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We were watching the Trace Naija Top 20 Playlist in search of evidence that Clarence Peter’s videos had not completely fallen to Nigerian standards. “So Mi So”, at number two, started playing and it felt like I was hearing it for the first time when my friend, standing with a bottle of wine, said “Can you feel it? This is a song to vibe to when you are high.” He leaned back, eyelids heavy, head moving slowly side to side, wine swinging with his hand. “Even the beat will move you through realms.”
We started sipping the wine, talking and laughing as we agreed that So Mi So’s video was most likely not shot by Clarence, filled as it is with color, chill, sex and high, all washed in the night with its soft hues of vibrant colors and women with their gleaming skins and haughty sexy looks. At the center was Wande Coal with his Kingwear, looking for all the world like a big man enjoying his prime time groove. The song ended and “Lova Lova” by Duncan Mighty and Tiwa Savage came on and we slipped into a conversation about Duncan Mighty’s violent return with all the features he’s been getting and Wande Coal’s calm ease back to the top as though he never left. Because I didn’t know how to introduce it into the conversation, I did not mention how Wande Coal was key to socials, night parties in secondary school, when I was in Junior class.
This was the time when we were still shy and new to budding bodies, excited at the prospect of being with the other sex, but not wanting to show it because girls must be coy and guys not entirely open with their disgusting nature. Socials was the event everyone looked forward to. Preparations began from home, from which we packed more clothes and accessories than necessary because we could never be sure which would be vetted as best. On the day of socials, no matter how clean your corner of the room usually was, it was sure to be in shambles with the explosion of boxes, clothes, accessories, makeup and shoes that might not even be yours.
The great thing about being in a hostel is the cluster of girls providing more resources than you imagine you would need. There was nothing on you that could not be fixed, made up or dressed up by another girl. Who cared if she was an amateur? All that mattered was that she was able to bring you closer to the sexy image you and your friends were striving for. Years later, we would look at these throwbacks and wonder what on earth we were thinking and ensure we hunt down every single picture and erase them from the face of the earth. However, in that moment, we were young girls who cared only about being seen and wanted, our bodies, the height of another’s desire and pleasure.
Like many other boarding schools, my secondary school had a timetable that the days would generally follow. Socials was so important that most of us skipped dinner because young women need time to appear sexy. If anyone managed to eat, they were either determined to not get swept up by the excitement or they ate quickly so they could prepare properly. Even lights out, the official time to sleep, would be shifted indefinitely. It was hardly expected that anyone would get to their room or even sleep early when there would be extended party time, then undressing and trading gossip when we got back to the hostel.
In the true African spirit, we had no regard for time. Even if we cared to start the party, the delays from getting ready to waiting for slower friends to get ready would not have allowed us get to the hall even thirty minutes after the said starting time. Besides, who wanted to start the party when you would be stuck looking around self-consciously, eyes finding X, then furtively looking away and back at him to see if he is noticing you; seeing Senior Y as he goes up the stairs with his babe (who probably punished you that same day) to do things the small boys want you to do with them. We didn’t care to be anything but fashionably late, arriving in the thick of the party so we could flow with the excitement and beats that started reverberating within us as we walked to the hall in the night filled with promise.
This was not the night for The Fray and those white songs that would blare from the common room DVD player in the hostel. No, this was the night for the Black American, Jamaican and Nigerian songs. If they were white, then they must have either been extremely groovy, preferably with their own dance, or so popular that to not play them would be a travesty. The songs had beats that would pump your blood as you approached the hall, dizzying you with anticipation, making the night air turn to electricity as it breezed through your skin. Most of us in the junior classes were too shy and conscious of ourselves in the school system to forget our home training but the lack of light both in the hall and the sky were supposed to combine with these heady, body-wriggling inducing beats to produce some action for the guys, and hopefully, gist for the mill.
It was unquestionable that a Mohits song would come up. What DJ would dare to lose face by not featuring the kings of the scene? Once any of their beats dropped, welcoming shouts of “HEEEEYYY” would ring out from every corner of the hall, the gyration would be injected with new energy complete with people blaring out the lyrics with them and displaying the latest dance steps. In Mohits, we had the kingmaker, Don Jazzy, the kokomaster playboy, D’Banj and the man with the voice that can lead you to sin, Wande Coal. He was the man of our youth with his album being one of their greatest releases marking their 2008 climax.
Being in junior school was a peculiar type of hell. It was more than just wearing pinafores and shorts. It meant being at the bottom of the social chain, subject to the whims of the seniors who used you to massage their egos by punishing or talking to you anyhow. As the junior student, you were fresh from home, open to the influences of everyone around you – your peers, teachers and seniors. We had no idea who we were but we had bodies and they were in an environment that was a whole society on its own, with rules that could make or break your reps, which were built with manic care.
