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On Davido’s Laudable Pro-Songwriters Crusade

In a private listening session for his long-overdue sophomore albumGood Time” scheduled for release next month, Davido had a few choice words for his colleagues: “Give your songwriters credit“.  Barely ten days after, on Saturday, Septemeber 16, the singer took to twitter to appreciate Adekunle Gold who he revealed, co-wrote one of his (Davido) favourite songs off the coming album

This wouldn’t be the first time Davido publicly admits to employing the use of songwriters or even going further to appreciate them. In fact, he is fast becoming one of the key voices in the advocacy for the proper treatment and remuneration of songwriters. In recent times, the singer who is one of Nigeria’s biggest acts and music exports is often praised in industry circles as exemplary for paying songwriters their due and openly giving them credit.  

And despite all the backlash received for his continuous use of songwriters, the DMW boss has emerged bolder and even more resolute. When a fan responded to his Saturday tweet, suggesting that Davido needs to learn to write his own songs, the singer simply replied, “Maybe more artist[s] should learn to tell the truth.”

Except you’re in denial, it’s now common knowledge that many of our biggest superstars are guilty as charged. Most of them purchase songs from songwriters but refuse to credit them openly – and in some cases even pay them. Davido is just the most vocal in a long list of creatives that employ the use of songwriters. 

However, the bulk of the Nigerian audience hasn’t come to terms with the fact that singers adopt the use of songwriters. For all our fervent demands for depth and poetically rich lyrics, it’s quite unfair that Nigerians remain highly critical of the patronage of songwriters.  Many see it as a sign of laziness, a dearth of ‘real’ talent or a symptom of the absence of originality or authenticity.

Nigerians’ resentment toward the embrace of songwriters is probably matched by the American hip-hop community’s hostility to using ‘ghostwriters’.  ‘Real’ rappers simply can’t have their verses written by anybody else. And although fans have – in more recent times -grown more accommodating to the use of ghostwriters, it still remains one of hip-hop’s most deadly sins. Remember 2015 when Meek Mill claimed he would have taken Drake off ‘R.I.C.O’ if he knew his verse was written by someone else.

In the early years of his career, even Davido was much more discreet about his patronage of songwriters. In 2013, it was reported that Davido had bought his chart-topping smash ‘Gobe‘ from Password for ₦350,000. This was revealed after a mild controversy when an impostor accused Davido of jacking his single which had been released earlier. 

Three years after, Davido allegedly acquired the lead single for his “Son of Mercy” EP, ‘Gbagbe Oshi‘,  from General Pype to the tune of a million Naira. 

Most recently, Teni – a burgeoning act at the time – came under fire when she excitedly disclosed that she was the brain behind Davido’s 2017 closer, ‘Like Dat‘. Describing her stint with Davido as a bitter-sweet experience in an interview with Notjustok TV, Teni revealed that “In the first place, I wasn’t even doing it for praise. I was just excited that in my lifetime, I have been able to do something that has challenged me and that has made me grow which is writing for one of the greatest artists in Africa. It was a big deal for me and it was something I was very proud of myself for, so I tweeted it and some people took it badly and some people took it wrong but nevertheless.

Nigerian industry, we still have a long way to go in terms of writers and us being able to come out and say this is what we have done and I feel like we will get there someday. I feel like most artistes because of the mentality of the people, they think if you have a songwriter then that means you are not good but that’s not true because I have read books that have four authors. Two heads are better than one.”

In the Nigerian music industry that strictly operates on the mechanism of natural selection where anything goes, where copyright laws aren’t respected, songwriters are easily exploited and are often on the losing end. Stories of cheated songwriters pop up on blogs from time to time, but we simply move on to the juiciest stories. And when they complain or demand credit, Nigerians are quick to shut them up, tagging them as “ungrateful”. “You no even dey thank God say him even use your song” you’d hear. 

Many of these songwriters are recording artists themselves who are okay with taking the backseat so long as they are paid and credited for their work. Some have even grown so successful at it that over time, they abandon their quest for the spotlight to fully make a career out of helping other artists in crafting records for a fee. Others have used their songwriting stint as a launchpad to further their own careers as recording and performing acts.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with using songwriters. It’s standard practice all over the world. The only time a problem arises is when they aren’t paid for their services or given due credit. One good thing, however, is that the awareness about the salient role songwriters play in the recording process and how well they should be compensated is growing. But there is still so much to be done. 

Davido is no doubt doing the Lord’s work, using his platform to shed light on the abuse of these songwriters that contribute a tangible quota to the industry. His message is simple – give them credit for their work. Over the years, he has benefitted enormously from their services and it’s fair and admirable that he is looking out for their interest. And since it’s not coming from songwriter, a critic or a fan but a musician – a very successful one at that- maybe they’d listen. Songwriters are grossly cheated, underpaid, and often bullied into silence. It’s high time we put an end to that.

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