What’s Tonto Dikeh’s selling point?

Olumide Iyanda

Buzz by Olumide Iyanda

Email: oiyanda@yahoo.com Twitter: @mightyng

Olumide-IyandaTwenty-five months after his former business and creative partner, Don Jazzy, signed Tiwa Savage to his Mavin Records, D’banj officially introduced Tonto Dikeh as the duchess of his DB Records in June 2014. But while Tiwa has managed to convince many that she can sing, Tonto’s romance with the microphone over the years has been grating to the ears at best. Easily recognised as one of the most sought-after actresses in Nollywood, Ms Dikeh is to the ears of music critics what onions is to the eyes of those who come close to it.

The latest offering by Tonto is a song titled ‘Sugar Rush’ featuring D’banj. A 43-second snippet released by DB Records last week received largely brutal criticism. Many say it is a cheap imitation of ‘Dorobucci’ by Don Jazzy’s The Mavins. Others simply say it continues a tradition of weak vocals made worse by auto tuning. You only need to listen to previous songs like ‘Hi’, ‘It’s Ova’, ‘Ekebe’, ‘Sheba’ and ‘Crazically Fit’ by Tonto to understand why a good number of people believe Tonto the musician is Tiwa on a bad day.

But why would one of Africa’s biggest pop stars sign a young woman known more for controversy than any singing talent to his label? The answer is in that word “controversy”. As D’banj must have known in his 10 years on the scene, many entertainers are adored by fans for their nuisance value. And few people come close to Tonto when it comes to offering that.

Born to an Ikwerre family of seven from Rivers State, Tonto got her first real bite at fame in 2005 when she competed in The Next Movie Star reality TV show. She came second; bested by Kinsgley Ogboso who is now nowhere near her on the fame radar. A combination of onscreen and off-screen controversies has kept the actress in the limelight. The bad girl every director wanted in their movie, Tonto gladly takes on roles that require little robes.

Controversy is indeed in the eyes of the beholder. Often, the more deviant entertainers get, the more clinging fans get in their adulation. Tonto owes her rise to fame in Nollywood more to drinking, smoking, tattoos, parties and steamy scenes than to any display of talent or lack of it. Stories of male co-stars getting too close to her on set and her female colleagues avoiding her like the plague have only made her front page entertainment news. She might be a public hate figure, but she is many people’s secret object of desire. That is why her songs are some of the most downloaded in the history of Nigerian music. It is also safe to say that her images are on many phones, computers and tablets.   Even Tiwa has come out of the closet. After years of ‘Kele Kele Love’, the ‘Eminado’ singer finally went for the raunch on stage at a Star Trek concert in Anambra and on the video of her song ‘Wanted’. With porn stars like Maheeda and Afrocandy getting generous mention on the blogosphere, Tiwa had to send out a message that she is still Nigeria’s own Beyonce Knowles. And if Don Jazzy has found a Mrs. Carter in Mrs. Tiwa Balogun, D’banj probably sees Tonto as his own Rihanna.

You need not look to far to see what 26-year-old Robyn Rihanna Fenty and 29-year-old Tonto Charity Dikeh have in common. Tattoos and images of marijuana on their social media accounts show they are kindred spirits. The only difference is that RiRi can do some singing. But in an age of monotonous beats, one-liner lyrics and easy music downloads, even a singer that does not know the difference between soprano and alto can easily go viral.

Contrary to what many feared when Mo’hits Record went under in 2011, D’banj has done well for himself without Don Jazzy. Their collaboration, ‘Oliver Twist’, may be his biggest hit to date, but the man formerly known as Koko Master has gone on to conquer new heights on his own. Yes, he no longer hangs around Kanye West as much as he did when he signed the G.O.O.D Music deal in June 2011. At least, he released his DKM album last year and has launched his own DB Records. In all of that, he has also changed monikers from Koko Master to Ejanla and Banga Lee to White Lion without losing his identity.

While welcoming Tonto, who is also now referred to as PokoLee to the Lee Temple, an enthusiastic D’banj tweeted: “Can’t wait for the world to see what we’ve been up to. I’m proud of you, my daughter.”   If ‘Sugar Rush’ is a sample of what they have been up to, then there is little to look forward to in the area of good music. Like everyone else, The Entertainer probably knows that his latest catch has precious little creativity to bring to the temple. What she has in abundance is an image that triggers sharp divide. Her fans love her to a fault and her critics are unsparing in their attack on her. None of the two groups can, however, ignore her. That is her selling point. That is what is in her goody bag. And that – as it was done with Genevieve Nnaji – is what D’banj is after.

Whatever happens, Tonto can always go back to fulltime acting if this experiment fails. As for D’banj, there will always be a new girl on the block. There is also Koko Garri.