THE GREAT MUSIC DEBATE (3)
Re: A nation’s identity crisis
Hip Hop... In the eyes of the artistes
BY CHUKS NWANNE
AS the Great Music Debate (launched by The GuardianLIFE in the aftermath of the wide and wild debate generated by the article, ‘A Nation’s Identity Crisis’ of renowned columnist and public commentator, Dr Reuben Abati in his column, CrossRoads in The Guardian on Sunday, June 21), enters its third week, some Nigerian artistes have expressed their opinion on the lyrical contents of Nigerian hip-hop songs. Though with different responses, yet, a good number of them contend that despite the fame and wealth that some of the artistes have been amassing through their works, many of the songs ruling the airwaves or the public entertainment circuit, are deficient in quality lyrics; and have have little or no lesson for the listeners.
The GuardianLIFE sent email and sms messages to a collection of the artistes including D’jinee, Ruggedman, Dare Art Alade, TY Bello, NoMoreLoss, J.Martins, IlBliss, Ashioye Ugbo, P’Square, Timi Dakolo, Keffee among others. Out of the list of about 20, however, only a few responded and their views are recorded below:
German-based-Nigerian artiste, Ade Bantu, who himself had been at the front of internationalising the hip hop musical culture, said, “Most Nigerian musicians seem to live on another planet. Their lyrics do not reflect the realities on ground.”
Popularly known for his song, No Vernacular, Lagos Jump, Omo Wale among others, the dreadlocks-wearing half-German quizzes, “how can you have fuel shortage, bad roads, Niger Delta crisis, children being accused of sorcery in the South-South, Haliburton scandals and you are busy talking Moet, girls and blingz?”
Bantu, who is also notable for spearheading Brothers Keepers musical project, that changed the face of hip hop music in Germany and parts of Europe, with the collaborative album, Am I My Brothers’ Keeper, and who was recently invited by the German President to play in his residence, adds, “It takes balls to stand for something, but the question is how many of my colleagues are willing to swim against the stream.”
To the rave of the moment, Bracket, however, “The lyrics of Nigerian musicians are in reality... is more real than fiction because they reflect the day to day experience of the artistes”. Meanwhile, Yori Yori, one of the tracks from their latest album, is presently ruling the airwaves. Though many consider the duo new in the scene, the truth is that the Enugu guys have been around for sometime. Their first hit, Happy Day, was a hit in the Eastern part of the country.
In her brief reaction, ex-member of KUSH, Lara George states, “Our lyrics as Nigerian musicians need to be improved upon and not destroyed. Instead of looking for monetary satisfaction that could be destructive 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.”
Lara, who is no doubt one of the best female vocalists in the country for now, adds, “ We need to perpetuate solid values in our own environment and grow the psyche of the ‘man on the street’ in a positive way.”
She won the Best Female Vocalist at the Nigerian Music Award in Owerri, Imo State. Her songs such as Ijoba Orun, Rest Of My Life and others made noticeable impact in the music scene.
IN his own response, Etcetera Ejikeme said: “At moment, you can broadly classify Nigerian artistes into two; what I’ll call the mainstream and the alternative. For most of the mainstream artistes, lyrics are 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, it’s within those quiet moments, 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.”
Presently on Steve Babaeko’s Xtreme Music, Ectcetera continues: “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. Unfortunately, there are no too many artistes like that in Nigeria today.”
The Imo State native, whose album won the Record of The Year award at the recently held Hip-Hop World Award in Abuja, says that today’s popular artistes are far from those of yesteryears in terms of lyrics.
“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 listeners are very sophisticated –– they are beginning to ask probing questions, demanding for quality music. This is the point where real musicians will be separated from charlatans.”
All the way from the US, Emma Agu, one of the founding members of Performing Musicians Employers Association of Nigeria, PMAN, acknowledged the rapid growth of the country’s music industry, but faulted the lyrics of some of the artistes.
“There is a remarkable improvement in the audio and video presentation, but 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.”
Agu, a former music director Kwara State Ministry of Arts and Culture, noted that rush and the quest to be ‘stars’ have almost taken the better part of the industry. “Creativity and professionalism is at a zero level right now in Nigeria. Well, the beat goes on and those who make the loudest noise remain the mega-stars. The use of profanity and lewd lyrics would certainly backfire on those artistes, who think it’s the quickest way to satisfy their base. Right now, the industry ought to have songwriters, 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.”
