Globalization of Nigerian popular imagination:Some preliminary assumptions – Part 2
Especially from the turn of the century, Nigeria’s popular culture has made serious claims to belonging to the emerging world tradition of cultural expressions of mass appeal. Perhaps, as has been regularly commented, the end of repressive military rule in 1999 played a role, as the full restoration of the freedom of speech enabled the creative aptitude the ambience to soar. Many Nigerian performers of different artistic and entertainment genres have not just registered strong presences across the world, but have managed to gain substantial international followership. Nigerian musicians, film actors, stand-up comedians, literary writers, etc, have established enduring global brands, and have achieved a commendable consistency at collaborating with leading European and American performers.
One outstanding signpost of the strong global fibre of Nigerian popular culture is the proclamation of June 17 2015 as “Basketmouth Day” in Houston, Texas, United States by Mayor Annise D. Parker, in honour of Nigerian stand-up comedy star Basketmouth. Part of the citation for which Basketmouth was so invested reads: “Basketmouth has headlined shows all over Africa, including in South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya, Ethiopia and many more. He was approached by Comedy Central to do his own special and was invited to be part of Just for Laughs, one of the biggest comedy festivals in the world. Basketmouth is now embarking on a world four, and he will be visiting Houston on July 18, 2015…”
The above resume could as well be that of Genevive Nnaji (the Nigerian actress now also featuring in British and American films and television drama), Tuface Idibia (The talented musical act largely credited with the renaissance of home-bred rhythm and blues), P Square (the multi-award winning twin singing sensation reputed to be Africa’s most successful musical group), Julius Agwu, (the stand-up comedian who has taken London by storm over several years).
Globalization does not simply mean the exportation of Nigerian cultural varieties. It also means that the Nigerian environment has done enough to stimulate the public/social tastes of its people for the consumption of foreign elements, and has gone ahead to actually satisfy (if not domesticate those tastes). I have consistently described globalization as “the localization of the international and the internationalization of the local.” Arguably nowhere else does this phenomenon take proper shape than in the Nigerian national popular culture. While Nigerian the public is still very much influenced by foreign sensibilities in fashion, food, entertainment, sports, religion, especially those emanating from the United States, one notable dimension this localization of the international has taken is that foreign megastars now appreciate the audience potential in the West African Country. For instance, over the last few years, such musical legends as Beyonce, Ja Rule, Ashanti, Jay Z, Akon, Wycef, among others, have sought and gained performative platforms in Nigeria.
The point has, however, to be made that prior to the 21st century, Nigerian popular culture was already considerably internationalised. For instance, Nollywood, the self-styled Nigerian video film industry came to world prominence in the late 1990s. And there were musical performers like the eccentric Afro-juju maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who had already held concerts across the globe before his untimely death in 1997. As Tejumola Olaniyan writes about Fela’s influence, “he had successfully cultivated and made hegemonic in the global consciousness an image of himself as a quintessentially ‘political musician’ (Arrest the Music, 5). Several other instances, including the remarkable impact of the likes of Wole Soyinka in the world artistic and social rights consciousness, leading up to the award of a Literature Nobel in 1986, abound of the Nigerian global cultural profile.
How then can we describe the 21st century explosion of the Nigerian popular imagination into universal reckoning? From all indication, the difference is a function of the degree of this cultural exchange. For Frederic Jameson, the present state of “the export and import of culture” is that of “an intensity scarcely conceivable in older, slower epochs” (“Notes on Globalization” 58). Masao Miyoshi instructively expatiates: “If globalization means merely that parts of the world are interconnected, then there is nothing new about this so-called globalization: it began centuries ago, as Columbus sailed across the Atlantic, if not earlier. The only novelty is in the degrees of expansion in the trade and transfer of capital, labour, production, consumption, information, and technology, which might be enormous enough to amount to a qualitative change (“Globalization” 248)
And in the Nigerian case, we dare repeat, the termination of military dictatorship at the auspicious time of the turn of the century contributed immensely to carving out an epochal distinction and dimension to Nigerian popular culture.
