“Don’t doubt me, I go bring home Grammy,” these were 9ice’s words in ‘Street Credibility’ where he featured then 2Face, now 2Baba on his debut album, Gongo Aso in 2008. Much has changed since then; a dollar was about N118, Wizkid did not have a record deal, and the iPhone 3G just launched. But that’s not why I’m here.
Burna Boy became Afrofusion’s poster boy, becoming the first Nigerian musician plying his trade mainly locally, to win an independent Grammy Award. The clamour for a locally based Nigerian musician to land a Grammy award, not for contributing on someone else’s project had been long on, even before Street Credibility but, the period from 2008 represents a time when the foundations had fully formed for Afrofusion to dominate, and artistes like 2Baba, P-Square, Dbanj, we already getting international acclaim.
Although a Grammy award primarily confers on Burna and his craft, more respect, international acclaim, and recognition, it serves as an exquisite reminder and an indication of how universal Nigerian music has become in such a short time.
Nonetheless, where do we go from here? What’s next for the industry?
Navigating The Challenges and Tasks Ahead
The dangers in achieving success is complacency, drop in standards, and an inability to improve. Now that the industry has reached an all-time high, how can it be sustained, or will it be another bubble that goes on to burst like a certain Nollywood in the early 2010’s? These are the questions that surround the set up now.
There is a great challenge that has for decades now, blurred the luster of the industry; a vox populi that most Nigerian songs lack message. Overly critical people often rightly refer to them as ‘noise.’
Trending music is the silhouette of every society; this statement is apparently truer of other places than it is of Nigeria. Most hits capture our burning desire to live large, party and shake-body, but frequently fails at reflecting the hustle, hardship, values, vices, and ills in our society.
Recall that in the ‘90s and early 2000’s, before theatres and streaming services, Nollywood had arguably peaked, albeit in the era of home videos. However, executives and directors became obsessed with commercial successes rather than critical acclaim and strayed into a black hole where awful monotony was the order of the day. Coupled with piracy, the industry’s growth was stunted.
This must not become the fate of the music industry.
Burna Boy’s African Giant earned him a maiden nomination at the Grammys, though it didn’t win, it was a project that showcased how much Burna had evolved both as a musician and a Nigerian, hence was unbelievably reflective of our society. While songs like Dangote and Anybody tell the story of our hustle, Collateral Damage and Another Story highlight some of the political and human rights crises in the country.
On that note, artistes are encouraged be bolder, more daring, lyrical, inventive, honest, deliberate, confident in their skillset, and willing to experiment with different genres. Novelty is the hallmark of genuine growth and standard must not be compromised in favour of commercial success alone if we want to sustain this development.
Record Labels, Licensing Associations, Promoters, Critics, Honourers, etc.
Yet, artistes are rarely the only ones guilty of the industry’s shortcomings; licensing associations, record labels, promoters, critics, and honourers are as well. They must stand by the artistes, protect them, advocate, and work together with government to eliminate the obstacles that disrupt the industry’s and creatives’ prominence.
Record labels and managers are tasked with spotting, securing, nurturing, tying artists to fair and lucrative contracts, and keeping to their promises.
Promoters should provide more incentives, airtime, and elevation to projects that bear quality message whilst critics must be ready to constructively criticise projects invariably and admonish musicians when they err. That way, they will be helping to establish standards.
Also, honouring institutions like The Headies, AFRIMA, etc., must raise the standard of their awarding process by insisting on quality message as a major criterion for qualification and ensuring transparency and consistency in the process. They must also expand the classes to recognise and reward artistes from other genres, and eliminate gender-based categories to create an all-inclusive process and industry that promotes equality and competitiveness.
Although COVID-19 presents new challenges, dealing a huge live events, thanks to digital technology and cheap mobile broadband that means artistes can exploit streaming services and ecommerce. Technology has also helped truncate the trouble of piracy, and revenue has increased, as many Nigerians now pay for intellectual property.
In summary, there is no doubt that the future of our music is in great hands, with Rema, Omah Lay, Fireboy DML, Teni, Tems, Joeboy, to mention but a few, already receiving rave reviews internationally, and the likes of Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy, Falz are relatively still in their prime, while 2Baba, Don Jazzy, MI, etc. continue to inspire. However, the focus must now turn to making and exporting more quality music and ensuring that our songs tell stories that spur real change.
Who knows, maybe we’d have more than one independently nominated Nigerians at the Grammys next year, especially given the ongoing racial reform at the Recording Academy.
Surely, more Grammy nominations and awards are welcome, but until then, cheers!