Changing times of Nigerian music

By Tosin Ajirire, and Cosmas Omegoh

Nigerian artistes are making mega money at the moment, playing music. Many of them –   young men and women – who dare to sing are getting rewarded in bountiful measures and enjoying the red-carpet treatment everywhere they go.Untitled15 4

A cross section of the Nigerian populace believes that there is probably no better time to take up a musical career than now. There have been innovations in the music industry.

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“On a positive note,”  Ladi Ayodeji, a veteran entertainment journalist, pastor and publisher of the Beats Magazine, declared “many young folks find it easier to record nowadays.

“The inspiration from the reigning music stars like PSquare, D’Banj, Burna Boy, among others,  has challenged others to take up singing career.”

 Over the past years, there has been an exponential rise in the number of young people taking up musical careers. This rise seems to have followed a corresponding expansion in the various genres of music. Untitled16 5

Young people have ventured far afield to create musical mosaics that range from the melodious, to the lewd, and then the bizarre – some of which no one ever thought existed.

But another cross section of Nigerians is not excited by any of the vibes. Not because they hate music, but because they are unhappy with the way many of the musical acts are carrying on with their trade. 

The aggrieved folks claim they are ill at many salacious and meaningless musical videos, lines and lyrics being churned out daily. 

To them, many of such works are vulgar and offensive especially to the innocent ones. 

They contended that bad musical works are negatively changing lives, and degrading the society.   

Some of those musical productions, according to Prof Goody Okafor, are only produced for profit.

Prof Okafor who teaches New Media and Public Relations at Nnamdi Azikiwe University,  Awka, Anambra State, told our correspondent that it is becoming increasingly late in the day for the society to save itself from the onslaught of such toxic musical works.

Hear him: “The reason is that every artist wants their music to sell.

“If you watch even the gospel singers, you will find out that they have also begun integrating what you might call worldly music into their production because they too also want to make money. And for this reason, they do weird songs and videos.”

Ayodeji equally admitted that a lot about the Nigerian music has changed negatively.  

“From the moral point,” he said, “it’s negative if you look at how nudity, vulgarity has crept into the acts and messages.”

According to investigation, some music productions which are the rave of the moment don’t seem to make sense. Yet, they are appealing to a select few of youths that enjoy them or pretend to do so.

Concerned Nigerians insist such musical works are gradually ruining the society, by gruesomely crushing what is left of community values, and brutally plunging the youths – who ignorantly consume their content – into quagmire.

But an upcoming artist who goes by the stage name Emooji will have none of that.

“Artists make music based on their energy, and what they feel.

“Music is spiritual; it has its own energy,” he said, adding that “and music is free-flowing. People make music based on their emotion and what they are going through, their energy and see around. So, you cannot blame the creators for the kind of music they make.”

He contended that people who say that some productions don’t have dept just want something to say. 

“Productions with dirty lyrics are not the only ones out there. They can leave them behind and listen to something else. Maybe if the creators find out that the consumers don’t like that, they might do more of what the people want to listen to.

“If productions with what people call dirty lyrics are out there trending, it means that is what the people want listen to. It is up to the consumers.

“If there are songs out there with clean lyric and people are not listening to them what does that tell you? That is what they consumers like,” he explained.          

Good music is exciting   

However, whatever anyone might hold against music should not compel hate. 

For even the world’s professed sadists also love music; right in their innermost recess, they habour great sentiments for music.

To many, as it were, music is like water. And water as Nigeria’s iconic Afrobeat king, the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti once put it, has no enemy.

Following the pronouncement of some great minds, there appears to be something amazing, something secret and strange about music which humanity is yet to fully know, let alone understand.

Music lovers insist it has a certain ecstatic and eccentric power to unlock the rivers of joy in every heart, leaving it flowing unrestricted.

Back to the days, for instance, music could be considered one of the least things to engage a fertile mind like that of Greek philosopher, Plato. But it did indeed! Plato was known to have told the world: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” Who can beat that?

To another great man, Albert Einstein, Nobel Prize winner, and discoverer of dynamite, music is simply compelling. “If I were not a physicist,” he once declared, “I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”

And while further underscoring the beauty and essence of music, a music maestro and ambassador, Louis Armstrong, nailed it with his affirmative declaration: “Music is life itself.”

Music Nigeriana

Indeed, Nigeria has always had her fair share of musical giants – stars who rule(d) their world like a colossus.

Older ones will always remember and identify with musical icons of their time. Talk about the Chief Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Ade, the late Chief Stephen Osita Osadebey, Celestine Ukwu, Rex Lawson, Victor Olaiya, Victor Uwaifo, Fela Kuti, Sonny Okosun, Dan Maraya Jos, Oriental Brothers International, and Oliver de Coque, among others. 

Admirers of these musical icons often roll their heads and shake their feet in excitement to the philosophical lyrics and enchanting rhythms of their songs. They can identify in crystal-clear terms the message those artistes dished out in good measure.