Agu, founding president of Professional Musicians Association of Nigeria, (USA), admits, however, “I hear good music from Nigeria; 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.”
THE Oruka crooner, Sunny Neji in his reaction, said “Not much, but it hip hop) seems to be acceptable, hence it’s thriving. I guess music is just as subjective as any other form of art.”
Neji is among Nigerian artistes, who can conformably perform any of their songs live on stage, even at shortest notice.
Her Majesty, Ara Ola, the Queen of African drums needs not much introduction. Drumming has taken her to different parts of the world. Though not deep into singing, Ara’s position on the lyrics is not the type you can easily ignore. She says: “Not deep, not educating–– needs to dwell more on cheerful, but reasonable things. Sing about God; you don’t have to be a gospel singer to do that. We all sang of His glory in his presence before He sent us here. Also try to affect life; politics, humanity, love, children with your lyrics.
To the drummer, singers are equal to prophets and messengers.
“We need to effect positive changes with our voices. The children are listening and singing our songs, they are watching and dancing... what can they hear? What can they see? How is it affecting them? We need to affect our world positively because our lyrics will be our voices when we are long gone.”
Presently with Obi Asika’s Storm Records, GT Da Guitarman singled out some veteran Nigerian artistes, who according to him, are lyrically on point.
“If you say musicians, I would expect that you are talking about the likes of Asa, Sunny Adede, Femi Kuti and a few others who obviously are on point! Lyrically, rating the average Nigerian artistes on a scale of 1-10, I would give us a 4 because giving a 3 wouldn’t be too nice.”
GT, who launched into the industry with his song, Do Dreams Ever Come True, noted that most hip-hop artistes concentrate more on the beat, with less attention to their lyrics.
“Listen to your radio and you will notice that aside the beats, whose credit belongs to the producers, most of our songs have got nothing poetic in them; wonder if people like Wole Soyinka still listens to radio! Not to rubbish the whole system though as there are lot of artistes, too, who are lyrically on point.”
TO Diana Bada, “some artistes tend to express a right message to the people about things that affect us daily; government, policies, environment, peace, love and humility.”
The half-breed, who is known for live performances adds, “Others should be more cautious about what they are conveying to the youths, because they influence them. So, singing about sex is not the best if you are trying to impact positively on the society.”
And to the poet, song-writer, Sage Has.son, hip-hop artistes “need to work on improving their lyrics and not just focus only on jargon and slang to get mass appeal. They should work on building the polity, uplifting and inspiring not just to titillate the senses.”
Fondly described as the master of spoken word, Sage says, “lyric is from the Greek lyros, meaning content of the soul, so, they need to offload what’s within them.”
The debate continues…
Taming Hip Hop for nation building
By Chris Kehinde Nwandu
The write up by Dr Reuben Abati on the above subject matter made an interesting reading; not minding the barrage of attacks and reaction that has been generated by his observation (expectedly) from most Nigerian artistes.
For me, the write up should be seen as a wake up call to Nigerian artistes on the need to remain more creative in their acts. Present generation of artistes only know Dr Reuben Abati as a writer and not a music critic, but that is far from the truth. He has always been a creative and constructive analyst of the music industry way back. That not withstanding, there are still some fundamental issues that were overlooked by his write up.
First, it must be acknowledged that hip-hop, as a form of music has become an international brand. It has changed dramatically from what was considered to be violent and intimidating form of music. Hip-hop music has become the mainstream or the default musical setting of the culture. Rap is now used to sell everything from fast food to cars, brand marketing and used to gain access to youth in danger.
Hip-hop has gone beyond being just about music, but has actually become a brand, a lifestyle and an urban culture that almost everybody aspires to be associated with — even big corporate.
It is on this note that inevitably the rapper is now more than a musician but has become an entrepreneur that utilizes his or her craft to sell global brands of big corporations. Rappers are trendsetters; where they lead others follow. They can revitalize a luxury brand by making it seem youthful and individualistic.
Russell Simmons, founder of DefJam records, used his experience of marketing hip-hop to launch Phat Farm, which by 2003 had sales in excess of $260 million and was later sold for $140 million. Russell’s company, Simmons Lathan Media Group with access to 45.3 million consumers world-wide spends $18.6 billion annually on hip-hop media and merchandise. Forbes puts the value of hip-hop, as a music and lifestyle industry, at $100 billion a year.
