Stop the music please

Reproduced here for archival purposes. First published on Next and elsewhere, July 2011.

In my youth, my favourite cartoon character was a musician called appropriately, Cacofonix in the comic Asterix. Cacofonix was so awful, each time he threatened to play music, he was quickly tied to a tree and his mouth sealed to ensure no instrument met his lips. Most of today’s Nigerian musicians remind me of Cacofonix. From D’banj on down, they should all be tied to mango trees and their mouths plugged with fake Naira notes, never ever to play music again ever. Nigerian music is undergoing a major crisis and we should be concerned. Mimicry is the word; mimicry of the worst sort. Just like our jheri-curled accented pastors, Nigerian musicians seem to have figured out that mimicking anything Western pays. And so just as Nigerian pastors are climaxing to the beat of dollars in the pulpit, overdressed characters with contrived accents are shuffling about like drunks on stage, grabbing crotches and convincing the world that there is perhaps not a single musical talent in Nigeria. The lyrics appear to be repetitious odes to materialism, and more troubling, an open invitation to misogyny. The untalented should not profit from their mediocrity.

Nigeria has never been this afflicted by a horde of horrible musicians. One might as well be listening to the symphony of nails on the blackboard. All day. There are bright spots, like the goddess Asa, but today’s music is mostly united by a lack of originality, and a distinct lack of talent. It just seems like anyone with access to a laptop and the Internet can go to a “studio” in Ajegunle and “release” something. If art imitates life, then Nigeria must be on life support judging from what passes for our music these days. I do not understand why I would waste my time on these wretched offerings when I can simply gouge on the better produced, better written and infinitely more interesting Western originals that they are plagiarised from.

We are better than this. I am quite sure that in the crush of these crotch-grabbing trash-talking wannabe musicians, there is talent there. The first thing they need to acquire is some self-confidence. Fela Anikulapo Kuti came back from the West and started a group called the Koola Lobitos. He was mimicking all sorts of Western prattle. He probably would have been successful at it if he had stayed in white shadows; but he had the common sense to strike out in an original direction. Bad ideas don’t need visas to go to Nigeria; they are welcomed wholeheartedly and uncritically where our people toil daily to turn our beautiful nation into a cultural rubbish dump.

When I complained on Facebook, my concerns were met with howls of outrage by friends that I admire for their good taste. One urged me to look past the illiteracy, the faux swagger, the gaudy clothes, the buxom ladies, the misogyny, the trash talking, the off-key singing, and just listen to the messages in the lyrics. I was given a helpful list of musicians to go study: MiI, Sound Sultan, Modenine Terry G, D’Banj, Ill Bliss, Six-Foot Plus, RuleClean ObiWon, Rule Clean. Polymath, Terry tha Rapman Flavour, Whizkid, Mi, Seun Kuti, Duncan Mighty, etc. Besides Kuti, these contrived monikers read like cheap booze labels blighting urban America. One conscientious objector made my point excellently, something like this: Ikhide, here is a dinner of stones with a few rice seeds in it. Em, ignore the stones, look really hard, you will see some rice in it. Haba, the late Saro-Wiwa once said, dem slap you, take your shirt, give you back one button, you say tank you sah! Forgive me, if I am not impressed. To be fair to these alleged musicians, mimicry is a real problem in everything we do these days in Nigeria – democracy, the new Christianity, etc. So, what I am complaining about is not unique to the music industry. I actually started studying the music in earnest after being drawn in by the poetry of Vocal Slender of the BBC’s ‘Welcome to Lagos’ fame. Let us be honest; the music is awful for the most part. And I don’t have to pine for the music of my generation, whatever that means. I am so glad I have an iPhone filled with Old School music. I would be depressed all day if I had to watch all these musicians mumbling into cheap microphones. Someone give them a real job, please.

