Balls and Bums... for the Boys
Sense and Depth... for the Girls
BY CHUKS NWANNE
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 nonsensicals 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 are what you media workers will be crowning the best music or song of the decade or of the year... how many of you will 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 niteclubs 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 bedded or dated or jilted; 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 –– and 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’, hopping 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 (2009) is out and how many female artistes made the list? 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 award organisers in the country.
Most Nigerian musicians seem to live on another planet. Their lyrics do not reflect the realities on ground. How can you have fuel shortage, deadly roads, Niger Delta conflict, children being witchunted in the South South, Haliburton scandals and your busy talking Moet, girls and bling. It takes balls to stand for something, but the question is how many of my coleagues are willing to swim against the stream.
At the moment, you can broadly classify Nigerian artists into two; what I'll call the mainstream and the alternative. For most of the mainstream artistes, lyrics is the last thing on their minds, basically they just want to make anything that people can dance to. The only challenge is that we all don't dance 24/7 so its within those quiet moment when you reflect on the lyrics of a song you've been dancing to for months, that you suddenly realise how totally hollow and sometimes senseless it is. For the alternative guys, these are serious musicians who understand that a lot of craftsmanship must go into making a piece of music. They generally have more profound lyrics that grab the imagination of the listeners. There are not too many artistes like that in Nigeria today (Unfortunately). But go back and listen to Majek Fashek, Bongos Ikwe and you'll understand what I’m talking about. The good news however is that the Nigerian music listener is very sophisticated; they are beginning to ask probing questions, and they are beginning to demand quality music. This is the point where real musicians will be separated from charlatans.
The Nigerian music industry is no doubt growing rapidly. There is a remarkable improvement in the audio, video presentation; the industry still has a long way to go, when it comes to the lyrical contents of the vibes majority of these boys are churning out. Did you hear Tu-Face’s It’s time to have sex. I think that was disgusting! Time and time again, I try to make out what some of these hip-pop guys are saying; I barely could catch a word out of their vibes. Most of their lyrics do not make sense. The rush and the quest to be a ‘star’ have almost taken the better part of the industry. Creativity and professionalism is at a zero level right now in Nigeria. O well, the beat goes on and those who make the loudest noise remain the mega-stars. The use of profanity and lewd lyrics will certainly backfire on those artists who think it Is the quickest way to satisfy their base. Right now, the industry ought to have song-writers, beat makers, song arrangers and composers. What you have today is a scenario where even those who can afford these professionals still do it alone. I must admit that I hear good music from Nigeria, a well produced music, beautiful vocals with good melody, fantastic bass line, distinct snare drum, hi-hat and trebling kicks, good harmony, nicely mixed and mastered but lyrically empty.
Our lyrics as Nigerian musicians need to build up and not destroy. Instead of looking for destructive monentary satisfaction and then building NGOs to fix the damage done, we need to use our music to leave a legacy that will help improve the way we are viewed by the rest of the world. We need to perpetuate solid values in our own environment and grow the psyche of the 'man on the street' in a positive way.
RE- A NATION’S IDENTITY CRISIS
Felix Orisewike Sylvanus
Anybody who has not read or shares in this great debate is certainly missing something, though, not so exciting but would get one straits thinking. Here the story pole and the response from various victims stood side by side at opposite direction under a dark cloud of great enormity. And none is ready to shift the sword leaving the one so great article by a respectable writer in the person of Mr. Reuben Abati almost spiraled into an unbelievable shape.
In the actual fact, it does make sense to give kudos to theå first writer while the view of respective artiste who had learnt their voice could not have been otherwise. One does not need a soothsayer to know the imminent danger it will pave to them. Without bias, having realized that, as they rightly put it, they are businessmen and women, therefore, their response, born out of concern, reflects affection or, feeling that they could loose market value. Indeed, one can not rule out that possibility. Anyway, there’s nothing absolutely wrong with that. Man must survive. The slogan never stops echoing. Moreover, there is no definite systematic path way to following in every faces of our development.
No doubt, the country needs overhaul. Things are not done rightly. This is not only peculiar to the music industry alone. Movie industry and others share in this pathway to nothingness. Our collective life as a nation symbolizes this huge identity crisis. As you will know, something like this was written in SUNDAY VANGUARD more than a year now about the caricature of the present or young writer by Mr. Tanure Ojaide. He regarded this generation of writers as crops of people who dwells much in the flesh – physic rather than writing from the deep.
