During interviews, chats and media rounds, one question that has become increasingly difficult for young and upcoming artists to give an answer to is that of the musical genre they do.
Mavin Records act and talented rapper Poe in a recent tweet chat hosted by veteran artist and Playdata boss Eldee was asked the question and Poe replied by saying “I make music for people and I let them worry about the classifications”. As if that was not bad enough, another upcoming artist Leke Lee in a separate interview responded to the same question with ‘basically I don’t think I have a personal genre because I switch a lot, it’s based on what’s happening in the country, we work on what the market demands’. Either he was just being honest or out rightly ignorant, but that answer sends a message of an artist who is not serious enough with his art and should likewise not be taken seriously.
A musical genre is regarded as a conventional category that identifies some pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions. It covers music that adopts a certain style, language or at times instrument. We have several traditional genres like Jazz, Pop, Rock, Reggae, Blues, Soul and the likes. Whilst in Nigeria, others like Highlife, Fuji, Juju, Akpala, Waka, Afrobeat are peculiar. Clearly the Nigerian music industry is burgeoned by 99 problems and not being able to classify our music is one of them.
With the commercial success of artists like D’banj, Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage and Tekno both locally and internationally, the Nigerian music industry became an all comers affair, witnessing the influx of many bandwagon musicians mostly interested in replicating whatever sound was trending as they sought to score that hit record that will transform them into superstars overnight. Hence, we find a lot of songs on the radio and internet released on a daily sounding alike or even worse off than the sound they are jacking. Some even go as far as using the same producers and sound engineers, which is a major reason for the ridiculous voice tags you hear at the end of most songs today, such that identity no longer has a place in the music.
How a simple question became so complex
It has often been argued that musical genres are out of date as placing an artist in a particular genre only serves to box his creativity and limit the talent. Also with the amount of music at our disposal on a daily basis and the increased number of artists as compared to the early days, it will be impossible to group the sounds under a particular classification especially as the lines of separating genres have become blurred due to experimentations, collaborations and the channel of influence which has become more varied. Musical genres in itself comes with certain ambiguity as at-times they do not accurately describe the artist and his music. An artist may be a lover of rap music but the genre doesn’t tell if it’s hardcore rap, trap or mumble rap as it is prevailing today.
There is also the greater fear especially with record labels that being tagged under a particular genre may hinder the marketability of the artist as it tends to limit the shows that you will be called to, the brand that you will attract and even the composition of audience you may appeal to.
It is quite understandable that almost every musical genre today infuses sounds from other genres, artists growing up were exposed to diverse styles of music and thus find themselves influenced and capable of performing different sounds, like Banky W has shown that he can rap but he is well regarded to be the King of RnB, Jesse Jagz does a mix of rap and reggae, Rooftop MCs infused rock into rap music at a time when the Nigerian populace could not be bothered about rock music and this was continued by Eben who also blends rock in his gospel songs. This is not primarily out of place as despite their ability to transcend to other genres when required, they all have that major category that makes them unique.
I am of the opinion that genres can’t be done without. When you walk into a music store or organize your playlist, it is usually done with the help of genres for easy navigation, when awards are given out at the end of the year, they are placed under genres and categories (even though Nigerian award organizers have added to the problems of classifying music instead of educating and clarifying it). Genres gives a sense of direction to the artist and the industry, when there is the need to build a fan base, it usually requires a genre, which is what led to the creation of the term ‘Afrobeats’ credited to DJ Abrantee as he sought to group the new sound from the likes of Fuze ODG, Wizkid for the new audience emanating outside Africa into his projects.
Music can only be truly evergreen or influential if it has components of originality, identity and is organized. Music can only progress when an artist has ample knowledge of the genre he has taken to and then begins to expand and express his imaginations around that genre. A proper identification with a genre goes a long way to sealing your legacy as an artist.
The likes of Ebenezer Obey, Kwam 1 and King Sunny Ade will continue to find a space in the sand of Nigerian music times not just because of their hit records but because of the identity they carved with their sound. Of course, new and sub genres have been created along the years and will continue to be formed but these new genres are usually created out of older and existing genres.
J. Martins is one of those artists who despite not having featured a hit record in a while is continually remembered as one who made highlife music lovable again, the likes of Mode 9 will forever go down as a rap icon. Every artist has a story to tell about their early influences and the sound that inspired them into becoming musicians, so even though we live in a world where the creatives are constantly aiming to push the boundaries of variety in their sound seeking to blend genres and sample other cultures, it is expedient that every artist maintains a particular music genre that the audience can identify with. You hear artists like Burna Boy on any song and how he stamps his dancehall influence on it, acts like Asa, Bez, Cobhams, Illbliss, Brymo have all found that uniqueness in their sound and have become masters at it. You can’t progress a sound that you do not hone or understand and no one can build a career off being a jack of all genre.
For the upcoming act, what will your music be remembered for? What genre will be said to have been most progressed by your songs over the years? So when next you are asked that question during an interview, think twice as an artist before you answer. Own a genre today, your creative authority and legacy depends on it.