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Dear Artist, Never Grow Old In Nigeria

[FILE] Honoree Jay-Z accepts the President’s Merit Award onstage during the Clive Davis and Recording Academy Pre-GRAMMY Gala and GRAMMY Salute to Industry Icons Honoring Jay-Z on January 27, 2018 in New York City. Michael Kovac/Getty Images for NARAS/AFP

I had a conversation with one of Nigeria’s most famous music makers. He doesn’t want his name to be mentioned in this story, but he laid some of his truth out for me. He loves watching artists like JAY-Z continue to make music late into their careers and their lives continue to inspire him. But he is scared. He knows what’s coming for him. He knows that he has to pivot from music. He knows that the music industry is unforgiving, and it’s rare to age with grace when you are a pop star in this turbulent industry. He knows that it’s hard to grow old in Nigerian music.

Museums aren’t a cool thing in Nigeria. They exist as storehouses for our history. They carry the tales of our wins and losses, our trials and tribulations. Relics of our shared past, which are turned into houses of learning and perspective for future generations. The past is in the past. But it does hold lessons for future generations. But they aren’t a cool thing in Nigeria.

There are over 20 publicly listed museums in Nigeria. But none of them is dedicated to Nigerian music. There are two dedicated to our memories of slavery, another to the senseless Biafra war that cost Nigeria a lot of lives. There’s a lot of them, just littering our country with history that we never learn. Mistakes that we don’t seek to collectively correct as a country. To many, the information is worthless, but it exists.

There are no museums for Nigerian music. We have no shared space in Nigeria, where music lovers can journey to, in the hopes of dipping into the glory of our creators, learn the eras of our creativity, and trace the soul of our music in one fine thread, linking it to what we are making it today. We don’t have a historical archive of Nigerian music. And nothing justifies it, except the fact that Nigerian music lovers don’t care too much about history. We don’t like to look at the past in music. We are in the present, enjoying what is in front of us. We don’t look back.

Older musicians are a part of that past. For pop music lovers, when was the last time you thought about Baba Fryo? When did you share a drink with your friends and request for music from a name like Azadus? They got old, we got old too. But we moved on, and no matter how they chase us, we don’t look back. The lifespan of a pop artist in Nigeria is typically five years of dominance at the top, and then they begin the inevitable slide towards obscurity and normalcy.

Let me tell you what getting old looks like in the Nigerian music industry. It’s sad and hard. A lot of these artists don’t save their money. When they begin to go out of relevance, their money never saves them. It no longer belongs to them. During one of my trips to the recesses of Ajegunle, I found posters on house walls and shop fronts, announcing a concert for Danfo Drivers. I saved the date and attended. It was the saddest thing I had ever seen in the industry. Needless to say, it was so poorly organized for poor people. Many did not pay for access, and the air rank of putrid underarm sweat, and cheap alcohol. The performers were hailed, but you can imagine their fee. So low, you could willingly give it to that your friend who is always “in a bad fix.” That’s the life they live now. Cheap shows and slow money. That’s why they accepted a measly cheque from Tekno when they could have gone to court and won some good bags.

Poor people don’t want to eat in December. They need to eat now. Instant gratification is their god.

An artist of their calibre in the US, if they lived sensibly and have their publishing right, can comfortably live off proceeds from Danfo Driver alone. It is a classic record, serving as an anchor point to not only literally Danfo Drivers, but people who are proud to rep the ‘streets.’ It’s a timeless anthem, which would have made them a lot of cash. But they don’t have that. So do countless others. When the demand for their music drops, they drop. Time teaches them a lot of lessons, but it also kills them. Fast or slow, they die anyway. Don’t grow old in the Nigerian music industry, stay young forever.

Nigerians don’t respect their old creators. They don’t like old people. Except they really, REALLY, like you. Really Really Really. That’s why 2baba is still one of a kind. Why Wizkid and/or Davido will progress to that elder status. Who else is beside 2face Idibia at the level that he is? Who amongst his peers can stand beside him and command similar relevance, respect and adoration? Young people don’t care. I am a digital journalist who writes for young people. When I check the number of readers of my articles about the music of the 80s and 90s, it is comparatively low with the others about Wizkid and Runtown. Young people want young people.

That’s why museums for our music don’t exist. It’s an old building, filled with old things, about old people, and music that is old. It isn’t cool. Period. Dear young artist, save your money, so it can save you. As time blesses you, it curses you and your career with age and death. And what is dead, will never sell.

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