“Don’t doubt me, I go bring home Grammy,” 9ice’s lofty claim on his 2007 hit song ‘Street Credibility’ featuring 2Face (now 2Baba) off his debut album, Gongo Aso. Much has changed since then; a dollar was about 118 naira, Wizkid did not have a record deal, no one knew Burna Boy and the iPhone 3G had just launched.
Burna Boy is now contemporary Nigerian/African music’s poster boy, becoming the first Nigerian musician to win a Grammy Award for his own craft. 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 were in gradually forming for Afrobeats to dominate; thanks to artistes like 2Baba, P-Square, and Dbanj.
Although a Grammy award primarily confers on Burna and his craft, more reverence, 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
One of the caveats to beware of after this kind of grand success is complacency. A drop in standards, and an inability to improve stagnates everything. Now that the industry has reached an all-time high, how can that level 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 new set up.
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 brutal critics often refer to those songs 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 of awful monotony. 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 lyrically bolder, more daring, inventive, honest, deliberate, and confident in their skillset. Novelty is the hallmark of genuine growth, and standard must not be compromised in favour of commercial success alone. That is if we want Nigerians to keep winning Grammy awards.
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 contribute to the failings. Outfits 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, playtime, 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, award ceremonies like The Headies, AFRIMA, etc., must raise the standard of the awarding process by insisting on all-round quality and not just based on popular demand. Label and artists biases must also be eliminated to maintain trust in the awards; we’re too young to be scrutinised for lack of transparency.
Awarding bodies must also expand their categories to recognise and reward multiple genres, eliminate gender-based categories and create an all-inclusive process and industry that promotes healthy competition.
Although COVID-19 presents new challenges, dealing a huge blow to live events, thanks to digital technology and increasingly affordable internet artistes can leverage streaming services and virtual technology to maintain revenue. 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 (talent wise), with Rema, Omah Lay, Fireboy DML, Tems, Joeboy, to mention but a few, already receiving rave reviews internationally. Wizkid, Davido, and Burna Boy remain in their primes, while 2Baba, Don Jazzy, MI, etc., continue to inspire the new generation. However, the focus must now turn to making and exporting more quality music and ensuring that our songs tell stories that inspire real change and have positive cultural impact.
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, and we cannot wait for this to become the norm.
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