Today, we have a defiant breed of young creatives in Nigeria and across Africa challenging the status quo. Despite industry pressures, these acts seem focused on crafting their stories, ideas, feelings and experiences into melodies that a lot of their peers can relate with. Not the extravagant wealth splashes and materialist bluster that characterises the majority of our pop records today, but baring their soul, fears, aspirations, concerns, insecurities on records. Even when they make ‘feel-good’ or dance music, it is creatively packaged and executed that it sounds so lively and fresh. When they sing about love, they view the banal theme from varying lenses, expressing it in such a way that it doesn’t feel bland and bloated.
It’s quite amazing that most of these guys are unsigned and independent yet they still put out so much music. Labels understandably care more about the financial returns than the purity of the art because these labels are businesses, with aims to make profits. And many have not found viable ways to market and monetize these sounds so they simply focus on the pop cash-cows.
In comparison to their colleagues and counterparts in the pop world, many view this breed of artistes as fools. Why make good or healthy music when you can just give the people what they want. People want to escape their present realities and just have a good time.
Some might even say, “Why spend so much time and energy creating songs that might not even sell in this market, when you can easily hop on the latest dance trend, get a banging beat and just spill out whatever comes to your mind. It’s not like these people listen anyway. They just want to dance and have a good time, that’s all.”
A sad truth about this set of artists is that they might not record mainstream commercial success throughout their careers. They might remain opening acts for the bigger pop stars and scramble for the feeds that fall off the table of these stars.
The quest for survival has made some dabble into pop music for relevance; seeking ways to create pop records that people can easily dance to all while still staying through to their art. Another survival tactic for some is to collaborate with the pop stars and meet them halfway sonically so they can tap into each other’s audiences. However, some want to make pop records but they just can’t. They are simply not just wired that way.
But one thing is certain: good music never truly dies. They are often re-lived even generations after through samples, interpolations, and mixes. Sometimes, young artists turn to the sounds of the past for inspiration. For instance, Odunsi‘s beautiful “rare.” was hugely inspired by 80’s music. Falz‘s critically acclaimed “Moral Instruction” was also heavily influenced by Fela‘s music. Many other Nigerians from Wizkid to Burna Boy have constantly talked about how much Fela helped to shape their music.
Even the African pop sound is named after Fela’s Afrobeat. News and videos have also surfaced of American artists such as Diddy, Beyoncé, Jay Z, Common, Joe Budden vibing to Fela’s music. His music has also been sampled by Kendrick Lamar and J Cole, two of the biggest rappers in the game at the moment.
But Fela wasn’t always seen as the hero he is today. While he was alive, many brushed his music asides as grating and unmelodious with his lyrics poor in poetry. Others felt he was too preachy and saw him as a noisemaker with utopian ideals. Some were also displeased with the length of his songs and their extended solos. Many just couldn’t comprehend what Fela was building.
This was a new sound with radical energy powering it and maybe the people just weren’t ready for such. Regardless, Fela stayed true to his art, continued to experiment and explore new musical complexities. With his music, he fearlessly stood as the voice of the people against the military governments at the time. He also used his art to teach the people of his Afrocentric ideals.
No, Fela was not perfect in any way but his energy, as well as his music, was raw and genuine. And lifetimes after, we are still feeding on Fela’s music. Occasionally going back to it for inspiration and references.
These young guys today are trying to create something different. They are steady pushing the limits and experimenting with new sounds. In fact, and are now redefining what we refer to as Nigerian or African music. These guys have been persecuted and mocked because they are aesthetically different. But we can’t deny their genuine energy and efforts.
These artists need support. And the least we can do as listeners and consumers of the art is to consume their music through appropriate channels, purchase their projects, attend their shows, engage with them, provide positive feedback, and let them do what artists do best – create.