Paying homage to the eras that made our music what it is today

This is mantra defines the music industry more than almost anything I can think of. The music industry has experienced quite a few progressive leaps and often times, drastic falls which has been quite detrimental to all the diverse units involved in the creative process of crafting an album, a single or as I would like to call it, “Artistic Content”. From the artist to the (executive) producers, the record labels to the music managers, the promoters to the DJs, every artist is the expression of a very carefully orchestrated career drive which either makes or breaks the persons involved.

Although an artist’s success or failure can not be solely attributed to the artist or the label under which they are signed, every artist is faced with two choices; re-adjust to the ever changing sound of what is ruling the industry at any point in time or strategically create or explore lyrical content or a genre that is genuine to his or her craft with little expectation for success and zero concern for failure. Neither is any guarantee of commercial success, as the music industry is unfortunately unpredictable.

There are several scenarios I have personally witnessed where the labels continuously invest in an artist like it is their inescapable ticket to heaven. They spending profligately on convincing your favorite On-Air-Personalities to put tracks from their artists on replay. After that fails woefully, they then proceed to waste borrowed money hosting lavish free concerts, arranging giveaways and most popularly, “forcefully” slaying on your favorite “Pepper Dem Gang” Social Media platform; Instagram. When these tactics fails, the artist is left in a place of despondency which often triggers unresolved emotional issues. The depression and ‘acting out’ that has become an integral part of the upcoming artist cycle is often a secondary consequence of this push for fame.

The Nigerian music industry has grown tremendously in the last decade (or so) and that has earned us the honorific title of “The Biggest Music Industry in Africa”. The accomplishments has further transformed into international success for indigenous artists. With international access has come recognition for our work. From the BET Awards, to the MTV Awards, we have gathered it all (with the exception of a Grammy which is not too far fetched as long as Burna Boy continuously makes us proud).

Celebrating the growing success of this industry can be often self-gratifying. However, like Rome, the success of this industry took several decades of infinite tries and errors before the labors of our veterans came to positive fruition. I don’t know too much about how the industry operated circa 1970’s and 1980’s  but I am definitely not oblivious to the undeniable impact and legacy crafted by artists such as the legendary Fela Kuti, The Funkees, Onyeka Onwenu and Dele Olaseinde (just a few pioneers) despite severe restrictions such as constricted budget limits, persecution from successive governments and poor infrastructure. Despite these bumps, these visionaries continued to create lyrically valuable and intelligent messages through their ageless music.

While the influence of these “Old Skool Jamz” undeniably created the foundational work for our industry, evidence suggests that the 2000’s was definitely the era of revolutionary change in the industry.

As far back as I can vividly remember, I was always under the assumption that most musical content released in this particular era had nothing but nonsensical messages until I was schooled by several older friends and acquaintances. Surely, not all of these artists sang realistic or practical words in their music but almost every artist back then had substance that made then unique and differentiated them from other artists. For instance, music content by Eedris Abdulkareem although often cheesy and “razz” opened my eyes and consciousness to the struggles plaguing Nigeria at that time.

Eedris Abdulkareem’s collection of hit singles such as ‘Jaga-Jaga’and ‘Mr Lecturer’ (this is not even a joke) had strong feminist and social justice themes. Having lived in Nigeria for just half a decade at the time and coming from significant privilege, Eedris was a gateway into a different Nigeria. African China who in his own quirky ways passed across several messages addressing the flaws, deficiencies and severe imperfections of the Nigerian political system as well as fearlessly calling out our leaders for their unrepentant incompetence. Even Tuface Idibia (The current king of the industry), joined in on the action despite his songs being predominantly love songs.

After the gradual death of the social awareness era, the next era (mid 2000’s to late 2000’s) marked the dominance of irresistibly infectious bangers vigorously led by The Mo Hits stars. D’Banj, Wande Coal and the mastermind behind the revered classics; Don Jazzy helped start a movement that MI, 9ice, DJ Zeez, Sound Sultan, Banky W, Styl-Plus and Dare Art Alade would capitalize on to launch their careers. At this time, the industry had begun to gain international recognition by receiving major accolades such as The MTV Europe Awards (popularly known as the EMA’s) which is considered the second most prestigious award in Europe after the BRIT awards.

Despite the growing success of Nigerian musicians locally and internationally, there were still enormous impediments hindering the industry from building a commercial framework where artists could earn a decent wage for their work. Sexism gravely affected the female artists in the industry, hamstringing their career growth, a phenomenon which manifests to this day in the industry’s male to female ratio. This era also saw some improvements in its visuals despite still being inferior to videos from the entertainment industries in other countries.

The Present Era or I preferably call it, “The New Age” experienced unprecedented advancement in funding for video and audio quality and promotion for artists. This era was further aided by the unexpected explosion of Social Media in Nigeria. Admittedly, the era started to a bit of a rocky and unstable start but the perseverance of several existing and upcoming artists further propelled the industry’s current success. The era introduced itself to the world with songs containing stellar vocal performances, quite the shift from the previous era where the instrumentals were the main sell.

With newly introduced technology, crisp high-quality videos became the standard for the Nigerian music videos. This also created career opportunities for video directors who have since excelled in their craft, made an undeniable impact for themselves and raked in an impressive amount of money for themselves. Directors such as Clarence Peters, Sesan, Adasa Coker have all become pioneers and are in high demand in their craftin a relatively short period of time. They all reportedly charge a minimum of N1.5 million naira (nearly $5000) per music video, propelling them into the esteemed club of entertainment high earners.

The industry itself has become lucrative for a cache of established artists, so much so the standard charge for an artist per show (depending on your relevance) is a minimum of a million naira. This is excluding tours and record sales which has shown some expected growth. However, unlike other bigger music markets in the world, album and digital sales are not yet considered as an alternative income avenue. It is practically impossible to afford the luxury of supporting art in this way when most Nigerians live under N500 daily ($1.50c).

Just like streaming was initiated to combat the rapid decline of digital and physical sales in the leading markets, Nigeria has also tapped into this opportunity by immersing herself in the groundbreaking benefits of streaming. Streaming; often referred to as the future of the music industry has proliferated content to a mass audience internationally thus giving us more recognition for our talent and originality.

The era also opened up massive opportunities for female artists that got little to no recognition in the previous decades as now they are meticulously carving legacies for themselves. Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Seyi Shay, Niniola and Simi have all played an integral role in the emergence of female dominance in the industry. Currently, Yemi Alade’s debut single has amassed 130 million views on Youtube placing it at number one of the most watched African videos.  

Like I often say, the music industry is synonymous to the oil industry. Both ventures take years of intricate planning, establishing contacts, finding the right material to publicize, finding the right consumers and most excitingly, have HUGE returns. I could see why everyone wants to sing, it is easy money. However, do not let the delusions of social media deceive you from understanding these artists from all eras worked hard with several complications but they thrived because they have an idea of what musical direction they will be exploring.

I hope the “I want to blow” mentality with no concrete material ends this year.

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Foster Igbinosa