WANTED: MUSIC OF NIGERIAN ORIGIN
I grew up listening and dancing to music. Fela, Obey, Victor Olaiya, Bobby Benson, Dele Abiodun, Barrister, Orlando Julius, Rex Lawson, Osadebe – father had them all. And, the jolly good fellow that he was, he always played his music loud; so that wherever we were in the house, we had a taste of the groove seeping out from the speakers of his radiogram.
God! Father played a LOT of music. Mom would complain it was too loud, yet he would pretend not to hear – and he’ll play, play and play. Today, I owe the much I know about early Nigerian highlife, juju and Fuji music and musicians to my father.
And I understand and sympathise, when those who experienced that era frown and hiss and complain about the kind of music ‘we’ play today. I understand when I see people dedicate so much energy and time, trying to bring back the good old days of highlife, juju or Fuji . I understand when they’re a little bit impatient with the artiste of today who has been consumed by the spirit of hip hop’.
But I have said it before; and I will say it again. We will never experience the highlife of the late 50s and 60 again. We will never enjoy juju music of the 60s and 70s again. Never! Times have changed. Culture is very dynamic, and a lot has changed about our values as a people, about the way we live, the influences we imbibe and what informs our choices; our essence.
So while I still love highlife, and will give anything to buy any of those old classics, I know that if those albums were made today, it will definitely not have the impact it had in its time.
The reasons are obvious. We have been influenced by cultures around us – mainly America . The first generation of musicians have not mentored enough protégées to carry on from where they stopped. The early privately-owned radio stations fed our young men and women with too many ‘western music’; so much that they have become more accustomed to the elements of hip hop, than the ingredients of Fuji, ikpokrikpo or apala.
So, instead of crying over spilled milk, trading blames and trying to ‘undo’ what has been done, my stand has always been this: before the likes of KSA, Ebenezer Obey, Fatai Rolling Dollar, Ayinde Barrister, Benson Idonije, Orlando Julius, Victor Olaiya and others pass on to the other side, we need to have young producers, songwriters and performers understudy them and their art.
We need to create an opportunity for this generation of music makers to try and learn from these men, concepts, ingredients and how to weave the fabric of traditional Afrobeat, highlife, Fuji and juju. Not so they can begin to attempt to resuscitate the fading genres. But, so that they can incorporate their elements into contemporary forms like rap, soul, R&B, rock and others.
This is imperative, not just because the onus lies on us to preserve these excellent genres of music, for future generations, but also because, as the world continues to shrink into one little village, it will be to our own benefit, if we conceive and create a musical formular that the rest of the world would find interesting and irresistible, like we have found rap and reggae and pop and R&B. Okay, the world already knows that Juju, Fuji and Afrobeat are from Nigeria .
Thanks to Fela, Femi Kuti, KSA, Obey, Ayinde Barrister and few others. And if you think of Nigeria , the first thing that comes to mind is Afrobeat: but, since Fela and femi, how many mainstream afrobeat acts have come up? Apart from white and black bands keeping the genre alive in the US and Europe , how present is the genre in the mainstream international music scene? It’s even worse for Juju, fuji and highlife. I think there’s something about the genres – the big band style, the predominant Yoruba, ibo or pidgin language- that’s made it difficult to get the wider appeal they deserve… that’s why, despite admitting that his music was ‘excellent’, Island records went ahead to drop KSA after a two-album deal. That’s why Virgin dropped Ebenezer Obey.
So, will Fuji or Juju or Highlife ever become to us, what Reggae is to Jamaica ; what rap is to America ? I fear no.
But wait, there’s a good side – we may never have a true music of Nigerian origin; loved at home and abroad; that’ll take over youth cultures in Africa, America , the Carribean, Europe, the Far East and everywhere else, if we do not use one of our original local forms as starter culture. And guess what?
The experiment has started already. I’m happy beyond limits anytime I turn around and see fans and critics pouring encomiums on 9ice. Never before has one man packed so much history, proverbs, lore, into one album. If you had never heard about the ibos, all you need do is read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall apart. By the time you’re closing the last page, you would have been to Umoufia and back. It works same way for 9ice. You finish listening to his music, and, no matter where you’re from, it’ll be difficult not to have a few Yoruba proverbs stuck in your memory.
9ice and his producer ID Cabasa are fusing elements of our local music and culture into their music which is otherwise purely urbane and contemporary. And they’re not alone. If you’ve heard Dare’s ‘Fuji music’ and his new single ‘carry dey go’; if you’ve heard rooftop MCs’ ‘Shock Therapy’, ‘Silence’ and’ Lagi Mo’; you’ll see that Cobhams is flirting with Fuji as much as Cabasa.
These guys are bringing Fuji back! Between these two producers, and other visionary music-makers like Mosa, Bisade Ologunde, OJB, Don Jazzy and Mr Skillz, I see the key to the future of modern Nigerian music dangling. What I do not know is which of them will grab it and unlock the door that’ll lead to the industry’s future. Soon, very soon, I see little white kids dancing to ‘new improved Fuji ’. I see the whole world tuning to Nigeria to get a dose of ‘Apareggae’ (fusion of apala and reggae) or ‘poplife’ (a fusion of pop and highlife).
If we continue these experiments; and if the formula works for other acts like it’s working for 9ice and RTMCs, who knows, maybe very soon, America and Europe will be condemning its young fans and music makers, for abandoning their ‘own’ traditional music and imitating music coming from ‘Africa’. Let me paint the picture for you, state governments and multinationals in America will be flying 9ice to the Madison square garden, for sold out concerts, paying him like 10 million dollars, after fulfilling other conditions;
Funk Master Flex, Rick Dee and others will have more of Asa, Dare, 2face, Lagbaja, 9ice, Pasuma and Ruggedman on their playlist than Alicia Keys, Neyo, Akon or Beyonce. American artistes will be trooping en masse to Nigeria , in search of a career in music; and they’ll be rolling on the floor, paying through their long noses and willing to give an arm, to record a duet with 2face Idibia, Sound Sultan, Seun Kuti or Lord of Ajasa…
Okay, I’m beginning to dram too much? Maybe I should just go to bed!