Despite the successes said to have been recorded by Nigerian singers/musicians on the world stage, there are still concerns about lyrics capable of fuelling social malaise. LADESOPE LADELOKUN writes on the successes attained by Nigerian artists and how music can be a vehicle for change
With reports of Nigerian artists headlining sold-out concerts at A-list venues and chart-topping songs across the world, the Nigerian music industry is for a number of stakeholders, one of the most vibrant and rapidly growing music scenes in the world.
From the late Fela Kuti to Femi Kuti, Davido to Burna Boy, Nigeria is said to be home to some of the world’s iconic and influential artists as testimonies of how well they are being sought after are generously shared by netizens in the Nigerian social media space. Only recently, veteran American rapper, Snoop Dogg, was seen in a viral video extending an open invitation to Nigeria’s award-winning singer and songwriter, Temilade Openiyi, popularly known as Tems. According to the rapper and as noted by Hip Hop Hero, has sold 37 million albums across the world, in addition to being a big fan of the songstress, his family also listens to her songs regularly. Snoop Dogg in the video said: “Tems, you know I’m a fan… Let’s make a fvcking hit record girl. You’ve been having my whole family dancing to your shii…
I need one with you.” Also, a German music band, 255, recently shared a video, documenting their journey from an airport in Germany to the moment they were received by Grammy award winner, Burna Boy, in Lagos. The group revealed that they traveled to Nigeria to just to seek a collaboration with the ‘Last, Last’ crooner.
In what appears to be a confirmation of the exploits of Nigerian musicians on the world stage, French President, Emmanuel Macron had in 2018, described the creator of Afrobeat, Fela Anikulapo- Kuti and his two sons – Seun and Femi -as huge successes in France and the entire Europe during a visit to the Afrika Shrine, an entertainment centre managed by the eldest son and first child of Fela Kuti, Femi and Yeni Kuti respectively. In the words of the French President, “Fela, Femi, Seun Kuti are obviously very famous in France and Europe. I mean they are big successes but the Shrine is a cultural hub, an iconic hub and it is very important for me first on a personal level, and that is why I want to say with a lot of humility that I recognise the importance of this place. I recognise the place of culture in this current environment.” On the African continent, analysts argue, music promotion and publicity in the global music scene and population are some of the elements that have given Nigerian music artists, an edge in terms of global recognition over their counterparts in other African countries. Meanwhile, beyond the successes recorded by Nigerian artists globally, there are concerns over the harm negative lyrics churned out by some Nigerian artists can cause to the society. Like a double-edged sword, music is deemed to have the power to either influence the society positively or negatively. According to the lead singer of Irish rock band, U2, Paul David Hewson, aka Bono, music can change the world because it can change people. With available statistics pointing to economic hardship and burgeoning crime rate, concerns are rife that music could become the fuel to aid the fire of crime sweeping through Nigeria following the injection of lyrics said to promote hard drugs, ritual killings, sexual deviance and fraud.
MURIC Vs. Portable
At first, “Kuku Do Ritual”(Just opt for ritual) was an advice pop singer Habeeb Okikiola, better known as Portable, trumpeted in the middle of casual conversations to financially handicapped Nigerians in a number of videos on his social media handles. Soon, it became the title of a song that sparked controversy for its message; something that attracted knocks from a number of music enthusiasts and critics.
“Kuku do ritual. If you do ritual, you go die. If you no do ritual, you go die. Kuku do ritual,” the singer had sung. Meanwhile, prominent among the critics of the song is the Muslim Rights Concern(MURIC).MURIC had described the song as disgusting, detestable and egregious, calling it a brazen assault on Nigerian and African values.
Portable’s latest song, it said, has reduced human life to the level of ordinary ants that can be stamped out under human feet without qualms and without consequences. It further described the song as an open invitation to criminality as it, according to the group, makes a mockery of law and order and an open disrespect for human life. “Nobody should hide behind artistic privilege, poetic licence or freedom of expression to launch such barbaric offensive on our culture, our norms and values.
This is beyond free speech. It is criminal speech. It is incitement to commit murder. It is instigation to criminality. It is a bestial invasion on decency and good manners. It is Bohemian,” MURIC fumed. But Portable is not alone on songs that attract sticks and stones to its owner from Nigerians. In his chart-topping song titled, ‘Ali’, Steven Adeoye, whose lyrics chronicled the life of a dullard, who decided to drop out of school for lacking in intellectual stamina to cope with the subjects he offered. Adeoye sang that the said dullard got a laptop computer, started Yahoo-Yahoo(internet fraud) and became happy after becoming financially successful. “I wanna be like Ali, kigboro ma sa mi (for people to hail me), ” he sang.
