Dear Nigerian Musicians,
I can’t stress enough how important it is for the Nigerian musician to use his music to discuss more important things than “Shake your bum bum” or “spend the money” or their classic favourite, “I don blow”. At times when I sense the urge to write another letter to the Nigerian musician, I get the creepy feeling that I’m about to start sounding like a broken record.
Dear Nigerian musician, what is your music without a core message which resonates among the subconscious minds of your listeners, fans and the world at large? What is your music when it fails to address prevalent societal issues your listeners can relate with? What is your message when we can’t even stand the instrumental or lyrics of your “hit track” barely a month after its release because of its irrelevance?
What are the biggest issues plaguing Nigeria today? Tribalism, nepotism, ethnic unrest, religious conflicts, massive underachievement in all social, political and economic sectors, political assassination, fraud, human trafficking/ kidnapping, basic human rights abuse, abuse of constitutional rights and privileges, electoral malpractices, abuse of power and others. The younger generation is growing up with a twisted mind set of what it means to “make it” or “blow”. Today, these young bloods are either sucking up to corrupt, vile political godfathers, serving as their P.A.s or just joining the internet fraud “way”. I hope you know you cannot blame them when Kelly Handsome once celebrated the idea with his Halleluyah (Maga Don Pay anthem).
What have you so-called celebrity musicians been mixing in the studios other than empty, blunt, aesthetically-bereft songs with perhaps the instrumental and some barely repeatable choruses or phrases from them? Take a pick: “Bank Alert”, “Another Level”, “Gift”, “Dorobucci”, “Limpopo”, “Ferrari”, “I concur”, “Rainbow”, “Enter The Place”, “Alingo” etc., you know them.
Truth be told, the only effort of merit dished out by Nigerian musicians in my opinion, in regards to this subject matter was 2face idibia’s “For Instance” (and I bet you remember what year it was released, 2006). Asa’s “Jailer” (2007), M.I. Abaga’s “Ashes” (2012 tribute to the ALUU 4 victims).
Others since then have been largely nothing worth mentioning in this space; primarily concerned with the 50 Billion bank alerts; who stole their girlfriends and broke their hearts, the enemies against their progress and likes.
Mind you. I have no personal problems with the musicians mentioned in this article. I love them all and appreciate what effort they have invested into their careers in attaining whatever heights they have so far – but we need more.
I remember the consciousness I felt after watching “Straight Outta Compton”. That consciousness became heightened when I visited the city of Compton some months ago on a family friend’s invitation; a man who grew up in Compton. While we watched episodes of “Streets of Compton”, he regaled me with tales of what it was like living in Compton in the early and mid 90s.
The drugs. The killings. The never-ending Shootings. Riots. Fightings. Gang rivalries. The perceived psychological warfare waged against the blacks that made them see each other as the enemy. Racial discrimination. Lack of jobs and security from the federal government and all what not. Issues everyone who knew about the city or grew up there could identify and relate with.
In today’s existence, who is telling these stories with his music? Who is bringing the consciousness of the American public and the world to problems experienced in the past and some that have festered using Compton as his drawing board? One man. His name: Kendrick Lamar!
When Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and The Game passed the torch to Kendrick Lamar as the New King of the West Coast in 2011, I thought it was premature. Not because he hadn’t exhibited enough talent to be considered so at the time, but I felt he needed to stay true to what had brought him to that glorious level a little longer, while solidifying his status as one of the best or perhaps even the best.
But since then, his subsequent albums have been nothing short of legendary. I sincerely think Kendrick Lamar, if he continues on this path, is definitely on his way to immortality. He has already won seven Grammy Awards, received two civic honours and been included in Billboard’s “The 10 Greatest Rappers of All-Time” amongst other accolades. But I digress.
Just listening to his musical releases, you can identify and feel the passion, the awareness he draws towards the themes and subject matters he raps about. Take for instance his latest album, DAMN (released in April 2017 and certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) by May, 2017), listening to “Humble” or “DNA” or the other tracks on the album makes you ‘feel’ him, the themes, how relevant they are in today’s living. Above all, they connect you to the spirit of the subject matter and that of Kendrick. Its not just about the rap. Its more than that. Its about the consciousness he brings to his music. The way he pulls his listeners into his world, bringing the street, the pressures, the tragedies, the perceptions, the pains of these issues to the awareness of the public. He shows the world these struggles in his music.
Dear Nigerian musicians, let that sink in.
I am not in any way insinuating that you should be Kendrick. No way. I am only asking that you stay true to struggles every Nigerian can identify with, tackling these issues in perhaps the only way you know best – fortunately or ‘unfortunately’ – music.
In the end, this is what defines the legacy of a music and an artiste: producing what does stand the test of time. The High life music of Chief Osadebe, ‘highlifing’ the ideologies and societal ills of his time will remain evergreen. So too will the works of the eternal Ebenezer Obey. Chief Oliver de Coque. Victor Uwaifo. Onyeka Onwenu. Baba Fela and others. Legends. Greats. Their music had a message. They spoke to us. They addressed issues of those times. How could we be sure? They were declared public enemies of the barbaric government of the time for speaking out against what they perceived to be injustices. They were harassed. Prosecuted. Beaten. Jailed.
Just for sober reflection, do you think any musician today could/would be troubled by the “change” agents for speaking out against their BS in Aso Villa? I was hoping 2face Idibia would prove this trend wrong with his aborted protest. Perhaps that was to serve as a micro cosmic analogy of where our musicians stand in discussing prevalent societal issues we all can identify with as Nigerians.
As I have mentioned in the past, music must be eternal. Being that means it must tell us what we can identify and relate with. It must change us from the inside. If we do not get a sense of renewal; a shift in ideology; a re-awakening of a drifting soul after listening to your music, you failed. I’m sorry.
If I have to play your “Reggae Blues” and think its some Gala advertisement jingle, you failed woefully.
Yes, I said it. I’m in my house. Come and beat me.
Eleanya Ndukwe Jr.