Beard gang, beard culture, beard game and other coined phrases supporting the beard movement don’t just exist merely as vain, Instagram-ready hashtags but have shaped the image of the Nigerian male pop presence and iconography. Its influence is vast and operates with a kind of hermetic exclusiveness: a glamorous tribal knit of male artistes whose beards are recognizable, pop-defining touchstones of identity (Timaya, Harry Song, Phyno, Iyanya, Maleek Berry, Banky W, Dremo, Praiz, etc) and those who have surprised us that it is possible for them to grow a beard (Davido).
Davido’s arrival in Nigerian popular entertainment was on the back of privilege, that much was true, so much so that Dami Duro, his early, popular single of 2011, was a plush, noise-caked hit that had him singing “Emi omo baba olowo” almost arrogantly from the back of a sleek convertible. He was young and captured a restless late-teen zeitgeist. Half a decade later—with albums, awards, endorsement deals, international collaborations, tours, a commercially successful 2017 hit If, a not-too-commercially-successful follow-up Fall, and a capsule collection recently released with fast-growing Nigerian menswear label Orange Culture—the sprout of hair on Davido’s face feels well-deserved, whether organically grown or not.
Among those leading this beard army monoculture is Falz. In his short piece titled “Falz Can’t get Enough of His Beard and There’s Nothing You Can Do About It,” NET’s Oye Coker calls Falz a “beard gang ambassador” and shows us pictures of a voguishly bearded Falz as proof. Earlier last month, scriptwriter and Beat FM’s OAP Dami Elebe, while co-presenting with Simi Drey as the radio station celebrated its eighth anniversary, made the admission in a studio full of artistes and celebrities that she loved a man with a beard. She represents a good number of beard-loving women, and for male artistes, growing a beard can communicate subtle tones of sex and increased desirability in a pop industry where women are primarily the target group.
“Girls love my beard,” Lynxx told Pulse TV Live’s Missy Molu in 2015, “Constantly shaving meant I’d get darker and more bumps so I just decided to leave my beards to grow. So it wasn’t really intentional or a fashion statement. But now I can’t shave my beards anymore else I’ll lose all my gyal dem.”
A year ago, Stylehubng.com featured Ric Hassani’s five tips for beard maintenance and cleanliness. Ric Hassani’s beards, by the way, looks archetypically perfect, and I read the piece when it was published then and the fourth tip manages to be revealing and at the same time slightly confounding: “There are creams for beards but are not easy to find: I personally don’t have and haven’t found one. I use coconut oil and (or) shea butter. It makes it smooth and inhibits growth. My cousin says he uses baby oil even, and it works just well.”
Ric Hassani released his first studio album The African Gentlemen late August, and the cover art is a side view of Hassani looking, well, very Hassani, a lush coat of hair on his face. For nuance, beard culture has offered up some interesting shades, as seen on Jidenna, whose beards is lacquered in a faux ginger tint that blends well against his light skin. In a 2015 interview with Vibe, Jidenna revealed the inspiration behind his fashion choices and, of course, his beard: “There’s a lot of beard oils. That’s like the trendy thing now. For me, people are throwing them left and right, so I’m trying different products. I don’t have a particular product that I use.”
Two years since that interview and Jidenna couldn’t have sounded more accurate. The struggle to grow a beard is real, a desire that unifies men beyond the periphery of pop culture. There are individual channels dedicated to this on YouTube that run like episodic television, and sponsored posts on Instagram advertising beard growth products (that may or may not be scams). It’s difficult to tell. Barbers, too, are aware of beard culture and are in the constant acquisition of beard intelligence, stocking their shops with products that they think are authentic and selling them to clients.
Glenn Mena, a Nigerian afropop artiste, was the first guest that christened my now-defunct online radio music show The Dip. During a commercial break, Mena, who is sizably bearded, casually asked a really full-bearded colleague of mine how he was able to grow his beard to such length. It was a question that didn’t necessarily strike me as odd, but made me see the small, polarizing ways beard culture renders men as competitors. By all appearances, the beard movement subset has piecemealed its way into pop culture by phasing out stereotypes linked to being a Muslim and bearded. But it’s interesting that, despite the booming market, no beard grooming brand has associated itself with a male artiste. For years, pop artistes like Wizkid and Wande Coal have been churning out materials while still beardless; in fact, a 2013 post on the popular Nairaland forum demanded to know why Wizkid doesn’t have a beard. The question wouldn’t have been raised if beard culture wasn’t influencing our perceptions of the male pop image and our general cultural diet. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.