Some lines from the song: “Ali go to school
But Ali komowe. So, Ali leave the school. Ali gbonole ooh! Ali buy lappy. Ali se yahoo! Ali make money; now, Ali dey happy. I wanna be like Ali. Kigboro ma sa mi. Just wanna make this money; Make my people happy. Something to celebrate.” Despite the flaks drawn by a number of Nigerian singers because of lyrics deemed injurious to the society, some Nigerian musicians have drawn accolades for their uncommon feats. Celebrating the successes of Nigerian musicians at the United Nations World Tourism Organisation global conference in Iganmu, Lagos State, Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, noted that music was a language people can enjoy without understanding the lyrics. Osinbajo thrilled the audience at the global conference, when he gave his rendition of Kizz Daniel’s hit song, “Buga”. “Today, Nigerian music rendered in different languages is played all over the world.
So, people all over the world are dancing to that song by Kizz Daniel, called ‘Buga’.” Osinbajo also told how Nigerian singer and songwriter, Ahmed Ololade, popularly known as ‘Asake’ sold out a show at the prestigious O2 Academy Brixton in London in five minutes. Meanwhile, Rollingstone, one of the world’s leading music publication platforms, recently released a list of 200, who they claimed to be the greatest of all time. While the publication placed Grammy award winner, Burna Boy, at number 197,describing the ‘African Giant’ as an “ambassador of Afrobeats, it placed the creator of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti,at 188th position. Explaining Fela’s political influence, the publication stated: “Through his music, he shared an anti-colonialist, Pan-African vision and challenged Nigeria’s corrupt military government, which routinely subjected him and those around him to immense harm.
“Yet, it wasn’t just Fela’s lyrical rebellion that makes him so important- it’s the way his voice carried his vision; the way he sang, his tone commanding and direct, plain and firm.” At the 2023 Grammy awards, Nigerian singer, Tems, won her first Grammy for her part in Future’s hit single ‘Wait For U’ under the award category for ‘Best Melodic Rap performance’, becoming the first non-mixed Nigerian female musician to win the prestigious award. She is also said to be the first African female to debut at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Also, at the finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Nigerian singer, Davido joined the duo of Aisha and Trinidad Cardona to perform ‘Hayya Hayya’ (Better Together). Other Nigerian singers, Kizz Daniel and Patoranking performed before football lovers at the FIFA fan arena in a series of concerts by the football governing body.
How music can be vehicle for social change
Owing to the universality of music, a number of musicians and organisations have deployed music as a tool to bring about positive change in the society on many occasions. In what appears to explain what the late creator of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti, did with music, Kuti was quoted as saying: “With my music, I create change…
I am using my music as a weapon.” Buttressing the quoted claim of how Kuti used his music to influence social change in Africa and beyond, Afterglowatx.com wrote: “Fela Kuti is an unspoken music legend whose work has radically changed the world. A lifelong rebel, he challenged censorship and played an important role in African sociopolitical movements. In the process, he championed civil rights and established Nigeria as a harbour for musical innovation. Kuti’s songs defied political and cultural boundaries, offering a voice to the Nigerian people and touching the hearts of many listeners worldwide.”
In what many see as the first-ever benefit concert of its kind, which was said to be centred on raising funds to assist victims of famine in Ethiopia, $245 million was garnered up to help curb famine in the country in just one day, The Daily Iowan reported. Emphasizing the power of music, the concert, it added, was so well organised that it was held consecutively in Philadelphia in the United States and London in the United King 10dom as it garnered up to 172,000 physical attendees, while up to 1.9 billion people joined electronically from more than 150 countries of the world, noting that only music could do that. Meanwhile, Daniel Walter of the Sigauque Project, a band based in Maputo, Mozambique, expressed worry about what he deemed the inappropriate use of music in Africa in an interview with newsmen. “Now, you see musicians singing about girls, money and fast cars.
Not long ago, Africa was full of music that made a statement—about government, corruption, things that matter. Our music talks about HIV, women’s rights, recovering from a disaster, xenophobia and much more. It’s not just great music. We’re saying something.”
