By Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera and Fatiat Saliu
Lists are very important for a lot of things, especially as they help us keep track of what lies ahead and how much progress has been made in a particular endeavour. Playlists are not an exception. They afford us the listening pleasure of a variety of what is available, and they help us judge the beauty of an idea, or the nuances of emotion, for ourselves. They also serve as a metric for determining the artistic direction of a particular music industry, in this case, the Nigerian music sphere.
The songs in this playlist run from the early 2000s to the present day, and while they are not necessarily arranged in chronological order, the playlist runs like a time capsule, capturing a sense of how music has evolved in these parts. For your listening pleasure, and for the purpose of deploying music as a time machine, Afrocritik has curated a comprehensive playlist comprising the most popular and well-composed Nigerian love songs released over the past two decades.
- Eji Owuro – Sola Allyson
Released in the early 2000s, Sola Allyson’s “Eji Owuro” is considered one of the classic love songs in Nigeria. Eji Owuro in English means “morning dew”, and we can all acknowledge that the purity of morning dew is undeniable. It’s what makes it what it is. Beyond the track’s melody, the earnestness in Sola Allyson’s vocals is palpable. Although entirely sung in Yoruba, anyone can easily decipher that the content of the song speaks about pure and undiluted love, and that’s what makes the song transcendental.
- Sisi Eko – Oriri
There are songs which you hear and somehow, they stay with you for a very long time. This song is one of them. The lyricism is beautiful, and its message about love being ageless is truly resonant.
- Olo Mi – Tosin Martins
Released in 2006, Tosin Martins’ “Olo Mi” was another classic love song that found its way into several wedding playlists. Rendered in both Yoruba and English, Martins’ voice slides smoothly and warms your heart. Some of the popular phrases often culled from this track run along the lines of “mo feba e d’arugbo/mofeba e d’ale/iwo nimofe ma jiri l’ojojumo aye mi”, which loosely translates to wanting to spend forever with a love interest, and wanting to wake up every day to their beautiful faces. If that’s not romantic, then we don’t know what to say to you.
- African Queen – Tuface Idibia
This song is not just beautiful, but it has also attained cult status in Nigerian music lore. It was the most poetic love song of its day, it was featured in the soundtrack of a Hollywood film, and the controversy involving Tuface and his former bandmate Blackface made the song even more appealing. If “aging well” could be depicted with one Nigerian song, this would be it.
- Need Somebody – Faze
Released in 2007 off his sophomore album, this song depicts love as a giver of comfort; Faze sings to his beloved, asking her to stop crying, and promising to be there for her. It also describes love as a giver of warmth. The lyrics “you need somebody/somebody wey go hold you tight/all through the night…” are as self-explanatory as they get. Featuring a brilliant blend of Reggae and RnB sound, “Need Somebody” is up there with Nigeria’s most memorable love ballads.
- Olufunmi – Styl-Plus
Almost every young lady wanted her beau to sing this song to her in 2004. It was so beautiful, so heartfelt, and bore a lot of meaning. Styl-Plus made great music in the mid-2000s, and this amazing love song is arguably their magnum opus. Like the pleasant aftertaste of a delicious dish, it conjures sweet memories in the hearts of its listeners.
- Whatchu Doing Tonight? – Banky W (ft. Adesua “Susu” Etomi-Wellington)
After their much-heralded wedding in 2017, Banky and Adesua Wellington went on a short hiatus (or honeymoon, if you will) and returned five months later with a remix treatment of Banky W’s sleeper hit “Whatchu Doing Tonight?” The lyrics run like they reference a relationship that is a lot more casual than the concrete arrangement that is marriage, but it still doesn’t take away the fact that it’s a pretty good love song.
- Superwoman – Wande Coal
There are few things in the world that are sweeter than your partner baring their soul to you.
“Can you see how much I love you? Can you fathom it? Do you see the sincerity and depth?”
Wande Coal is your favourite vocalist’s favourite vocalist, and this song is an example of why that is the case. In “Superwoman”, the melody and vocals reek of genuineness. “They are words that have been said over and over, but right now, in my own way, I’m saying them to you” is a line that hits all the right notes.
- Aye – Davido
Not to sound too analytical, but this song tries to illustrate a love that is devoid of materialism, with lyrics like “she no want designer/she no want Ferrari”. For someone like Davido who never misses a moment to remind you of his social status in his songs, this (at the time) was a deviation from the norm. The song was subtle in its sophistication, and the indigenous flavour of the music video made “Aye” more aesthetically pleasing.
10. I Love You – P-Square
The beauty of this song is that it illustrates how a fine combination of good songwriting and great vocals can elevate a song from average to smash-hit status. This song is also responsible for the popularisation of the phrase “personal person”, and it runs with a rhythm that depicts how love transcends different moods.
11. One Naira – MI Abaga (ft. Waje)
M.I 2 was a classic rap album, and “One Naira” stood out as one of its signature songs. MI Abaga, peerless at the time, collaborated with one of Nigeria’s finest vocalists to lethal effect. The track paints a very profound picture of loyalty in love, the kind of loyalty that many will agree is increasingly becoming scarce in modern society. Both artistes were clearly in their element.
- Love My Baby – Wizkid
Wizkid made a huge statement with his debut album Superstar, and one of the songs off that record that assumed a life of its own was “Love My Baby”. Imagine a 20-year-old, new to the limelight, singing ardently to his romantic partner about love. Imagine the wide-eyed innocence.
