Posted by TIMI
In music, influence and legacy can be hard to judge, but Mad Melon and Moutain Black are pop culture titans in Nigeria.
On September 26, 2019, Nigerian music lost a pivotal figure. After a battle with illness, he passed away. He was known as the Mad Melon.
Alongside Mountain Black, he was half of the duo affectionately dubbed ‘Danfo Drivers’ by the Nigerian mainstream.
While Pulse has reached out to his close associates, it is yet to get any word. May his soul rest in peace.
But as we wait, the moment requires us to revisit the life of one of Nigeria’s most impactful acts of the past 20 years.
Who was ‘Mad Melon’?
Mad Melon’s page in history might only be as half of a much-celebrated duo, but what he meant to Nigerian is much bigger than the music. The music he made alongide Mountain Black was pivotal to both pop culture and counter culture.
In the late 90’s to the early 2000’s, the current era of Nigerian pop culture was in its formative phase. Alongside influences of disco, new jack swing and rock ‘n roll, various branches of Nigerian folk governed much of the mainstream in the 80’s and early 90’s. But then, something else happened.
Borrowing from Hip-Hop, tweaked up and danceable R&B, and reggae/ragga/dancehall wave, the tenets of the current Nigerian soundscape found its footing. Equally around that period, bands were a thing as people still had faith in the power of the collective – at least till they fought over money and ego-related issues.
This period also coincided with the highly satirical and empirical era of Nigerian music by young and vibrant Nigerians on the cusp of internet fame. While Fela had championed an era of fearless socio-political critique and paid with his freedom and livelihood, the people that followed him documented a different reality.
Their need for fame and hit records made them continue the trend of vulgar lyrics on love, sex, wealth and partying as with any generation. However, they also did something different; they appraised criminals and men of the underworld because money must be made. The generation that came after this grew in a different reality.
In the 90’s, military rule and irresponsibility with national wealth plunged Nigerians into poverty like never before. Thus, children who grew in that era had to hustle. Only a few places embodied that reality like Ajegunle, Lagos. Coincidentally, Nasamu was also the biggest music market of that time.
As it churned out acts who impacted the Nigerian mainstream, it became a nucleus of Nigerian music alongside FESTAC and Surulere. Their music was not just sonically appealing, it was topically relevant. Either they talked about love, sex, psychoactive drugs or women, they represented and documented the real life – Nigerians could relate to them.
More so, they championed a sound of revised reggae/ragga/dancehall that ran on Nigerian folk percussion and essence. This sound birthed the galala-konto era. Champions from this movement were Baba Fryo, Daddy Showkey and African China.
But after these great men and alongside Stereoman, a group basically ran into our consciousness while nobody was watching. They were Mad Melon and Mountain Black. They ran into our consciousness with the highly relatable galala tune, ‘I Am a Danfo Driver, Suo.’Mad Melon was born Oghene Mariowhile Mountain Black was born Olotu Jimoh.
You know how Tiwa Savage‘s new single, ’49-99’ was meant to document the life of riding molue in the Lagos mainstream of commercial transportation, these were the people who lived and breathed that reality. The fact that the song had, ‘Danfo Driver’ in it was enough to make people take notice.
In the song, they mentioned several prominent Lagos bus-stops and notably, they sang that, “The ghetto where we dey, I was born in the ghetto...” Wealth might be a human reality, but poverty or the struggle is the reality for most people.
These guys carried that on their chests with pride like Superman’s sigil while they also owned their desire to break out of that poverty/struggle.
Music, which was the escape to express this pain was also their way to escape the struggle. This was not only reflected in ‘I Am a Danfo Driver, Suo,’ it was also the central narrative on, ‘Kpolongo.’ They wished for better days.
They signed to Cornerstone Records,owned by Desmond Okenwa and became two of Nigerians biggest stars between 2003 and 2005. They had worldwide tours and attracted media obsession amongst tabloid reporters.
They released three albums and controversy also trailed them. They were so huge that news of their arrest by members of the Nigerian Police Force for armed robbery was front-page