The World Is Witnessing Nigeria’s Creative Golden Age

Nigerians, of course, saw it all along. The infiltration of world culture by the sounds, images, and styles of their country has been building for some time.

The author and photographer Teju Cole notices Nigerian pop music when he travels—recently, in a taxi in Peru. The journalist Bim Adewunmi remembers finding a group of white British kids in London singing “Oliver Twist,” a hit by D’Banj, down to the artist’s Nigerian accent: OH-lee-vah. “D’Banj trumped Charles Dickens in that moment,” Adewunmi says. “And that made me feel good!”

Perhaps the breakout moment came in 2013, when Beyoncé placed a spoken passage by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, excerpted from an essay on the social conditioning of girls, at the ­center of “Flawless,” her empowerment manifesto set to a bouncing Houston funk groove.

Queen Bey’s validation turbocharged the ascent of the author of Americanah to her status as a cross-cultural (and stylish) feminist icon. And any doubt vanished once Drake turned up on the remix of “Ojuelegba,” a silken ode by the Nigerian singer Wizkid to his Lagos neighborhood, in 2015—along with Skepta, the British-Nigerian star of the London grime scene.

It’s been a seeping, decentralized thing; to call it a takeover would be hyperbole. But the assertive Nigerian global influence today cannot be denied, whether it’s in literature, music, fashion, or art, with new talents appearing at a relentless pace. Many hold court in London, which has an established Nigerian presence that spans working-class Peckham and the Knightsbridge mansions of industrialists and oil barons. Others are in the United States, where middle-class immigrants have flourished in places like Houston and Atlanta. But all of them feed off the scene in Nigeria itself—and in its megacity, Lagos, a frenetic engine of creativity.

Ever since Purple Hibiscus, Adichie’s 2003 debut novel, Nigeria’s history, social issues, and the experiences of its immigrants have spread into every realm of literature. Cole, for instance, who grew up in ­Nigeria and lives in Brooklyn, trains a meditative eye on Lagos in Every Day Is for the Thief. Illinois-raised Nnedi Okorafor draws on Igbo spirituality to shape award-winning science-fiction and fantasy; Who Fears Death, her postapocalyptic allegory in which magic transcends sexual violence and civil war, is slated for an HBO series.

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