BT COLUMNIST: The Awkward Truth With Stanley Nwabia
Let me start by recognizing the fact that Nigerian music is undoubtedly the biggest in Africa, not necessarily in terms of quality, album sales or structure but in volume and brand recognition. I remember feeling depressed almost fifteen years ago when I watched the maiden edition of KORA Music Awards, one of the first Pan-African Music Award shows to hit the scene. Back then, Southern and East African music talents dominated the continental landscape; in this particular KORA Music Awards, the only Nigerian nominee was King Sunny Ade, and the song selected looked like a sore thumb among other African nominees. Can’t remember the title of the song but part of its lyrics was something like, “…and the music is so nice, lerrus (let us) dance, lerrus dance.” Of course King Sunny Ade did not win any KORA Award that year, the South Africans swept most of the awards and this trend continued for a few more years.
Fast forward to this day, and the tables have turned, thanks to Tuface Idibia’s 2003/2004 hit track ‘African Queen,’ a song that opened many doors for Nigerian music internationally. Finally, Nigerian Music just like Nollywood arrived, becoming prominent in the music radar of many sub-Saharan African, and even Caribbean societies. The domestic and African music awards started flowing in from all directions, even America’s Black Entertainment Television (BET) recognized Nigeria’s emergence as Africa’s music power house, opting to also extend some back-stage awards to our artistes.
Breaking away from the rather depressing music themes of the likes of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti which focused on societal ills and Government corruption, or ‘Owambe’ rhythms from the Sunny Ades and Ebenezer Obeys which appealed mainly to rich Yoruba folks, or the Igbo highlife gigs where names of prominent title holders needed to be embedded in song lyrics; Nigerian music evolved into ‘Naija Music’ and started reaching out to the rest of us.
From the early 2000s, Naija music pop-culture began to focus on new money, lyrical content started spotlighting on the fast life, easy money and easier women. In the Gospel music genre, the increase of new generation Pentecostal churches also fed growth in religious music with secular feel. However, the ultimate message of ‘prosperity’ was not left out on both the secular and gospel music genre.
Another good development was that Nigerian artistes were not just singing about big money, they were also making it. Nigeria’s huge economic growth from 1999, led to corresponding growth in big business. Nigerian big brands recorded monumental profits from a growing middle-class and subsequently engaged the services of many Nigerian entertainers as brand ambassadors, or in events promotion. Nigeria’s Telecommunication giants, Banks and Beverage companies were the biggest spenders. Hence, unlike in other organized music industries in say South Africa, Nigerian artistes no longer relied on album sales to make ends meet, all they needed was one hit song, and event promoters or big companies start approaching them for concerts and brand endorsements.
Like most successes in life, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Nigerian music has not fallen yet but the bubble is slowing getting to a point where it has to burst. Employment opportunities and razzmatazz built around the vibrant Nigerian music industry has attracted many new entrants-some talented, a few VERY talented and others mere charlatans. A sad reality is that these days it looks as though the talentless charlatans are now the ones on top of the Nigerian Music food chain. It is very easy to expose a talentless Nigerian artiste, invite him/her to perform at a live concert and that’s it. They rely heavily of lip-syncing, spending half of their performance time yelling to tired spectators, “Put your hands up”, or “Jump, Jump, Jump” or “When I say ‘this’, you say ‘that’…this, that, this. “ Today, there are very few established Nigerian artistes that can actually play a musical instrument, most of the younger ones cannot.
Still on the lyrical content of Naija music focusing on fast money and faster women, right now there seems to be a shift, an irritating one. Due to the dearth of sensible lyrics and perhaps a refusal to pay good song writers, many Nigerian artistes have opted for senseless wordplay. Picking up slangs and slogans from the thin air and using intense repetition to drive it into the consciousness of music fans, and VOILA, you have a hit song. These days one listens to a so-called Naija hip hop track and all you hear is, ‘Shake your Tinkologo”, “I want to Jogodo”, “Oya Shekininini”, “Your love dey make me Parambolo”, “Shakiti Bobo”…seriously, what the F%$#!!!
To make matters worse, the over-sexualization of Nigerian music content and visuals has reached boiling point. Nigeria’s male dominated music scene and lyrics now seem to focus more on Female names as well as her sensitive body parts. Many years ago, some of us became proud of the fact that Nigerian music videos now come in better quality, enjoying more airplay on our local and continental television platforms; but these days, we may have to rethink. Tune into most Nigerian music videos and one is inundated with senselessly lewd lyrics and poorly paid video vixens shaking their bloated behinds throughout the duration of the song. It’s either that or you watch some other made in South Africa music video where a Nigerian (male) artiste uses white or colored women as love interest, yet infusing Nigerian languages or pidgin into their lyrics.
There seems to be a huge disconnect or misunderstanding on how best to manage the successes that Nigerian music industry has garnered over the years. In America, a nation we all love to copy, their music industry is well structured and caters for segments of society. While most of us think all there is to American Music is the (Black) Hip-hop ‘gangster, Ho’s and Bitches’ scene which Nigeria is gladly copying. There is, for example, Blue Grass Country Music genre that commands more respect, even financially in American society. There’s also the Classics, Alternative, Jazz and Rock genres to mention a few, each sustaining and entertaining an enlightened audience, with sensible lyrics. In Nigeria, it is an all comers affair; a Fuji artiste today can be seen jiving and scanking to Reggae beats tomorrow. A gospel artiste today can suddenly decide to go perform at a secular concert in front of a marijuana smoking crowd while a secular artiste might as well perform at a religious event.
The time has come for Nigerian Music industry stake holders including music fans to demand for a certain level of decency, decorum and creativity from our artistes. Creativity here suggests that a song can remain very sexy without necessarily adopting brazenly lewd or raunchy lyrics. Also, Nigerian artistes’ continuous introduction or coining of new (senseless) words or slangs into their songs need not be a crime, all they need do is…actually, it is a crime, they should just stop it.
About Stanley Nwabia:
He is the Chief Executive Officer of Firewood Media, owners of IkengaTV. He is a Television and Radio content producer. Connect with him on Twitter via @MrStanleyNwabia.
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