Who said the best love songs had to be wholly marinated in RnB? “Love My Baby” begins with a slightly up-tempo beat, and the pace increases as the song progresses, but that takes nothing from the way the notes of Wizkid’s earnest alto register to soothing effect.
- Afuru’m Gị N’anya – Naeto C (ft. Waje)
In the very early 2010s, rapper Naeto C and soul singer Waje collaborated on one of the less-heralded gems off the album Super C Season. Rendered in English and Igbo, both artistes pulled off a memorable duet, with Waje handing in one of her finest vocal performances. Another outstanding attribute of this song is that it is conversational as it is poetic.
14. Made For You – Banky W
Olubankole Wellington knows his stuff. It’s evident in the way he sings, as well as his exquisite songwriting. In the music video for “Made For You”, the Wellingtons employ the element of storytelling, and seem to share an inside joke that we weren’t in on. Amidst a surprise wedding proposal, a nicely edited video, flowers, and a nice dinner, the visuals were deliberate in the message they sought to convey.
15. Wedding Day – 9ice
This is another classic love song still blasting through several speakers to this day, and stands out as one of 9ice’s signature hits. In “Wedding Day”, 9ice declares his intent to marry his love interest in the most lavish of traditional ceremonies. The lyrics “a gbe’sule’na, a f’onaroka” suggest a willingness to surmount whatever hurdles stand in the way of sealing matrimony.
16. No Forget – Adekunle Gold (ft. Simi)
Many times, romantic relationships don’t go according to plan. In cases where both parties are struggling financially, the doubt from parents and relatives seeps in and influences the trajectory of the relationship, regardless of how strong and enduring it is. This is the story of the characters in “No Forget”. It’s a familiar story: the woman’s mother thinks that the man is too poor for her daughter, and determined to make an impression, the man goes out to hustle, pleading with his love interest to wait for him while he tries to carve out a better life for both of them. They send each other off with prayers, and it’s a truly heartbreaking sight.
17. All I Want Is You – Banky W (ft. Chidinma)
Two brilliant crooners collaborate on this simple but elegant song, which dwells on the desire that comes with love. With a music video starring Zack Orji and Onyeka Onwenu, “All I Want Is You” explores the tenacity that comes with selfless love, as well as the resolve to ward off obstacles. We really love this song. We hope you enjoy it too.
18. Mama – Kizz Daniel
This song serenades you with love because it is sung in a heartfelt way and the lyrics are reassuring. Young John’s production prowess comes into play, adding flavour to what is already a brilliant conception. This is one love song that will warm your heart with love, and make you dance at the same time.
- All Over – Tiwa Savage
In the wee months of 2017, Tiwa Savage had the lyrics “na because of you wey I get goosebumps” rolling from everybody’s lips. It was peak time for wedding ceremonies, so it was commonplace to hear “All Over” blaring from multiple loudspeakers, Saturday after Saturday. On this track, Ms. Savage reinforces the earnestness of Romeo and Juliet’s love story as well as the unbridled passion they shared, but (thankfully) unlike their story, this one doesn’t end in tragedy. It’s telling in the way she sings that she wants to spend forever with her partner, and you can’t help but root for her, at least as far as the ballad’s storyline goes.
- O2 – Oxlade
If you are a student or practitioner of Life Sciences, you already know that ‘O2’ is the chemical name for Oxygen. Imagine someone calling you their oxygen. Ah! That means that they can’t breathe without you.
Oxlade is one of the new school artistes doing wonders in the Nigerian music scene, and “O2” was one of the more memorable tracks off his debut EP. Love is what the masses feed on to distract themselves from the cruel realities of life, so imagine entering the industry with a song like this. Of course, they ate it up, as they should.
21. Lonely – Joeboy
Off his sophomore record, Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic, this track illustrates how overwhelming the absence of a lover can be. Our protagonist is obviously “down bad”, as he admits that he doesn’t care if she takes her time, so long as she comes over. It feels as though he’s reaching out after a big fight, and admits that she makes him feel better. How best to convey your emotions, if not by relaying to your partner that you’d be lonely without them?
22. Don’t Touch – Blaqbonez
On April 30, 2021, Blaqbonez put out one of the better-received albums of the year so far, Sex over Love. On a 14-track record that is practically an anthem for hyper-masculinity, “Don’t Touch” suggests a thematic and sonic departure from the rest of the LP. Where other songs illustrate jadedness and emotional unavailability, this Blaise Beats-produced track paints images of provocative dancing at a nightclub and suggests male territoriality: Emeka the Stallion isn’t really keen on anyone “touching his kele”, referencing an old Banky W classic; it’s the one track on the record where Blaqbonez appears to show any form of vulnerability.
23. Sinner – Adekunle Gold (ft. Lucky Daye)
Adekunle Gold has established himself as one of Africa’s most formidable love crooners, and on “Sinner” he proves his mettle once again. He kicks the song off with the lines “loving you be my greatest sin/said I was done, but see, I’m here”, and it’s almost confusing: isn’t love supposed to be liberating? Why should it incriminate you then? But we understand that the intent behind the song is good, so it translates nicely.
So, there you have it, the finest love ballads that have been composed by Nigerians over the years. We hope that these songs make you feel a mad rush of emotion, and feel free to borrow a line or two in shooting your shots. Just be careful not to play them on a lonely rainy Wednesday evening: the loneliness will choke you!