The writings of an intense journalist

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Power and Glory of Naija Music
By Adetokunbo Abiola

When Peter and Paul Okoye, popularly known as P Square, wanted to push their fourth album titled Danger into the market, they did not go to any recording company for a deal. Instead, they did what they had been doing for years.

They contacted a reputable marketer and struck a 50 million naira deal for the marketing, duplication and the distribution of the album. P Square got a 40 million naira cheque upfront, and the album was in the market.

P Square symbolizes the new trend in Nigerian music. Unlike in the past, the new musicians are cutting million naira deals in Nigeria and Africa , bypassing record companies and government structures. In the process, they have become celebrities and naira millionaires, the role models of many Nigerian youths.

Previously, they were considered drop-outs and rejects because music was not considered a respectable profession. But today, many musicians have braved the odds and now dine with kings, who would not deign to glance at them in the past.

The Nigerian music industry has exploded. The days when investors lost money in the sector are gone. Stereotyped music boundaries in terms of message, genre, instrument and sound have broken down. No matter what genre appeals to the listener, in whatever local language, the Nigerian music brand satiates their taste.

It is largely a story of young men and women overcoming incredible obstacles to display their talent. Some of them were unemployed, while many were underemployed. Some dropped out of school to pursue music, while many went through school and came back to music. Others dropped whatever they were doing in Europe and America and came home, while others dumped professions such as veterinary medicine, law, business and became musicians.

Despite the large number of music recorded in the 70s, 80s and 90s, Nigerians listened more to foreign music, particularly from the United States . This was because foreign record labels like Polygram, EMI and others did not know how to reach the grassroots. However, the duo of Junior and Pretty, emulating Nollywood by using local recording companies and marketers, released Monica, a vernacular rap tune in the late 90s, and things began to change. The Remedies and Plantashun Boyz followed soon after with chart-topping albums, and the floodgate was thrown open. Since then, thousands of albums have been released. All a musician need do is record songs and meet the marketers, who have become kings

Tu Face Idibia, formerly of Plantashun Boyz, released African Queen in 2004 and opened doors for Nigerians on the international scene. Along with him, artistes such as Style Plus, D’Banj, P Square , Faze, Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdulkareem, Paul Play Dairo, Slam, Ruggedman, Pastor Goody Goody, Black Tribe, Blackface and others recorded hit songs.

The rise of contemporary Nigerian music is a landmark in commercial and cultural terms. The use of pidgin English and vernacular make it purely Nigerian and accessible to the teeming masses on the streets. Musicians like Timaya who are authentic and cultural are in, others like Ras Kimino and others who sound Jamaican are out. Says Blaise (Funke Martin Luther), a singer: “As I’m feeling, that’s how I’ll be speaking through my songs. It’s my story as a woman, growing up in Nigeria , in Africa .”

Many of the new musicians sing about cultural themes. Many sympathize with the ill, the poor and the less privileged in the society. Others extol Nigerian values towards marriage, womanhood and city life. Some promote good neighborliness and denounce negative tendencies such as witchcraft, ill-will and prostitutes. Others celebrate Nigerian and African pride and heritage.

Nigerian music has however been criticized for not having an established method of production and distribution. Marketers have offices in Surulere, Idumota Market and Alaba Market in Lagos , Onitsha and other cities. Recording companies bring studio work from all over the country to them and are not responsible for marketing and distribution. This is why Efe Omorogbe, spokesman for the Nigerian Music Industry Coalition, says: “The system has failed to structure itself in such a way that people are compelled to pay musicians.”

But a Nigerian-born South African based filmmaker/musician, Tosin Igho, says the marketing and distribution problems does not mean the situation is hopeless. He says: “The Nigerian music industry is far better than South Africa in terms of making money off your music. They have better structures in South Africa , but they favour record labels, and it is not profitable for artistes.”

The impact of the Nigerian music industry in the past few years has been dramatic, and thousands of singers, session men, producers, marketers and others have been employed. Ordinarily, these people would have been without work and contributed to the population of militants and criminals in the urban areas and Niger Delta region.

Musicians have used their new-found popularity to pick up major awards. Tu Face Idibia and D'Banj won MTV Europe Best African Acts in 2005. Tu Face also won the best African Musician Award at Britain 's Music of Black Origin Awards in 2007, and was followed by 9ice, another Nigerian singer, in 2008. MI, P Square and Tu Face Idibia won awards at the 2009 MTV Africa Awards.

At the fifth edition of Channel O Music Awards this month at Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, Nigeria’s General Pype, P Square, D’Banj, TuFace Idibia, Naeto C and Mo’Cheddah mounted the stage six times to clinch different awards. P Square became the African Artiste of the Year at the 8th Kora Awards, going home with the one million dollars.
Most of the musicians make a lot of money from concerts and shows. P Square could be rocking Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania , while D'Banj performs in Accra ( Ghana ). Tu Face Idibia could be in Nairobi (Kenya), Naeto C and Ikechukwu in Johannesburg (South Africa), while musicians like Timaya, Terry G and KC Presh are holding forth at home in Lagos.

With the music industry breeding naira millionaires on a daily basis, the lifestyle of musicians has undergone radical changes. Some have houses in the choicest of places in Lekki Peninsula (a rich neighborhood in Lagos ) and drive luxurious and expensive cars. Others leverage their wealth by owning world-class music studios and offering better deals to assist upcoming artistes.

Record sales, compared to the situation of yesteryear, have shot up. According to reports, P Square has sold an estimated 17 million copies of its second and third albums, Get Squared and Game Over, becoming arguably the greatest selling Nigerian artiste ever. Faze, a former member of the Plantashun Boyz, has sold over five million copies. Artistes such as Timaya, D'Banj, Tu Face Idibia, Eedris Abdulkareem and others have sold millions in record sales. They have all outsold Nico Mbarga's Sweet Mother, for many years the best selling album in the country.

Apart from this, many of the musicians partner the private sector in music and product promotion. Coca-Cola, Globacom, Zain, Nigerian Breweries, MTN, and others use them for billboard advertisement and radio and TV commercials. P Square reportedly got over 100 million naira to endorse Globacom, the telecoms giant. Tu Face Idibia reportedly got 22 million naira for endorsing Guinness Extra Stout a few years ago.

Nnenna Ezeakune, an artiste, sums up the situation: "It's like there's an explosion going on now.”

Despite the explosion in the sector, many stakeholders feel there is no industry yet. They claim the sector is plagued by piracy, promotion and distribution problems, refusal of radio stations to pay royalty to artistes and other challenges. The problems seem so daunting OJB Jezreel, a producer and singer, says: "I think the Nigerian music industry is really growing big and making waves. The only problem is that I'm scared that the blowing up might change a lot of things."

But Lanre Lawal of Blarque Brotha Entertainment and Media is not afraid of a blow up. "There have always been rumours that the Nigerian music household is an ungovernable madhouse,” he says. “With certainty, efforts are on a grand scale to restore sanity on all fronts. You can join the campaign by cultivating the attitude of BUYING ORIGINAL ALBUMS rather than the pirated ones."

Weird MC, who stormed the scene a few years ago with a monster hit titled Ijoya, is also optimistic about the future. She says: "It's evolving into something really exciting. There's more quality than quantity. Artistes are putting out great material."

The gold fishes of Nigerian music, underground for so many years, have emerged from their hiding places, thrilling the world with their teasing and titillating tunes.

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