There is also no forgetting in a hurry the enormous contributions of stars like Chris Okotie, Christy Essien-Igbokwe, Onyeka Onwenu, The Wings, Doves, Sweet Breeze, and Dizzy K Falola,  among others.

These days, the society rocks to the music of D’Banji, PSquare, Wizkid, Flavour, Fyno, Tiwa Savage, Burma Boy and many others. They have all brought phenomenal increases to the industry.

The Nigerian music debate 

At the moment, arguments bordering on the quality of latter-day Nigerian music are yet to cease.   

Music enthusiast, Benjamin Ona told our correspondent that with the entry of Afrojuju, hiphop, R&B, and many others, things have changed dramatically. “Their rhythms, lyrics and beats are totally different. Perhaps that is the sign of the time,” he said. 

He believes that some of the innovations being experienced in the Nigeria music world right now are “characteristic and charismatic.”

But many of the said gains have continued to generate debates as to their worth, and desirability, not minding the millions the acts are racking.   

Ona told our correspondent that “many of works of music in the market now are not good for the health and longevity of the society and humanity.”

He expressed worry over the toxicity of such music, saying “many of which apart from lacking debt and meaning, offer no meaningful inspiration and moral compass to the society.” 

He regretted that “at some point, something about the Nigerian music changed – for worse. And now, such change is glaring for everyone to see.”

Also, the Catholic Bishop of Oyo Diocese, Most Rev Emmanuel Badejo, a music enthusiast, who is versatile at the guitar, noted that “this argument is neither here nor there.”

He told our correspondent that “there are excellent efforts being made in musical productions, and there are woeful ones,” too.

According to him, “in every age, we have the good, the bad and the ugly. I am personally quite proud of the creativity which many musicians have brought to the table, and you can see how the world is responding though not all of it is altogether wholesome. This is true even for gospel music.

“However, we must not discount the power and influence of those who sponsor and disseminate or market these musical and video productions. Often, they are the ones who practically ‘dictate’ the kind of music or content which the hapless public would like and follow. The media at all levels also have a stake and in this and whatever they give publicity to almost always gain public attention.” 

How far things have changed

But no matter who wins the argument, there have been acknowledged bad lyrics in songs released lately by some upcoming actists. Some of them aside from lacking morality, have no appreciable dept and meaning. Whereas it is believed that good music ought to inspire, those works are frowned at because of their warped message, content and delivery. They are said to be toxic and inimical to the greater good of society and humanity. Worse still, they are believed to have contents that influence and affect particularly the youths, many of whom are said to be “pliable” and hardly know what might harm them.   

An anonymous Facebook user in a heart-rending post, titled “What a Society,” recently expressed very deep concern about the quality of music some Nigerian musicians currently produced.   

Hear him: “Yes, many a times, I feel like crying.

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“…we have a society that encourages indiscipline, wickedness, inhuman acts and behaviours.

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“Someone just released a song and from there, fame came, society gave him huge money, made him a celebrity; they gave him car, visa etc.

“What for? Because he sang a song that added no value to the society: no wisdom, no knowledge, no moral, nothing encouraging.”

He listed and dissected the lyrics of some songs in the market which are the rave of the moment, yet they make no sense.

Recalling in details how the society has helped in encouraging evil, he said that the “society is not helping the upcoming generation at all.

“Because, we reward insanity than sanity; we reward nonsense than encouraging diligence.”

Now, the question that still comes to mind is: “Have things really changed in Nigerian music?”

While answering that question, the President of Performing Musician Association of Nigeria (PMAN),  Pretty Okafor, chose the middle line.

“Honestly, she began, “you cannot compare creativity because it normally comes from different wave lengths.

“If you put the lyrics of yesteryears to the music of today, then it will not generate interest because of different generations and different methodology in doing things. 

“The different generations come with different perspective reasoning in doing things.”

While responding to that Ayodeji pointedly noted that “yesterday’s music was more mature and creative in terms of contents and style.”

He lamented that “electronics and the Internet seem to have stifled creativity, and musicians don’t have to work hard to churn out music when they could simply recycle stuff from the domain.”

In his argument, Bishop Badejo a onetime secretary general of Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, noted that most people who argue that things have changed about music and films currently in circulation may have their point. According to him, “that is not to say all the films/music now in circulation are deficient. Not so, there are still many with deep incisive content and lessons on advocacy, culture, human rights and social justice.

“It all really depends on where you are looking at. These days, there are, of course, far more films/music in circulation than before. Auto production, editing and dissemination have been facilitated by new technologies like the cell phone and the Internet. Also, there are new forms of expression especially among the youths today which would be unintelligible to anyone who felt himself in control 10 years ago.

“Then there are the issues of control and censorship which seem to be in recession. These among other things could seem to justify the impression one feels that films/music now have a lower quality.”

