LONGREAD: Does globalisation strip Nigerian musicians of their identities?


In 2017, YNaija committed a big part of its time and resources towards carefully documenting the big stories happening in the country and on the continent and highlighting the efforts of young Nigerians and Africans challenging the tired narratives around the continent through personal achievement and social good. Sometimes these stories are forgotten, buried under the avalanche of a year’s worth of news reporting and spot analyses we

Our reporting has been diverse and extensive, and we have chosen to start our reporting in 2018 by returning to these stories, to remind ourselves and our readers just how much ground was covered in 2017 and reaffirm the level of quality and care we commit to telling our stories in 2018.

We hope they resonate with you now, as well as they did when they were first published.

Before the unfettered music of D’Banj aided by Timbaland-esque producer Don Jazzy, the genius of Nigerian music was limited to the old start of Fela, Lagbaja and King Sunny Ade. The era was the 80’s and there was no internet. Music in Nigeria was limited to the music made in Nigeria. As time moved on, some music moved on from West Africa, Congo and Cameroon through Nigeria with the likes of Koffi Olomide and Awilo Logomba with hits like Bobaraba, Coupe Bibamba and Cache Cache. The horizontal movement and general appeal of music from a different culture and especially a different language marked a new age in music collection and appreciation. The truly global nature of the world and it’s music was first seen.

While the movement of music and its ideologies had happened for years, it was hardly something as international – Africa had always been a village, barring the cost of international travel, all African countries have been a bus or bike away. This is shown in a few general stereotypes – Fela was an African music legend; despite cutting and pasting the bulk of his musical style from Ghanaian highlife, Obasanjo is the President of Africa; helping stop the apartheid of South Africa, quelling coup d’etats in a lot of African nations and Nigeria is the giant of Africa; despite being the 419 headquarters of Africa – although, ECOMOG, it’s involvement in the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union can’t be understated. The music of King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Sir. Shina Peters had always been played in other African countries. While there has been a noticeable lack of exportability of African music, the genius that was Michael Jackson entered into the Nigerian music industry seamlessly. In fact, a lot of the cultural integration spoken about in the advent of the internet was mostly one directional.

Record labels came and seemed like the best thing after sliced bread only that they weren’t. Record labels pushed musicians only as far as they could go and didn’t push more. Mohits – D’Banj and DonJazzy came with a different outlook however. Mohits were a record company owned and controlled by musicians and not a business interest which meant they were able to create art without boundaries or fear that it won’t work in a tested market or focus group. Enlisting the help of the previously and now re-talented Wande Coal, Dr. Sid, “My Brother got me a job” D’Prince and KaySwitch, Mohits marked the beginning of a new style of music in Nigeria. Together, they will all grow big, too big maybe and expand outside Nigeria. But this bigness was pioneered by the ever fertile TuFace Idibia with his African Queen song. A melancholic hit with a different but not totally farfetched African woman was strategically positioned by Kennys Music and won the bald musician his first international accolade. A Nigerian song that travelled from Nigeria and crossed the shores into Eastern and Southern Africa was now possible. Twin duo – Peter and Paul Okoye with their brother shifted fanbase. Touring other African countries was the way to go.

The music made by Mohits and D’Banj was purposeful. He built himself as the ideal African entertainer with his catchy lines and electric performances, the Koko master attempted to move his music outside of Nigeria. While the hit and miss Mr. Endowed remix featuring Snoop Dogg didn’t quite do him any favours apart from a disturbing amount of airplay that consistently put his name in Nigerians mouth, the song was a hit or miss. 2011 was a crucial year for Nigerian music with Don Jazzy and D’Banj getting signed up by Kanye Wests Good Music. GOOD Music, Inc. (an abbreviation of Getting Out Our Dreams) is an American record label founded in 2004 by Kanye West.This move signalled the beginning of the end of their empire. In a few years, Mohits will break up, D’Banj will fade into obscurity. Oliver Twist produced by Don Jazzy would be the last hit that he would make. Don Jazzy would fare, but not much better. The momentum and his position as the number one producer in Nigeria would find itself in the gutter. The new roster of musicians in his Mavin Records would not command the attention D’Banj would have and worse of all, his catchphrase “It’s Don Jazzy again” would die off. All of this happened because of the attempt and the subsequent failure to capture a different type of market. While it might have been seen as misplaced ambition, it should not be forgotten that the American music industry is fickle. Attention spans are very short and change is a bitter pill to swallow. While trying to move into a new market, changes needed to be made, but it is harsh to move into a market where there is no prior education of the sensibilities of the said market.

In the UK, rappers Tinie Tempah and Chipmunk; now Chip made similar moves with their careers. Chip signed on to TI’s record label and in a bid to enter the US industry faded into obscurity. This did not diminish his musical ability in the tiniest bit, but set him back a few years in terms of potential and ability – same with Tinie Tempah. His influence in British music diminished and despite an impressive showing in 2016, he isn’t the huge British sensation he was and the sensation he could have become. Steady shifts in the musical policies and trends of the markets the musicians are coming from might affect the reception they get in their music. Culture shocks are a big factor in music reception. Other musicians like Burna boy have decided to totally shift their music bases from Nigeria to South Africa entirely. It’s likely that that might be his route to an international base, but it’s hardly logical. South African music while developed can’t get him the clout for international exposure.

African golden boy Wizkid seems to be on the way to an international market with strategic moves especially with his international features. Alliances with Chris Brown, Skepta and more recently Drake seem to be paying off for the Ojuelegba singer. Touted for a Grammy either by association or an individual hit, Wizkid’s hardwork is paying off. But he faces the same risk as his predecessors. Because while trying to capture a market, he loses out on this market he has captured well. His career seems to be on the same trajectory as D’Banjs – First album FIRE! Second album? Hardly recognisable. An international hit making out the headlines, but nothing more than that. Lately, he has been hit and miss, apart from being a Nigerian, fine boy and his past reputation, he hardly has anything more for him. Probably by design, Wizkid is hardly churning out hits as much as would be expected. Mr. Eazi and Tekno are hot on his heels and seem better positioned to make the jump like Canadian Drake and Barbadian Rihanna.

The music industry is not for the faint of heart and only the hardworking and extremely lucky will make it.

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