Seniors were not just beings in senior class, wearing skirts and trousers that looked so smooth and cool. They were beings who had been in the system long enough to understood how things were done. It was as though with the slipping on of that starched white shirt in full view with the skirt or trouser, we too would become people who understood the social system, oozing cool with our every action whether it was to punish a junior, talk to the opposite sex or give gist, controlling the social sphere. There were junior students who were cool enough by virtue of their social skills, older siblings or some other fortune, that managed to escape most of the junior student scarring. However, in the end, they were still juniors and they had to go through their own form of struggle.
The senior students got the choicest parts of the hall where it was dark and private, without teachers crawling while the junior students got the open floor so if any junior girl was brave enough to dance to the victory of the guy and the entertainment of the crowd egging them on, she risked getting caught and branded as immoral. Junior girls could be approached by senior guys to dance and the girls would get so terrified, they would just run away because they wouldn’t know what to say but wouldn’t want to say no but grinding was such a big deal and could they even perform? Junior guys risked being called by senior guys to do the pimping work for them and these girls would be begged because the boy risked getting punished and beaten by the senior. Junior girls also had to be careful because senior girls had all the power and what if it was the boy she wanted that wanted you? Your life became automatic hell. However, no matter how much the Junior/ Senior dynamics played serious roles in our daily lives, the socials night was still one where many things were done and said, crushes revealed, hearts crushed, confidence melted and relationships formed.
When we got back to the hostel, as we undressed and washed our faces, packed away the clutter from our beds, we traded the open gist with our many roommates over songs blaring out from anyone’s laptops. We would eventually find our way to our respective cliques, clustering around a bed, trading the private stories about the night. The boy who was dancing too close face to face and stupidly thought that doing a spin will make you back up and dance into him. We would laugh at how it was as silly as a boy pretending to yawn to stretch his arm around you in the cinema. How can he think you’re ready for something so heavy? What about X, we would ask one after the other. I saw Y grinding him, we might say. Maybe he was just too shy to talk to you, besides you know Y was just grinding everybody. But, ehen, I saw you dancing with C, oya gist us! We would tease about how hard C hugged her on the turn to the hostel where we all clustered not wanting to go back into the hall just yet. Our cheeks would balloon as we tried to deny how much we liked whoever it was.
In senior secondary school, if a Mohits song came up on the playlist, it would simply be as a throwback. We shed them along with our pinafores and shorts and inhibitions, becoming the bigger kids in school who looked like they knew what they were doing, oozing cool as we took over the special spaces in the hall where we did as our seniors before us had done. At this point, we were too big to allow ourselves show that we were shy or nervous. Relationships developed with their crosses, drama, pain and joys as we grew as individuals in our own right, navigating the supposedly mature space we found ourselves in. More musicians came. Most left. We graduated, moved to our lives in separate universities, graduated yet again and started the rest of life’s journey.
Mohits broke up in 2012 just as my set was graduating. Don Jazzy has stayed the kingmaker, creating Mavin Records which houses a large number of the biggest Nigeria stars. D’Banj is said to be done as a musician since it was Don Jazzy that had the Midas touch but he still produces hits on the charts. Wande Coal sank with Mohits but resurfaced with his hit “Iskaba”, following up with “So Mi So”, which has become an all-time favorite, sealing his welcome back to the top.
I wonder where this hit by Wande Coal met everyone else? What experiences have they had leading up to the moment they encountered the song? Would it be the same person with whom I sang and laughed over “Mogbono Feli Feli”, proclaiming the other to be hotter than fire? If we meet now, would we be able to find spaces where our words fit enough to find that comfortable laughter we once had? Away from the strict structures of school, family and society, what lifestyle have they accepted as theirs, what rules do they attempt to live by?
A friend talked about becoming an entirely different person from the bullied one she was back in secondary school and the baggage she still carries around and I realized we never truly escape our younger selves. Yes, we go about building our worlds, becoming people with relationships, goals and achievements in spheres separate from the ones we had as we grew up, but when we meet these people from past times, it’s as though worlds struggle to merge and we find it hard to reconcile the person we are now with the person that time defined us as. For some, it is a natural progression, a movement from one state to another in their whole growth process. For others, it is a struggle to overcome the idea that we are less and our worlds as they are are good enough.
For a long time, Wande Coal did not produce any hit. He went from one of the kings to one of the throwbacks we would mention when we met up and had run out of things to talk about. We would reach for memories to plug the emptiness and grab at whatever little thing we could so we could believe this connection we established way back when was still relevant to us despite the lives we have gone on to build. It is not that common, but conversations run in funny ways and you never know what could save you from damning awkward silence.
I suppose his new hits could give us something more to talk about. An old friend and I could be at a place where they’re playing “So Mi So” and I would say, “I really like this song. It’s a spiritual something,” to which the old friend might reply in the affirmative, or with disregard. It could lead to a conversation about the old him, his relevance to our lives, maybe socials, maybe a memory. Anything leading us to a terrain that is a comfortable part of the history stretching between us, spaces skipped by the blocks of time we developed away from the other, even as we try to touch around, seeking to know who this person is now that we are speaking to.