Hip-hop has also become an effective tool to communicate with youth under siege, using the language they understand. Social consciousness hip-hop workers have used the microphone and their message to speak to the youth about crime, drugs and have conducted workshops in town halls addressing the youth about the dangers of dangerous living.
Global examples have been used where hip-hop has become an effective voice for the plight of the youth, where even politicians and business people have appealed to hip-hop to help convey their messages
Hip-hop can be used as a mobilising platform and as a practical tool in communicating with urban youth in their lingo and style.
Hip-Hop can be used as an entry point for mobilising and motivating urban youths to organise themselves and to engage in their own plans of action.
It is estimated that 80-percent of urban youth can be reached through Hip-Hop, which encompasses rap, graffiti, dancing and fashion. It has been established that Hip-Hop as a brand of music has its root from a fusion of mostly African contemporary music.
Expectedly, it goes without saying that being an Afro centric rooted brand of music, motherland Africa has a lot to contribute to what has become today the most popular brand of music in the World
Hip hop in Nigeria dates back to the late eighties and early nineties. Groups and solo artists during that period include the likes of Junior & Pretty, Daniel ‘Danny’ Wilson , Plantashun Boyz , Remedies with members Eedris Abdulkareem , Eddy Remedy & Tony Tetuila.
The late 90s and the early years of the new millennium saw the outburst of artists and groups like Eldee da Don of Trybesmen, Naeto C of W.F.A, JJC and the 419 squad and P-Square (d duo of Peter & Paul Okoye) became a part of mainstream Nigerian music after the collapse of pop trends like Yo-pop .
The availability of computers and cheap music editing software in the late 1990s and the 2000s enabled Nigerian musicians to achieve higher quality recordings, which quickly won over the Nigerian audience. As Nigeria ‘s Nollywood movies have done to Western movies, Nigerian hip hop has begun to displace Western popular music.
Nigeria has grown over the years to become the ‘seat’ of Hip hop in the African continent. Contributors to this ‘success’ includes the production skills of the likes of ID Cabasa, OJB Jezreel, Paul ‘Play’ Dairo, Don Jazzy, Ugly Beatz, Y.E.M.I., Puffy T, Cobhams Asuquo, Terry G,Big Lo as well as outstanding performers like Tuface, P Square, D’Banj, Naeto C, weird Mc, 9ice, Sasha, Psquare, KC Presh, and others
With this as a background, it goes beyond saying that Hip Hop, as a brand of music has become a way of life. An institutional change in the status quo as witnessed by “our generation”; If I may use one of the quotes of an artiste. The Nigerian hip-hop artistes have become icons and source of pride to an Industry that was on its knees.
Before the advent of hip hop music, the lack of acceptable and marketable repertoires in the past contributed a great deal to the demise of such notable recording companies like Sony Music (CBS) Ivory Music (EMI) and premier Music (Polygram.
It is understandable when Dr Abati raised some fundamental questions on the names of some of our current hip-hop artistes, but that is the vogue all over. As confused as it may be in trying to distinguish the name Asa and Shasha, but how many people knows the real name of R Kelly, Akon, Beyonce, Usher, Shakira etc. It’s a generational change, which Abati and I will have to accept.
As rightly mentioned by him, in the past 80 per cent of music played were mostly foreign. The Nigerian Hip hop music have taken off from where Hollywood stopped; presently it’s the biggest music industry in Africa. That to me should be our pride. The use of our indigenous languages by most of the acts should be commended. Listen to Dbanj, Ay.dot, Nigga raw, Tuface, Psquare, 9ice, Weird mc etc and you will understand what I am talking about.
Agreed that hip hop music has become an all comer affairs but you can be rest assured that with time, water will find its level
I quite agree with Abati, most of present crop of acts lacks stage mannerism and craftiness. What makes a complete artiste is the ability to command a live performance on stage, especially with a live band. Most successful artistes all over the world take this very seriously.
The late Michael Jackson spent a fortune in his preparation for his last live performance that never held. Recently, a popular Nigerian act performed at the Mandela birthday concert in London and we all saw the result (It was a big flop).