We only respond to demands of society – DJ, singer
For DJ Vickspicy, it may not be fair to blame singers for the negative message in their songs as they only respond to the demand of the society. “Sometimes, you have a very good song and people will not dance to it but play a dirty song with a strong rhythm, you would see them dancing to it because of the rhythm. So, people are different. If I’m in a club, I would play what my listeners want to hear. If you don’t play what they want to hear, you won’t sell. Incidentally, what they want to hear is Yahoo-Yahoo, women’s privates, et al. The job is not about me. It’s about the people. “There are people that specifically demand lewd songs for their parties. I don’t like it and I can’t do well if I don’t do the job. What I do is to engage a colleague. That’s what I do but I won’t reject the job because I could get another job through the man that wants dirty songs. But , personally, they are not songs I would like to play. We give people what they want to hear, so that we can have food on our table. It’s not like we like what we are doing but it’s a job that has to be done. Put what you think aside and do your job. Give people what they want to hear and make them feel good, “he told Sunday Telegraph. He added: “If you listen to music, if it’s not about the message, it’s about the beat or the sound. What we nod our heads to is the sound. The message perfects the music. Let me give you an example. There’s nothing in the song “Zazu”, but the street is always dancing to the beat. Ideally, music is supposed to have a message. And when you listen to it, it should make you feel better. It gives you message that calms your nerves.” In the same vein, an Afropop singer, Badman Lakers, told Sunday Telegraph that survival in the music industry compels most artists, especially upcoming acts to bow to the wish of consumers of music regardless of the message. “Ideally, everyone has their passion. Sometimes, you may decide to go to the studio with a particular song in your head and your producer would say you need to follow the current trend. Sometimes, it could just be strictly what the singer wants to put out. “As an upcoming singer, regardless of the message in a song, I would definitely choose a song that would bring me fame and get people to listen to me. You may have a particular way you want a song to sound but the producer would ask you to have a different approach for acceptability purposes. So, that’s when lines glorifying sex, hard drugs and other things may come in. As an upcoming artist, it’s not been easy. It costs a lot of money to put your songs on all platforms. I do everything on my own. But once you put your songs on all platforms, just have faith in God.”
People must be deliberate about refusing to post offensive content – NFVCB CEO
Speaking on the efforts of the Nigerian Films and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) to bring sanity to the media space, the Chief Executive Officer of the agency, Alhaji Adedayo Thomas, told Sunday Telegraph that despite the blessings of technology, it can’t be detached from the reason there’s an upsurge in offensive content. Thomas, however, said the NFVCB is doing a lot in the area of inter-agency collaborations and sensitization of stakeholders to stem the tide. “We are working with YouTube, Facebook to pull down videos that are not worth watching. We can’t rule out the role improvement in technology has played in the rise of distasteful videos. I listened to the Portable’s “Kuku do ritual”, I think the NBC has banned it. We can only come in if there’s a video to the song. But we also do a lot of sensitization among stakeholders. People have to be deliberate about refusing to post offensive content. You know everyone has a phone now. With your android phone, you can do a lot and that’s why we would be having a lot of engagements, especially with students in higher institutions of learning,” he said.
We encourage good works but won’t distort ‘creative intent’ – PMAN President
In a chat with the President of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN),Pretty Okafor, he stated that though it was the duty of PMAN to encourage every musician to release good works, it does not have the power to distort anyone’s ‘creative intent’. “PMAN doesn’t have any internal control mechanism. PMAN is not NBC.
It is not PMAN’s responsibility. PMAN is about welfare and protection of musicians. It’s not a lyrics or negative song management agency. As a musician, you do not have the right to tamper with anyone’s creative intent. You don’t have any right to distort anyone’s creative intent. “So, if the government feels any song is offensive, they are the ones to deal with it. But our duty is to encourage every musician to release good works. And those good works could depend on your style of creativity, your manner of delivery but we don’t get involved in stopping someone’s creativity.
“When Fela released his works and the government banned them, were they bad works or good works? They had appeal. They appealed to other people. That it is not appealing to you doesn’t mean it’s bad work. Because it doesn’t appeal to some gender doesn’t mean it is bad work ,” he told Sunday Telegraph. According to Okafor, if the government does not want a song on radio or TV because it crosses the line of decency, it is incumbent on the relevant regulatory agencies to do their job, noting that as the President of PMAN, he is in no position to tamper with anyone’s piece of work.