Culture and Lifestyle

Jaywon: On The Fringes Of The Mainstream

On New Year’s Eve of every year since 2014, as soon as the clock ticks into the new year, television and radio stations switch to Jaywon’s ‘This Year’ as everyone plays the song to express their thoughts, hopes and expectations for the new year through its lyrics. The song dominates the airwaves for a few days until the novelty of the celebrations wears off. Then it gets sent back to obscure playlists like Christmas decorations until the next year, when it will be remembered again. It may well be considered the secular pop version of ‘Ọdún ń lọ S’ópin’, the almost ubiquitous gospel track by Mrs. D. A. Fasoyin and the CAC Good Women choir that typically heralds the Christmas season in the Yoruba-speaking areas of Nigeria. ‘This Year’ is one song that Jaywon is most remembered for, and in a way, it is a fitting representation of his brand and his sound.

Born Oluwajuwon Iledare, in Egbe, Kogi State on the 6th of June 1986, Jaywon is bagged a Higher National Diploma in Accounting from the Federal Polytechnic, Bida, in Niger State. But music has always been what he wanted to do and, consequently, in 2005, he left his native Kogi for the centre of Nigeria’s music scene – Lagos. The nineteen-year-old soon caught the eyes of the likes of 2face and Sound Sultan, who noted that his distinctive vocals bellied his age. From then on, superstardom was a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ for the young artiste.

The ‘when’ would be 2009, at the Kennis Music Easter Fiesta, when Jaywon, then 23, caught the eye of the organisers of the event with his electrifying performance and got signed to the Kennis Music record label. It proved to be an instantly profitable partnership as Kennis Music, one of the top Nigerian labels at the time, and Jaywon hit the top of the music scene together. His gravelly husky baritone, unlike no other in the industry, proved popular with fans as his first song with Kennis, ‘Filẹbẹ’ flew to the top of music charts across. It was the herald of what was to come, as hits such as ‘Facebook Love’ with Essence, ‘Praise’ with KSB and ‘Jawo’ with the late Goldie Harvey – all his label mates – followed. 2009 also proved to be a fruitful year for him as he won ‘Best New Act’ at the Nigerian Entertainment awards.

Then in December of 2012, he released the single that has proved to be the magnum opus, or at least the one that he is most remembered for to date in his career so far – ‘This Year’. The song was produced by Black Jerzy. The soulful lyrics of the song, combined with its slow reflective beats, and Jaywon’s own distinct vocals ensured that the song spread like wildfire. It was the perfect song for the gravitas and reflection that a new year brings. It was also fitting that ‘This Year’ would not just be Jaywon’s final hit track for Kennis music, but also arguably the final hit that the label would produce, bringing a fitting end to nearly two decades of the label being the top dog in the Nigerian music industry. Kennis had produced a long line of stars for the Nigerian music industry, Jaywon was the final act. The last big product of a long conveyor belt.

Read Also: Nigerian Music and the Long Journey to Global Acclaim

The very first line of the song ‘We’re making money this year’ would also prove prophetic, as Jaywon made money, and lots of it because of that track in 2013. The song raked several endorsements for Jaywon. It also won the ‘Recording of the Year’ at the 2013 Headies. It was the boost he needed to start his own record label, Next World Entertainment, after his contract expired at Kennis Music in mid-2013. One of the very first songs on the Next World label was a remix of ‘Madantin’, a song he had released on the Kennis label, in which he featured May D, Olamide, and Phyno. The song achieved some level of success, which was some assurance that he was ready to take on the music industry. His ‘Oba Orin’ album released in 2016 bore this out somewhat, with Wilfred Okiche of 360nobs describing it as ‘a fine collection of sounds that reflect Jaywon’s superior talent and the state of pop music’ and Joey Akan rating it a 3/5 for PulseNG — ‘Jaywon has performed personally for you, in a crowded local venue.’ Jaywon would also win the ‘Indigenous Act of the Year’ at the AICA Awards in 2016.

