THE TRUTH ABOUT MTV
When MTV debuted on the African continent in 2005, the promise from the network’s officials was clear: with its 100th channel, and expansion into Africa, the aim was not just to do business, but to expose African talents to the rest of the world. It was song to our ears.
Artistes and music industry heavyweights scrambled to be at the February 22, 2005 launch in Abuja. Tell an average Nigerian act that you would expose him internationally, and he’ll gladly give you his birthright.
But it didn’t take too long to realise that MTV was not interested in breaking African music into Europe or America. That wasn’t the brief the executors of MTV base Africa got from their bosses. What base has done since inception is to play urbane African music to young, impressionable Africans, while it continues to feed them with an overdose of music from America and Europe. They’re not showing Nigerian videos on MTV Europe or MTV America. Yet they’re promoting videos from these regions to us in Africa; continuing the neo-colonialism that Femi Kuti calls second slavery.
Apparently, the network follows the same ethics for its famous music awards. For the three years they had a category for Best African act at the MTV Europe music awards, the African prize was presented before the main ceremony, and the category is exempted in later broadcasts in Europe and America. That’s why, despite having had heavy rotation on MTV base since 2005, and having won the first ever MTV EMA best African act, 2face Idibia is still struggling to find his way into mainstream international music circles.
Don’t be fooled. MTV is not the vehicle we need to sell trado-modern African music to the rest of the world. MTV is not the vehicle that’ll expose our talents to Asia, America, Europe or the Carribean. American music, ideas, lifestyle and culture are taking over the world. And, just like CNN, MTV is one of the evangelists propagating the gospel. As I write, fresh videos (called ‘Spanking New on MTV) from Joe, Wyclef and others are playing on my MTV. But, will a music lover somewhere in America ever get to say if, say a new video drops from Psquare or Pasuma today? Of course not!
MTV base’s business starts and ends in Africa. They’re getting so much attention and patronage that very soon, they’ll be asking their strategists why it took them so long to come over here. And truth be told, they’ve helped our artistes and their directors to up the quality of videos. They’ve brought in fresh ideas and caused homegrown networks like Soundcity and Nigezie to sit up. Even Channel O is tightening its loins, not willing to lose out in the battle.
But MTV can and should do better. And infact, I am inclined to believe the want to do better. They’ve already set up an award dedicated to Africa, and they’ve put up a series -Advance Warning- expected to help upcomers find the limelight.
However all that will come to naught if base and the guys at MTV Networks Africa do not find a way to get music videos from Africa on MTV channels all over the world. Doing an award, or advance warning or paying artistes royalties are OK. But they can be compared to foreign governments and the UN giving aids to Africa.
What most countries on the continent need is investment, not aid. And right now, what our industry needs is structure and investment. Only proper exposure to the global community can ensure that.
Only adequate exposure to the global community can help our ideas, lifestyle, and music influence America and Europe. Right now, that’s about the only way we can create true global music stars that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Jay Z, Alicia Keys or Madonna. It’s only that kind of buzz, matched with efforts by industry practitioners to put the industry in shape, that can attract major labels, major markets, and help tell the modern African story in the right perspective.
So, while I join others to congratulate MTV on the advance warning initiative, and while I am glad for the likes of Terry Tha Rapman, OD, Terry G, Durella and many others who are finally getting their voices heard, I insist that the major task MTV should face, is that of exposing these talents, and many more, to the world out there. The world outside Africa. If it won’t do that, then it should stop feeding us with an overdose of videos from outside Africa.
If not, then we might as well begin to consider MTV’s coming to Africa a rip off; an attempt at exporting American music to an inquisitive, populous continent strictly for business reasons. Only time will tell…