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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

To Be Nigerian, or Not To Be Nigerian?

(Back for another post. As a segue before I begin, I just want to say that I like club bangers as much as the next person, so I'm not hating on people that skimp on lyrics for entertainment value. I just wish they didn't do it all the damn time (side eye at Souja Boi...). Like I said, I don't want to lose too many brain cells before I get old.)

I wanted to expand on a point that came up as I was writing the last post. Where I said that Nigerians are proud to be Nigerian, but don't like being too Nigerian. I'll explain what I mean, starting with the music industry. A lot of the comments mentioned the fact that the Nigerian music industry has come a long way. I agree that it has, but I want to be clear on exactly what I mean by that. I believe that the music industry has come far in the sense that there's now more access to quality recording and production materials, so artists don't have to travel so far to record their albums, or record them in a back room somewhere. This opens up the field so that up-and-coming artists can get their music out there. The internet has helped a LOT too, with places like RadioPalmwine and TruSpot Radio enabling the music to reach a wider audience. This is a good thing.

But, if your understanding of the music industry coming far is that we've gotten to the point where we sound a LOT like Western musicians, then I ask you to stop and think for a second. Why is it that more Western automatically equals better or higher quality?

Now, we all accept that the Western World is the benchmark by which less developed countries like Nigeria measure their progress. However, I would like to make a point that not everything has to be measured by American standards. Music is one big thing for me, because it is rooted in our cultural history. Nigerian music has not completely lost it's Nigerian-ness, but the number of artists mimicking Western musicians is increasing at an alarming rate. How many artists nowadays make highlife music? Compared to the number of musicians, especially new musicians, that make Westernized music (someone coined a term for it, but I can't remember it now...), it's a very small number. The only person I can think of aside from the Kutis is Jessy King. It's not like people don't like highlife music anymore. No musical genre completely dies out: you will still have people, young and old, listening to music, and some even making music, that sounds like it was made decades earlier. So you can't argue that the genre is obsolete, nor can you argue that highlife music is a marker of a backwards society and not a modern one. So why this trend?

I think that highlife music isn't made anymore because for some reason, the Nigerian music industry has decided to move towards a Western sound because they think that it is "better" somehow. I say this because I don't just get this vibe from the music industry. Nigeria's economy is growing, despite the economic crisis, and new companies and businesses are being started every day. Take a look at the names of these companies: majority of them are named something like Hertsfordshire Estate*, or Princeton Computers Inc*. Less and less of these companies are taking on Nigerian names. Why is that? Sugabelly told me about a conversation she with an acquaintance who was starting up a business, and wanted to call it Princeton*. She asked him why he wanted to name it after an American company as opposed to giving it a Nigerian name, since it was a Nigerian company. He replied that people would take the company more seriously if it was given an American name, because they would think it was American. Sugabelly then told him that that was a silly reason, and why not give the company a Nigerian name and allow people to see that Nigerian companies can be just as good as American companies. He said that he didn't see how his changing the name to a Nigerian name would fix anything, and essentially said that it's not his job to inspire change in Nigeria.

Hearing about this made me angry. Not only because it is evidence of a pervasive mentality that everything that's American is better than any Nigerian thing, but that this man, who stands in a position to make a difference, if not in the entire nation at least among his peers, decided to give in to this negative mentality as opposed to trying to break free from it. And please understand that this IS a negative mentality. If you name your company Ojo Computers as opposed to Princeton Computers*, that doesn't mean that you'll be providing people with computers made out of obeche wood as opposed to high grade plastic or metal, or that they'll run any slower than today's standard computer. Geez. If we shun everything that is inherently Nigerian, we will eventually lose our Nigerian identity, and become a nameless people who used to be great, but fell from greatness because we were aspiring to be something we will never truly become. We can never BE America. We can become a developed country, and a world power, but we will never BE the US. We can only be Nigerian, and we should be proud of that and promote that, as opposed to trying to be something we're not. I do agree that some aspects of Westernization are not the devil, and that once incorporated into a culture, some things can become a part of the culture and not look like it's been fapped from another culture. But we should incorporate these things and still hold on to our own identity, instead of throwing it away.

