[This should have been up like 2 weeks ago -- Apologies to SolomonSydelle for the delay. This post is actually my response to a post on SolomonSydelle's Nigerian Curiousity blog about the state of the Nigerian music industry. Albeit 2 years late..lol...it is still a perspective I wanna share with you all. You might wanna read her post first (if you like) because I make some references to her arguments, although I think this post reads fine on its own. If you do read her post, please note that her point of view has definately changed.]
*** Sorry for any typos/error -- had to rush my way around this***
First off I see your point as to why you might think that our music lacks identity, but what you must realize is that of all the African artists you mentioned (Salif Keita, Cesaria Evora, or even Awilo Longomba or Djouna Mumbafu) few of them have English as their Lingua Franca. Language plays a great role in what you hear from these artists (Salif Keita for example). I love his music but if you take a close listen you will see that the music is constructed inevitably to support the language giving it its "unique" flavor, that is to say that if you remove his voice, it is not too far from something that Hans Zimmer, Klaus Badelt or even any renowned jazz artist could put together should they choose to use the instruments.
Language and message is the same reason King Sunny Ade, Sir Shina Peters and the likes could go on singing to the repeatitious (sometimes monotonous) melodies from their bands and we would love it. If you even listen to Onyeka Onwenu (take Bia Nulu for instance, the "Nigerianess" of that song comes from the language, besides that the music behind is jazz). The next thing would be to ask why our artists did not continue singing in this fashion (with their various languages and instrumentation). Well Nigeria is very diverse (probably the most diverse African Nation) and we communicate across the board in English, if you even look at our most popular artist export in Africa and the western world - FELA, you will notice that he sang most of his songs in English, well its derivative 'pidgin', and his pioneered Afro-beat has a big jazz influence hence his worldwide appeal. Needless to say we still have artists singing in our various languages, and they are doing well if I must mention.
As you might have noticed, Africa's greats have some element of jazz in their music, mixed with our wonderful sounding African drums and accompanying instruments, and where this is lacking, language takes over. That "jazzified" sound also comes with the age/maturity factor, in that it is mostly the older or more mature individuals that would truly enjoy the "jazz-ness", hence partly the reason our "greats" are of the older age bracket.
So moving along to the younger generation. In this category, I believe we own the show (we don't just steal it). Our musicality comes out clean, and yes it is somewhat hip-hop/R 'n' B oriented, that inevitably comes with the age category, but still you can differentiate it from it's Western counterparts. Take a listen to the instrumentals of P-Square's "No One Like You" we own that, I don't think I can fathom it coming from anywhere else. I even have Non-Nigerian African friends who can identity a tune as Nigerian just by the instrumentals. Initially I used to get taken aback by this (because if felt like they were labelling it as commonplace), but now I realize that it is because we have a uniqueness to our sound and that gives us presence. Even in our rap/hip-hop/Afro-pop we rule (no offense to my non-Nigerians). Take for example the hottest hip-hop album of 2008 in my opinion - M.I's "Talk About It" If you haven't heard it already you should try to get a copy, even if you do not enjoy rap, he still gets to you, and not with a Western flavor, but one that is uniquely Nigerian/African, in beat and delivery, the lyrics are just sweet like bananas...lol. If only the Western world (mainly America) can listen to and accept something that is different and not from them. They always wanna recycle you before they accept you, it is still the reason why they only wanna recognize our music as African only when it is not sang in English, and when/if they eventually recognize it, they would dub the artist as either American...sorry African-American, British or European with African heritage (aren't they all), as if to say the person is African is a crime. If at all they even take notice of an artist, they classify it as world music, not Jazz, Hip-hop or R 'n' B. Anyways we are making ourselves heard, and one day the world would be forced to listen.
PS: I'll like to mention that we have a new blogger in da house, Shantell (don't mind the name, she's 100% naija..lol). Please head over to her blog and give her some blogville love.
Unexpected series on hold
4 weeks ago