by Chude Jideonwo
It is, highly instructive that the most remarkable performance from last years’s editon of the Headies, easily the most important event in Nigeria’s music calendar, was that of a man whose music shook the nation in the 90s. The body of work that Sir Shina Peters introduced at the peak of his career continue to capture both his generation and those after with an extravagance, a lusty exuberance, that should inspire envy from any musician today.
This week, I was asked by the organisers of Felabrations if I think this generation needs more Felas? My response was: More to the point, where are the potential icons of my generation?
This is not an excuse to join lazy criticisms of contemporary Nigerian music, but we certainly have to ask ourselves what is missing. Why, for instance, do we have so many young men who think all it takes to be the “new Fela” is to dress up like him, sport a penile bulge in public or hold, erm, tobacco with skill, when their art is utterly forgettable?
And it has nothing to do with singing about big bosoms or sex. After all, Marvin Gaye sang about arousal and Shina Peters told of big behinds. It wasn’t what they said, it was how they said it. What these icons captured was the zeitgeist of the times – they understood that their music wasn’t just about record sales. Sonny Okosuns captured this essence again and again from the Free Mandela campaign to ‘Songs of Praise’, that iconic album that perfectly captured that giddy period when being born again was going mainstream.
Onyeka – oh my hero, Onyeka for whose concert at the Tafawa Balewa Square I saved up money when I was only 12 to attend – captured the cosmopolitan sense of identity. Salawa Abeni the headiness of female success, just as KSA caught and has locked down the consistent sheer excitement at being alive that makes us one of the happiest people in the world.
There was the generation in between. Unlike many of my peers, I didn’t grow up on foreign music, even in the post-Sony Records rot. Instead I grew up on ‘Baby Walamkolombo’ and ‘Mumbala Mumbe’; my favorites somewhere in between Oritz Wiliki, Majek Fashek, Edna Ogoli and Mike Okri; easily entranced by the originality of Baba Fryo, Daddy Showkey, Daniel Wilson, and others. They valiantly kept Nigerian music alive in those tough times when Nigerians abandoned their own voices and fixated
on everyone from Michael Jackson to Whitney Houston. They deserve thanks and praise for staying in and for hanging on.
On a personal level, I thank them for giving this teenage Nigerian child, uninterested in Mary J Blige and Tupac, something to listen to.
And this is why I am truly grateful that The Headies, a proudly, truly Nigerian brand that is nonetheless international in stature, has proven that we don’t need foreign brands with low attention spans to celebrate these heroes. As The Headies, supported elegantly over the years by MTN, has stood firm and shone bright despite the challenges and difficulties of the Nigerian environment, so have these veteran stars shone bright in our hearts, and in my head.
We have a lot to thank you all for, but more importantly, we have so much to learn from you. And today, we celebrate you , we applaud you, we appreciate – from the depths of my heart, I celebrate you.
God bless Nigeria.
*Being a tribute delivered at The Headies Veterans Nite on Friday October 19 in Lagos, Nigeria by Chude Jideonwo, editor-in-chief of Y!/YNaija and co-founder of The Future Awards