Opinion: Bridges and Barricades- Music in Africa

by Onyeka Nwelue

Photo credit: African Drum

Today, I return to Portugal, a country that has very strong colonial ties with Nigeria. This is very visible in everything we do, yet, Nigerians are not dramatically bureaucratic as Portuguese.

Back in the university, I had so many dreams. One of them, was to own a record label. I would sign contracts with young artistes and finance their music career. In my head, it was very simple and realistically easy. Yet, I couldn’t do it.

There were two boys I was interested in their careers: Luminous and T9. They are incredibly talented. They had dreams too. They wanted to become famous and rich. They wanted me to be their Godfather. Yet, I couldn’t be one.

However, that dream of owning a record label has not faded away. Each morning I wake up, I find myself controlling the kind of music that should play in my head. In the past few years, I slowly built some strong relationships with artistes of all generations – our friendship is based on the fact that I still want to promote their talents and make them live big. Now, this dream has taken me to Europe and Asia. I’ve been so consistently building trust with people in these two continents, palpably begging them to trust me; always trying my best to make sure that they listen to all the fine musical voices coming from Nigeria.

Back in 2006, which I can remember very well, I had bought so many CDs of music by Beautiful Nubia and Asa, two of Nigeria’s gifted performers and gifted those CDs out to participants at the International Writers’ Festival that took place in Haryana, India. I was very happy doing this. I coerced some of the participants to listen to the music when we settled into the Sikh temple in Paonta Sahib, where we were lodged in. They did. I started believing that my dream was coming true. Apparently.

Today, I return to Portugal, a country that has very strong colonial ties with Nigeria. This is very visible in everything we do, yet, Nigerians are not dramatically bureaucratic as Portuguese. This is not condemnation. What I am trying to say is this: that Nigerians don’t know the name of any Portuguese singer is because the Portuguese people don’t want us to know. For when I remember my last discussion with Portuguese actor, José Fidalgo, I glow with smile. Mr. Fidalgo is a huge fan of a certain musician with afro. Her name is Nneka. He didn’t know her nationality, so he put up her music on his website as background music. I told him that Nneka is a Nigerian and my friend. Ah, Mr. Filalgo is highly impressed and bewildered. He goes and buys Nneka’s music from iTunes. He loves all of them.

If I have to point it out here, I sincerely think that embassies of European countries are obstacles to the ramifications of the young Nigerian, nay African artiste, who knows that for him to survive from a society that believes that art should be free; he needs the audience in Europe so badly. He knows that this young artiste needs to make some money, so, he assumes he is going to stay back in Europe and never return to his home-country. I will say that this shows that Europeans don’t respect African artistes. We are not only a people who live large dreams, we also live large.

Before I digress, the point I am trying to make here is this: no matter how large our audience way back in Africa is, I mean, for the artiste, it is disgraceful that the Nigerian artiste prefers the audience in Kuala Lumpur, because we are a people who are obsessed with foreign things. It is not our fault. It seems, largely enough, that back in Nigeria, it is easy to think also that we have a large audience, yet, people find it difficult to pay for shows. If you are a show promoter in Nigeria, you will agree with me that the moment you put out posters for a show, family, friends and acquaintances will besiege your phone with calls, asking for FREE passes. How on earth will you survive in such mess? It is appalling that art is not in any way appreciated in the African continent, just the way it is supposed to be. I am not really angry about this, I am just concerned that the African artiste will end up dying in penury.

Bez Idakula has recently been tagged by the BBC as the next big thing. He is not joking with his music. He is not a lay-about. He is the sort of artiste who doesn’t wait for the heavens to help him before he helps himself. He does everything for himself; this is what I am realizing, even though he has a manager who is as hardworking as the artiste. What I mean is this, I have actually encountered a lot of these young artistes who are talented and yet, are crazily full of themselves. I’ve heard some tell me, ‘I am very good. I can rival WizKid.’ I don’t doubt their power of conviction. What I doubt is their angst, their eagerness to actually rival WizKid. For those of you who don’t know, WizKid is a big star in Nigeria, but he is just 22 years old. He has done incredibly well. I keep saying that he is leading the squad squarely well. This is no joke, either. If they really think they can rival WizKid, what is keeping them? Funny enough, you hear them say things like WizKid has someone who is pushing him. This is because they are lazy. Only lazy people say these things. For you to survive as an artist/e, you must pursue those dreams alone. No one will do that for you. And this is where Bez has taken the front seat. He recently travelled to the United States and on getting back; he was already signed to Universal Music Publishing. He has also indicated interest to go to schools and talk to students and pupils. He is not ready to charge anything. He is working his way himself and people like him. They have begun to appreciate him and his music. Which is more important?

There are huge talents back in the country where I come from. I am not here to represent them. I am here to represent myself. I am the man who wants to promote them and make money for myself. I am the man who wants to make them stars. But I cannot do this alone and I can’t force the kind of music that appeals to me alone on Europe when they don’t feel it. I am then assuming that the artiste needs to really work hard and make things work out for him, by making good music, keeping a brand that people would like to associate with. This is very important.

Nigeria has produced a lot of world-class stars, but it is strange and painfully funny to know that they were not made in Nigeria. They were made elsewhere. Especially in Europe and the US. Let us look at Sade, Seal, Asa, Nneka, Wale, Ayo, Tinnie Tempah and a lot of them. This is painful, but it is also a joy to our nation. What we don’t find funny is the feeling most of these musicians have that someone owes them, that someone has to carry their cross for them. I always tell them that they are delusional if they think that anyone is genuinely interested in their career without working on it to make some money for himself. Everything boils down to return on investment, which is more important.

There are so many risks in the business. There is also enough money.


About the author: Onyeka Nwelue is the Founder/CEO of Blues & Hills Consultancy. He spoke at the SWITCH Conference ( in Lisbon, Portugal on Saturday, 16th of June.

Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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One comment

  1. The same goes for independent Indian music too! Good article Onyeka!

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