LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigerian singer-songwriter Dapo Daniel Oyebanjo, who goes by the mellifluous stage name D’Banj, has been using his global super-stardom as a tool for promoting agriculture and poverty reduction in Africa. This year, he collaborated with 18 of Africa’s biggest recording artists to create “Cocoa na Chocolate,” a track that — despite its use of 11 different languages — has a clear message: world leaders need to develop agriculture in Africa.
However, Africa’s Bono, as some have dubbed him, might never have gotten involved with music if not for a family tragedy.
Born in 1980, D’Banj was immediately set on a course for the military by his parents. D’Banj attended two military schools in Nigeria before matriculating at the University of Lagos, where he studied mechanical engineering. Against his parents’ wishes, he rejected a life in the military in favor of a life in music, moving to England to pursue his art.
His older brother’s death pushed him toward music. When D’Banj was a teenager, his brother Femi died in a plane crash. Femi’s harmonica was handed down to D’Banj.
His career took off after he lent his singing and harmonica-playing talents to Nigerian rap star Ruggedman’s track “Kiss Me Again.” Later career milestones included MTV awards in 2007 and 2009 and a BET award in 2011, the same year in which he signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label. Working with Kanye, D’Banj released his biggest hit yet, ”Oliver Twist.”
D’Banj’s popularity in the United States has increased after a series of successful collaborations with a number of American music icons, including Snoop Dogg, Jay Z and Kid Cudi. In spite of this, he has remained focused on improving Africa. To do so, he uses his popularity to promote agriculture.
“I want Africans to know farming is not only the foundation of the economy, but also that farming is cool,” D’Banj said.
“As African musicians, agriculture is the single most important cause we could champion together,” he continued.
In Nigeria, 70 percent of people depend on agriculture to make a living, according to D’Banj. Yet, the Nigerian government has reduced the federal agriculture budget to a mere 1.47 percent of the total budget.
D’Banj believes this trend is reversible if the younger generation speaks up. To show agriculture’s potential to the youth of Africa, he got involved with the ONE Campaign. Working alongside artists like Femi Kuti and Omawumi, he helped to create the song “Cocoa na Chocolate.”
“Everywhere that you want to go, I will surely take you to,” D’Banj sings in the song’s first verse. “Any food that you want to eat, I will surely grow with you.”
The ONE Campaign offered downloads of the song to anyone who signed a petition asking Africa’s leaders to increase agricultural budgets to 10 percent.
After completing the track, D’Banj traveled to the United States to bring awareness to the agriculture issue in the weeks leading up to this year’s U.S.-Africa Summit, which began on Aug. 4. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, he asked President Barack Obama to “please help us make sure that the leaders—the African leaders—what they have committed to in the summit: make sure that they implement it.”
In addition to this recent humanitarian work, D’Banj is the founder of Koko Foundation for Youth and Peace Development, an organization that seeks to educate African youth. In 2007, he was also made Nigeria’s first Youth Ambassador for Peace by the United Nations.
– Ryan Yanke