What it means to be an upcoming musician in Nigeria
Your TV, your phones, and all other devices project a perfect world of endless money, twerking ladies, and an unhealthy – but influential – fascination for glitz and glamour.
A world where tears are a foundation for work, and situational depression leads the charts as the number one mind state for creatives. Let me tear the veil a little, and offer you a vista of pain and failed attempts to fly.
The upcoming artist wears his gold chain and edgy outfits. He walks with a kingly gait, has an omnipresent smile and looks fresh for the gram.
When the cameras go off, and the public have retired to their lives, he takes off his facade and masks, peels off all the layers of his public performance, and carries himself to his bed. His swag isn’t paying.
His music is unrefined, and although he believes in it, there are blinding doubts about his ability to blow. His parents don’t support his decision to chase the music. He is broke. There’s no sponsor for his art. He feels lost.
Nigeria is a harsh place. It’s designed to test the most basic essence of your humanity.
No matter how rich or poor you are, you can’t escape the long arms of wickedness and ‘anyhowness’ that Nigeria festers and dissipates.
The most vulnerable people bear the brunt. Poverty and lack of connections or status are traits of vulnerability in this country. Upcoming artists mostly tick this box. Most of the time, they own only their talents, and the prayers of their parents. They need to fight for everything else.
To achieve that, they need you to like their art, and share it, that’s why they are at the mercy of a lot of forces. I have seen many cry and complain because someone who held power, withdrew from helping them.
I watched a young man seat at the back of one concert hall, cigarette in hand, and tears streaming down his face. When I approached, he told me he was depressed.
He had hustled for too long, and has had no opening. I shared a shoulder, some wise words and some money to tide him over for a bit. Bro, life is hard for them.
Many will complain that successful artists rarely ever look down to lift them up. The few who are asked to mainly shield themselves with middlemen.
Middlemen who put a price on the favour, and charge them for a collaboration. There are cases of superstars announcing in the media that they never charge. But the opportunity to work with them is commodified and sold for cold cash. Millions of naira. That’s mostly the price for collaboration.
We sense entitlement when upcoming artists demand that their older and richer colleagues help them.
It’s not truly a demand. It’s an SOS; a desperate call for aid. They know it might never happen, but they have hope. That’s why they flock Instagram comment sections and reply to tweets with links of their tracks.
Test this: Go to the latest photo by any top tier musician on Instagram. You would see them begging for a chance.
On their videos, they tag every influential person, hoping to get a favourable response. That’s how Mayorkun got signed by Davido. They are desperate. They need to be desperate. Nigeria is hard. It is cruel and unforgiving of poverty. The hunger is real.
They see the doubts in the eyes of their friends. They don’t have any money to send back home. Music isn’t paying. Their account balance is mostly in red.
Half the time, there are question marks about their accommodation. Housing is a huge problem.
In Lagos, an upcoming artist might live in Egbeda, on Monday, and by Friday, they are in Lekki, moving from couch to couch, depending on charity from friends. That’s the life they live.
For the few who have other skills, they leverage them for cash. Many have been forced to abandon the art and chase day jobs; others have had to become inventive for survival.
A number of them switch into illegalities and become Yahoo Boys.
It’s how they pay for their art and much of the music that they push. Others simply make tradeoffs, offering their souls for the chance to become successful.
This is also why they sign the unfair deals that come back to bite them if they become successful.
Life has beaten them, humbled them, crushed them under its boots and made them scrape for dirt.
When someone puts up money and dangles a contract, they almost have no choice. They take the deal and do what they need to do. They will fight later.
For now, let them eat from their art. Let their shame be momentarily reprieved. They have suffered, let them rest.
Next time you see a young aspiring artist, trying to convince you to listen to them, at least, show a little kindness. Listen, smile, treat them right and move on if you don’t subscribe. Chasing the art is a hard job. Don’t make it harder.