Music

Explore the Afrobeats scene of Lagos

Nigeria's fast-growing Afrobeats scene has created a party like no other in its capital of Lagos – see the city through the lens of photographer Andrew Esiebo here.
Written by Andrew Esiebo
7 min readPublished on
A party in a neighbourhood called Lagos Island
© Andrew Esiebo
Home to almost 15 million people, Lagos, Nigeria, is one of Africa’s most populous cities. It's also a place of extremes, with a vast wealth gap and an intense party scene…
Enter Andrew Esiebo, an internationally renowned photographer whose work examines everything from gender politics and sport to culture and social struggles within Africa. But the 43-year-old Lagosian learnt his craft by capturing the people of his hometown on film more than two decades ago.
“Lagos has been, and maybe still is, notorious for crime,” says Esiebo. “When I see stories about the city, they focus on that, or congestion and infrastructure. I rarely see the global media highlighting the vibrant culture, tradition and nightlife.”
Nigerian photographer Andrew Esiebo.
Nigerian photographer Andrew Esiebo
Even a guy who has no money wants to buy champagne
Andrew Esiebo
Esiebo was inspired to document Lagos’ parties after one night at a DJ set in the city. “It made me aware of the power of DJs and Afrobeats,” he says. “With the arrival of democracy [in 1999, after decades of military rule], and as the economy keeps booming, there’s more money in the hands of people. One way to express this wealth is through parties – and Lagosians love to party hard.”
More than merely celebrating Lagos’ nightlife, Esiebo’s photos show the effect of rapid urban development on its people. “There’s a growing middle class and more opportunities for young people, but the bid to improve their lifestyle has led to a high level of inequality. Some parts of Lagos feel like totally different cities. But whether rich or poor, people want the same things. Even a guy who has no money wants to buy champagne.”

“This is the entrance to the club/restaurant Spice Route in the upscale area of Victoria Island."

The Spice Route club in the upmarket area of Victoria Island in Lagos, Nigeria.
The Spice Route club in the upmarket area of Victoria Island.
"I took this photo because I loved the door – it has this ethnic design and it showcases some of the city’s aesthetic," says Esiebo. "I also wanted to capture these doormen. It used to be that only high-end clubs had bouncers, but now I go to places and find there’s always someone at the gate. They’ve become a more typical element of parties across the city and I wanted to show that.”

“We drink a lot of champagne in Nigeria."

A photograph of a man holding a bottle of champagne at a nightclub in Lagos, Nigeria.
“We drink a lot of champagne in Nigeria"
"In 2016, Lagos was the world’s second biggest consumer of champagne after Paris. I see people at parties holding their champagne bottles till the very end of the party, even though they’re empty. This guy with a big bottle is in Ikeja – not really a poor neighbourhood, but also not one of the richest. In this VIP section, the more expensive the bottle you bought, the more privileged the space they gave you. I find people do this more often at working and middle-class parties because it’s an aspirational act – they want to be like the big guys. The upscale parties actually don’t consume as much.”

“Jimmy’s Jump Off is an annual party supporting hip-hop in Nigeria."

A photograph of DJ Nana in Lagos, Nigeria.
DJ Nana is one of the few femal DJs in the Lagos Afrobeats scene.
“Jimmy’s Jump Off is an annual party supporting hip-hop music in Nigeria. Before the explosion of Afrobeats, hip-hop and reggae were the most popular styles of music here, and at that time hip-hop DJ Jimmy Jatt made his name. Now he continues the spirit of the genre through this party. This is a photo of DJ Nana. It’s important to me because the DJ space in Nigeria is very macho; there are not many women at all – of the top DJs, there are no more than four or five. I wanted to show how women are breaking into that space.”

“Felabration is a festival that celebrates Fela Kuti."

The scene at Felabration in Lagos, Nigeria.
Fela Kuti is stil a national hero in Nigeria
“Felabration is a week-long festival that celebrates the late Fela Kuti, founder of Afrobeat [the West African music genre born in the 1960s, not to be confused with Afrobeats]. It takes place every year at the New Afrika Shrine, a warehouse-like music space set up by his son. It’s intense, with thousands of people. Sometimes you can’t even get in, so they put large screens outside for people on the street. Crowds are an important element of Lagos life; everything we do is always in a mass of people. To understand the true scale and energy, whenever you look at a photo of someone partying in Lagos you need to remember that they’ll be part of a much larger crowd.”

“This is a picture of aspiration."

A photograph of a man in Lagos, Nigeria.
“The one way to feel like you‘re wearing the label is by having a fake."
“This is a picture of aspiration. The guy’s T-shirt looks like a Versace, but you can tell it’s a knock-off. Still, he’s confident. On one hand, this shot is talking about fashion – people want to wear Versace, but it’s not affordable, so the one way to feel like you‘re wearing the label is by having a fake. On the other hand, the guy’s gaze and the way he’s holding his body have a sense of connection. There’s a feeling of power emanating from him.”

“Cigars are not a common commodity that you’d find on the street."

A photograph of a man smoking a cigar in Lagos, Nigeria.
People in Lagos smoke cigars to emulate stars on TV and in hip-hop.
“Cigars are not a common commodity that you’d find on the street, but people smoke them because they aspire to be what they see on TV and in hip-hop. You see Jay Z and others blunting the cigar, and guys [in Lagos] like to re-enact it. I’m drawn to documenting this. For me, this guy smoking the cigar talks not only about consumption at parties but also how people reimagine themselves socially.”

“This photo was taken at a party on Ilashe Island, a neighbourhood that’s popular for beach houses."

A party scene on Ilashe Island, Nigeria.
The Ilashe Island party scene is wild
“This photo was taken at a party on Ilashe Island, a neighbourhood that’s popular for beach houses. A lot of luxury drinks companies sponsor high-end parties and this one was courtesy of [cognac maker] Hennessy. It was called the All White ‘Privilege Party’ – you took a boat from the island, the theme was privilege, and you had to dress all in white. It was not a party for the poor people. I wanted to show the people there; the dancing and the tensions between them.”

“This was the earliest stage of my work on this project."

Twins at Jimmy’s Jump Off party in Lagos, Nigeria.
Twins at Jimmy’s Jump Off party in Lagos, Nigeria
“This was the earliest stage of my work on this project when I was first trying my hand at this theme. These women at the Jimmy’s Jump Off party were twins and they looked like they were wearing a party uniform. The matching clothes, the high shoes — their style was so unique. People in the city will dress like this, with bright colours, patterns and accessories, but I’d never seen them matching it before.”

“I don’t usually do wedding photography."

A scene at a Nigerian wedding.
Nigerian weddings are huge and super over-the-top, according to Esiebo
“I don’t usually do wedding photography, but I wanted to explore these spaces for the project. Nigerian weddings are huge and super over-the-top, and this is a high-end example of this. I love that it shows how people get into a state of ecstasy through music and dance. People wear traditional clothing at weddings, as well as to church. Some offices let you wear it to work on Fridays. Nigeria is a multicultural society and Friday is the day to express all our different cultural identities.

“Wedding parties in Nigeria are also known for people spraying money all over the dancefloor."

A wedding party in Nigeria showing the newlyweds being showered with money.
Wedding parties in Nigeria involve showering the newlyweds with money
“Wedding parties in Nigeria are also known for people spraying money all over the dancefloor. They want to express that they’re rich and anyone who comes to the wedding can do it. Annoyingly, the government are trying to enforce a new law to stop it – they say it’s abusing the currency. This photo shows a small example compared with what a lot of people do at these parties. Sometimes the whole dancefloor will be covered in money.”