Words by Mifa Adejumo
One doesn’t need the help of rocket scientist to see that although media-wise the Nigerian music industry is booming, the art that defines it continues to be in steady decline, artistically.
However, to me personally, the decline of great musical artistry in Nigeria does not have to do with the fact that artistes these days are seemingly more focused on garnering fame and fortune than they are in wanting to improve on their music. On the contrary, I’d like to think that as an artiste, all of these vices –the fame, money and inept morals– can be seen as a default part of the eccentricities etched to the core of the art form itself.
Also, I don’t think the decline has anything to do with the ever-growing influx of artistes – the good, the bad and the heavily auto-tuned – into the industry. Yes, there are now as many artistes in the Nigerian music industry as there are hungry people in Somalia; but regardless of that, I believe that the industry itself, is capable of accommodating as many artistes as come to its doors just as the UN is capable of feeding all the hungered folks in Somalia without having to drown their largess in a whirlpool of needless bureaucracy.
Nevertheless, I must state that I’m inclined to think in such a way because I believe that often times, the most celebrated of arts are those that emerged out of the dreariest and unlikely of circumstances –kind of like John Snow digging himself out of the heap of dead bodies in the “Battle of the Bastards”.
Game of Thrones reference aside, I believe that true legends of greatness were never borne out of the comfort of sanguinity –or from viral YouTube videos– but rather, a lot of them emerged courageously out from the dire pits of sometimes incomprehensible personal strife. This is why, despite all of their many perceived shortcomings, we celebrate the likes of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Majek Fashek, King Sunny Ade, Christie Essien-Igbokwe, Onyeka Onwenu, Innocent Idibia, but to mention a few.
In my opinion, the decline of musical artistry has more to do with us as listeners than with the artistes. It seems like with every passing day, we as listeners are somewhat steadily becoming less concerned about the kind of music we accept or the kind we ought to accept.
I know there are some who might say something dismissive like:
O boy, park one side! There are more important things to worry about in the country now than lending critical ears towards the kind of music being made these days.
Instinctively I would agree to the fact that times are indeed hard. Also, I might even go further to affirm that definitely, there are more important issues facing the country presently that seemingly trumps the supposed necessity of being laser-focused on critiquing the kind of music that is being thought out, crafted and doled in droves across the airwaves and online media platforms.
However, I would kindly remind such folks of the fact that a lot of the economic-esque boom that has taken over the Nigerian music industry today could easily be ascribed to the back-breaking grind and efforts made by so many of the musical greats of the decades past. These brave men and women strove to thrive above mediocrity –and they did; many thanks to the critiquing nudge that came from a listening populace that were well informed.
You would recall that back then, the far-reaching fame, fortune and notoriety of the musical art form was not as it is today. Artistes of those days were not being held with the same lofty esteem and admiration as they are presently. In fact, as revolutionary and enlightened as Fela was back then, I’m quite certain that parents of kids those days weren’t too keen on their kids looking up to him as a role model. Well, compare that to now: where anyone with twitter followers in the thousands or more, and a penchant for tardy nudity or amoral lyrical allegories is instantly branded a ‘role model’ or a ‘superstar’ by all and sundry.
Bear in mind that as much as the artistes of those days ought to be lauded for their ingenuity; eventually their success did boil down to the keen listeners, whose ears had been critically tuned to wanting to hear nothing but the best from their favorite musical entertainers. These listeners gladly welcomed all who claimed to be artiste and wanted to showcase their artistry in the art exhibition. However, instead of brandishing whatever each artist had painted on the canvas, in the hopes that someone would come to appreciate the amateurish artistry, they made sure to first critically sieve through the welcomed lot until they found those with the sublime skills to create the kind of beauty that was musically envisaged and could be exported to the far-ends of the world. It was this kind of mental listening process that birthed the legends of people like the late Fela and the living King Sunny Ade.
Unfortunately though, it would seem that these days, we as listeners have chosen to take a more passive listening approach to this sieving process. As such, instead of being critical, we have chosen to become indifferent. These days, the musical acts we export to the far-ends of the world, even with all of their hyped up talents and splendor, are nothing more than mediocre copy-cats of their contemporaries from the western world.
I believe that it is high-time we as listeners retrace our steps. I think it is time we start to lean towards becoming more critical in respect to the kind of music that we hear, listen to, and validate. The onus rests on us as listeners to do away with the passive mental listening approach once and for all. If not for anything, or for anyone, we should at least try to do this for the sake of the generation that’s coming right behind us.
Mifa Adejumo is a Lagos-based writer. You can get in touch with him on Twitter @mifaunuagbo_. If you would like to have your articles considered for publication on Filter Free, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org