Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Naija pop... Balls and Bums... for the Boys Sense and Depth... for the Girls

JUST as the last act for the concert signed off, the lady beside me, gave a huge sigh: ‘Good mercy, this is the first concert I would attend where these so-called Nigerian hip hop stars will not be holding their flies and screaming obsenities in the name of singing.” I turned sharply towards her, and she gave me a sharp, tough look ‘Oh yes, those boys that you guys promote in the media as superstars, can’t they ever sing without holding onto the flies of their trousers and singing about women’s breasts and bums... My God, they are so childish in their stage character and gestures; they abuse women’. Oh yes, they do, i nodded. “And you don’t see the girls singing about such noinsensicals about a man’s genitalia or how many men they have dated,” continued the woman, who though in her early 50s, is very pretty, her fair complexion glowing... the type that amorous old Yoruba men, would call ‘Atupa Parlour.’
Suddenly, her face reddened, signs that she was getting emotional about the matter at hand, “And yet those nonsense, juvenile songs is what you media workers will be crowning the best music or song of the decade or of the year... how many of you would allow the private properties of your wife, daughter, sister or even mistress to be so ridiculed in the public.. eh, how many of you?” I was speechless; not just because the person talking was old enough to be my mother, but because she was saying the truth.
But, I picked on her words... Yes... just what do those boys sing about beyond the ‘nonsensicals’ as she had termed it.

Indeed, the Nigerian music industry has exploded in recent times. The hyper activity on the scene has, no doubt, upstaged the days of yore when local TV and radio stations feed the public with foreign songs, especially from the US; a period when the craze for foreign songs, which most of us barely understood the lyrics or even make any sense out of them, were in vogue.
Days are gone when you go to a Nite Club and dance to American beats from dusk till dawn without complaining. Those days of Shaba Ranks, Patra, Buster Rhymes, Chakademus & Pliers, 2Pac, Shagy… these guys ruled the country’s music industry for long, and we had no option than to love them. No option! Those days, it was like a taboo to play a Nigerian song or video on air. A radio station was even so audacious as to decree that no Nigerian music except Fela will grace its air.
Today, things have changed; Nigerian songs are making waves all over the world, with the artistes winning international awards for their works. Even American superstars have seen reasons to collaborate with our artistes –– good deal!
But critically studied, much of the music coming from the artistes these days, especially the male folks, is shallow and meaningless in lyrical content, beats and composition. If the singers are not rasping about sex or some other lewd subjects; it will be about how many women they have beded or dated or jilte; or about 419 and related issues; or what they call ‘beefing’ (abusing perceived enemies)… it’s like a band wagon thing! Once an artiste sings about money, everybody follows. Then another sings about sex, and the rest will file in. The beefing has in fact become an industry, much in the light of the eighies’ rash of abusive songs by the Fuji musicians, who now in their late 60s - an burnished with the wisdom that comes with old age (?) -- must be regretting those dirty words they were trading with their opponents on the scene then.
The exasperating part is that a good number of the so-called superstar artistes today can hardly play a single musical instrument or even do a live performance of their song, yet they answer ‘stars’, winning multiple awards every now and then. Their stage performance is characterised by the truly obscene act of grabbing their ‘scrotum’ and shouting ‘yea, yea’ from one corner of the stage to another–– very boring and indeed insulting to sense of decency! Sometimes, you wonder how some of them got into music.
And yes, the ‘Yellow Madam’ was right. These are the people we, the media, celebrate as the future of the industry.

The female artistes, in truth, have greater depth and more sensible compositions of songs and accompanying beats, yet they are always sidelined by promoters, the media and even show promoters.
The list of nominees for this year’s Hip-Hop World Award is out without a single female artiste making it! How come? Who made the nomination? What are the criteria for nomination? Sometimes you wonder what music means to a lot of people, especially media workers, who are behind some of these awards.
Music is not just about crooning off-key and grabbing your balls; it’s not about featuring in multiple videos; surely, not about media hype; certainly, not about how much you spent shooting the video or having cheaply-sourced nude ladies shaking their bums and boobs in front of the camera. It’s not a band wagon stuff; it’s not commercial; it’s not about wearing blings and earrings or weaving the hair with different colours and shouting ‘yooo men, whatz up’… yet, these seem to be what some of the award projects set out to reward. Music is about depth; meaningful lyrics; proper arrangement and memorable beats.... these are certanly off the radar of the some of the award organisers in the country.

