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Nigeria @60: The Nigerian Entertainment Industry

  Nollywood and the music scene have been the torchbearers of the entertainment complex for the longest time. Most pundits would tell you the modern era can be traced back to the ’90s. The film industry especially has grown exponentially in international relevance since that time. In the light of Nigeria’s diamond jubilee, we would be briefly chronicling the history of arguably Nigeria’s most successful export-entertainment- in this piece. For the sake of convenience, I would be focusing on music and film.

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The entertainment complex can be traced back to the very beginning of the British mandate in the area that is now Nigeria. The present-day film industry for instance derives a lot from the old-style cinema which revolved around stage plays. Film as in motion picture came in via Middle Eastern and Indian cinema owners who imported the first titles that were viewed in big and medium-sized theatres in Lagos. Glover Memorial Hall was an iconic theatre in those days. George Barkas’s feature film “Palaver” was the first Nigerian made title made in 1926. It was the first where people could actually hear Nigerians speak. But it would be but a flash in the pan for the industry even though the Nigerian –born British actor Orlando Martins. Much of what was shown in the Lagos cinema space was neither tailored for nor specifically marketed to the Nigerian audience. Even so, Nigerian fil-makers could hardly get a look-in. Space was dominated by especially Indian titles even well into the seventies and eighties. The audience had to look to the like of travelling theatre groups such as Agbegijo and Alarinjo theatre. Hubert Ogunde also was a prominent figure from the late fifties. The indigenization Decree of 1973 helped the prominence of Nigerian cinematic content as ownership of those famed theatres passed into Nigerian hands. They quickly deteriorated however because of poor management the industry would not see many rays of light until 1992’s “Living in Bondage”.  The film kicked off a period in the history of the industry that saw fil-making scaled down such many could undertake the venture and as a result, a massive output in content occurred. Indeed since then, the output has stood Nollywood out since. Music on the other hand has a long tradition in Nigeria. The music draws from the diverse cultures of the country. The styles and instruments are plentiful as the languages in which lyric are delivered. As far as modern popular Nigerian music is concerned there two main cradles-the Lagos apala style and eastern highlife- each originating from Enugu and Lagos. Apala music had its roots in religion as it was the chaotic sound that was used rouse Muslim adherents at the conclusion of Ramadan as well as morning prayers at times on Lagos Island. Haruna Ishola was an early proponent of the style and quickly gained fame in Lagos. Highlife as we know it was an import brought by Ghanaian migrant labourers who worked the coal mines of Enugu. Among the earliest proponents were Bobby Benson his band, Combo, who became popular in major towns in Nigeria. Following his act was the likes of Celestine Ukwu, Oliver DeCoque, Osita Osadebe as well as Nico Mbarga whose “Sweet Mother” became a generation-defining hit song selling thirteen million copies. Rex Jim Lawson was another talent who came through in the ’60s but he had a short-lived career as he died on his way to a gig in 1966. He had hits like “Jolly Papa’. Apala eventually morphed into the well-known Fuji music genre spurning greats like Sikiru Ayinde Barrister (who we hear is great-grandfather to upcomer, BarryJay) and Kollington Ayinla in the ’50s and ’60s. IK Dairo, King Sunny Ade and Dr. Ebenezer Obey with a localized high-life from the late ’60s. Fela’s Afrobeat sound has the most influence but it did not take off until the ’70s and much Fela’s fame was down to the political message in his music. His stagecraft and fearlessness made him a favourite with the masses in a way no other artiste was and frankly, not many in his business wanted to be like him as it was dangerous to ask. In the ’80s, music became defined by the younger and hip acts such as Onyeka Onwenu who doubled as a journalist and actress, Christy Essien Igbokwe, Chris Okotie who Is now a preacher. It was from the late 90’s that modern era began to take shape with the entrance of TuFace and his Plantashun crew (Faze and Blackface), the Remedies, Trybesmen paved the way for the new age with 90’s American rap and Rn’B. The most significant thing about this era was that these artistes did not have the structure that those before them had. They had to bootstrap their way to relevance for the most part as many of the record labels that sponsored the rise of the oldies either had folded up or just lost interest in the market due to rampant piracy.

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The Nigerian entertainment space is now in a different space where its operation and relevance has been founded on the rise of the internet’s relevance in the music business. Needless to say, for musicians and filmmakers alike the proliferation of technology has lower the point entry into either institution and has seen the increased output in content in the last decade especially in music. But moving forward, something must be said for the stumbling block that the lack of institutions as well as the paucity of funds for output and the vexing issue that is a distribution across both scenes. While the advent of Netflix and streaming behemoths like Spotify and Apple Music have opened us up to the world, the lack of real music labels and institutions has seen many artistes go unrewarded or poorly rewarded for their work. Many technicalities in the way the music value chain means our artistes have a lot of learning to do on how to get the most out of the streaming business nowadays as there are not many real labels out there looking to smoothen that path. In film, the matter of the quality of content seems to be the problem. There seems to be a trend in Nollywood where movies are churned out like fast food without considerations for the finer details that make films appealing to a more demanding audience. Featured image source: OldNaija

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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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