Obviously, there is not so much different between the two articles. Perhaps, a little! Yet the two focusing on the aspect that creativity is lacking in composition might not be unfounded. One would possibly look forward into making amend where necessarily while on the other hand, the question of age gap and time changing will certainly require a definite answer.
I as an individual belong to this age referred as computer age; the age of unbound knowledge and accessory. Therefore, if I must share in this debate, I will take the aspect of creativity as a priority. Though I’d share it once on facebook which received serious attack for which I conclude afterward that it will take a hell of work to overhaul the level of ignoramus among the youth. I belong to the youth too; I do not share in the view that one must act or do things the way one like disregarding basic rules or principles.
Now I am not so suggesting that music in the present should reflect the narrative stories of the 70s and 80s, but that a life-giving experience is needed to make sense of music and rendition. Naturally, the form in which music is presented varies from time to time and place to place, as it is now, drifted from the so-called 70s and 80s. Time changing; still, can not alter the concept of music or poetry, reacting to Jude Fashagba’s seeing the duo as a free speech, in Guardian Life. One does not write poem outside it devices because scoring a poem requires such literary devices. Composition of song shouldn’t be different in any way because music is part of art and art elaborate creations. To this end, we should see music as a means to create a wide range of space for imagination by a way to educate while we are still entertaining. It is not more of the physic than the psychological inclination. It entails drama that has a beginning, middle and the end. Therefore the more focus on sound and beat and word(chorus) often constituting noise in most of the presence songs need to be addressed.
In view of this, I would say the respective view of the various artistes who had learnt their voice did so out of pretence or, mere shy away from the far reaching truth.
I will conclude by try answer the question about what a name connote. What do I need to say? How do I make sense to myself that I need to inquire about my birth name in order to know whether they suit or define my life or not? Of course, I have done that at one point in time when I needed some answer. I had consorted all the available dictionaries and thesauruses of which various finding lead to the same path that my parents chose it right in spite of various challenges of that time.
I believe in belief. I do not believe that one has to throw away his conviction all in the name of sharing in the belief of others. No one in the rightful mind should; philosophy implies love of knowledge while the relativity of knowledge is in diverse. Therefore, one does not need the permission of fellow man to formulate his own creed.
To state the fact here, the crop of names fly across the nation among our youth and the various artistes is nothing but a mere name refers to as stage name or nickname. I will, however, submit that defacement of names shouldn’t create or generate any issue at all. But when consider the self artistic display of the various artistes under this siege of name defacement one would jump up from a chair and say, “ah, there is so much in a name”.
Felix Orisewike Sylvanus
34/36, Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja
Live and Let Live: Behold ‘Naija’ Music
By ADENRELE NIYI
I have been accused of propensity towards a Laissez Faire (let nature run its course) attitude when it is expected that I should have a judgement on issues. Well, if I were asked my take on the raging debate about nomenclatures and ‘Naija’ (ooops! forgive me Uncle Reuben!) music, I would say bemusement and maybe some amusement.
Why? I’m bewildered that our artists’ think uncle Reuben (no relative of mine) has committed the unforgivable sin by his tad bit ‘too critical’ observations. Reuben Abati coming down hard is indicative that he probably was driven by genuine desire for improvements in our content and individual artistic development rather than ruining careers. Also, the fact that those who determine the commercial success of a song are not necessarily discerning music followers should not be discounted. This affects the quality of songs.
Now for some fun arrow shooting! My Bemusement
Recently, I read Don Jazzy’s interview with a well-known soft sell magazine. He was quoted as saying ‘D’banj is not a fantastic singer’ or something in that context. Oh, I must also mention that the vocally impressive Banky Wellington aka Banky W during a chat session with a very ‘hip’ TV music channel said listening to M.I’s album made him feel awful about his (Banky’s) recently released album. And there is Eldee who, prior to being a Naija (what is wrong with my hands?) returnee, had lived many years overseas developing his art as a musician..!!? I’d love to see details of his recorded or produced songs on any American music chart, number on the chart irrespective. Aaah! I bet nobody wants to be reminded of the 9ice debacle during the Zain organised musical tribute for Nelson Mandela. Or like a Next 234 columnist wrote, ‘who wants to know about 10 years ago when Wande Coal was in Mushin’?
