Daddy Showkey

Nigeria 2007

By Carol Hills

June 10, 2009

"Somebody call my name, Showkey.
People they’re calling my name.
Daddy Showkey and you come back again.
They come again and told me come back again.
Mama them, they are calling my name.
Papa them, they are calling my name.
Little children, look at them calling my name.
Daddy come, Daddy com, Daddy come, Daddy come,
Daddy Showkey, here you come back again”

Daddy Showkey, of course, isn't his real name. He started out as John Odafe Asiemo, a poor kid in one of the most notorious slums in Lagos.

Daddy Showkey: “I come from a neighbourhood that is the roughest neighbourhood, the strongest neighbourhood, the toughest neighbourhood in the world. That is Ajegunle.”

Ajegunle is a massive slum. It's crowded and dirty. Estimates put the population somewhere between 1 and 3 million. The streets are lined with shacks, piles of trash, people hawking whatever they have, and churches everywhere selling hope. If you're a child in Ajegunle, well, you quickly learn you're basically on your own.

Daddy Showkey: ”In Ajegunle, you choose what you want to be yourself. A gunman, or you want to be a footballer, a musician, or anything you want to but I never believed because I was really rough when I was a little boy. So I never believed that one day I’m going to be something that people is going to be talking about. And people want to know me, people want to see me, people want to be with me. “

John Odafe Asiemo was only 9 when his father died. His mother struggled to support him and his four brothers. Young John took to the streets of Ajegunle, hustling stolen goods. Once he was even shot. When he tried to go legit, his Ajegunle address held him back. He applied for a job as a security guard at a local company. They asked him to fill out an application. When they saw he was from Ajegunle, they immediately accused him of stealing one of their guard dogs.

Daddy Showkey: “They took me to the police station and they took me and they said that I stole a German Shepherd. I never know that a German Shepherd was a dog. I was thinking I stole a German man. So I told them I never see the man. I never know the man. And they told me. ‘That is a dog.’ So immediately they brought this big dog. I said, ‘man, me steal this thing! And from that day I vowed in my life I would never work for anybody, that I would struggle and become something and make children from my neighborhood to be proud of themselves, to be proud, to be proud of themselves and say, 'I am from Ajegunle!”

Thus began his transformation from John Odafe Asiemo to Daddy Showkey.

“If you see my mama, hosanna
Tell her so, hosanna,
Best forget to, hosanna “

He started out as an acrobat, then came boxing, acting, comedy, dancing, and finally singing.

Daddy Showkey: “Show Kid, they used to call me Show Kid. :56 From Show kid I changed it to Showkey because I have to combine everything that I can do and infuse it into music because you can't be jack of all trades, master of none. Then I have to be master of music. That's where my name Showkey came from.”

Daddy Showkey never expected to be a solo artist. He was better known as a dancer in a band he formed with some guys from Ajegunle. When the band broke up, Daddy Showkey wasn't sure what to do. Then one day, he was working as a clerk at a local garage in Ajegunle, barking orders using a funny voice. His co-workers urged him to sing in that voice. .

Daddy Showkey: “They say, 'you can sing with this voice'. And they brought one tape to me and they were playing the tape and the tape was saying something like this. One guy. He's a Jamaican guy. And the voice sound like my voice. And I say, 'okay this guy can sing. That means I can sing too.' So I now do: "Congratulation and jubiliation. Celebration, in our nation.”

“Congratulation and jubilation, celebration, in our nation
Congratulation and jubilation, celebration, in our nation
Welcome Daddy Showkey welcome
Welcome Daddy Showkey welcome”

Daddy Showkey: “I never believed that people would like that sound. But as with life and what has been written by God, that one day a ghetto boy will come out and become successful. And when we released the record, people outside Lagos were buying it. And they were trying to know who is the guy who did this song. And that’s what’s making me happy.”

Daddy Showkey called the album, "Ghetto Soldier" It was a huge hit. The Ajegunle street sound, galala, had gone mainstream. Galala is a fusion of the African-American, Jamaican and local music Daddy Showkey grew up hearing on the streets of Ajegunle in the 1980s and 90s. Daddy Showkey says it's most influenced by reggae. He adds his own imprint, like singing in the pidgin English popular in Nigeria.

Take this song from his latest cd, "Take Five." It was inspired by an encounter Daddy Showkey had on his first visit to Chicago.

“The first time I reached Chicago
Anything them say, them say do”

Daddy Showkey moved out of Ajegunle 7 years ago. Today, he lives in an upscale neighborhood of Lagos. But he's still very active in Ajegunle, trying to help young people there make something of themselves. But his own career is at a crossroads. In a way, Daddy Showkey is a victim of his own success. Today there are lots of popular galala musicians from Ajegunle. addy Showkey is flattered, but they've cut into his sales. has Nigeria's rampant music piracy.

After 5 albums, Daddy Showkey remains a popular draw in Nigeria and West Africa. He's done a few tours in Europe and the United States but he wants global fame and so far, that's eluded him. But the Ghetto Soldier soldiers on.

Daddy Showkey: “And today, I’m very very proud of myself. If nobody can praise me I’ll praise myself because today children in my neighborhood, anywhere they go in the world, they say Ajegunle. The are proud to say it even in Nigeria, Africa. And today, I am still happy that today, many young lads from my neighborhood, nobody want to go into crime. Everyone want to be like Showkey. They want to be something positive. And that is the most important thing. That was my legacy that I wanted to set.”

Listen to Hills' report on BBC/PRI's "The World."