On Facebook, a pained young man was so upset that I had sullied the reputation of an entire generation of musicians he expressed the fervent hope that I should be stoned to death. Actually, listening to today’s music feels like being stoned to death in instalments. Maybe I am an old man and this is all a generational thing. My father Papalolo and I both enjoyed music, period. Well he once chased me down the street for daring to wake him up to the blare of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get it On’. Papalolo was always prone to unnecessary drama.

12 Replies to “Stop the music please”

  1. If I could write I would have written this… Thank you for voicing what so many are refusing to admit to.

    As we speak D’banj is #9 on the official BBC download chart with ‘Oliver Twist’. I have no problem with success, a catchy song with a catchy hook and a dance to boot is always going to do well, so more power to the brother, after all if Nikki ‘I_have_no_talent_but_a big_ass’ Minaj can get to number one why cant he.

    My problem is people hear this auto-tuned drivel and consider it ‘Nigerian music’. Personally I haven’t heard such benign tripe spewed from one so unashamedly talentless since pinky the porn star picked up the mic.

    There are however a few bright sparks, like you said Asa, is very good
    here are 2 of my favourites at the moment. The songs are old but you can hear the soul of the music which is timeless…

    http://bit.ly/gHs7be
    http://bit.ly/eSMzRm

    But hey what do I know.. Well done again, great post !!

    1. Many thanks for the kind comments and for the recommendations. I have posted them on my Facebook wall – after enjoying them of course. You have eclectic tastes in music and as a writer, you are no slouch yourself 😉 Be well.

      1. No … Thank you… For both compliments..!!
        And if you ever need to be directed to some proper music that doesn’t involve auto-tune please let me know.
        best regards

  2. I only regret this that you didn’t say more. One can never complain enough about the crap called Nigeria music and rap music.

    I favour the oldies. And I hate hate hate rap music of this decade, and the next, if they don’t change.

  3. I agree with Myne, every man his own. I personally do not play Nigerian music a lot and I don’t know a lot of the artistes by name, but when I chance to listen to them I find some Nigerianness to their music – whether it is TuFace embracing his Nigerian accent, or MI doing a lyrical rendition of typical Nigerian humour, or all the Nigerian Pidgin English they all sing in or just people telling their own Nigerian story through their music…even when they ‘talk trash’, they talk Nigerian trash…lol

    I don’t believe it has to be high life or one of the good ol’ type to be Nigerian.

    Ps. I wish my network was not so slow so I could listen to Ai’s good taste in music.

  4. I keep wondering why we always share similar sentiments. These boys have become millionaires from mere stupidity. Imagine Psquare and 2face as music heroes.

  5. My husband is musician and of Eastern European descent. When he visited Nigeria, he was sorely disappointed at the musical offerings on the radio there because all he heard were the likes of Tuface, PSQ, D’banj, MI, Timaya, Flavour, Whizkid. He wondered why no one was playing real instruments and the over utilization of auto tunes. He complained that the music lacked warmth. He loves Fela, Sunny Ade etc and wanted to hear indigenous music telling the Nigerian story, showing the heart and pride of Nigerians, he kept saying “where is the real music, all these music sound like immitations of American artist, I could hear that at home by listening to Usher, Kanye.” We had to have someone look for some old guys who brought real drums and the joy on his face when he sat down to play with them was priceless! He was asking me why the new crops can’t play music that is expressly Nigerian instead of trying so hard to separate themselves from Highlife, Afro-juju and other native form of music. I did not have an adequate response. I don’t know why our people have an issue with being themselves, it isn’t only the music but our mode of dress, people raising children in Nigeria who don’t speak their native dialect, it is permeating our entire way of life this odd self hatred. Sha, may God help us.

