Recording artist Mr Eazi’s insider’s guide to Cotonou
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I’ve come to Cotonou by air, by sea and by road. Coming by sea is my favourite. You arrive at this brown-water lagoon and the first thing you see are the workers standing in their long canoes – no life vests, they’re just using their sticks to paddle, and behind them are heaps of goods. Then you arrive at a bustling market and there’s so much energy.
Cotonou feels like my nephew and every time I see him he’s bigger. I can still recognise him, but he’s changing at such a pace that I almost can’t keep up. On Thursdays I go to Home Residence, where they play live music, with these very lush guitars and drums. The audience is older: there’s people in their late 40s to 60s hanging out. You’ll hear a lot of that lush instrumentation – especially the guitars – on my album, which I recorded here.
However, on Sundays, it’s full party. You’ll see the road is blocked because people are all going to the beach, which itself feels very underdeveloped – it’s just demarcated by bamboo – and there’s a bar called Code in the middle. Everything there is just basic and works; it’s not fancy cabanas and bottle service like in Lagos. I remember once we couldn’t even get tequila.
The first time I went to Code Bar it was this little beach club playing music at a very low volume; it seemed like everything was in slow motion. And I was like, “Nah, this isn’t what we’re having here”, and I went and turned up the volume and told the DJ to play some Afrobeats. Then I took the mic and became the hype-man and I’d do that every Sunday.
Before you knew it, people would come and tell their friends. I never charged them and when I started to post videos on Instagram, my friends in Nigeria would come over to party and bring famous DJs, famous comedians. By the time I had finished recording the album, Code Bar had started collecting money at the door. They didn’t even have a proper sound system, and sometimes the lights would go off because someone stepped on the wires.
When I was recording the album, I stayed at this hotel called Maison Rouge. It’s a boutique hotel, only a few rooms, with a different menu every day. It feels like you’re at home. We set up a studio in the garden, so I’d wake up early in the morning and go to the gym, and when I came back I’d have coffee. The chef would give me coffee and butter, like a cube of sugar but it’s a cube of butter. We’d record there in the hotel but eventually, because of the other guests, at around 4pm I’d have to move to Eya Studios, a community centre nearby.
I hate recording in studios; most of my biggest songs have just been recorded in bedrooms or kitchens. I think if I record it in a studio, it’ll be jinxed. But when I started recording in Eya, the studio wasn’t completed so it felt safe from the curse. We did the whole thing in the booth. We’d have the laptop and speakers in the booth, sometimes 10 or 12 people in there too, just drinking and partying – and in between that we’d record.
The best food in Cotonou is at Le Hublot. They have these prawns, giant prawns – everything seems to be giant there. The pepper is extremely hot. You need to go to the top floor where you can see the sea. There’s a breeze blowing from the ocean so you can feel the humidity and the salt. You might even sweat a little. So when you have that breeze blowing and the salt hitting your skin, and you’re eating spicy food, it makes the whole act of eating feel more like an activity. Sometimes we stay out very late and get hungry again and we have to go to Tandoori Nights on the way back to Maison Rouge and eat Indian food before bed.
There’s traditional food too. I only eat one local dish. You can get it at Les Nouveaux Alizés – it’s called amiwo. It reminds me of a Nigerian food called moi moi, but this is made with maize and palm oil. The restaurant’s walls are covered with art depicting the different kings of Benin.
Contonou has this spiritual essence. Not in a religious sense, there’s just something in the air. It has the energy of Lagos, but without the rush, without the pressure. The more you move out of Cotonou, into places like Ouidah, the more spiritual it gets. I remember waking up there one night with goosebumps. It makes you introspective.