Hear this creative friends, Naija’s artistic environment is not a dumping ground for mediocrity; loud and unequivocally clear. When our predecessors Orlando Owoh, Dan Maraya Jos, Victor Uwaifo (the guitar boy), King Sunny Ade, Oliver de Coque and tons of other exquisite artists started out, they did with live musical performances. They pounded the tough turf of road gigs and band rehearsals and learnt how to sync with different musical instruments. Small wonder Sunny Ade has been made Artiste-in-Residence, Distinguished Fellow and music Lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo University? Eeehm, but he can’t speak ‘fone’ and maybe semantically straight English someone says. Who cares! I want him to transfer his ingenuity, stage craft and expansive musical knowledge, built from conscientious study, to my children. I’ll hire an English tutor for grammar.
Might I dare to oppose the respected leader of thought? My Amusement
Yes oh Uncle Reuben, I have bones to pick. It appears there may be a disconnection between you and people of this generation to which I have on good authority that you belong. Nevertheless, we refuse to allude our obvious incompetence to the inability of previous generations to lay sustainable life foundations.
It is though true that this current music generation is creating a spin-off industry of clothes makers, brand managers, show promoters, Alaba pirates and the list goes on like never before. However, I can’t shake off the foreboding thought that every thriving human venture (prostitution inclusive) will spawn people who will feed off it.
Well, I can point accusing fingers at the 20th century Naija (you would have to get used to this word) musician, for tainting impressionable young minds (like mine!) with suggestive lyrics like ‘What do you have under, what do you desire; Sweet banana!’. I remember my father plugging my ears and later he out rightly refrained me from listening to this crap.
I still cringe when I hear 40, 50, 60 year old men gleefully talk obscenity at social gatherings or even in some newsrooms! Now, what do you expect? This new-age artists are a brazenly remodelled package of what had been. What we sow is what we reap.
As for the nomenclatures, I would rise in defence of Flora Shaw by asking that we treat her relationship with Lord Lugard with a little more propriety. In the prevailing Naija cultural setting, there is no such thing as a mistress. Besides, she ended up being his wife, so what biased history lessons are we giving uninformed readers? We also know that the nomenclature Nigeria is still being subjected to discourse and counter analysis…does it truly reflect our status as a blissfully content Nation?
Choosing a concocted moniker, as an artiste brand title, is globally acceptable. Banky W was on spot when he observed this aptly as keeping your eyes on the business side of Show Business. We must not adopt double standards; one law for all. If I am a journalist or author and choose to write under a pseudonym, as Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) or Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) did, it doesn’t mean I cease to be Adenrele Niyi. New Yorkers would never forget the cultural or historical import of their city just because it is called the Big Apple. Same applies to Lagosians aka Las Gidians or Nigerians aka Naija peeps.
I’ve had a good laugh and I am a woman under authority; page restrictions. Nevertheless, I wrote two interesting and enlightening articles earlier this year, one of which is presented here, prior to any of these shenanigans.
They were and still remain my candid take on what I perceive in our 21st century, all-the-rage yet deficient music industry.
21st Century Naija Music: Ingenuity Or Utter 'Crap'?
By ADENRELE NIYI
I'm excited about Nigerian music for very good reasons. I been listening hard to our artistes in recent times and if my auditory organs are still functioning in tandem with my brain, our musical art is qualitatively gearing itself to compete massively on a global scale.
Some justified cynics might 'pooh-pooh' my excitement putting it down to arty exuberance but that's okay. I am open to criticism, after all, I try to dispassionately review my perceptions vis-à-vis all relevant and available indices before converting it to an opinion. In order words, before I share a perspective with the hardhearted, open-minded or gullible, I would have brewed over it for weeks or months letting it gather self-sustaining momentum. However, to be brutally honest, a lot of thrash pretending to be songs are increasingly being churned out of Nigerian 'musicdom'. So, yes I have to agree with the cynics there.
In February, I attended a 'much-touted' album launch party organised by a rave record marketer for its equally hyped artiste. I refuse to mention names which can put that artiste's career in jeopardy but really, shouldn't we be treated with a little more respect when music is being composed? Besides the fact that the album party was an arena to hobnob, see and be seen, nothing spectacular happened in this particular case to convince me that musical art was entering an explosive stage.
Our 'unnamed' artist performed three songs from an album of almost 20 tracks. The performances..? well if you consider that a large percentage of the crowd was high on something; another percentage just grateful to be counted among the 'cool crowd' and obsessed fans, then the artiste may as well have slotted his CD into a disc player and gone to bed. It was that flat, no encore performance.
But of course, kite-high-sycophant Nigerians that we are, everyone cheered and roared after each performance. I sincerely pray that our 'encouraging' response would match the returns into the artiste's bank account from album sales. At the end of the day, this is what counts to the marketer, record label and collaborators.
