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Afrobeats: We Don’t Need American Validation

Wizkid. Credit: Photo by DANIEL IRUNGU/EPA/REX/Shutterstock (8971122c)<br />Wizkid<br />Nigerian Singer WizKid performs at the Barbecue Live in Nairobi, Kenya – 22 Jul 2017<br />Nigerian singer and 2017 Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards winner for Best International Act Africa category Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, popularly known as WizKid, performs on stage during the Barbecue live 14th edition concert at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) in Nairobi, Kenya, 22 July 2017.

I remember the first time Ice Prince walked into the Roc Nation offices in New York, he was waving a flag, and a video crew tagged along, and making a big deal out of the incident. When he was pictured with JAY-Z, that photo – no matter how you feel now with hindsight wisdom – is one of the most iconic photos from Nigeria’s hall of fame. That space still has the video of D’banj and Kanye West, sharing a mean-mugging moment on Oliver Twist video.

When Drake jumped on ‘Ojuelegba’ remix, that moment the song was released, Nigeria shut down with excitement. When Davido put his name to a Sony deal, we beamed with pride. And when Wizkid failed to board his Coachella aeroplane, we dragged our hair out, and then dragged the singer by his dreads. 

Why? Because we want what they have. We dream to play at the Madison Square Garden because of the zenith for all our aspirations which lie in the US. We want their royalty structure to benefit us if we score a hit. We dream of one day playing in a crowd that contains white people, and people from every part of the world connecting to our art. We have aches in our hearts when we see our US colleagues making numbers from music that we believe we can do better. And when we close our eyes to dream of our most wishful award, we look at the Grammys and smack our lips. 

We seek American validation. We move like scavengers, in our daily lives and beyond, seeking for pockets of America to spray over ourselves to feel good.

Look around you, how many of your best material possessions came into your ownership because you got influenced by America. At the embassies, Nigerians are fucked with. Our lives and aspirations being used as a game of ping-pong. You can get declined for even looking to eager get a visa. 

With music, when the major record labels came into speculate in this market and draw up a strategy to approach Nigeria for business, we were ecstatic at the possibility.

Remember Roc Nation and all the meetings with Chocolate City? Remember the emissaries that stopped by Nigeria and held high-level meetings? Also the deal with Tiwa Savage from ROC Nation? See, we have done it all and seen it all. The conclusion, we need American validation. And in all our dealings, we scrape for it. 

That’s why it surprised me to see us rise in unison to form faux woke and deep, fighting because we have been besmirched by some American DJ talking heads, who were giving a nuanced take on how Afrobeats is seen and regarded in the US mainstream continental market. You think the everyday American or the very influential kids who use Tictoc and make things go viral are holding their breath that Starboy is about to drop “Made In Lagos”? Do you ever reason that the Billboard takes us in, and spits us out faster than Tonto Dikeh’s husband? Do you ever fathom that we have commercial success in the US eludes us because we are still a niche genre and culture?

We are in the process of taking flight. At the moment, we are yet to identify a successful working strategy between Africa and the rest of the world, to open the market up and generate value on and beyond the continent.

Outside Africa, our strongest value proposition still remains that some of our brothers in the diaspora are desperately looking for a piece of home, to give them a sense of belonging? Why are they rushing to Ghana in December? They want to feel connected again, to a past that was violently snatched from them by colonizers.

Yes, we have had some success, but a lot of it has not come from merit. People are in rooms, working across continents, selling and buying, offering and redeeming favours and contracts to enable us to have a fighting chance. But when these opportunities are commodified for public consumption, they are fed like a great achievement, with carefully crafted media and press releases. Afrobeats to the world is in its infancy, and no matter how many times we are spotted in a studio with a star, it does nothing but until we have a measure of ownership in any material that cracks America commercially, we will continue to be on the fringes. That’s when we can carry our chest and talk like we have done. Judging by the deals we are getting and how we have little power in those conversations, we are doing alright, and if we keep at it, someone sooner or later will catch a spark.

For now, shut up and work. And let’s celebrate with you when it happens. Also, stop being hypocrites and keep your work up. Own your actions publicly and stop deceiving your fans. Being a Wakandan Voltron looks cool on social media, but I hope it carries with you when you strike your deals.

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