition that his friend coerced him into entering.
‘I didn’t believe that something like that was possible’ he says, recollecting the day his friend mentioned the competition to him.
‘I thought, “Who would ever give someone a brand new car?” He said, “guy, let’s just give it a try. It is just 50 naira sim card you have to buy.” I told him to go and buy the sim card if he wanted me to participate, that I did not have 50 naira to buy any sim card.’
Despite Zlatan’s doubt, his dear friend went ahead with the purchase, returning to class with the application form for him to fill. This event he says, filled him with a fresh hunger to pursue his music career a little harder. I ask if he still in touch with his dear friend and he replies with a loving, yet mischievous smile. “Yeah he called me today, just that he keeps on disturbing me every day like I owe him everything in this life… lol”
‘It’s just timing. Everything comes with time and it is turn by turn. It will work out when it is gonna work out.’
One major criticism that Zlatan’s music has had to face, is the perception that his lyrics promote negative lifestyles including fraud, prostitution, drug abuse, and more.
While this is debatable, it is important to note that the parent genres of street-hop all draw their elements from the vices prevalent on the streets. The streets also own a great stake in the music eco-system and Zlatan’s relatability is what has planted him right at the centre.
‘I am a street boy’, says Zlatan, for anyone needing clarification. ‘It is very different on the streets. Walking on the street doesn’t make you a street boy. It is what you have seen and what you have been through.’
The Zanku has also positioned Zlatan as one of Nigeria’s most sought after artistes, adorning the streets of history with landmarks like Killing Them featuring Burna Boy, Chinko Ekun’s Able God, Bum Bum by DMW, Rexxie’s Foti Foyin and many, many more.
Beyond the music, however, Zlatan’s worldview preaches nothing less than positivity. Defending his controversial “Lappy” lines from Able God in an interview, Zlatan enumerated all the legal ways believes youths can build sustainable wealth.
Zanku was born on a Friday night, at Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s New Afrikan Shrine. As Zlatan chilled in the midst of people he describes as “proper mainland boys who are always happy for no reason”, he saw one of them bust a particular move that he loved. Going back home with this raw material, Zlatan breathed life into his own signature dance style by weaving in a few more moves and sprinkling it with character and context. To properly achieve this dance, Zlatan says you must:
- learn to stiffen and ease your back muscles in a certain way,
- Your arms must be thoroughly flexible,
- You must be very well versed in the act of stepping on the devil,
- And you must possess Kungfu kicking skills.
Marvellous Benjy’s mid-2000s banger- Swo sweetly summarizes the transitory nature of dance trends and if he were to update it to capture today’s reality, here’s how its lyrics would probably go:
“Shakiti bobo no dey do them again, Shoki no dey sweet them again, Shaku Shaku no dey wound them again, na Zanku be the new dance wey dey reign.”
What then happens when Nigerians move on (as they do from everything including issues of life and death)? Will Zlatan be affected? I think not. He understands the ephemeral nature of trends and believes he is well equipped to birth even more. He is also of the strong opinion that the Zanku has evolved from being just dance to becoming a progressive movement.
‘The Zanku dance might actually go but it will really not go anywhere because whenever dances are acknowledged, it will be mentioned and it will be there forever. Zlatan will also be here forever.’
Temidayo Omoniyi derived his “Zlatan” name from his football playing days. He would always wear a shirt with the name branded on it and it stuck to him ever since but Ibile (which means indigenous) was appended by his friends due to the nature of his music.
Surfing the internet for the meaning of Zlatan (Swedish for golden), I stumble upon a Wiki page that lists the names of prominent people who go by the same name. Of course, it was topped by the famous footballer, Zlatan Ibrahimovic but when I couldn’t find our own golden indigenous boy’s name on there, I clicked edit and helped them fix it.
How dare they? Lol.
Zlatan will not talk about anything that does not directly concern him. He will not comment on Waje’s recent outburst, he won’t give his opinion on Davido and Chioma or on 2baba and Black Face, nor will he tell me if a certain “Seyi” is his girlfriend.
He, however, gives deep details of how he nearly lost the data of his song Osanle featuring Davido, his opinion on indigenous music going global, his ways of giving back to the streets and a strand of his childhood memory, when he nearly went missing.
Vibe: Share an incident from your childhood that you will never forget.
Zlatan: When I was young, my mum would normally take us to redemption camp and one day, I was meant to go back with the church bus to Ikorodu. I was holding my sister and then someone walked in between us, and we left each other’s hands. I turned around to look for my sister but I could not see her. They got to Ikorodu before remembering that I was not in the church bus. It was a mad thing that day.
V: How did you get home?
Z: I was able to track one of my dad’s tenants who sells stuff at the redemption camp. He was also packing to go home as well. By this time, my folks had gotten to Ikorodu and they were looking for me inside the bus. I had to go with the other man.
V: Did you get a whooping?
Z: No. It was not my fault. You know how Redemption Camp is. There are a lot of people. It was a coincidence.
V: You make music in Yoruba mostly. Now that we are in a global Afrobeats phase, would you say indigenous music will be harder to export?
Z: It’s really not that hard. If you listen to the likes of Wizkid, Davido and Tekno who are out there representing Nigeria, they do not sing totally in English. You hear Davido saying “I go chook You Chooku Chooku, biko Obianuju’. That’s Ibo but the music still goes far. I believe it is just grace. It is not every time the music will be in hard Yoruba. There is a way we can still break it down that even people outside will be able to vibe to it. I do not see it as a barrier. It’s just timing. Everything comes with time and it is ‘turn by turn’. It will work out when it is gonna work out.
V: What song would you say you have given your all?
Z: (Lifts shades off his eyes and scratches his head in thought). That would be Osanle; the song I recorded with Davido. I went through a lot to record that song because of the very limited time. A few weeks later, the producer – Fresh had an issue. He misplaced the hard drive that contained the song and I only had the raw MP3 version. I was like “what’s going to happen?” because it was going to be hard to get David to record all over again. David also had many songs on the missing hard drive, meaning that his songs would have to be fixed before I am attended to. I almost dropped the unmixed one like that because I really didn’t care. As long as David was on it, people would listen to it. I eventually decided to keep the song because I wasn’t even ready and didn’t have enough money to push it properly. After 6 months, the producer called me to say that he found the data somewhere so we met up and readjusted the song.
That took another few months because I was having some low-key personal issues that made me lose focus. It took me like one year to actually drop that song, after one year of listening to it with my friends. When the song came out, it wasn’t that serious to me because I had heard it over and over again.
So yeah… That’s one song that I faced a lot to get out. I also shot the video twice. I shot the video a year before, using the raw files but when I was ready to drop the song a year later, my looks had already changed. I had to shoot another part to get David on it so we shot in Ghana and mixed some of the old clips with the new ones. It was really stressful.
V: How do you plan to give back to the streets seeing as it a big part of your story?
Z: I give back to the street every day of my life. My lifestyle is giving back to the streets, my success story is giving back to the streets. There are people from my hood and my school that know me and used to play ball with me on the street. They know how I started and my success story gives back to them by letting them know that if they do not give up, they can be great as well. Personally, I do not need to start stating how I have been giving back but I have been doing so. Mainly, letting people know that anything is possible and that they can make it out of nothing, is the biggest thing I have given back to them.
V: Do you plan to trademark Zanku or has it been done?
Z: It’s done.
V: What is the purpose of all of these?
Z: To make money, not suffer in life and to protect my future.
Cover Story: Black Petal
Photography: Benson Ibeabuchi
MakeUp Artist: Carina_SFX
Cover Design: Slimkiss