Well, the concerns raised by the ‘Yellow Madam’, whom i must hint is a senior culture bureaucrat, with long, extensive service even in the United States, is the reason I have decided to pay tribute to the authentic heroes of Nigerian contemporary music... I mean those who still make effort to sing sensibly, and carry themselves with dignity... the female artistes. Not all of them are featured here, but a select few from among those whom LIFE has celebrated in recent times are here. These are the young flowers of Nigerian music... coming behind the incredible credentials that had been established by the Nelly Uchendus (late), Onyeka Onwenus, Christy Essiens, Bunmi Olajubus, Veno Marioghaes, Stella Monyes, Evi Edna Ogholis, Yinka Davies, among others...
Here, I present the profile of some of these ladies and invite you to draw your own conclusion. Their profiles show that a good number of them grew up with music and spend more time honing their craft.

Born in Paris as the only girl in the family, Asa had to share her parents with three brothers. At a tender age she began to look after the house during her father and mother’s frequent absences. That was when she started singing. The desire to sing came to her and didn’t go away, carving out a permanent place in her soul. She preferred singing to talking, improvising endlessly — until her mother made her stop!
Over the years, her father had built up a fine collection of records on soul classics and Nigerian music. The little girl grew up to the sounds of artistes such as Marvin Gaye, Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey and others; and drew inspiration from them.
When she came home, she discovered Erika Badu, D’Angelo, Rafaël Saadiq, Lauryn Hill, Femi Kuti and Angélique Kidjo, in whose footprints she dreamt of following. At 18, Asa was very familiar with frustration. The university was on strike; the choirs were snubbing her. Nevertheless, she managed to get her voice heard on a few radio talent shows, and her first applause brought her boundless pleasure. She then signed up, in secret, for the Peter King’s School of Music; and learnt how to play the guitar in six months.
Asa, in her own opinion, is not a commercial product and not a sex kitten. She was offered contracts, concerts and money, but she was determined to make her music just the way she wanted. In 2004 she met her manager, Janet, who introduced her to Cobhams Emmanuel Asuquo, who in turn became her musical partner.Cobhams enabled Asa to find her bearings: songs in English and Yoruba, music falling somewhere between pop and soul, inspired by her musical heritage — with particular care paid to the melodies — and reflecting the feeling she puts into it. Her lyrics talk about her country, the things in life, the things in her life, all delivered with feigned naivety and real irony.
It was at this stage of her life that Asa finally returned to Paris. This was her chance to test out her talent on the French musical scene, playing with artistes such as the Nubians, Manu Dibango, Doctor L and Tony Allen. Today, her songs Eyé Adaba, Jailer, and Bibanke have become classics.

Mfon Umana
Mfon started out as an innocent kid chorister at about eight in a church choir, alongside her mother, who was a member of the group. A year after, she attempted composing a song, which resulted in I Wanna Dance.
Moving over to the Republic of Benin, she stayed in touch with music, singing with friends as hobby. She used to sing in a karaoke with a friend, before she gained admission into the University of Benin Republic.
While in the university, Mfon won Miss Campus Beauty Pageant, and was later wooed into joining the University Band, les Kasseurs, as a back-up singer. She later rose to be the lead singer, touring all the departments of Bénin Republic and featuring in almost all the mega shows, before going professional in Dubai as a solo artiste.
Mfon’s experience in Dubai, to a very large extent, played a vital role in her career as a musician. She sang all kinds of songs; secular, gospel, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, rock, rap, dancehall, African beats, reggae… anything that her audience liked.
After years of performing in Dubai clubs and bars, Mfon took a bold step to return home in 2003, in pursuit of her music career. First, she picked a job with the French Cultural Centre, Lagos, still combining the job with her music.
A resourceful artiste with a unique approach, Mfon’s art reflects the aspiration of the African continent to transcend her fears and pains, her hopelessness and years of wandering in darkness; and to show the entire world the incomparable richness of her heritage; the universality of her restored values, and the immense diversity of culture. Mfon’s songs usually stewed in folksy, soul and jazz music with African rhythms spicing it, speaks of the essences of African values.
The singer, composer and guitarist came home in 2007, with a single called Nigeria, which was to boost the poor image of the country outside. Right now, she’s putting finishing touches to her latest work titled the Brand New Page, which is expected to hit music shelves next month.
However, Mfon is no doubt sufficiently equipped to climb to the very top of the music chart, if the tempo is sustained. Personally, she’s very confident that her work will make a difference.

