“…nowadays nobody speaks about, the way they feel about things…and nowadays nobody thinks about a way to ease the suffering”, lyrics from Lighthouse family’s 1998 single “Question of faith”. Lyrics that still ring true till this day, talk about ever green. Or is it Nneka’s 2005 single from her EP of the same name, The Uncomfortable Truth, where she sings “Let us make a change, why can’t we turn the page, Lord make us able, without you we are totally unstable”. I suppose we might also consider Sade’s “Sweetest taboo”, Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose”, Asa’s “Jailer” or the numerous works of Fela. Music by Nigerians, either in terms of lyrics, composition, vocals or production has always been beautiful especially when fostered in an enabling environment. By music I mean songs that are not just songs but are songs that are full and by full I mean songs that are timeless, that have essence, moods, life and carry substantial messages. But what do we have today? Bogus monotonic compositions from contemporary artists who possess little or no originality. Talk about originality when an artist writes a song about water and makes it a hit! Fela did! But we have caricature songs that sample from and were inspired by great artists and then watered down to reduce the concentration of music in it. Danceable, chant able, remixed concepts, money, cars, girls, fame; cliché!
But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander right? At times when I hear stories of “Old Nigeria”, I find it hard to believe how far down the ladder we are. Old folks talk about a time when goods were left outside with prices on them, and people would buy and sell with little or no supervision. They talk about a time when you could leave your house without bothering to lock your doors; they talk about the times when Nigerians abroad could close down malls just to shop. They all seem like fairytales when you come up in a time like this where it’s hard to trust even your own brother. Oil came and we forgot everything else. States queue for their share of the budget and I wonder, what happened to state internal revenue? Why aren’t states responsible for the provision of power? Politicians run the nation as they deem fit without caring to maximise its resources. Along the line someone got greedy and all those that were aware, said nothing and that single seed grew and is still flourishing till today. As your president said, Nigeria is not poor; our problem is in the distribution of wealth.
A lot of the time I relate the state of Nigeria to its music. Are they not a matching pair? Nigeria’s main source of revenue is from Oil, the main genre of music is “Afrobeat” or “Afro-pop” or whatever you call it. Ever heard people say a certain thing would not work in Nigeria, say a new law that is standard in a lot of places around the world because it doesn’t fit us here? Ever heard a Nigerian say a song is good and they like it just that the person won’t sell here? Why won’t the new law work if they decide to follow it and encourage others? Why won’t that “good” artist sell if they decide to purchase good music and spread the word?
Nigeria is blessed with various resources, every type you can think of, but we don’t invest in minds, don’t invest in research, won’t actively use our steel or other mineral resources, won’t invest in renewable energy , won’t invest in agriculture and tourism or any other resource as we should. Why aren’t we producing when we have the capacity to do so? Why do foreigners have to make those investments? We have narrowed it down to crude oil and that’s that! Why don’t we have more genres? Soul? Rock? House? Alternative? I mean we listen to songs like that from foreign artists, why not encourage our local artists to be diverse? Why don’t we have more clearly defined genres as opposed to diluting everything with “Afrobeat”? Why isn’t afrobeat, our very own internationally recognised genre, on the radio? Why do Femi and Seun Kuti release their albums outside Nigeria? Why should foreigners get to listen to them and not us?
The giant of Africa? Sure! In retrospect! We just talk in this country, but no truth or action in those words. Everyone has the solution to the problem but somehow the problem persists. Could it be because we don’t do accordingly? I mean we have a rich proverbial history but somehow we don’t update and apply it. Where are our poets? Where is our art? Where is our history written so we don’t forget? Who reveals the truth of the past and the lessons we must learn from them? But our music is better! Introspective and intellectual, you can learn from it. It takes you away and addresses your mood. If you are feeling sad, you have a companion! Heartbroken? You have something soothing. Afraid? You have something motivational. Calm? You have something down tempo. But alas I lie! The artist said he is inspired by life? He lies as well! The words in most songs are just empty, improvised with no particular direction? Where are the concepts? The structure? The vision? The passion? The talent? The words? Life? But then I suppose my life is a boring one, as that of a lot of the others seems to consist primarily of money, women, cars, parties, alcohol and the likes.
Politicians can bring ridiculous laws and implement it without even a cough from us, no wonder they ridicule us. How does a human use billions to maintain 2 private jets while the masses lack education and the basic amenities? How does a leader seek pay after public office without considering the repercussion on his state’s treasury? Oh but leadership is the new royalty hence we call them “your Excellency” and make no complains! Creativity is when you can form words from nothing in particular that elicits excitement from people who are looking for an escape from their hardships. Creative licence is when an artist can say “In the middle of the center” and come off appraised. No well crafted verses, no content, no figures of speech, just chants. Well as Modenine said on his 2008 song “Hip Hop “, “I mean it when I say your whole album is a chorus”.
Nigeria is a country with so much potential. With the developing countries slowing down, we should lead Africa in the race to catch up and even exceed what has been done but we have decided to operate at 10% efficiency, or do you estimate it’s less? Our crops and culture is being stolen from right under us and we could care less. It’s our way of doing things and however wrong it is, we hold steadfast to it. Talk about dedication to destruction. But music is life, and when I see Nigeria, I see its music, and I wonder if we really are alive? How many people really learnt from Fela? How many people really learnt from Onyeka Onwenu?
Sigh, would I sound like a conspiracy theorist if I propose that Nigerian music might be fashioned to keep us dumbed down? A means to help us be consoled in our misery while the elites plunder our resources? After all a documentary I saw recently said the system of the world is made by the rich for the rich. But hey! Maybe things are getting better, at least on the BRT buses, it’s usually not the case of “49 sitting, 99 standing” as Fela sang. What do you think?