Grabbing the Silver Lining in Nigerian Music

Confronting Nigerian Musicians’ Problems

By Uduma Kalu
The acceptance of Ambassador Segun Olusola to steer the ship of the newly formed Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria is seen as a big boost to the Society’s existence.
The ambassador as a man of serious sense of commitment coupled with his great reputation and gigantic artistic profile; his personality is bound to lend credibility and relevance to the society.
However, some artites insist that the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria, MCSN, itself must be prepared to give the reciprocal support needed for its new president to succeed.
The musicians need to come together to prepare the ground for the enabling environment. Since the issue is all about the protection of musical property, they must be ready to enthrone an ideal music industry where products are professionally produced, popularly acceptable and commercially attractive. Otherwise there is nothing to protect.
The music scene is presently replete with semi-talented artists who turn out mediocre materials regularly. The radio stations would not play them because of the substandard quality but televisions would rather accommodate them because of the theatricals they exhibit on video clips in terms of visual effects – for promotional purposes.
Rather than benefit from this frequent exposure, the products over sell their ugliness and eventually destroy the artists. The musicians lose in the end because unknown to them, they had been promoting mediocrity.
With a music industry that has the right infrastructures in place, check could be put in place to prevent sub standard musical materials from going to the studio. The artist and his repertoire manager, with the ear for good music, would discover genuine talents. Composers and songwriters would be on hand to handle their own specific aspects of the artiste’s materials; and of course, producers would be ready to take them on in terms of arranging and determining directions for the products.
Right now, every artiste combines all of these roles. These procedural processes used to prevail from the 40s to the early 80s with the presence of multinational companies such as Decca, EMI and Phillips, which has metamorphosed into Premier Records. It was this tradition that turned out some of the great stars that are still influencing our musical culture today, among them, Emmanuel Tetteh Mensah, Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya, Haruna Isola, Mamman Shatta, Rex Jun Lawson, Victor Uwaifo, Eddy Okonta, Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The list is really long.
Copyright protection can only be sought for materials that recommend themselves to the public, especially, in chart terms. But it is a very well known fact that no genuine hits have come out of the Nigerian scene for years. And yet other African countries are daily reaching out to the world with new releases, new trends.
Following the tradition of Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekella, the South African scene is presently thriving with young groups which are already making considerable impact with the hope of taking over from the veterans.
The Congo/Zairian scene is as busy as ever. Since Zaiko Langa Langa broke the monotony of the traditional rumba beat established by Luambo Makeadi of OK Jazz and Kabasele, a new generation of musicians has come up with soukous, a new tread with Papa Wemba, Kofi Olomide, Awilo Logomba, among others in the vanguard.
Of all the hopeful artistes bringing Manding sounds out of the Sahel region, the first international success came to Salif Keita, the albino singer from Mali who continues to attract attention in Europe and America. He now has whole new generation of followers.
A genuine supper star in his home country since the early 80s, the whole world has continued to be a stage for Yusson N’daor of Senegal whose hits are presently making some pleasant noise simultaneously in America and at home in Africa. And of course, since the credibility of Mali’s Electro griot, Mory Kante was boosted in 1984, with the collaboration he had with Mann Dibango, Salif Keita and other Francophone African artistes, the sky has been the limit for him. Following his footsteps, Mali is presently thriving with new music.
These artistes from the various countries of Africa are succeeding because of the originality they continue to exhibit as musicians from Africa and because they are operating along professional recording procedure. The Nigerian scene needs to take the profession more seriously so that quality productions of international standards will emerge.
The next phase would be to make sure that the music is played on the Nigerian electronic media. There is no reason why radio stations should not promote music of Nigerian origin. It is not only a shame; it is a serious act of disservice to the country to promote foreign musical culture at the expense of Nigeria’s. Some of the deejays have always blamed it on poor quality music from Nigeria, but if with improved musical materials at their disposal they still continue to promote foreign music, the performing musicians Association can fight it out with government through legislation.
Nigerians love western values and would want to be fed on western musical materials, but this trend can be reversed with a genuinely devised cultural policy.
Video chips of inconceivable theatrical variety are presently assaulting the airwaves – in the name of promotions, but the most effective avenue is radio. This was the tool that Decca West Africa used to introduce Ghanaian highlife to Nigeria in the early 50s. Their formula was a concerted airplay of the music of the Tempos Band led by E.T. Mensah. Bobby Benson was the first to be influenced, then Victor Olaiya, followed by a whole new generation of musicians. All the veterans whose names have remained indelible in the Nigerian music scene came to prominence through airplay.
But then it was through the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, which devised various programmes for promoting the various idioms of our musical culture. This can still be done today because as the adage says, “What you hear you remember; what you see you know”.
The airplay of our music will grow on today’s listener with frequency of impression. The youth can only imbibe Nigerian musical culture if they are exposed to our music.
A way of equipping our young musicians for the task of playing good music is exposure to formal music training where they can develop themselves in terms of identifying such musical elements as form, chords, melody, rhythm and all about the rudiments of music.
The highlife revival project currently happening at OJEZ Club on Iwaya road, Yaba, every last Sunday of the month can also be an eye opener for our young musicians who need to build on a solid African foundation. Listening to such veterans as Fatai Rolling Dollar who unleashes the melodies and harmonies of the past can be a rewarding musical experience and source of inspiration.
Experience has since shown that Afrobeat is a unique idiom that was one man’s fusion. You can only imitate Fela; you cannot be another Fela. So, let every one, in his own individual way; draw for himself from the vast musical resources where Fela took his Afrobeat.
Today’s generation of musicians should be able to attract royalties from their works from home and abroad. But from all indications, only the veterans continue to receive royalties for the works they recorded decades and decades ago. The reason is simple__ genuine hits are no more forthcoming. And it is a shame.
The new Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria should be able to attract royalties from new stars’ new sounds on a continuing basis. Only then will it be justified for being an umbrella for the other societies. Only then will it be justifying the appointment of a heavyweight like Ambassador Segun Olusola as its president.

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