Diana Bada
Diana’s decision to play music was not accidental; it’s something she had always loved doing as a kid. Her father had a big collection of music and her Russian mum came from a music family; so, it was natural for Diana to do music.
In school, Diana would do everything within her reach to be part of every music group; she was in the school band or choir and also took part in all the entertainment events. As she grew older, she started composing songs. Along the line, she became more in tune with her musical side.
Though she holds a Business degree from Hungary, Diana enrolled at the MUSON Centre, Lagos, where she studied music. Even as a business student, where there’s music was where you would find the pretty, light skinned singer. You will always find her in the studio, hanging out with a lot of Deejays and emcees in the university; and going for live events –– that was when she started recording her music. Sometimes, she sleeps over, watching how the whole build-up of a stage takes place.
Though not the kind of musician you see at major gigs in town, Diana has been performing for long with her band, Expressions, a jazz band. Basically, they do mostly private gigs as well as collaborate with other bands.
For Diana, music is not complete without a live performance. Though she has no problem with other artistes, especially the guys, who do just CD and miming on stage, the singer feels more comfortable on stage, hearing live sounds coming from the speakers.
“Rehearsal has been a better part of Diana’s schedule. She says: “whatever you want to do, you have to practice to get a better result. As an artiste, you must always practice; I see it as something very important, I don’t play with it because it helps you as an artiste,” the dreadlocks wearing artiste said during a recent interview.
Aside her music, getting her poems published is one thing Diana would love to achieve in no distant time. She also plans to set up a music studio, where people can come and rehearse and record music.
“I see myself basically trying to make good music, even if not my own, I will also want to involve the next generation.”

TY Bello
A graduate of Economics from the University of Lagos, TY Bello was a member one of urban gospel band, Kush, made up of Emem and Lara. The band made noticeable impact with their music, especially Let’s Live Together, which was an anthem, before the girls went their separate ways.
Even in her solo effort, TY stamped her authority in the country’s music scene. Her debut album, Greenland, took over two years to write, but the end product truly justified the long period spent in penning down the words and cooking the beats in the studio. Her music is eclectic; urbane, groovy and soulful; and is laced with hip-hop, jazz and R&B.
The video for Greenland, the lead track in the work, which TY shot, was hailed as one of the best ever produced from Nigeria.
TY spared no expense with Greenland. Each song on the album manifests the uninhibited expression of an artistes in an otherwise inhibiting environment. From love, to family to nation; TY bore her soul in words that are bound to capture the hearts of all, who listen; she wrote the title track for her countrymen to levitate from a place of despair to that of hope. The album was very successful with massive airplay, topping music charts and clinching different awards.
An internationally acclaimed portrait photographer, TY Bello stages an annual photography exhibition to raise funds for orphans across the country. She is also a Director of Link-a-Child; an NGO dedicated to propagating information on orphanages in Nigeria, and soliciting sponsorship on their behalf.
The colours, shades and textures, which she captures in her photographs, are expressed in her music as well. “Art is about collecting experiences and expressing them. For me music and photography are similar art forms. I collect experiences, stir them in myself and express it in my own language. Just like my photography, music is my language,” she said in an interview.
In Ekundayo, TY wrote about her first encounter with Mrs. Ekundayo, who runs Ekundayo Children’s Home, an orphanage in Isanlu, Kogi State.
“The song is about a conversation that took place among Toyin Subair, Mrs. Ekundayo and l, which made me to realise how empty my life was. I saw someone who was doing a lot more than I was and had much less than I did.”
Through her songs, TY Bello seeks to take fans through the journey of her life and the lessons she has learnt on that journey.

