Thursday, January 18, 2007

I tend to consider myself a die-hard Nigerian. Yes, I know the country has serious problems, but not once have I ever been ashamed to declare my nationality even in some of the most dire circumstances.

However, there is an issue that recently has placed a chink in the armor that is my sense of 'Nijaness'. It has to do with Nigerian music. I am beginning to doubt that current Nigerian artists can truly hold their ground in the arena that is African music.

Don't get me wrong, I can list a slew of venerable Nigerian musicians. For instance, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Majek Fashek, Onyeka Onwenu and the list goes on. These were the artists of my childhood. I remember hearing their music at parties that I was only able to see standing behind a door in my pajamas because I was supposed to be in bed. I do remember my 5th or 6th (or was it my 10th?) birthday party when almost every guest brought their personal cassette copy of Shina Peters' album. Do you remember that song? "Shina peters o ni afrojuju. Afro juju o, the difference is clear o." (Insert wicked riff here). No one brought any American or European musicians. It was Afrojuju that a whole bunch of private school going, skinny little kids wanted to dance to.

When I think of the Nigerian musicians today, they have good music, but I am yet to hear anything that can hold a candle to artists like Salif Keita in terms of originality, Cesaria Evora in terms of sensuality, or even Awilo Longomba or Djouna Mumbafu in terms of good old booty shaking music that bumps so hard it makes you want to move every inch of your body.

To me, there is something missing from current Nigerian music. It lacks identity. It lacks a Nigerian identity. A lot of the newer artists have good vocals, lyrics and even videos. I do not mean to be disrespectful but, I can't help but think that they are simply MTV wannabes. I crave music that is wholeheartedly Nigerian but modern. I crave music that tells me a Nigerian story. I continue to be moved by Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti, Lagbaja and others who continue to make Nigerian music that implements the best of musical techniques from around the world without losing that sense of Nijaness. Have you heard Osuofia's "I Go Chop Your Dollar"? Just thinking about the song makes me laugh and brings happy tears to my eyes. It might never win a Grammy award, but there is nothing like listening to Nigerian music that is intrinsically Nigerian, no matter what it's subject is. It reminds me of home. Makes me reminisce for the days when the kids from the neighborhood would hang out with eachother and talk about absolute nonesense while watching a soccer match played barefoot.

What new genre of music is Nigerian? Yes, we have afrobeat and afrojuju but when you listen to mapouka, you know which part of Africa it is from. When you hear coupe decale, you know that a bunch of Ivorians are trying to get you to shake your behind. Zouk, Soukouss, Makosa and various other forms of African music continue to be reinvented without losing their soul. What about Nigerian music? Someone please enlighten me, because I am desperately seeking original Nigerian music that will never lose sight of that very important factor - Nijaness.

For a taste of Shina Peters please click on the video below (ignore the first 90 seconds).

Here is a favorite song of mine, "Olufunmi" by Styl Plus.

And of course, "I Go Chop Your Dollar" by Osuofia, the comedic actor and musician.

Further Reading:

-Nigeria vs. The African Continent II - P-Square "Say your Love"
-Nigeria vs. The African Continent III - Infinity's "Olori Oko"
-Nigeria vs. The African Continent IV - Tuface
-Nigeria vs. The African Continent V - Ty Bello's "Greenland"

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H2O-works said...

This response is coming almost about 2 years (short 4 days) late, you view on this issue might have changed, but nonetheless, I still feel the need to express my sentiments.

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, 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 to support the language, 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 repeating sounds 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 (Fela) in Africa and the western world, 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.

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.

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 comes with the 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, and I 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, 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 did not enjoy rap, he still gets to you, and not with a Western flavor, but one that is uniquely Nigerian, in beat and delivery, the lyrics are just sweet like bananas. 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, as if to say the person is African is a crime. If at all they even take notice of an artist, they classified 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'm gonna have to add this to my blog so others can read it too. This actually took me about 2 hours to I had to listen to almost all the artists mentioned. I'll probably clean it up because it is 4.20am and I have a feeling I was rambling and missing out on some train of thought I would like to include.


@ H20-works: lol! Actually, this is more than 2 years late, but I will forgive you. Thank you, nonetheless for the serious breakdown. It made for a good read and yes you should put it up at your blog.

By the way, I have committed time to the discovery of excellent Nigerian musical talent. My journey to rediscovering contemporary Nigerian music. Don't believe me? Take a good look around for the Nigerian Music collection that I feature on this site So much so, that I now have musicians kindly sharing their music with me for review.

Nigeria has some incredible music, it just required that I focus to find it. And since then, I have never turned back.

So thank you so much for the breakdown, I love learning from others. And, please make sure you come back because in 2009 I will have the great fortune to feature incredible talent form genres such as jazz, afrofunk, rap and of course Nigerian pop music. I'm getting excited just thinking about the talent and hope you will come along for the ride.

Thanks again!

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