Describing Jaywon’s sound is not a particularly easy task. Jaywon’s sound comes from a variety of influences. One can spot bits of Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade in his lyrics, as well as bits of gospel music. These are only few of the wide range of his influences from hip-hop, to Afrobeat, to the more traditional sounds, which he combines into a vocally pleasurable, artfully distinct sound.

If one is to define the overall nature of Jaywon’s career, one can do it in terms of two of his songs: the aforementioned ‘Filẹbẹ’ and ‘This Year’. The hook for ‘Filẹbẹ’ which goes ‘Fi í leẹ̀ bẹ́ ẹ̀ , oun tí mo mọ̀ ni mò ṣe/Jẹ́ kó wá bẹ́ ẹ̀ and do the one wey you sabi (Leave it that way, what I am doing is what I know how to do best/let it stay that way and do what you do best too’, is in many ways a reflection of Jaywon’s sound. Jaywon as a rule is a pop artist, with his main strength as his voice. He is not much of a lyricist. He doesn’t quite have that turn of phrase, or the reflexive adlibs, or the command of street lingo that artistes like Olamide and 9ice and lately the likes of Nairamarley command. Where the likes of Olamide, 9ice, Naira Marley, or Davido might entertain, Jaywon sings. The difference in the two is how the aforementioned artistes do on party and club tracks, versus how Jaywon’s music does in that circuit. It is also the reason why his songs are distinctive vocal marvels, and are soulfully lyrical but hardly compelling enough to be worth repeat plays, especially for a young vibrant population of Nigerians hooked on the Nigerian party and club music scene. It is not that Jaywon doesn’t try to get in those circles, but anytime he does, the resulting sound often comes out as something he does to fit in, not something that comes from his comfort zone.

In a 2016 review of ‘Jolly Muke’, one of the tracks on Jaywon’s Oba Orin Album which he featured 9ice, I had written that ‘9ice eats him up on his own song, and 9ice’s lyrics are more memorable than Jaywon’s.’ That assertion was made in the context of one song, but four years on it has become an overarching theme of his career. His most celebrated song, ‘This Year’, is one of reflection. It is the perfect summation of his career, the object lesson that what Jaywon knows how to do best is sing, and he is better off doing that than anything else.

And there is no doubt that he knows this, which is why he prefers music where he can pour out his soul into his lyrics. In recent years, his songs which feature the likes of Qdot, Barry Jhay, and Lyta, have rarely deviated from that norm. While at 34 he is far from being an old man, he has finally grown into his sound, and one can say he is now doing music that he wants to do, the way he wants to do it.

It is not a bad thing to be remembered for his voice either, after all Morgan Freeman will be remembered more for his voice, that baritone that lends gravity to the mundane, than for his acting which is not as memorable. Of course, his fans would no doubt argue that with such a distinctive voice and lyrics that speak deeply to the human condition deserves far more recognition than he is getting, the awards that he has won notwithstanding. To people who love his music, the fact that an artist like him has struggled for mainstream acceptance shows that something is broken in the Nigerian music industry. Perhaps in a certain sense, the turn of Jaywon’s career was inevitable. In terms of musical personification, Jaywon is not, and will never be, the hip friend on twitter or Whatsapp whom you constantly hang out with and who knows the latest memes and slangs. He is more of your older, wiser, slightly old-fashioned uncle, whomyou visit from time to time and who always prays for you and who never fails to drop a pearl of wisdom or two about life for you. You might not always hang out with him because he can be boring sometimes, but you will always need his words of affirmation and his gentle voice assuring you that you are doing it right.

Jaywon is a rare breed, an artiste from a generation of musicians that lived in a very different era of Nigerian music. Thus, like a time traveler stuck in the wrong generation, he will always be at the fringes, unable to become a mainstream darling. But he will continue to sing on, because the likes of him will never die out. He might not know how to turn a phrase, but he can sure turn a note. And that is why we will always need him and his likes around; men who know what they are doing, and are doing what they know how to do best.

Adebayo Adegbite

Categories: Culture and Lifestyle

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