I think that colonialism played a role here. When the British came, us Nigerians had to make a choice: to hold on to our culture and be branded backwards heathens who would never progress, or to abandon our culture and embrace this new culture, complete with dress, religion and language that was "better" than our own. But what makes British culture better than Nigerian culture? Did it lack the sophisticated art and music of other cultures? Did it leave us worse for wear? No. There was - and is - nothing wrong with Nigerian culture, or Nigerians. So why, oh why are we letting it rot away?

To come full circle and go back to the music post, I mentioned that I wasn't a big fan of Dare Art-Alade. The Nigerian interwebz has been in hot debate over Dare's latest videos, most of which have featured a foreign female lead who is lighter skinned than your average Nigerian. Some people say he doesn't like/ is not promoting real African women. Other people are saying that he's marketing himself to an international audience. All I'm going to say is that every person trying to gain international fame has to gain substantial fame in their own country. If all the female leads in your videos look very different from your fellow countrywoman, you give off the impression that your fellow countrywomen aren't good enough for you, which hardly does anything to boost your popularity. Dare is married to a Nigerian woman, right? So why would he then use Indian women in his videos if he likes Nigerian women? This is not just a Dare thing. P-Square's award-winning video for "Do Me" (it won a Channel O Music Video award) featured a LOT of white women, more so than you would see in a regular Nigerian club. Why? (In their defense, though, their other videos feature mainly black people.) It happens in other countries too. It's like if you get a white person in your video, you'll drastically change your chances of being successful. This is a blatant lie, and if you believe that you're probably not that good at what you do in the first place. People need to stop feeding into this "white is better" mentality and start being proud of who they are and where they come from.

NB: I went natural a year ago because I wanted to discover my true self. Someone actually said to me that I was mimicking African-Americans by going natural. People also said that natural hair was not a "Nigerian" thing to do. If natural hair is not a Nigerian thing, then I must not be Nigerian. My God-given kinky hair had somehow become less Nigerian than the relaxed hair or weave that my peers wore to look more Western. Please people, stop the madness.

NBB: Eccentric Yoruba wrote a post a while back about ideas of beauty in Nigeria. I encourage you guys to read it, because it's a good example of how Western ideals have come to shape non-Western culture in a way that is destructive rather than helpful.

*Name changed to protect identity

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Nigerian Music Industry

*Sigh. Nigeria, Nigeria. And Nigerian music. Love/hate relationship again. I love the old school stuff, and some new stuff, but everything else just frustrates me.. Wande Coal's new song goes like this "You bad, you want it, you bad, you want it, you bad, you want it, you know you want it cos you bad." 0_0 And people are jamming this song like it's the "A Milli" of 2009. Really, y'all? Here's what I have to say in this whole issue..

1) One things Nigerians do that annoys the hell out of me is they give props to anything that's Nigerian regardless of quality or content. They act like they're all patriotic and shit, refusing to listen to any criticism aimed at their heroes - the people who are ruling the Nigerian music industry today. But people, know this: saying that these people are awesome when they're not doesn't help anybody. All it does is allows for more people with names like Fragrance to make bad songs with bad videos and even worse lyrics like "Shake, shake, like an earthquake" to poison our airwaves and hurt my eardrums. Please. Stop. Now. Give praise where praise is due, and don't just throw it at the feet of people who don't deserve it.

2) What the hell happened to artistry? Another consequence of (1) is that musicians don't challenge themselves anymore. They make crap songs with crap lyrics and don't bother to make them any better because they know that they'll still sell. Throw 3 of those so-called rappers into a cipher with any random US rapper and he'll murder them all easily. D'Banj is claiming to be the African Michael Jackson, and you guys don't even call him out on that. He might be Nigeria's King of Pop, but he CAN'T be Africa's Michael Jackson, and I'll give you one reason why: P-Square's Do Me was 50 times more successful than D'Banj in Africa as a whole. I have Indian people from Tanzania, and American college kids who spent last summer in Ghana or Kenya jamming to that song, and if you ask, most of them have never even heard of D'Banj. You guys should feel bad - these people are exploiting your unwavering fandom to make themselves rich. Y'all shouldn't stand for that, especially not in this economy. Demand quality for your naira!!!