Now, fast forward to early last month.
On a drive from Ikeja to Victoria Garden City, I spotted 'short, black' M.I's CD being sold by record hawkers and spontaneously I got a copy. Driving to the Lekki-VGC axis anytime from 4.00p.m on a weekday is the Lagos motorist's worst nightmare...the traffic is horrendous and nerve-racking. My friend, who was doing the driving (thank goodness!), raised a sceptical eyebrow when I requested that we tried some hip-hop music (many Nigerians born in the 60s or early 70s still find it hard to decipher the whole hip-hop culture that is aggressively gaining ground). Well, I was eager to pass that traffic-time assessing MI (Mr. Incredible)'s work for a subsequent review. Understanding the nature of my job, the gentleman graciously obliged me.
There begun our rapid conversion from born-in-the-70s-skeptic and justifying-my-salary-reviewer, to duly-impressed-by-talent listeners.
It isn't rocket science, if you have an astute mind and seek to appreciate art for content rather than aesthetic appeal, then get set for an incredibly (excuse the pun) climatic rush obtainable only through works of pristine intelligence. Spunky Jude Abaga (M.I's real names) has paid his dues in so short (again excuse the pun) a time. Talent can't be purchased, it is either you have it or you don't. Anyone who grew up listening to Snoop Dogg's 1993 record breaking 'Doggystyle' album should listen to M.I's 'Talk About It' and we can't refute that we have a chartbuster on our hands. It wouldn't be going overboard to audaciously line it up with L'il Wayne's 2008 'Tha Carter III' album which got eight Grammy nominations and won three of the coveted gold statuette.
Creative hardwork, clever cocktail of songs and sheer ability have made M.I's lyrically sharp album much talked about, the way Beyoncé's maniacal devotion to her abs and choreography makes her one the world's most fascinating entertainers (hate or love her, it's the fact).
Feelers from the industry say M.I's album sold out (over 30,000 copies) the week it was released. Now which artiste or artiste management would not like to hear that eh..? Let's also not disregard the number of shows or albums he features in/on. Someone said to me recently that maybe M.I is becoming too much of an accessible artiste which could hamper his musical value. Well, I say make the most of your success M.I because the second you lose your fresh appeal or focus, likelihood is that we will forget about you.
Why am I harping on M.I.? because debutante music artistes can learn a thing or two from him, Fela Kuti, Micheal Jackson,Victor Uwaifo, Tupac Shakur and just about any other giftedly successful musician.
Making music can be fun and rewarding but it is largely dependent on possessing the commensurate creative talent. However, it's the wild energy and the resultant lyrical content that bothers the 'worried-about-our-music-Nigerians'. With every sense of fairness, like I already expressed, it would not do to bunch every artiste up into a crowd of musical rabble-rousers or empty barrels. Nevertheless, the swelling rank of shallow musicians is rapidly drowning the brilliant voices.
In retrospect, I have always contended that Fela's inventiveness, though naughtily expressed, was not acknowledge nor hailed by critics; they were too focused on the lapses in his private life. Interestingly, posterity has shown that the rebel 'Abami Eda', controversial life and all, was one of the greatest black music composer and instrumentalist (just listen to his horns) to come out of Africa and I dare say the world.
I'm sure Fela was not thinking about pleasing listeners or achieving enormous record sales when he composed music. He was singing from his heart, with the eye of a prophet, and the ears of a perfectionist about subjects that affected everyone but always got him in trouble with authorities. Therefore, it gives me goose bumps to think that our new-age artistes are singing about drinking binges, skirt-chasing, wanton display of money etc out of the abundance of their hearts. Through music, (whether in Nigeria, America, Europe, wherever!), some artistes and their videos subtly or overtly seduce impressive youngsters (and foolish adults) to indulge in alcohol, marijuana, and absolute debauchery. What hope for our creativity as a tool for revolutionary social change!!? What about being a positive change agent for generations!!?
We have to stop this fad of making music in compositions so shallow a mosquito can't even drown in it and lyrics so mentally lazy and egoistic it gives you a headache!! Puuuleeeeeze!
The Nigerian Censors Board and Performing Musicians Association of Nigerian (PMAN) have their work cut out for them. Some measures should be put in place and enforced to safeguard our musical assets and our ears. If this is done, then true gems or diamonds in the rough can be polished to bring out the glimmer which I believe is presently inhibited to properly sparkle within the obtainable music space.
This article was first published in National Mirror of April 1, 2009