Music/films have impact

You might be wrong to see music and videos as mere tools of entertainment. They posses enormous power to influence,   Prof Okafor said, adding that “music and video carry very important messages.

“The artiste singing the song also adds additional verve to the message because most of them (artists) are like mentors. They are celebrities emulated by the young people. So, their messages are important particularly the videos accompanying their songs.”

Even legends in music, Bob Marley, was once quoted as saying: “One good thing about music (is that), when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

At the same time, another musical legend, Ray Charles, also once said: “Music is powerful. As people listen to it, they can be affected. They respond.” And that response can be in either ways.

How music/videos affect society

Prof Okafor argued that indeed, many Nigerian youths respond negatively to the music they listen to and the videos they watch.  

“I know this, and I’m very worried. Because of the job I do, I’m constantly exposed to the youths. I interact with them 24/7. And I see these things.

“Some other persons might not appreciate this. But it is problematic for so many reasons – mainly because societal values are being turned upside down.

“You don’t need to go far to see the impact of music and videos on our youths. Once you step into any university campus, you will see that certain dress styles or hair dos are familiar with those you see in musical videos.

“The truth is that the problem is exacerbated by a plethora of media young people are exposed to; these media consistently show them the same thing. When they open music channels, they see these things. They pick up their phones or go to Facebook or Whatsapp or Instagram, somebody is either sharing or talking about it.”

He said as a sign that the youths are getting hooked, “watch out their hair styles, dressing partners and mannerisms. Watch the ways they walk.

“One of the youths that had ritual issues the other time said categorically that he learnt all his knows about rituals from Nollywood movies. Isn’t that instructive?

Here, the PMAN boss admitted that “the brands of music (in circulation) are shaping the youths both in good ways and in bad ways. But mostly in bad ways because these brands of music have been laced with foreign cultures and tradition.”

She added that although “we created a phenomenon with that brand of music, but the borrowed culture has a greater impact in the destruction of the listeners.”

Family/society responsible  

In the opinion of Bishop Badejo, whatever that is negative the youths are doing with music at the moment is a clear pointer to the failure of both the family and society in raising upright ones.

“For society,” he said, “it means that the hens have come to roost, and we are reaping the whirlwind we sowed.”

He noted that it was the society that produced the artists singing dirty songs and smoking Indian hemp.

“It was families that produced them. But the same society and families produced the more acceptable ones. It means that the society dropped the ball at some point such that many of the youths who now have no regard for our cherished values, slipped through to now force their non-values on all of us. So, whether in movies or in music we must all: government, education system, media and religion and the family admit that we contributed to the mess and it is only together that we can reverse the trend if we really don’t want it.”

Ayodeji attributed the challenge to “the spirit of the age and the exposure to the decadent global culture from the social media invasion.”

He regretted that the control is not there, while enjoining the regulatory agencies to be more alive to their responsibilities.

He lamented that “most churches and mosques have relaxed their control over the moral health of their members because of the laxity that comes with the immorality of the Internet age,” adding that “parents are products of the same culture that we are talking about.”

The way out  

But are there stuffs to do to guard against bad musical influence on the youths and society?

The PMAN president said:   “Nobody has any right to interfere in someone else’s creative ability, but we can only organise a monitoring institution which I believe that we have in place already. But they are not doing enough, or they are not funded enough to carry their responsibility.”

She noted that “PMAN can do a lot, and PMAN has submitted a comprehensive proposal to the Minister of Information based on the checks and balances, but I think politics carried away the proposal that was supposed to be implemented.”

She lamented that agencies of government that ought to be overseeing such anomalies are not doing enough. 

“They are not educated on intellectual property rights, and they don’t have the funds to manage the epidemic that is destroying the music industry.”

Against this backdrop, Bishop Badejo advised the regulatory agencies to be up and doing. “But then in my opinion, they have hardly ever been taken seriously. That is because the rule of law has often been rubbished in Nigeria, and so the regulatory bodies have been lame ducks.

“We need a revival of serious application of relevant regulation at every level of our dear country.”

On his part, Ayodeji urged for what  he called “a need for moral rearmament, generally.”

He urged that errant media channels pushing to make money from offensive music and videos be whipped into the line.

For Prof Okafor, “the right way out is to change the psyche of the society, and begin to allow our society to embrace value change. If that happens, something might begin to change.” 

Advice to young people

As part of the ways out of the menace, Bishop Badejo asked young people not to blame the previous generation for everything.

“Even as bad as things are,” he said, “God has put into everybody a consciousness of good and bad.

“Young people should feel responsible for choosing their own models.

“They can’t even blame the bad economy or bad governance for everything. They must aim at creating a different world, for God has endowed them with the drive and energy.

“There are so many examples all around like our own young startups, inventors, sportsmen and women. Malala Yousefzai, Zuckerberg, Davido – all these are youths who are doing many things to influence the world for better.

“The youths have no excuse for succumbing to evil all the time. They have the power to be different,” he admonished.

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