#InternationalLiteracyDay: 70% of Nigerian musicians are illiterates

I am not in support of how 2Face once appeared to justify the lack of university education, particularly since many look up to him as a role model but I am also not going to make a big deal about any need, perceived or otherwise, for popular musicians and creative people to go get a university education or engage in some music literacy program.

The latter could be indeed counter-productive; music literacy and music education could limit, inhibit or out rightly terminate the capacity of musicians to make the kind of music majority of music consuming populations like to hear.

Today is International Literacy day and the theme this year is Literacy and Sustainable Societies. The UNESCO Director-General has appealed for literacy to be fully recognized as one of the most powerful accelerators of sustainable development. The argument here is that the future starts with the alphabet.

Going through a statement such as the foregoing only makes me laugh at what have become the anthem by most of our musicians. I am not laughing at persons who hold the above view but those who have failed to realize how true it is.

The future not only starts with the alphabet, the absence of the alphabet also wipes out the past. I am one of those who take pride in the glory of past African civilizations and in the wisdom of our fore-fathers. But to what point? Our fathers relied on oral transmission of knowledge rather than written transmission (literacy). All that wisdom is hardly surviving.

The beauty of indigenous music, language, medicine and indeed spirituality is being eroded by the absence of sufficient literacy or no literacy at all. This year’s theme of International Literacy Day couldn’t be more accurate and reflective of the erosion of Africa’s glorious past and the death of a glorious future for Africa even before such future is born. Whatever government that has ears let her hear. This is a message the Chinese have no need of.

It is often thought to be wise to suggest to a young person who wants to build a career in popular music to go get music education. What such advice fails to take into consideration is that people are not really interested in the music. They are interested in being entertained. The more entertainment an artiste can ingest into his music and the more real music can be expunged from his music the more likely such artiste is to succeed.

You can’t go on using knowledge acquired from formal music training and music education in popular music and expect to be a best-selling musician. I can imagine harmonically subjecting hip-hop music to the rules of tonal harmony or even good parallel harmony. Good music, bad sales! The problem is once you acquire that music education, it becomes extremely hard if not impossible to convincingly demonstrate the lack of music training and literacy required to succeed. It is simpler not to have bothered with that education.

Nigeria does not have a music literacy culture. She did not have it in her traditional systems and she is making no serious efforts at developing one in these contemporary times. Thank God for other means now existing for the documentation of music. Music notation can as well go to hell. How terrible wrong. Pop musicians and artistes are the more popular and better known musicians.

But these are not the ‘real’ musicians. To be a real musician, you must have music education and training and must have acquired at least basic music literacy skills. Nigerian popular music artistes appear to have conquered Africa and are on their way to world domination. They are lucky, they are not impeded by music literacy, education and training. The Nigerian ‘real’ musicians however couldn’t dare to challenge not to talk of conquer their backyard.

They are unlucky; they are impeded by the lack of music literacy, education and training. Yes. Majority of Nigerian musicians are music illiterates; including singers, saxophonists, trumpeters, keyboard players, bassists and drummers … the whole lot! Unless and until as a country, Nigeria decides to develop a culture of music literacy, Nigerian real musicians will NEVER take their place and dine on International music tables.

Notwithstanding that I advice pop music artistes not to go for music literacy programs and therefore keep their chances of success higher, I must say that having basic literacy skills is not enough to get the best of a career on International stage. A complain that there are no structures in the Nigerian music industry may be valid, but the situation is the exact opposite on the International stage.

To operate successfully on the International stage, Nigerian pop artistes need to deploy the basic literacy skills which almost all already have. They need to read materials which will help them to understand how music business is run.

A lot of that exists in the legal terrain. They must make that effort to appreciate the basics of how the law affects the music business. (I am sure that by now, artistes such as Brymo, Mo’Cheddah and Soul E would have learnt their lessons). They must apply their education to the creation of the music and the business of it.

All industries, engineering and construction, accounting, banking and finance, oil and gas, energy, transportation, trade, etc. apply the law and solutions it offers. It is not out of stupidity but out of wisdom. My submission is that the music industry having its primary investment as intellectual property, which is a legal subject, ought to take the law more seriously than it currently does.

If our Nigerian musicians continue to act like illiterates and take that to the international stage, they will be losing hundreds of millions without even knowing it. This is my message to Nigerian musicians for 2015 International literacy day.

Justin Ige MCIArb is Managing Partner at CREATIVE LEGAL, a Media and Entertainment Law practice. [email protected], twitter: @ogalawya #ogalawya

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