Blinging on empty

Simon Ejembi

A LOT has changed in the Nigerian music industry since “Dem be two/later become three.”

And it’s not just the Plantashun Boiz. A lot has changed since we struggled to make sense of the Remedies’ break-up, and watched Daddy Showkey in front of a run-down apartment singing about a certain ‘Dina’. Exposed to an international audience –  courtesy of the digital revolution, social networking, Channel O, MTV etc  –  Nigerian artists began to strive to (re)define their music and live up to the hype, effectively ushering us into the era of bling.

Music videos were the most hit. In half a decade, videos in the mould of Trybesmen’s Plenty Nonsense, Gino’s No Be God, and Eedris’ Mr Lecturer vanished and the recipe for music videos was revolutionalised. Exotic cars, mansions, expensive drinks – Moet, Hennessy, Bacardi, and Dom Perignon; girls, girls and more girls are now a must.

Some argue that the artistes had no choice. Not with their models-turned-‘competitors’ such as Diddy, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Usher, Beyonce and Lady Gaga talking about Bentleys and Ferraris, flirting with Louis Vuitton, driving us gaga with all that bling. $17, 000 for a necklace? Yes we can.

So, even before he had an album to his name, Morachi was already singing about ‘Sipping Bacardi’ in his hit track ‘Hapuya Lyk Dat’. And before we were done learning how to dance ‘Yahooze’, Olu Maintain had lined up seven exotic cars, including two Hummers, for the video. El Dee, formerly of the Trybesmen, became a ‘Big Boi’ as M.I went on about ‘dis much swag’.

But as fans celebrate the growth of the industry and our music reigns unhindered, Ope Banwo, the Chief Executive of Stingomania Records, says things are not always as they seem.

What lies beneath

“Most (artistes) do not even make enough money to live above poverty level. The price of CDs right now is ridiculous. Alaba guys buy wholesale price from artistes at N35 or N37. You can never make any money from that considering how much it costs to replicate and package,” he says. “The reality for the overwhelming majority [of artistes] is that it is a pitiful existence due to lack of proper marketing, distribution or appropriate royalties being paid and, of course, piracy of music CDs.”

Going by events in the industry last year, his claims are not entirely inauthentic. Between August and December last year, artistes under the aegis of the Nigerian Music Industry coalition held rallies, declared a hunger strike and called press conferences lamenting the lack of a proper sales/distribution network and the high level of piracy in the country, problems they said prevent them from earning a living commiserate with their status.

Ayeni Adekunle Samuel, CEO of BlackHouse Media Limited, agrees that the reality of life for these artistes is far from the perception which people carry over from the videos. Though he says Nigerian artistes have the potential to live like kings, Ayeni says they are a long way off.

Indeed, a recent feature on his popular entertainment site tells a similar story.  “Deep inside your minds, you picture D’Banj living in a paradise of sorts, with remote-controlled sofas, bikini-clad waitresses, Gordon Ramsay-like chefs, Olympic-sized swimming pool, convertible B&O screens and some decor machinery that gives the entire house the feel of Don Jazzy’s beats and D’Banj’s charm?” Reporter, Victoria Ige, began. “Nah, the Maryland property D’Banj calls home is not anything close to what you’d expect. Once in, the first thing you notice is the set of diesel generators and a water tank, all competing for the little space in the compound…”

“There’s none of our acts in the billionaire league yet. And even those that are comfortable millionaires are just a handful,” Ayeni says. “What we have are half a dozen guys playing the big gigs and getting some money, while most of the others struggle to make daily living. But you won’t know this unless you’re close to them, because they have to continue acting like they’re making it big, until they make it big! Remember 9ice’s first major video ‘Little Money’? He was in a flashy car, with fab girls and all that. But he didn’t even have a house then, and of course he didn’t have a car!”

Artistes with a similar experience are not hard to come by. A year after he displayed all those cars in his ‘Yahoozee’ video, Olu Maintain was yet to move into his own house. And though, in 2008, he reportedly bought a three-bedroom apartment in Anthony, follow-up reports confirmed that the property was not fully paid for. Some fans are yet to forget the spectacle of Kora Award-winning twins, P-Square, fighting dirty with their landlord on the pages of newspapers over a property that was reported as “bought and owned” by them.

The up and comers are caught by the bug. Before releasing their hit songs, ‘Dat’s the Way’ and ‘Tolotolo’ Freewindz were driving around in a Chrysler and Lexus Jeep and living at All Seasons Hotel in Imo. All these – the trio revealed in an interview with Vanguard published on October 30, 2009 – were funded by Myke Records under which they were signed at the time.

When the funding stopped, they confessed, it took “the grace of God” for them to escape ruin.

(Full story on Y! September 2010)

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