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Dhannyjazz The Saxifier’s Artistic Philosophy and Musical Journey

Dhannyjazz The Saxifier’s Artistic Philosophy and Musical Journey

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Instrumentalists like Dhannyjazz are part of the beneficiaries of the global bloom of Afrobeats, as many musicians have realised the artistic values that instrumentalists infuse their sounds.

By Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera 

When Daniel Oluwatobilola Omoyeni, popularly known as Dhannyjazz, decided to learn how to play the saxophone, he was a student of Biochemistry at Bowen University. This was in 2016, and Omoyeni — who during his secondary school days at Anglican Comprehensive High School, Iyana-Ipaja, Lagos, had learnt to play the piano —  had found other musically inclined people who could play various musical instruments. Being in this space, in a gathering of other creatives like him, pushed him to want more. “I was looking for an instrument that was more expressive. Something that could help put me out there and help control my narrative,” he said, “and I picked up the saxophone to do this.”

Omoyeni eventually taught himself to play the saxophone through regular practice. And soon enough he became quite efficient in it. He also joined a musical group that he usually rehearsed with.

Instrumentalists like Dhannyjazz are part of the beneficiaries of the global bloom of Afrobeats, as many musicians have realised the artistic values that instrumentalists infuse their sounds.

But it was Omoyeni’s Alma Mater that offered the first platform for the artist to showcase his talent. The school had an annual talent hunt competition for aspiring creatives called, “Bowen Got Talent”. In 2018, two years into learning the saxophone, Omoyeni entered the competition. The 2016 edition had been won by a dancer and the 2017 edition by a spoken word artist. This meant that the competition had a flare for discovering creative talents in their different varieties. “I saw a reason to enter with my saxophone”, Dhannyjazz said. He told his teammates with whom he practised his plans, and they welcomed it. “They did not discourage me,” he said “but they listened to me, and they provided constructive criticism. They were the ones who told me not to overdo it because, at the time, I was trying to show all that I could do at the same time.”

Dhannyjazz - Afrocritik
Dhannyjazz

Dhannyjazz took their advice to heart and entered the competition, winning the 2018 edition, despite almost missing out on the Grand finale because he went down with illness days before. But his friends encouraged him, and he made it to the venue. “[Winning the competition] was where it all began for me,” he told me. “I became more confident, began to build my artist profile and to structure my career in a way that could help me express myself the way I wanted to, which was part of the original vision. I recorded my first song, titled Ireti.”

Another event at this time which aided Dhannyjazz was attending another competition, Atmosphere Talent in Abuja. He recalls meeting people like the Gospel singer, Victor Thompson and the Nollywood actress, Empress Njamah there. “But while Bowen’s Got Talent was based on your talent, Atmosphere Talent was more like a competition based on votes where you had to hustle votes,” he said. 

Still, he continued to build his portfolio, working with top Afrobeats musicians in Nigeria. In 2023, he worked with Patoranking, Ruger during his Apple Music session, and Ayra Starr during her world tour, “21: The World Tour”. He admits that working with each of these artistes is an experience of its own and every performance is its own experience. He eventually moved to the UK in 2021 to pursue a master’s degree in Bioinformatics at Teesside University, where he continued to pursue his music.

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Dhannyjazz has since started his own band titled FlexyRhythms, as a move to help steer his career in the right direction. A direction which would give him the freedom to express himself the way he always wanted, which was the reason he picked up the saxophone in the first place, especially infusing indigenous music and cultural sounds like Afrobeats and Highlife.  His drive as a saxophonist and instrumentalist is deeply inspired by the work of artistes like Lagbaja and Fela,  and the portals of possibilities of what could be achieved through the fusion of sounds that their artistic achievements opened. “When you listen to people like Fela Kuti and Lagbaja”, he said, “you see how they expressed themselves creatively through their music… Lagbaja and Fela used music to communicate real-life matters and things that happen. So I began my own band, to follow in their footsteps to play our own thing and communicate.”

Dhannyjazz is specific about the kind of music he wants to communicate to his audience. He says, “I like to create an ecstatic feeling with my music, which makes the audience forget about whatever is happening outside of here, and focus on the moment. I just want the audience to be lost in the moment, in the music. It’s between me and the audience. When I say I’m trying to communicate, I’m not saying I’m trying to fight the government. What I’m trying to do is create a moment in which everyone can exist.”

To do this, Dhannyjazz has had to be daring with his art; to take chances by experimenting, drawing inspiration from many other saxophonists like Charlie Parker, Gerald Albright, Yemisax, Mark Aremu, and Beejay Sax, who he credits for being a very experimental artist continuously willing to try out new things.

His catalogue includes his live session EP, which cuts across Afrobeats, R&B, and Highlife. The performances are not just done exclusively with saxophone. There are band performances which include other instruments, and sometimes a backdrop singer, with the sax playing the lead role in the music. Dhannyjazz’s music is like an instrumentalist reinvention of the songs he performs. It aims to bring out a fresher quality in the music, to draw attention to the heart of the sound.

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In his Highlife Medley with his band, he performs a group of contemporary highlife music which includes Timi Dakolo’s “Iyawo Mi” and Simi’s “Duduke”. His performances have a celebratory air to them. This is in part because Dhanny is dedicated to the art of magnifying the ecstatic quality of the songs he plays. It is also partly due to the kind of songs he selects on the playlist. Sometimes, the music begins on a relatively sober note, and then the crescendo increases. This is seen in the Afrobeats mix which begins with Libianca’s “People”, a relatively sober song. And then moves to songs like “Xtra Cool” by Young  Jonn, and “Who’s Your Guy” by Spyro. This progression in his selection is capable, as he says, of creating an ecstatic feeling. But more than that, it is to create an immersive experience.

There is also his RnB Live Mix which samples songs like Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”, which sets the atmosphere for mushiness. There’s also  Daniel Caesar’s “Best Part”, which is an unabashed confession of love, performed with the band. Another song in the medley is Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud”. The whole performance of this medley remains steady-going, intense, and introspective, as a romantic atmosphere is supposed to be. 

The Nigerian music industry’s growth in recent times has carried the instrumentalists alongside the musicians and producers. The good thing about working as an instrumentalist in the Nigerian scene today is that Dhannyjazz is working in an evolved Nigerian music industry where instrumentalists like himself have now become stakeholders in the art of creating music. “Before, nobody really held instrumentalists in such high esteem”, he told me, “but now we are well regarded and even entitled to royalties to songs. We now collaborate with artistes, and have our names on the songs we feature in”. One such collaboration is with one of Africa’s biggest Afro-Reggae artistes, Patoranking, in a live performance of the musician’s song, “Abobi”. 

Dhannyjazz opens the performance with his saxophone accompanied by a soft piano playing in the background. As he begins to play, everybody in the room, including Patoranking, is ushered into a new realm of music. It is in performances like this that Dhannyjazz’s music finds its wings, and helps catapult its audience to a state of ecstasy and help them stay in the moment.

Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera is a writer and freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @Chukwuderaedozi.

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