Born Queen Chinyere Onokala in Enugu State, Kween started singing in a church choir at 10, in Abeokuta where she was brought up. She attended Command Secondary School Abakaliki, Ebonyi State before proceeding to the University of Abuja, where she studied Public Administration.
The Jebele singer grew up listening to artistes such as Erykah Badu, Toni Braxton and Whitney Houston and later started out in the music business with a band called Zuma Rock in the federal capital territory, Abuja. Since then, she has developed a uniquely international blend and has moved on very quickly to performing at credible concerts and festivals. She sings in English, Yoruba and Igbo her native language, combining Western and African elements
The Abia State native came to the limelight in 2001 when she released a single, Oluronbi, featuring Nigerian Fuji crooner, Pasuma Alabi Wonder. The song, which was recorded at the Eko FM studios in Lagos, with producer Da Capo and project co-ordinator Spitz Josef, received much media attention and airplay.
Kween’s music is combined with Afro funk, jazz, hip-hop, neo soul, lover’s rock and dancehall rhythms. She has been linked for her growls and swoops that link African tradition to American soul music. She produces dance music as well as slow captivating dance songs with a lot of sensuality.
Her self-titled album, kweendomcome — exactly as the name suggests — is about the faces of lives; speaking of her trials and experiences, pulling up strong emotions from its would be listeners, while managing to preserve an indisputable African feeling.
Kween’s philosophy is, “the wealth of experience you’ve gathered comes with time… nobody gives it to you as reward or price for credibility. I’ve come a long way with what I know, and only time is the greatest reward for that.”
In addition to being a singer and songwriter, Kween is also an actress, which has featured in some Nollywood movies.

A native of Utagba-uno, Kwale, Delta State, Ashionye Michelle Ugboh is a well known singer/songwriter. Born on October 17, Ashionye is undoubtedly among Nigeria’s top-rated female celebrities. Equally at home as a singer, actress or presenter, she is loved by male and adored by female fans nation-wide.
Always the showstopper, Ashionye turns heads on red carpets everywhere and leaves the audience screaming for more at her live concert performances. She’s the toast of her peers and the role model to many young female Nigerians.
Ashionye is passionate about ‘positive female empowerment’, working tirelessly to better the lot of Nigerian women from all walks of life and social backgrounds, in a most fundamental way. In a bid to inspire and empower young girls and women in Nigeria and the world over, she initiated the Girl Power Music Movement.
Her first album, A Piece of Me, made noticeable impact in the industry, endorsing her as a leading female singers, which earned her a stage appearance in the Nigerian version of the internationally acclaimed Vagina Monologues.
Meanwhile, the Delta State native raised the bar in the entertainment industry, when she launched her perfume, ‘Romance By Ashionye’. She has secured a one-year endorsement deal to serve as the brand ambassador for Pepsi Light.

Born 1981 in Warri, Nigeria, Nneka Egbuna moved to Hamburg, Germany ostensibly to study Anthropology.
In Nigeria she sang in church, but never pursued a professional career as a singer until coping with the culture clash of being in Germany did songs began pouring from her as though she was on a purgative.
She hooked up with DJ Farhot, and they formed a partnership. In 2005, they produced a five-song EP, The Uncomfortable Truth, which brought her to the attention of major labels in Germany. By the end of 2005, she had produced a full-length debut, Victim of Truth, from which a series of singles was released
In 2008, Nneka released her second full length, No Longer At Ease with it’s lead single being, Heartbeat, her first record to break into the German Top 50.
She was in the country in 2007, where she performed live with her band during 2Face and Friends music tour.

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