This piece was created in partnership with Afro Nation. Billboard and Afro Nation recently launched the first-ever official Billboard Afrobeats US Songs Chart, charting the hottest new up-and-coming music in the growing genre. The Billboard US Afrobeats Songs 50 chart, which went live last month on Billboard.com, ranks the country’s most popular Afrobeat songs based on a weighted formula incorporating official streams only on the levels of subscription and ad-supported from the leading audio. and music video services, as well as download sales to major music retailers.
Don Jazzy – the Nigerian producer and CEO of Mavin Records, one of Africa’s biggest labels – started his music career like many others have: in church. Born Michael Collins Ajereh, he started out playing drums for his local church in the mid-90s, eventually joining the choir as his repertoire expanded to include other instruments.
“Music has always been part of my life,” says Don Jazzy Billboard. “I’ve always had a good ear for sound, always ready to learn. I got really good at my church. Good enough that the chapter of the church in the UK paid to take me from Nigeria to England.
Don Jazzy improved further in the UK and quickly developed an ear for music. In no time, he went from playing for the church to becoming a teacher for their instrumentalists. Between the compliments he received while working at the church and the requests to make beats, Don Jazzy embraced his talent more and began working as a freelance producer.
His talent soon began to make room for him. In the early 2000s, Don Jazzy was popular in the UK music scene, recording records for JJC and eventually signing with Kanye West’s Very GOOD Beats, West’s GOOD Music production wing, as a producer. Along the way, he met Afrobeats legend and future business partner D’Banj. In 2004, Don Jazzy was a veteran – he had knowledge, experience, connections in the music industry and, most importantly, an ear for music. He returned to Nigeria at what he calls “the very dawn of the music industry in Africa” to establish the now defunct music label, Mo’Hits, which he co-founded with D’Banj.
“Armed with our knowledge and exposure to the quality of equipment already in use in the UK, and inspired by our home and our people, we launched Mo’Hits in 2004,” says Don Jazzy. “The rest, they say, is history.”
Fast forward to today, Don Jazzy is seemingly ubiquitous. He is a sensation on TikTok, where he has 1.5 million followers and dozens of viral videos, and with over 6.5 million followers on Twitter, he is one of the most followed Nigerians on the application. He is also still Nigeria’s most respected producer, a certified hitmaker and the CEO of the country’s biggest record label, Mavin Records. Don Jazzy is in many ways more relevant today than ever after a nearly 20-year career.
Billboard partners with Afro Nation to launch new list of Afrobeats songs in the United States
When we’re trying to get a call for this interview, Don Jazzy is in the middle of releasing artist Rema’s debut studio album.Raves and Roses, which was released via Mavin. For Don Jazzy, whose roster includes the likes of Rema, Ayra Starr, Johnny Drille and more, it’s just a normal work day.
“I won’t say that I have one particular recipe for relevance. However, the first thing you have to recognize as an actor in any industry is the fact that everything changes,” he shares. “It’s a dynamic space. Everything is constantly changing. As someone who wants to stay relevant, you must also learn to adapt and evolve. Your personality and your role should be flexible and adaptable enough to thrive even when the scene changes.
Armed with decades of experience, the legendary producer always approaches each new project, each new development – even each new artist he signs – with the spirit of a beginner: eager to learn, ready to adapt. On the wall of his office at Mavin Records headquarters, Don Jazzy has the phrase ‘Zen’Shō Shin‘ framed, which he says means “having a beginner’s mind”.
“It’s a philosophy I take seriously – the drive to always learn, to never feel like you know it all and [are] beyond change,” he adds. “To stay relevant for a long time, you need to cultivate a beginner’s mindset.”
Even though the music industry in Nigeria and across Africa is changing, thanks in part to the global explosion and interest in the Afrobeats genre, the African music business still lacks some of the infrastructure of the industry that would allow him to fully thrive, a subject that Don Jazzy is particularly passionate about. “You have to take into account that our music industry here is still developing,” Jazzy begins. “On documentation and data monitoring, we cannot currently be on the same page with more developed countries. Our peoples do not have the same access to resources that other continents have. There is also the question of investment. Although the scene is seeing more investment now that sounds are gaining visibility outside of Africa, there is still a higher risk when investing in a business here, than in more developed and structured countries and industries. .
All of this makes working and investing in the music industry all the more difficult, forcing executives like Don Jazzy to work three times as hard to get things done and lay the foundations for the music industry. . For the likes of Don Jazzy, streaming and the rise of the internet might be the best thing to ever happen to the African music industry.
“The digital revolution has had the greatest impact on the [African music] business,” Jazzy shares enthusiastically. “See, when we started, streaming wasn’t even a big deal in Africa. Social media? How many people even had internet! Now it’s all digital. Everyone is on social media. Then, i remember ringtones being one of the main ways to promote music to phone users then radio and tv was the holy grail of visibility now take a look at the scene Afrobeats’ global expansion owes a lot to the digital revolution, the viral potential that social media has presented and the touring side of the business is helping us take the world by storm.
Despite these changes, according to Don Jazzy, what it takes to be a hitmaker has remained the same. “Being a hitmaker takes talent, tons of hard work, constant learning, passion, a strong support system, strategy, and luck,” says Don Jazzy. “If you have the majority, chances are you can make music that becomes a hit. It’s not foolproof, but it definitely increases your chances.
When it comes to identifying hitmakers, the rules are a little different: “You’re looking for talent and a willingness to work and learn. You also look at the commercial viability of the person. Do they have a unique selling point? What differentiates them from others, you know? You look at their history. Self-confidence is also important. Most upcoming artists will create a community. As small as it is, how do you communicate with this community and how do they interact with you? »
As Afrobeats becomes a staple of the global music scene and continues to evolve, Don Jazzy’s experience as one of the mainstays of the music industry – especially the business part of it – and his talent to find talent become even more critical to the ecosystem, especially when it comes to predicting what the future of Afrobeats might look like. He is enthusiastic and optimistic about the future of African music, both as a fan and as an executive who has been in it for almost 20 years.
“I talked about the advent of the digital age, didn’t I? Don Jazzy begins when I ask him what he thinks the future of African music looks like. “Well, I think here in Africa, we’re only scratching the surface. The internet will be more accessible and streams will continue to increase. Afrobeats will become a fixture on the biggest music stages around the world. Foreign labels will continue from influx and social media. From Instagram to TikTok, the next five years will come with new innovations from these companies. The potential for virality will even increase. Over the next five years, I expect the ovation solves many of the problems facing the industry. Like you, I keep my eyes peeled.
Vincent Desmond is a Nigerian writer and researcher whose writing has appeared in American Vogue, British Vogue, Reuters, ELLE, British GQ, PAPER, VICE and many more. You can find him on Instagram and on Twitter @vincentdesmond_.