Arriving right on time for the meeting, alone, Nikanor takes off his sunglasses for the interview. “I don’t want to be an artist”, he announces, laughing. Make an artist: understand “make the star”. It is its antithesis. His music, his voice, his simplicity and his sincerity have made him one of the most popular singers in Benin.
In this first opus, The Son of the CountryNikanor compiles his hits, like the classic Yinko Tcheand new releases that mix pieces of traditional inspiration in rhythms and percussion, urban music with beats unstoppable, and lyrics in French, Fon, Mina or Yoruba, national languages, all to catchy melodies that you keep in mind after hearing them.
10 years for an album is a long time… “We took the time to learn, to have musical maturity, explains the 30-year-old. Today, we have the means to defend an album because there has been a lot of artistic and scenic work and because we have the means to distribute the titles on international platforms. It’s not fair to the neighborhood!”
There are other reasons: Nikanor admits having lived on his singles. He also experienced the vagaries of local production houses and several contracts before joining Assouka Music, created in France by a compatriot, where we see more for him.
Musical debut in the church choir
Yet Nikanor did not dream of such a career. “I loved music, I sang little with my mom, but it was not an ambition”, entrusts Hervé Ahehehinnou to the civil status. Born into a modest family, eldest of 6 children, he started in the children’s choir of his church, where, when he was older, he learned percussion and drums to give rhythm to masses. The section manager notices his grain of voice. The classic journey of Beninese musicians.
At home, we listen to a lot of traditional music and the Christian religion coexists with voodoo practices. It’s at university that everything changes. “I was a biology student, I had a band, we performed my own songs. I sent a recording to Steev Berchet Chabi, the star campus radio host. He thought I had something again. And it started from this meet. Music took me out of school!” says the one who saw himself practicing in a laboratory. Steev Berchet is always at his side to accompany him with this “baby”.
The word is not chosen at random. The illustrated cover shows a ceremony of presentation of a newborn to the village: a woman raises a child to the sky, already wearing sunglasses! A choice “symbolic, says Nikanor. It’s actually my album that I present to the public”.
A choice that also reflects his attachment to his culture. “I am a connected young person, of his time, and I have the respect of the elders. I don’t turn my back on my roots. As we say here, we weave the new with the old rope! “
Multi-awarded in Benin Top 10 (awards from the Beninese music scene), Nikanor, author of all his texts, spent in his early days from rap to r’n’b, traces a singular path between tradition and urbanity. His trademark is born from another mixture: he interprets pieces that irresistibly make you want to move and which, through life stories, carry messages without delivering moral lessons.
The song Mahugnon (God is good)written in memory of his father, inspired by his own life, much loved in Benin, is about a young man who struggles to get by and can finally support his loved ones. Sharifa evokes young girls attracted by easy money. Texts in which Beninese society finds itself.
“Music must change something in the lives of those who listen! It is made to dance, have fun, but also to make you think” says Nikanor. Even his music videos stand out from the ambient bling with street scenes and everyday situations.
In Yinkô Tché (my name), title in the form of a prayer released in December 2019, a success that marked a turning point in his career, he walks in local clothes, backpack, before being hitchhiked in a peasant’s cart in northern Benin. For the artist, originally from the south of the country, “when you convey a message, it must be seen in your image”.
Telling him that his image is more “nice boy” than “bad boy” amuses him and he is right since it brings together all generations, parents and young people alike. His reputation is also that of a young crooner, which the album confirms: on half of the tracks, Nikanor sings about seduction, marriage, love in all its forms, alone or in duets, notably with Sèssimè (in 2020, he declared his love for her on social networks, resulting in a buzz, the hit You and me and relationship rumours).
Thanks to the cultural heritage that it appropriates, the messages that it transmits and the image that it gives, “Le Fils du pays” is seen dubbed by glorious elders: Nel Oliver, Vincent Ahehehinnou, the singer of the legendary Poly-Rythmo who is his great-uncle, and Danialou Sagbohan. This monument of Beninese music even appears on Ayiha, playing a father who provides advice to his son. The young man measures his luck, “playing with Dean Sagbohan is a grace”.
Next step: Nikanor, unaccustomed to live concerts, will be on stage with a dozen musicians during a national tour. Well known in West Africa, he is ready to try the international with his 17 songs because “the most important thing is the energy, the vibe, our identity, our percussion”. The release of the album, on June 16, coincided with his birthday. “It’s not done on purpose. laughs Nikanor. I promise, the next one won’t take 10 years!”
Nikanor The Son of the Country (Assouka music) 2022
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