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Nigerian music: Silence at home, loud abroad

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
08 May 2016   |   3:30 am
There is nothing like the thrills of discovering that you are home, though, thousands of kilometres away. That was what Funke Osae-Brown felt on a Thursday morning in Nairobi, Kenya ...


There is nothing like the thrills of discovering that you are home, though, thousands of kilometres away. That was what Funke Osae-Brown felt on a Thursday morning in Nairobi, Kenya, during The Gulliver Africa Travel Event (A Safari Discovery of Nairobi). The journalist was very happy that even, as she struggled to catch a nap on that day, she was treated to a variety of Nigerian music, video and televangelism.

Cocooned inside her hotel room, she listened to the best of Nigerian music and watched Nigeria films from home. “I felt relaxed with the rhythms and sounds of the Nigeria,” she said.

That evening, as the air reverberated with beats at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, known widely as the ‘KICC’, some journalists on tour of the country, feeling elated, roared approval to the Nigerian song playing.

No one spared any superlative to describe the rising popular appeal of Nigerian artistes across the continent, in fact, when Dorothy Ooko, the PR and Communications Manager, Google East Africa, began to hum: Ehn dorobucci, Don dorobucci… it was more a clarion call for everybody to sing along:
Doro jazzy
Ehn doro boss
Doro big
You know say doro heavy
Doro skillful there…

To know how popular Nigerian music is, take a tour of the capital city, Nairobi, in a matatu — a bus or minibus that serves as the mode of transport— before long, you are inevitably going to hear any of the popular Nigerian songs. It could be that of any artistes, however, the song itself would have to be the latest releases.

Not since the demise of the weird one, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, has the thumbs-up sign been such potent for Naija Jamz, as they are called. Five years ago, it was a fringe ‘musical genre’ in that country of ‘long distance runners’. But today, it has become a mass-followed genre, especially, among youths.

“A lot of urban dwellers listen to Nigeria music in clubs, offices and matatus. I hear Nigerian voices on the console, everywhere,” said Adhiambo, a teenager, who spoke with The Guardian during a matatu ride.

Nigeria’s music revolution and takeover happened almost seamlessly, but no one would deny that deliberate hardwork and effort made by Ikechukwu Arthur Anoke, who initiated the idea of this ‘palace coup’.

Popularly known as ‘Ike’, the Group CEO of M-Tech Communications, a Nigerian company that makes solutions for mobile networks, is one of the people, who provided the catalyst for Nigerian music to become a good export in that country.

Through his Taurus Musik, he aggressively signed artistes in multi-million shilling deals. But Ike soon realised that signing artists alone wasn’t enough to provide the desired musical entrepôt for Nigeria.

With some others, a new concept began with the promotion of the Nigerian culture such that, Naija Night and Lagos Night became a staple of Kenya. By using what people love about Nigeria, such as movies, food, music, these events soon became platform for projecting the country and boosting its tourism.

Also, since Coke Studio began, a lot of Nigerian artistes, including legendary King Sunny Ade, MI, Waje, Jimmy Jatt, Bez, Olamide, Omawumi, Burna Boy, Flavour, Phyno, Iyanya, Chidinma and Sheyi Shay, have featured in the show that has lined-up stars from across Africa. This has given many people on the other side of the continent opportunity to encounter Nigerian music. Today, so many artistes from Nigeria have benefited from such venture, with Davido, Iyanya, Wizkid and Yemi Alade having headlined sold out concerts in Kenya.

Della Mbaya, a radio presenter and news anchor with a radio station in Nairobi called Homeward Radio, an urban station that speaks to 18 to 35 years old, told The Guardian that Nigerian music is so popular, because of its tenacity.

“It happened over a period of years —about four or five years now. I think before that, dance hall was very popular genre of music here. There was a lot of negativity towards Nigeria; a misunderstanding, so to say, of what Nigeria is all about. And suddenly, we had a large influx of young Nigerians, who came to Kenya, and were not only promoting themselves, but other people’s music. We had people like Anoke, who promoted Naija Nights. All of a sudden, we started having proper concerts of Nigerian artistes. By then, we started appreciating and understanding Nigerian music and culture a lot more,” remarked Mbaya.

She continued, “if you turned on every radio or television set, what you hear is Nigerian music and see is Nigerian films. All of a sudden, Nigerian culture became something that was promoted a lot more by Nigerians themselves in Kenya.”

Only on August 10, last year, local musicians in the country, under the aegis of Kenya Musician Movement (KENAM), took to the streets to vent their anger on local media, which they accuse of dedicating majority of airplay to music from other countries, especially, Nigeria and South Africa.

They demanded 70 per cent for Kenyan music on all platforms. The protesters call came on the heels of a directive by the government to all Kenyan TV station to screen 60 per cent of the local content.

As a presenter in a radio station that is all about young people in Kenya, what Mbaya has discovered is that the artistes, who use the social media a lot more, tend to be artistes people are drawn to.

“People like Banky W. are very adept at promoting themselves. These are the people Kenyans tend to follow. It is almost the same way you will follow Rihanna or Beyonce on twitter or instagram. You feel connected to these artistes, as a result we tend to play what our audience want.”

Margaret Njugunah of Capital FM Nairobi shares the same opinion with Mbaya. She said, “so many Nigerian artistes promote their work through social media; so, this kind of, boosts their profile. They are very easy to get.”

Beyond social media, Njugunah admitted, “the way Nigeria music is packaged from the video to the beats, everything is sort of flawless. It is not only popular in Kenya, it cuts across East Africa and even Southern Africa.”

She also confessed, “Nigerian artistes do a lot of collaboration with foreign artistes. The one between P-Square and Akon was huge and people liked it here.”

Njugunah said the role being played by the movies couldn’t be underestimated. “Nigerian movies are very popular. They are very easy to get. Combination of music and movies make the two elements penetrate Kenya. No one else has invaded the Kenya entertainment space, as Nigerians and Tanzanians, the latter, mostly because of Swahili factor. But one thing, Kenyans are very funny people. They listen to everything from reggae to raga and R&B to local artistes.”

Judith Wo Mopoba, a journalist with True Love, in Nairobi, said, “one good thing about Nigerian music is that it is upbeat and not harsh to the ears. That’s what Kenyans like.”

The lady noted that Nigerian artistes have a way of embracing Nigerian culture in their music, which has wowed many.

Her words: “Nigerians love their culture, they are not afraid to own it. I love Nigerian artistes, because they are not trying to be western.”

“Nigerian music has a future, but I do think that trend come and go. Five years ago, it was dance hall and artistes from South Africa dominated at a point,” Mopoba said. “As long as we remain complacent and say leave it that’s the way it is done, nothing much is going to change.”

However, Mbaya is not comfortable with the standard of music on the continent. She believes that the African musician is not innovative and progressive. She also said the audience needs to demand enough from the artistes. “If we want our music to appeal to a world-wide audience, we have to ask basic questions: How progressive are they? Do they still use the same beats that were introduced two or three years ago? Are they forward thinking enough? How much do they travel or know what is happening outside our home base? How much of critique do we do and when we do so, do the artistes not see us as enemy?”

Taiwo Kola-Ogunlade, Communications & PR Manager, Google West Africa, encourages artistes to test the waters and know whether they are murky before taking a leap.

According to him, the duty of an artiste, upcoming or established ones, is to harness data, especially, with the troves of data available to know the direction, which your music will take. “If a song is uploaded on YouTube, and within a week, it has up to 200,000 likes, you’ll know whether it will be a hit.”