The London Element in the Nigerian Popular Imagination
Any worthwhile discussion of the London element in Nigerian popular culture should take adequate cognizance of the functional spheres of such cultural categories in the contemporary human community. Particularly as a cultural industry, the phenomenon of London has added value to Nigerian popular culture and helped the national tradition to fulfil its responsibilities at three main levels (1) In the production and circulation of texts; (2) In the management of creativity and knowledge and (3) as agents of economic, social and cultural change (Hesmondhalgh, 7-10). Put in another way, London features first in the Nigerian popular culture as subject of socio-political and philosophical proclamation and commentary, secondly as a provider of the ambience and platform for the performance, structuring, processing and development of these cultural forms; and thirdly as a site for the commodifying of these cultural processes and products.
What are the factors that have engendered the explosion of the London element in Nigerian popular? The most basic would definitely have to do with the socio-political relations that have existed between the British capital and Africa’s most populous country for more than a century. Colonialism brought with it the full complement of the British cultural legacy, with the city of London at both the concrete and symbolic centre. The English Language, British education (complete with British history), Christianity, British-style social sophisticating, among others, were all veritable bequests to colonial Nigeria, which have indeed shaped, almost in its entirety, the nation’s postcolonial character and outlook. Nigerian popular culture and indeed its whole artistic tradition have developed along the structures established by these social and historical contexts. The literary culture is an apt illustration.
Neo-colonialism is a necessary aftermath of the colonial enterprise, and one of the most visible signposts of the neo-colonial era is ‘reverse’ colonialism, in which the former colonial subject retains at least psychological links with the colonizing power. Biodun Jeyifo, a respected Nigerian cultural critic, has tried to distinguish between physical and psychological colonialism. For Jeyifo, with the substantial demise of the colonialism of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—which in any case ranked among “some of the most brutal, the most degrading forms of exploitation and marginalization of entire social groups and peoples, came the “new, more rarefied, more ‘refined’ forms of exploitation and alienation” (“In The Wake,” “613). Globalization, in terms of the inter-movement of people, ideas, cultural expressions, etc, has benefitted from these neo-colonial circumstances, especially in its design to ‘shrink’ the world into a single place. This is definitely why one globalization scholar has declared: “Absolute sovereignty, of course, is always an illusion, and ex-colonies in particular remain attached to the colonial system of dependence.
The underlying economic, cultural, and political dependence cast doubt on the very concept of postcolonial.” He further contends that most former colonies are today, “not one but two states: “The terrestrial state and the borderless, global interstate” (“The End of Free States,” 148). To put all this in context, London, as part of the developed world, features prominently in the desires of many Nigerians, hence the present immigration status; hence the earnest predilection for things ‘London,’ including fashion and sports. To be yet more specific, that is why there are more than a million Nigerians living in the London, and also why millions of Nigerians support the London-based English premiership clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal, with fanatical zeal, but cannot name even one player performing in the Nigerian Premier League.
This same drive among individual Nigerians to access all that London has to offer towards the improvement of their own welfare plays out with regard to our popular culture. Nigerian cultural entrepreneurs and connoisseurs in the quest for increased global visibility and greater economic empowerment always seek to break new international grounds. London, of course, with its booming Nigerian population always provides an attractive option. From the Nigerian stand-up comedians, to the music maestros, and then to the self-styled Pentecostal preachers, the hunt for vibrant new markets for Nigerian popular performers would always involve the city of London.
And it has to be mentioned, the role of the media in the explosion of London as a popular culture factor is also crucial. How did the English Premiership, for instance, turn to the now breathtaking outfit that generates the kind of massive Nigerian interest, whereby very functional fan clubs (the type that outclasses and overshadows the followership of local Nigerian clubs), exists for them. The dominance of the English Premier League in the Nigerian cultural space is such that the value of television has doubled, and cable television providers are making astonishing profits. This is part of what Biodun Jeyifo refers to “newer forms of late capitalist merchandizing and advertising of products whereby what appears to be our deepest needs… obey the logic of the penetration of market forces into virtually every sphere of life” (613). Peter Berlin, contextualises the above statement in English Premier League terms, with special reference, of course to the London teams Chelsea and Arsenal: “The glossy, upmarket Premier League, broadcast across the globe, became a magnet for sponsors as well as an international merchandizing machine” (“Money, Money, Money” 128).
