If Culture Can Die, Why Not Our Music? – 2
If Culture Can Die, Why Not Our Music? – 2
By Femi Akintunde-Johnson, Lagos
Part of my final lines in the last article reads: “The Nigerian music industry is dying; and frankly, it will, or probably has 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”. How?
Yes, piracy is bad for any intellectual work, especially if the product is mostly driven by profit (as it is with Nigerian popular music). All over the world, the fight against piracy is fought at a frenetic pace, because the killer-disease is spreading faster than earlier thought. Nowadays, in the US, the sale of recorded CD's is panting far behind the sales of blank CD's. You can easily guess where CDs are going.
Music executives are storming the courts to put legitimate e-music dispensers out of business so as to prolong the near-certain extinction of the more than 150-year old American music industry, as we knew it. And that is America where piracy has gone absolutely and bizarrely digital, and which has a clear cut infrastructure.
However, in Nigeria, the first big case involving a major pirate (an Alaba marketer) came up at the Federal High Court on July 1, 2009. Our law enforcement people routinely sweep hideouts of small-time Chinese and Hong-Kong CD multipliers masquerading as music and movie pirates. We treat copyright infringements and rights collection with childish naiveté in this clime. In such a situation, only death will “do them part”.
But of even deadlier dimension is the mentality of the young Nigerian artiste: his understanding of his role, and the appreciation of his artistic contribution to social realities. Many years ago, I wrote a series of articles that won the first entertainment reporting award at the Nigerian Media Merit Awards, NMMA. It was entitled “Nigeria’s Creative Rogues”. In those articles, I tried to juxtapose the musical arrangements of the leading lights of the 80's and 90's in Nigeria, alongside their foreign counterparts from whose works they literally lifted several lines and riffs without any attribution whatsoever. We basically called them what they were: creative 'pirates' of other artistes' creative nous. That was close to 20 years ago!
Today, the artistes are more brazen; more impatient and couldn't care if an entire chorus line was lifted verbatim from “reigning” songs of their local or foreign counterparts. They just don't care. And the fans, as it is now clear, appear not to be bothered. But therein lies the trap. You don't need a seer to tell you that barefaced robbery, as it is being churned out by starry-eyed characters who populate our studios and airwaves, will sooner or later collapse the music business into an economic cul-de-sac.
Apart from music beats sounding alike, and with fast-disappearing wholesomeness in syncopation and timbre, the lyrical depth of today’s music is thinning out rapidly. Now, we seem like a nation of unthinking jingoists and flippant abusers of our traditional mores on the flimsy excuse that our socio-economic realities have condemned us to this state. And so we celebrate cash, irrespective of its dubious sources; we invoke the spirit of street-smartness, even if we obtain by false pretenses; we glorify confounding exploits of Yahoo boys and such mercenary roughnecks. We litter our musical videos with scantily dressed girls hobnobbing shamelessly with ‘spirit’-filled boys cascading in indecent splash of affluence and hedonism… and the fetish adulation of money appears unending.
We therefore fool ourselves that we only reflect what is happening on the streets. We have become repeaters, and not creators. We sing complete nonsense, gibberish, and lazy repetitions that leave neutrals wondering how we got to this place.
It is such complete absence of care or self-restraint that once gave light to a St. Janet. Why are we scandalized at her cheap, lust-filled “business model,” when we amusingly condoned and back-patted her forerunner, Abbas Akande Obesere (Omo Rapala) who strutted drunkenly and, I can assure you, profitably across the nation, casting spells on devotees of his brand of minstrelsy - even on so-called presidential aspirants? So, who can wager that St. Jezebel does not have a coterie of lewd-lappers savoring every rotten limerick trolling from her plucky bosom?
Yet, more dangerous is the professional attitude and work ethics of our latter day music magicians.
To Be Continued…