African Outlook Online


If Culture Can Die, Why Not Our Music?

If Culture Can Die, Why Not Our Music?


By Femi Akintunde-Johnson, Lagos

Music, as we know, is basically a microcosm of a people’s culture; a codifier of their civilization; a logical barometer of their sophistication. But, in spite of the uniqueness of music, as well as language, in the identity and homogeneity of peoples across the pantheon of human existence, it is quite possible for it to be extinguished.

Entire tribes, civilizations and even countries have been known to vanish.

The location and importance of the lost city of Atlantis is still an academic exercise, even in the days of Plato way back in 370 BC! The civilization that created the 37-mile incredible Nazca Lines in a desert, south of Lima, Peru is still an astonishing mystery since its discovery in 1930. The legendary Eden-like tropical Pacific city of Mu (or Lemuria) seemingly sunk into the sea thousands of years ago, like the Atlantis.


Now if civilizations can disappear, if cultures can disintegrate, if entire generations of humanity can turn into archaeological expeditions;  why not music?


Today’s music is so pervasive and in-your face that we dare not imagine a life without it, irrespective of your status or location. It is that “bad”! But just as we are often propelled by inspiring musical presentations; so are we sometimes dismayed at the irreverent hollowness of some “hip” music. And we are told the producers of these music types are profiting from their sweat, or more precisely, from their prodigious talents. I corrected myself about the level of “sweat” our music makers put into their music from reports I received while making enquiries on the state of the Nigerian music business; but more on that later.


Now that technology has made access to music more flippant, it is quite trendy to see foreign and local rave music downloaded from entertainment search engines, YouTube, Napster…free of charge…. Go to the campuses, and see students clamping MP3's, 4's, Androids into their earlobes, as they grind out body moves in tune with those sound blasters. As the sounds of the 21st century flies in the face of monumental deprivations, especially in developing and under-developed countries, the promoters and producers of today's music tend to flow with the tide and stench of their climate, and make a living along the way. So, we are happy that Nigerian artistes, especially singers and wannabe musicians appear to be making tidy lump of money, as they spew out strings of musical presentations that their contemporaries, fans and well-wishers love to buy, dance and queue to watch when live shows come to town. It is good. But that is not my worry.


I know from a bric-a-bracs in the media few years ago, following an article by my friend, Reuben Abati (then Editorial Board Chair of The Guardian newspapers, in Nigeria) that tended to rile the tender underbelly of the hip-hop motley crew…the singers went on and on about the sacrilege of a grumpy old newspaper intellectual with a giant-sized ego, big enough to attempt ridiculing their hard-earned reputation and well-oiled fiefdom.


You would think Abati was a snooty frustrated 60-year old pensioner moon-lighting as a journalist. I laughed at the indignation of the latter-day counter-critics, and their feverish protestations. Many people were stunned at the remarkable adroitness of the leader-writer, Banky W and the extensive disputations with Abati's profiling of a misdirected youth in the prism of confused commercialization of an art form. Banky W lampooned the historical mishaps in Abati's intervention, elaborating ceaselessly on the embellishments, rather than the substance of the journalist's clarion call.


Now, I have come to remind the young Turks that the consequence of what Abati was warning against is coming pretty close to its cataclysmic eruptions. The decadence in the Nigerian music “industry” is bellowing near rupture; and the scattering, unfortunately, will engulf the good and the bad. Sadly, people like Abati will have no choice but smirk “Didn't we tell them” at the remnants that will remain after the storm. Of course, noisemakers and warriors of the current raving nonsense would have fled to whence they came from…leaving the larger body of the follow-follow singing peperempe to froth in the mouth, and grovel for any available visas.


Why am I worried? Because the way the business of music is set up today, catastrophe is merely around the corner. Sometime in 2009, I sat down with a long-time friend and a foremost song-writer, instrumentalist and musician. We analyzed the trends in music production, promotion and dissemination; and came to a unanimous conclusion: the Nigerian music industry is dying; and frankly, it will, or probably have to die patapata, before it can truly rise, and take its due position, in the light of things. Incidentally, the best hands to give it life are the same ones starving it of the elixir for irreversible success - the young Nigerian artistes.


To be Continued ...


 Femi Akintunde-Johnson, Writer, Journalist and Author can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.