The London Platform and Cultural Infrastructure
The city of London has obviously demonstrated a favourable disposition to establishment and development of a thriving Nigerian cultural industry. The deep socio-historical relations between the two nations have definitely played a role. So also has the fact that a thriving Nigerian cultural tradition has the big potential to be mutually rewarding for both nations. With such a substantial Nigerian population in London, the socio-economic benefits of the importation of Nigerian cultures of mass appeal would indeed be considerable. When David Cameroun, British Prime Minister made the statement we quoted in the earlier parts of this essay about the Nigerian creative resourcefulness, and the undisputed impact on London and of course the entire United Kingdom, he was referring to a relationship that could widen its dimensions and be even stronger. We can perhaps cite aspects of Mr Cameroun’s submissions for emphasis: “From the civil activism of the churches of South London to the contributions of Nigerians to British business, law, medicine, sport and music, I have seen the passion and enterprise of Nigerians charging my country for the better.”
Mr Cameron would have the opportunity of reiterating this position on the Nigerian example when he attended the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s Festival of Life at the Excel Centre, London Docklands in April of 2015. At this mega conference of a Nigerian church in London, Cameron not only endorsed and courted the influence of the Nigerian Pentecostal culture (a most significant aspect of the Nigerian enterprise of mass appeal), he also pointed out the many sublime and concrete ways Nigeria could tremendous affect British socio-political, economic and cultural life on interfaces such as this: “Just think how great our country Britain would be if we built on that, if we had an even bigger Big society where even more people shared your values, values of prudence, of hard work, of looking out for those who fall on hard times. With these values we can achieve the Britain we all want to live in, where the oppressed are cared for, where the lonely are befriended, where it’s not where you come from, but it’s the content of your character that really matters.”
In other words, the Nigerian Pentecostal community in London, represented by the high-flying RCCG, illustrates clearly Mr Cameron’s concept of the ‘Big Society,’ an ideology hinged “on the importance of social networks in influencing life chances.” For him, the ‘Big Society’ structure presents huge opportunites for even the British-Nigerian: “I believe the only limit to someone’s potential is their own ambition and talent and I look out into this crowed and I can see someone who will hold my role as Prime Minister of this great country.” As a further mark of his ‘faith’ in the Nigerian (black) Church, Cameron received a prayer from the leader of the RCCG, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, especially concerning his ambition to be re-elected as Prime Minister of Britain in the 7th May 2015 election. This belief certainly paid off as Cameron and his party won the elections.
The RCCG may have grown to become London’s (and indeed the UK’s) largest and fastest growing church; the Festival of Life may have been held for two full decades in London; and RCCG’s London Pastor, Agu Irukwu, may have been voted Britain’s most inspirational black person (from a shortlist that included Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King), but due credit has to be given the city of London for providing an enabling environment for this culturo-religions revolution, which started about two decades ago to flourish to society-transforming proportions. Yet Agu’s ever-enlarging, ever-influential Christian congregation is just one of London’s several ‘Nigerian’ mega Pentecostal churches. This quite elaborate list obviously includes Winner’s Chapel, London, a branch of Winner’s Chapel Worldwide, presided over by David Oyedepo, reputed as the world’s richest pastor and owner of the world’s largest church auditorium; the Kingsway International Christian Centre, (KICC), based in Hackney, East London, billed as Britain’s largest black majority church, led by controversial preacher, Matthew Ashinolowo.
