Globalization and the Music Movement: Lessons Nigeria must learn from its music top shots ~ Japheth J Omojuwa
Last night, music took me back in time. In saying back in time, you'd probably be thinking the 1990s and some geriatrics may even start imagining years before that but I didn’t travel that far. Really, my own "back in time" would not be later than the 1990s because that is the latest decade I remember vividly. Let me state though that when I said back in time I meant 2005, 2006 and all. This piece is a celebration of the Nigerian music revolution.
Those who want to pretend about the reality of its ascension would deny its rise but those of us who know the story of the Hip-Hop movement in Nigeria would tell you that it is nothing short of phenomenal. This site as our regular readers know is not about music or even entertainment; it is about money, liberty and prosperity. So what is the connection of the Nigerian Music Industry with money - easy one -, liberty and prosperity? Everything!
The reason the Nigerian Music Industry has come this far is because of the liberty that globalization offers. Back in the days, we used to think a duet between Tony Tetuila and Tuface was a "bad" combo - "bad" here means "very very good" for the uninitiated - but today when Nigerian artistes feature an international star like say multi-platinum selling Akon, the public has become so used to that reality they are almost indifferent. Back when Tuface featured Beanie Man, few people actually cared about the quality of the production but the fact that Tuface could execute a coup like that. This is no longer a big deal in the face of real big deals, not because Beanie Man has since gone into oblivion but because everything has changed! The borders of music have transgressed our national boundaries and thanks to daring artistes like D'banj (Dapo Daniel Oyebanjo)and P Square (Paul and Peter Okoye), a new dawn is on the horizon. It would be unfair to pin this trailblazing evolution to one event but the success of Tuface Innocent Idibia’s “African Queen” and his eventual MTV Europe Music Award win for the effort, sort of broke down a major barrier and opened the gates to the world the same way Stephen Keshi’s move to Europe opened the flood gates for hundreds of Nigerian footballers to successfully make the same move in the early 90s. Today, the movement of Nigerian footballers is no longer the novelty it once was and soon collaborations with international artistes would no longer be the novelty it relatively is today.
Credit to the likes of P Square who appear desperate to conquer Africa and D'banj is not just signed to Kanye West's G.O.O.D Music, he represents the interests of Sony in Africa. This may not sound really huge today but when you contrast it with the days of Nigerian artistes having to depend on virtually only one virile local record label where most artistes were supposedly milked, you'd appreciate the prospects of a Nigerian artiste running things like Obama runs the White House. Back then it was razz for a DJ to play a Nigerian song with his foreign mix of songs, in the club these days foreign songs can't even find space in the mix. Our artistes have upped their game so well even those that swept off supposedly whack artistes have themselves been swept off when the bar got raised beyond their own jump.
Many things have contributed to this evolution but one fundamental side to it is the part the American Hip-Hop culture has played on the Nigerian music scene. If Nollywood began the Nigerianisation of Africa, Naija Hip Hip-Hop is consolidating that culturing process. Like other factors, the impact of cable TV stations like MTV and Channel O have been understated despite their immense revolutionary shifting of the game. Sound City, a Music/Entertainment local station that has since gone to bigger things itself helped to ensure the availability of Nigerian music videos on demand. Credit must also go to Music Africa, a three-hour weekdays production of African music videos.
It is also crucial to state that the influx of foreign artistes at major events on the continent must have also created a mental shift because then local talents were able to share the stage with icons like Shaggy, Snoop dogg, 50 cent and the likes that’d have been a tall dream elsewhere at the time apart from home. From music tours that ended up being a tour of clubs in Europe and America, Nigerian artistes have actually taken the game a notch higher. Easy to see the likes of Wizkid 22 (Ayo Balogun), Davido 20 (David Adeleke) pack full houses in Europe and America. This piece would be incomplete without the mention of the global hit “Oliver Twist” which is arguably the biggest hit to come out of Africa in decades. The production of the song sets you up against decorum in public thanks to the super talents of Don Jazzy (Michael Collins Ajereh), add that to the daring spirit of D’banj and we now have a song that has defied borders and languages. It did actually make the top 10 of UK’s major music charts.
Many have complained about government’s neglect of this industry. While it sounds counter intuitive to the usual logic in Africa, the absence of government has actually helped the industry find its feet. Nigeria’s President Jonathan purportedly released some $200 million to assist the industry just before the 2011 elections but the last I heard about the money it was still under the care of a major crony of Mr. President. As the industry deals with the challenge of structure and global best practices’ standard professionalization, expect it to dominate the sounds of the world for years to come if its evolution continues. This means big money for music business and investors are already looking to cash in.
The need to survive the invasion of its space by foreign artistes, the desperation to meet the expectations of fans that will never settle for less and the opportunities that music, that pays no heed to language or economic barriers, has meant that Nigerian Hip-Hop cannot be taken for granted anymore. Asa (Bukola Elemide), Nneka (NnekaLucia Egbuna), the legendary Femi Kuti and the likes continue to raise the ante in terms of class and niche, while some others have used collaborations with foreign artistes to make the shift. Credit to the internet – especially Youtube - and music sites likes like notjustok.com, gidilounge.com that helped Nigerians in diaspora stay connected to sounds from home. The diaspora has helped immensely in the projection of Nigerian artistes in the global game. For a long time Fela Kuti remained arguably the only Nigerian artiste that hit the global music mainstream, but that shift is changing really fast. 2013 looks to be the year that finally heralds the Nigerian Hip-Hop movement as one not just to look out for but one whose arrival on the scene could change the global music space forever. This sounds farfetched but certainly not as farfetched as saying, say in 2004 that America’s Hip-Hop bosses would relish collaborations with their Nigerian counterparts half a decade later. This certainly is a platter globalization offers and one would wish the Nigerian government would take a look and learn more than a note or two from the traveling waves of Nigerian music.
Japheth J Omojuwa @omojuwa is the Editor of African Liberty