Until the Nigerian Hip hop artistes realise the need to effectively learn how to perform with a live band on stage instead of miming, they will continue to play at beer parlors and bars all over the world.
This is the reason why an organization like mine (Ikenga Entertainment Inc) is coming up with Afrihhop, an event designed to encourage stage performances to identify the real and authentic hip hop king of Africa .
On a final note, the Nigerian hip-hop artistes should learn from the past on how to diversify their investment. Thank God some of them are already doing that. They need to save for the rainy days.
Gone are the days when music should seen as strictly a passion, most of our older artistes did that and now living in abject poverty. The longevity and popularity of an average Nigerian act is very very short.
With time, I believe the sheep will be separated from the wolves.
But for now, let the music play on.
Nwandu, Ex Artiste and Promotions Manager, Sony Music Nigeria is the CEO, Ikenga Entertainment Inc.
An Identity crisis or a generation Gap?
By Sola Kuti
What if he started with a paragraph that read: “I just walked by a young man who held up his jeans and wore a hooded top in the hot sun. His jeans was poorly trimmed but he chose to let them drag on the floor. His girlfriend was also in low waist jeans and showed more than my eyes could handle. However she covered up her neck with an Arabian scarf. She kept calling him “Boo”, which made me more confused; wondering if she was trying to scare or surprise him. She had to shout because he wore earphones connected to his ipod.’
If by chance Dr. Abati’s article’s title were changed, would it have made a difference? If it was titled – “My Frustrations for the future”, would it have had a softer landing?
When a matchstick catches fire from both ends, their aim is to meet. I choose to open up this wound to properly dress it so it leaves a better and more presentable scar.
Both the young and older generation have lived side by side like neighbours with a decaying fence. So when Abati chose to draw first blood by attacking a vocal and agile generation of young people, many people were quick to respond while others praised Banky W’s and other artistes’ responses.
How many (truthfully) could write and respond the way Banky W did?
Personally I was shocked at his response which then became a mouthpiece for many. I must say I was impressed. But then I began to question my reaction to his article. Did I expect the worst? People commented on social networking sites and blogs, engaging in a debate that was far from the usual buzz topics. This wasn’t about a scandal or new fashion trend. It wasn’t about politics or corruption. This was simply about questioning our Identity and its future.
The common reasoning was that the older generation really did understand the ‘seed’ some of these artistes and the industry as a whole had sown?
I once watched young kids singing ‘Lagimo’ as they danced, though it got embarrassing when they sang X-projects ‘Lori Le’, I was shocked that though they might not have understood every word, they were in fact speaking and singing in Yoruba. These were children who hardly spoke a language other than English.
The Generation Gap –
Have you ever read between the lines? Try it – You might find a new revelation.
The response that stuck in my head was one by a young person we had interviewed. She said – “I could hear my father or Uncle talking and this annoyed me because they simply don’t get it, they don’t understand us and they choose to generalize and come up with all these conclusions”. I then asked, “What have you done to change it or make them understand our generation?”
If you read between the lines of Mr. Abati’s article, you might notice a frustration or two.
You see some of us write text messages and choose to simplify our words and sentences. I once asked a friend for the proper spelling to a word. She suggested I write it the way it sounded since it was a text message. Was she wrong to say this or had this become an acceptable fad?
We hardly remember phone numbers by heart and some of us use the calculators for the simplest of mathematical equations.
We sometimes dress and behave in ways only our peers can understand and sometimes speak in highly advanced coded scripts called slangs.
Many even fuel deteriorating live social interaction by sitting behind the comfort of computer screens using this as the new medium to connect and meet friends while others thrive on instant gratification.
As innocent as some of these might sound, what happens when the present generation of young people become parents? What happens if we too knew very little of their culture and heritage? How much will we be able to pass on? ? If you could turn the tables around, will you understand you?
You see Mr Abati’s infamous article got us talking again and almost all young people around me had the same voice. We were quick to cry foul, pointing at misrepresentations and individual attacks, but we sit and watch corruption and other social ills flourish because it may or not impact on us directly.
What would happen if the older generation decided to push the responsibility of our Nation and its future on our laps at this very moment? Are we ready?
Mutually intellectual opinions can make our emotions embrace new dimensions. Wisdom finding reason can give culture a future.
Should the title have been “My Frustrations for the future?”