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Nigeria’s Music Wins: Growth or No Growth

 

Thanks to social media, a lot has progressed quickly on the Nigerian music scene. When Ice Prince copped the first BET International Act all by himself, he became the first Nigerian and African act to do it all by himself. But he was by no means the first to do it in a pure sense. 2Faceand D’Banj’s 2011 triumph was quite significant for a number of reasons. In retrospect, it seemed like the old was now giving way for the new as both went on to become industry statesmen. Secondly, it was indicative of the period that would follow-where a BET was standard initiation into the big time for our biggest acts. Interestingly, many cannot even remember Ice Prince won it once and it has only been seven years since. That fact has shown how quickly the music scene has changed and how the rules have changed with it. The wins of recent years and the kind of music that was responsible for them have shown the growing influence of Afrobeats on black music around the world in under a decade. The UK music genres (grime and house) have increasingly leaned towards Afrobeats and other original subgenres for inspiration.


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Nowadays, it is not unheard of to see a Nigerian producer or artiste or both working on an international project and bodying it. When Don Jazzy worked on Kanye West and JayZ’s Watch The Throne in 2011, very few would have thought it would go beyond that even though he had also worked on D’Banj’s Oliver Twist in that same period. Nowadays, while Jazzy has moved to be more of a label exec, closing deals with streaming giants for emerging talent, others have picked up the baton. Form Sarz working up a Billboard Hot 100 number-one single, to Shizzy’s collabs with Major Lazer, to North Boi on Beyonce’s Lion King: The Gift. Nowadays, BET wins are considered personal accolades rather than wins for the whole music complex. Consider how Burna Boy and Wizkid’s recent hot streak has culminated in them winning a second and a third award, respectively.

In my opinion, a major significance in the new success has been the kind of music that has defined both artistes in the past two or so years. For a long time, he was considered a talented rabble-rouser who thought way too highly of himself. Sure, he stole the hearts of many with his first album and hits such Like To Party, Tonight and Run My Race but at some point, he fell off and came off as a bit too talented for Nigerians. That he was and still is a bit brat did not help. But things started looking up for him in 2018 with Outside becoming something of a sleeper hit on the airwaves. His international distribution deal with Atlantic Records and the return of his mother, Bose to his team. He has not looked back since and before coronavirus, he was on an official world tour. The most outstanding part of his rise is how he has done it without compromising on the quality and nature of his sound. It does help that he is very versatile.


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He has succeeded where many before him failed by trying to patronize the international scene with more familiar sounds. One of them is his co-awardee, Wizkid. Despite the fact that he has been a paragon of stability in the industry, Wiz had a rough patch with his Sounds From the Other Side which did not do too well with its target audience- the American market or international community. He has since had a quick reboot and that episode is clearly behind him now as he has won two BET’s since, including the most recent alongside a host of other awards.

In spite of the growth, this industry runs the risk of having this moment being a fleeting 15 minutes of fame like Jamaican dancehall once had it if we do not get down sorting out issues that affect the lower echelons. Many conclude that the industry is doing well because the big boys are doing well and no one is considering the little guys. A lot more artistes are struggling than they should because this is an industry hinged on big individuals and not big institutions. Record labels have become a laughing stock and lesser-known practitioners such as songwriters, sound engineers, producers and even upcoming artistes are still not getting their due.

The way the industry is set up, you won’t make it if you do not have someone bankrolling your career and in the absence of labels, individuals with deep pockets and dubious personae have allegedly stepped in to use artiste as tools for image and money laundering.  If this small matter is not negotiated, it won’t matter how well Burna Boy or Wizkid do in the near future because there will be no one to replace them or carry the Afrobeats gospel when they are not hot again. Someone said it is best to judge any group by how poor the least among them are faring than by how well the prominent are doing.

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David Okwara

Some call me David. Others, Emerie. Others, (unfortunate fellows) Biggie. I like to think that I have sense and that is why I write too. Otherwise, I draw and paint and sing (in the bathroom) and love to make people laugh. I love to understand how things work and that’s why I love DIY videos and YouTube of course. Follow me on Twitter @EmerieOkwara

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