  6. My husband is a musician/educator of Eastern European descent. He is an accomplished musician with 20 years playing drum set and other percussive instruments. When he visited Nigeria, he was sorely disappointed at the musical offerings on the radio there because all he heard were the likes of Tuface, PSQ, D’banj, MI, Timaya, Flavour, Whizkid. He wondered why no one was playing real instruments especially those that are uniquely Nigerian like the Talking Drum and why musicians over utilize auto tunes. He complained that the music lacked warmth. He loves Fela, Sunny Ade etc and wanted to hear indigenous music telling the Nigerian story, showing the heart and pride of Nigerians, he kept saying “where is the real music, all these music sound like immitations of American artist, I could hear that at home by listening to Usher, Kanye.” We had to have someone look for some old guys who brought real drums and the joy on his face when he sat down to play with them was priceless! He was asking me why the new crop of musican can’t play music that is expressly Nigerian instead of trying so hard to separate themselves from Highlife, Afro-juju and other native form of music. I did not have an adequate response. I agreed with him that they could create a wonderful sound by mixing the old with the new but as long what they are doing makes money, they will continue putting out music lacking in substance musically and lyrically. We were able to purchase traditional music on CD which he listen to now in addition to music from other regions of Africa like Cameroon, Senegal, Congo, South Africa etc. I don’t know why our people have an issue with being themselves, it isn’t only the music but our mode of dress, people raising children in Nigeria who don’t speak their native dialect, it is permeating our entire way of life this odd self hatred. Sha, may God help us.

    1. Traditional music does not reflect the realities of today’s Nigerian youth, though. We live in a progressive society; more and more young people in Nigeria live in cities. Music from the village does not speak to them, and that does not mean that they hate themselves… It just means that they want music that is borne of their immediate environs. It’s unfair (and inaccurate) to suggest that the only authentic Nigerian identity is defined by the “traditional,” that only when we are wearing “traditional” dress that we are being “ourselves” (most of the the fabrics and garments that we today call “traditional” were originally imported anyway!).

  7. But has there ever been any point in history when Nigerian music has not been essentially a dinner of stones with a few grains of rice to be found in it? And not just in Nigeria–I mean *anywhere*. Remember Sturgeon’s Law teaches us that “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” It’s easy to romanticize the past when you choose to remember only a handful of gems that were transcendant enough to endure the passage of time, but if you take a more comprehensive view of history, it becomes clear that in any era, the vast majority of product is mediocre while a small percentage of cream rises to the top.

    What is interesting to me is that while many critics call today’s Naija pop “unoriginal” or “plagiarized,” I would argue that the current music is some of the most original music that has ever come out of NIgeria. If you claim that the current artists are copying Western musicians, I would venture that you are probably paying more attention to the videos and the artists’ clothing than you are to the music, and then challenge you to tell me which musician in America or Europe sounds like P-Square? Or like Wande Coal? (I can’t think of any, really.)

    Today’s Nigerian music is incredibly original. It is certainly more original than the Nigerian reggae of the 1990s. The case it could be made that it is even more original than the highlife of the 1960s which cleaved closely to modes established by our Ghanaian cousins. Not all of it is original, of course: Interestingly, Asa–who is often praised as one of the bright lights of the Nigerian music scene–is much more derivative of Western artists like Tracy Chapman, Lauryn Hill and Amy Winehouse than is someone like D’Banj.

    I can understand that today’s Naija music may not be to everybody’s taste (it certainly is not to mine) but let us not be so lazy in our criticism to write it off as “unoriginal” or “lacking talent” or “destructive” because it does not fit into the template of music that came before. (Also, it probably does not make such sense to denigrate the current Naija music for misogyny and then turn around and praise Fela!)

    Speaking of Fela, by the way… A small point of correction: Fela did not form Koola Lobitos when he came back from the US. Koola Lobitos was the name of his band *before* he went to America, and at no point did he ever play “Western prattle” or dwell in “white shadows.” With Koola Lobitos, Fela was playing highlife, tinged with a touch of jazz. When he came back from America, he had a new sound he called afrobeat, which was a fusion of Black American soul music and Afro-Cuban rhythms woven together with intricate arrangements influenced by Fela’s knowledge of jazz. Similarly, today’s Naija sound is a fusion of American hip-hop, Latin reggaeton, a touch of highlife and other local elements. The song remains the same, though the dance may change…

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