3) There's no more social commentary. We could all jam to Fela's beats, but his songs always came with a message. It's not like we've gotten any better. There's still corruption, poverty, crime, intolerance, etc. But instead of using music as a tool to inspire change, we use it as a means of escape, singing about flossing and cars and ice. Not only is this simply imitating American music, because God knows like 90% of us can't afford to floss like that, it can potentially be destructive. It glorifies crime (Olu Maintan, Mr. "Yahoozee", I'm looking at you). A kid wakes up and says, I want to make money, instead of, I want to improve my country. So he'll do anything to get money, including stealing, bribing, and using juju on his enemies. Vicious cycle. And y'all are simply feeding into it, instead of trying to break it. The only social commentary I've heard has come from African musicians in Diaspora - Keziah Jones, Nneka, etc. Do non-expatriate Nigerians just not care?

4) I understand the need for balance in music: we need songs for pure entertainment as well as songs to make us think. But frankly, I'd rather save my brain cells than let them die while listening to Gbedu Hour on TruSpot Radio. And I'd rather listen to funky instrumentals with minimal lyrics than songs chock full of lyrics that don't mean anything.

5) The one think I like about Nigerian music is that it's still Nigerian. It's HEAVILY influenced by Western music, (signs of the trend that Nigerians like being Nigerian but don't like things that are "too" Nigerian - another post) but it still has that Nigerian flavour that makes it unique to us. Unfortunately, it makes it hard to play Nigerian music at parties over here (one such occasion when they tried to do it resulted in the party stopping for like 5 whole minutes as I, one other Nigerian and a Ghanaian danced and sang along. Fail.) but that's okay.

6) I had a conversation with an American dude a couple of years ago - can you believe that this dude knew more about Fela and African music than I did? I was SO ashamed, I vowed to go and listen to all the African music I could find. There's so much good African music out there that we Nigerians miss because we're too busy kissing the asses of our own bad artists. Go and listen to some good music, you people. For your own sake. You MUST listen to Angelique Kidjo, Youssou N'Dour, and Miriam Makeba. Then Brenda Fassie, Amadou and Miriam, and Cesaria Evora. Then Cheb Khaled and Oumou Sangare. Your life will be forever changed.

Lastly, here are my top Nigerian artists in no particular order:
1) Asa - the only prominent female artist out there. And she doesn't try to fit into the basic, dull formula of most of today's artists. Love her.
2) Sasha - female MCs represent!!! (Weird MC is cool too, but she hasn't come out with a good song in years. Where is she?)
3) 9ice - can do uptempo tracks and slower stuff and sounds good on both. Unique sound. Props.
4) Naeto C - "Ringtone" is my song :) Plus he can actually rap some.
5) 2Face - though his last album was crap, his first album is dear to my heart. Plus Plantashum Boiz were the ish back in the day.
6) Styl-Plus - they can SING! and their harmonies are ridiculous. 3rd album sucked tho.
7) Fela Kuti - Nigerians, if you do not own any music by this man, you should be ashamed to call yourself a Nigerian. Go buy some. NOW. (Femi is included here by extension).
8)M.I.'s production team - M.I. has some decent flows, BUT I think I like his music more for the backing track than the lyrics. He has potential though.
9) Kush - sad these people aren't around anymore. "Let's Live Together" is still my jam.
10) Amplifyd Crew - heard these people broke up. Too bad. They made good music.
11) ElDee - and by extension, Trybesmen as a whole. Good stuff. Now THEY can rap.
12) Modenine - decent rapper. good music. I really like "Cry" with that chick, Nnena.
13-ish) P-Square - I add them only because of their entertainment factor. They are true performers and know how to make a good party song.
14) Falz Falana - adding him here because I know Nosa will want to mention him. Good rapper. Hilarious songs too.
15) ASHTHOMAS - Google them. Their album "The Ascension" is some of the best modern Nigerian music existing today. Simi See Trouble is revolutionary. They're the shit. Period.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What was that about tipping again?

In honor of my first post on this blog...