A friend remarked a few days ago that your average church lead chorister can pull off a greater stage presence than any Nigerian performer on stage. I have been thinking about the statement ever since, especially in the aftermath of One Africa Music Fest where Nigerian artists were heavily crititcised for their inability to hold the stage at Wembley’s SSE Arena, London.
This is not the first time Nigerian artists have come under fire for their lack of stage craft and lax dedication to performances. While a few Class-A artists are taking up live performances again, a hoard of Nigerian artists still pay very little attention to details of their performances, failing to connect with the audience or show anything particularly different from jukebox performances to their own songs playing on the speakers.
But it is not unsurprising that Nigerian artists are bereft of stage presence. The business of live performance is a skill that takes even greats years to master, but in this part of the world, music is treated like an enterprise to milk for easy money. While musicians in other countries usually have years of practice from performing on smaller stages, Nigerian music’s tendency for pop music makes it easy for an artist who was relatively unknown until a major hit to take on platforms they do not have experience to hold, as long as there is plug who knows the right promoter. A nepotistic mic-to-stage system does not only rob audiences, it also takes away all the experience the artist could have garnered from hustling for slots on smaller stages.
Admittedly, the bigger problem here is Nigeria’s lack of a music culture and that should imbue all the rudiments of an artistry in young Nigerians while they are still at impressionable ages. A culture that encourages interest in music at young ages would serve as a bedrock for knowledge in instrumental arrangements and composition specific to playing live instruments.
In every generation there will be outliers like Fela, King Sunny Ade amongst others, but the environment in which they matured into as artists also played a big role in their mastery of craft and performance. A broken system is a broken system, no matter how you bend it in the light.