Nigeria’s radical Pentecostalism is of course not the only variant of Nigerian culture of mass appeal that has been enabled an operational ambience by/in the city of London. The city dubbed by many as the ‘Cultural Capital of the World,’ could also pass as some sort of multi-genre headquarters of Nigerian entertainment and popular art. It is perhaps safe to say that any Nigerian artiste, performer of popular culture exponent with any degree of international claim that has not trilled audiences in London could very well be referred to a beginner. And with the enormous acclaim Nigerian music, stand-up comedy and film have attained in black communities all over the world and particularly in London, concerts of different magnitudes featuring Nigerian entertainers hold in a canon-constructing regularity in the city. Thus, it would not be so much of an exaggeration to state that performers like D’ Banj, Wiz-Kid, Wande Coal, Dr Sid, Don Jazzy, Inyanya, Tiwa Savage, Banky W, DPrince, KoredeBello, and many others have found a veritable home in London where they can do their art with almost the same cultural fervour and artistic liberty as in Nigeria. There are, however, several other Nigerian acts, based squarely in London, who contribute as significantly in the cultivation of a formidable followership for Nigerian popular culture in the British capital. For instance, juju musician, Jide Chord, ran an impressive and popular band in London for many years before returning to Nigeria in 2014. Others like Jide Michael, another juju maestro, and Lekan Ariya are still propagating the Yoruba brand of popular ‘party’ musical entertainment. As one commentator has noted, these men and women are part of a group of young Nigerian entertainers, mostly university educated professionals, who “have become the core element of any party in London”
And there are of course the Nigerian international entertainment brands, which have, apart from in London, established presences, in other mega-cities of the world. One of these is the regular stand-up comedy show organised and hosted by Nigerian multi-talented artiste, Julius Agwu in London, with the general title ‘Crack Ya Ribs, which entered its tenth year in 2015. Largely a comedy event, the annual show features comedians from Nigeria, and also musicians to provide song and dance interludes. Crack Ya Ribs has, in addition to holding in several locations in Nigeria, also featured in Glasgow and New York. Agwu’s trend-setting achievements with ‘Crack Ya Ribs’ is followed in many senses by the very enterprising Basketmouth, who has developed an equally impressive brand “Nigerian Kings of Comedy” which has run for about four years now. Here too, Basketmouth plays host to a cast of Nigerian comics who treat the largely Nigerian audience to momentous seasons of laughter. Consistent on Basketmouth’s list of performers are artiste’s such as Bovi, Buchi, I Go Dye, I Go Save, Buchi, Dan D Humurous, Senator, etc.
Nigerian film and theatre have also slowly settled into the London performance space. Among the most popular, and the most populist-oriented of films in this category should be Osuofia in London (2003) and Mr Ibu in London (2005) respectively featuring Nkem Owoh and John Okafor, two of Nigeria’s most celebrated comic actors. Shot in locations in Nigeria and London with a mixture of Nigerian and British cast and crew, these two films were designed to generate humour (and of course, telling philosophical proclamations) by narrativising areas of cultural intersections between Britain and Nigeria. The accomplishments of conception and production in these films, and others like them, make an argument for their place in the multicultural scheme of London/British cinema. The cooperation/ and or collaboration of the British authorities in the realization of these no doubt ambitious film projects (as evident in the final outcome) must have been outstanding, and must in some way, speak concretely to the kind of postcolonial alliance Subramani points to as erasing the concept of “absolute sovereignty” of the ex-colony, especially in cultural matters.
As much perhaps could he said about popular culture categories like Bolanle Austeen-Peters’ celebrated stage play, Wakaa! The Musical, which has made an explosive arrival on the Nigerian stage and is now set to make a London debut in July 2016. This, among other possible references, reminds one of Wole Soyinka’s exploits in the English stage and cultural life of the 1950s and 1960s, and his prodigious contributions to the Nigerian element to the English popular culture during those early years. Wakaa! The Musical, is inspired in part by Patience Jonathan, wife of former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who is “very influential, but not particularly [well] educated.”
There are, of course, the socio-economic dimensions of the globalization of Nigerian popular cultures, which can be subject of as concentrated a conversation as anything else concerning the wave of transnationality in today’s world.
Liu Kang has described globalization “as a dialectical process [which] refers at once to an idea, or an ideology—that is, capitalism disguised as a triumphant, universal globalism—and a concrete historical condition by which various ideas, including capitalism in its present guise, must be measured” (“Is There an Alternative?” 164). For Geeta Kapur, “Globalization…has a great deal to do with selling commodities, including units of the culture industry (“Globalization” 202-203). One way of interpreting tremendous opportunities offered by the London element and ambience of Nigerian popular culture is in its potential to generate wealth—both for the city of London and for the Nigerian cultural entrepreneurs. By now and with the financial battles23 that have raged over the financial statuses of Nigerian Pentecostal establishments, it should clear to everyone that here is a multi-million pound empire with substantial financial commitments to the London authorities. Same can be said about the many performance events and concerts, with their spectacular tourism possibilities, which are undisputed money spinners in their own rights. The contribution of London therefore to the emergence of a crop of multi-millionaire Nigerian performance stars needs not be over-emphasized.
• Onyerionwu, a leading new generation Nigerian critic, teaches in the Department of Languages and Communication, Abia State Polytechnic, Aba.