Nigerians are peculiar folks. We are blessed with looks, a decent economy (which is going to crap at the moment), talents, and the brains to milk it and many more.
But what defines us as a people is our ability to export everything, and dominate at it.
Our music is one of those facets of our craft that we spread along the continent and it has kicked ass. Having travelled around the black continent, I have seen firsthand, the infection of Nigerian pop music. From the serenity of Ghana, through the beauty of Kenya, down to the industrial plains of South Africa, Nigeria has flown the flag of music, dominating air space and basically everywhere else. The clubs have it blaring, the phone playlists are dripping with it, restaurateurs know nothing else, the beaches are infected, cars are taken, and the streets represent Naija.
I write this report from Benin Republic, just outside Cotonou, and frankly I am yet to hear a speaker that isn’t blaring the music of Olamide, Korede Bello, Tiwa Savage, Davido, Wizkid, Harrysong, and Kiss Daniel. Musically, it feels like I never left home.
Why is this possible?
Nigerian music has no definitive sound. We lack a signature style and harmony. We create our sounds by soaking up music from around the world, multiple genres, and refining it. We introduce elements of our local lifestyle and lyrics, and release into the world. Due to the wanderlust and travels of Nigerians, we take our music to the ends of the earth. With a popping beat, and relatable lyrics, it infects the community, and grows.
A few examples of these, ‘Beta Pikin’ by Harrysong is from the Zoukous genre, prevalent across Francophone Africa. It is a popular genre of dance music from the Congo Basin, derived from the Congolese rumba in the 1960s and gained popularity in the 1980s in France. Davido and Olamide came together for ‘The Money’, Wizkid gave us ‘In my bed’, and Niniola came out strong with ‘Ibadi’. These songs are gotten from the House genre, hugely popular is modern day South Africa.
That’s how we get by. That’s why we are famous. We rinse, reheat and repeat.
The people across Africa who listen to our music love it. They absolutely adore our stars making it possible for Nigerian musicians to tour and expand their sources of income. That’s why Seyi Shay is currently in Tanzania, Davido recently headlined the 55 national state-sponsored Independence Day concert of Gambia. D’banj, Wizkid, Flavour Yemi Alade and Psquare have each shut down the continent and beyond at various points.
But while the streets and consumers love the music, many others hate it. Most especially, the local musicians and other specialists in local pop music. The dominance of Nigerian music has made their work look and feel inferior. The radio stations and broadcast platforms give them limited airplay, dedicating the rest to Nigerian music, and limiting their growth. While the acts making exportable African Music aka ‘World Music’, can get by, the pop stars are having a hard time battling the menace of Afrobeat. This has taken a toll on their music industry. Many even get to raise money, and seek expensive collaborations with Nigerian artistes, all in a bid to sneak it through the stations and get more airtime.
Last year, the discontent from Kenya reached new levels, when local musicians hit the streets in bitter protest against Nigerian music. Members of the Kenyan Musician Movement took to the Nation Centre in Nairobi on August 10, 2015 to air their grief and accused the media of bias towards West African and South African music.
According to Nairobi News, Mitch Wyclif, a publicist for Beat Ya Keggah production, said: “We are demanding for 70% airplay from our local media as we see only Tanzania and Nigeria music being aired”.
This protest made the Government intervene, passing a recommendation to broadcast platforms to strike a ratio which favors the local industry helped their course, but the media houses maintain that they simply mirror the tastes of the people. Demand for the Nigerian product is high, supply ought to match that. Business 101.
While we dominate on the pop end, our ‘World Music’ singers aren’t replicating the pop success. The Kuti brothers fly our flag high, Omawumi is transitioning to that level, Nneka has had her music on that level for years, Bantu and many others have found it challenging to also dominate the continent.
But our Pop stars have. And they receive the full spectrum of love and hate.