Goalkeeper, Olympian, Miles Davis?

Footballers + Music = An assault on the ears. In stark contrast however, one African footballer's album is good. Maybe. Chris Ledger explains.

The Babayaro family certainly don’t do things by half. Not only was Celestine the youngest player to be sent off and appear in the UEFA Champions League but, along with his older brother Emmanuel, he won an Olympic Gold medal in 1996 with the Nigerian national football team. Whilst Emmanuel’s career was overshadowed by his brother’s achievements at Chelsea and Anderlecht (as well as setting up the football academy ‘Pioneers’), he is finally getting the upper hand after the two brothers have started careers in the Nigerian entertainment industry.

Whilst Emmanuel has shown his versatility by working as a football pundit and film producer in Nigeria, it’s in its music industry where he has made the most impact. When he released his first two singles - ‘Naija Area’ and ‘My Party’ – it was clear that they weren’t pioneering records. The two songs show narcissism to such an extent, it makes Ryan Babel look unassuming. The former Besiktas goalkeeper made numerous references to his playing achievements in the two songs, as well as showing off his collection of Jack Daniel’s liquor in his videos, in order to be as credible as Robert Kilroy-Silk’s political career.

Emmanuel looks set to undo these wrongs though, with the release of his debut album ‘Best of Both Worlds’. This, promisingly, seems to reference Emmanuel’s changing musical direction from auto-tone nonsense to a fusion of jazz and hip-hop. Although the album also contains elements of Naija pop, it is Emmanuel’s jazz influences that are noteworthy of interest. Combining rap and jazz music isn’t a relatively new concept - Soweto Kinch’s Mercury Prize nominated album ‘Conversations with the Unseen’ seamlessly combined the two for example – but it has the potential to be a lot more original than other records released by footballers.

There’s one problem, though, that stops me from telling you whether the album unexpectedly excels or is a telling example of how shallow modern culture is. It cannot be found anywhere online. There have been numerous Nigerian press reports about the album, which was released in September, but it’s not available on iTunes or Amazon. A quick look on a search engine for his record label, Rectitude Records, also proves fruitless. Nothing can be found either about Celestine’s film career - despite starring in the award-nominated ‘Growing Up’ (which he starred alongside the African Movie Academy Award winning actress Chioma Chukwuka), ‘Fantastic, ‘Taking Chances’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine’.

Whilst the fact that Celestine has not yet made his film breakthrough says a lot about Nollywood, an industry that is substantially self-funded and revolved around direct-to-video films, Emmanuel’s venture into the music industry is of greater significance. Tracks released by the likes of Neil Danns and Babel for example, also aren’t available on iTunes; suggesting that the distribution of the singing footballer is a worldwide issue, despite the potential cult interest.

Emmanuel has been a hit in areas where the album is available though. ‘Best of Both Worlds’ has seen three official launches and listening parties in Nigerian cities during recent months, including Kaduna and a private launch party in Lagos. The much-hyped launch at the Abuja Sheraton Hotel in particular saw some impressive attendees including Chief Rochas Okorocha, Professor Dora Akunyili (who is the Nigerian Minister of Information and Communications), former Everton striker Daniel Amokachi, and the caretaker Super Eagles’ assistant manager Ben Iroha. The involvement of several acclaimed producers, including ID Cabasa and Cobhams Asuquo, also served to increase the anticipation of the album’s release.

There’s a big chance that Emmanuel’s album could be internationally distributed in the near future. The Nigerian Export Promotion Council announced a few weeks ago that arrangements to formulate the sale of works by Nigerian entertainment stalwarts to Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and other parts of Africa had been made. A roadshow has also been organised to reach five African countries, to enhance its reputation as one of the leading players in the African music industry.

This is already happening as Ghanaian musicians for example are frequently using Pidgin English to target Nigerian music fans.  Many countries in Africa are also already using Nigeria as their first call of distribution, and the music website Museke is extremely popular amongst Africans. With Nigerian musicians increasingly embracing the likes of YouTube and MySpace, there’s a chance that ‘Best of Both Worlds’ won’t be restricted to localised distribution for much longer.

Despite the Nigerian government’s recent efforts to globalise its music industry so artists like Emmanuel - who are strongly influenced by the Western music scene - can make a mainstream breakthrough, it remains to be seen whether this will be achieved. Until then, it will remain unknown to us whether ‘Best of Both Worlds’ is the modern-day ‘Kind of Blue’ or a sad case of hype over substance.  

What can be safely said, though, is that Emmanuel Babayaro is likely to be far more significant in music circles than ‘Babayaro’ by the Macedonian folk band Blla Blla Blla ever was. In the meantime, the search engine is my calling.

Chris is site editor for the completely fantastic Obscure music and football, a massive favourite of IBWM.