Felix Abrhamas ObiSunday, February 27, 2005
[email protected]
Igbobi, Lagos, Nigeria



friend walked into a music mall in Toronto Canada to buy some Cds. To his amazement, the loud speakers blared out one of Fela's popular songs to which the shop manager swayed to, not understanding one word of what Fela sang about. It was the rich African Rhythm that gripped his soul, and after lecturing the young Canadian on Fela and the Afrobeat music he danced to, my friend left that shop with an air of pride for being Fela's "kinsman".

No one would have celebrated Fela or enjoyed afrobeat music save for its rich african ryhthm which African Slaves carried along with them to the American continent. Today, American music industry is dominated by Blacks and African Americans in the hip hop, raggae, pop, R&B, soul, jazz, and other genres. The uniqueness of African rhythms from mainstream western music is an attestable fact.

It was not until after independence in 1960 that Nigeria began to wean itself off this negative mentally, but thereafter she quickly became prey to her own military that appropriated the people's sovereignty. The military to all intents and purposes replaced our colonial masters. Unlike the colonial conquest, the consequences of the emergence of the military on the political scene of Nigerian governance were no less far-reaching.

Military putschists have often appeared on the Nigerian political scene propelled by self-acclaimed altruistic motives and wearing the toga of the defender of the masses. Yet the desire to rule is very seductive and the ultimate tool, if not goal, of most putschists is raw power. However, raw power corrupts and can be selfish and more often than not violent and capable of being exercised with impunity. On the other hand, power achieved through ambition and the democratic ballot box is subtle and generally benevolent. Therein lays the difference between the Nigerian experience of civil and military rule. Even so, the damage inflicted on Nigeria in the 36 years (1914-60) of colonial rule pales in significance compared to the corruption, if not virtual dismantling of all the structures of a democratic, stable and progressive Nigerian civil society wrought in 29 years of military misrule.

But more worrisome is the fact that the Nigerian polity has been so cowed and intimidated by the now ever present power of the gun that, today Nigerians appear to have been lulled into a sense of apathy and amnesia about their inherent freedoms. It is this situation that makes it possible for a so called "elected" President of the Nigerian people to transform without much fuss into a civilian dictator. The supine posture of the Nigerian elite class, not to speak of the masses, has promoted an undue and insulting exhibition of "arrogance of power" in Nigeria, far beyond what the former colonial masters were able to exhibit.

In Nigeria however,our traditional and cultural rhythms and music forms are growing less popular by the day.Rather than build upon and enrich the already developed indegenous rhythms, most contemporary musicians in the country have achieved some degree of transient popularity through the local media for producing western -oriented music. At best, the local artists mimic popular R&B, pop, rap, dance hall, raggae, and other popular tunes already released into the market by American Music stars. Some of the works are either hastily-produced, or shallow in lyrical contents,and are bereft of attestable creative input and originality which brought fame and stardom to our own Fela and others of his ilk. Such originality of rhythm,fused with strong traditional folk music base was what made South African, East and Central African Music forms to enjoy international acclaim.

The indentity crisis we experience in today's Nigerian Music scene has not always been there for the 1960s and 70s, were the golden era of Nigerian music when the pristine highlife rhythms,juju and fuji and other traditional music forms swept through the West Africa coast amidst popular western tunes like country music and ballads. It was a time when men like Celestine Ugwu, Mike Ejeagha, Jimi Solanke, Rex Lawson, Victor Uwaifor, Bobby Benson, IK Dairo, Fatai Rolling Dollars, Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade, Oliver de Coque, Stephen Osadebe, The Oriental Brothers, Mamman Shata etc churned out classic tunes enriched with traditional rhythms that reflected our rich cultural values and ethnic diversity. Many of these icons have either died or are nestling in the twilight of their careers, leaving the scene for the Generation-X group, visibly under the yoke of western music!

It was in the 80s and especially the 90s that the embers of creativity began to wane into a flicker ,as emerging musicians in Nigeria began to copy and ape popular western pop, raggae, disco, R&B, Rap, and other artists. Subsequently,the traditional Nigerian tunes and rhythms were pushed to the outer fringes of the music industry. And the few artists like Bright Chimezie who stuck to traditional and folk tunes became unpopular.Thus a new generatioin of Nigerian youths lost their rich cultural music heritage which posterity would require of the someday!

Today's Nigerian music scene is dotted with songs and tunes that have strong western influence no thanks to Channel O, and MTV base. And as you flip through the local TV stations, you'll see a retinue of younsters aspiring to "outplay" Americans in Rap, Hip hop, and R&B. What a brave attempt at accomplishing a mission impossible when they could have leveraged on the already existing music forms in Nigeria through which Fela, Sunny Ade and others gained international recognition!

However, some of our local musicians have paid their dues at the altar of creativity and originality.Lagbaja for instance has gained both national and international accalaim owing to his originality and sublime musical artistry. Femi Kuti's Grammy Award nomination is a well deserved honour for daring to stick to Afrobeat. Tony Tertula's song, "U don Hit my car" raved across West Africa up to Sierra leone because of its unique rhythm.Others in the "Naija Hip Hop" scene like Plantashion Boyz, Remedies, Styl-plus, Zakky, Sunny Nneji etc have enjoyed some degree of popularity especially among the youths by reason of their originality and creativity. And recently, a Nigerian performance poet and folklorist, Dr Segun Akinlolu, aka " Beautiful Nubia" won the 2004 Galaxie Rising Stars Award for folk music in Ontario Canada. The efforts at preserving traditional Nigerian Music by folk stars like Mamuzee, Zule Zoo, Yinka Davies etc are commendable. One would not fail to acknowledge the enhanced image Nigeria has enjoyed through the exploits of our musical exports like Shade Adu, SEAL, Ben Okafor and many others in Europe and America. And in the Gospel Music genre, guys like Asu Ekiye, Sammy Okposo, Olufunmi, Kingsley Ike, Kunle Ajayi, Modele etc have stuck to traditional and folk rhythms and thus have been enjoying some popularity.

For purists, this is not the best times in the history of Nigerian music despite the plethora of musicians that dot the landscape. How would one not be amused seeing a "naija hip hop" star clad in fur coats and baggy jeans rapping his heart out in our hot tropical clime that knows no snowfall? How about the teenager who mimics a Puff Daddy's or 50 Cents' gestilculations and hand motions as he tries to do the rap thing? It's not all a tale of woes though if we consider the homour level that the ace comedian, Julius Agwu has intoduced into the scene by "corrupting" popular Awilo tunes and Indian rhythms in his self-styled, "Musicomedy" genre! Not withstanding, there's need for a concerted effort to redeem Nigerian Music from the throes of undue western influence. Thus the African Redemption Project embarked upon by Tony Rapu to infuse African rhythms into mainstream Gospel Music is commendable. At Enugu as well, Prof Ben Umerah, a consultant radiologist and accomplished pianist in collaboration with the Enugu Musical Society is trying to research into ways of enriching Nigerian Music through the introduction of traditional percussion, drumming and ryhthms.

While we advocate for and encourage originality and creativity in the Nigerian Music industry, relevant goverment agencies like the Copyright Commision need to work fastidiously to protect the intellectual rights of the musicians who suffer in the hands of capitalist-driven record companies that fleece on their creativity. Recently, Kabaka of the famed Oriental Brothers, now in his 70s revealed that Afrodisac recording company since 1981, has been paying him a meagre royalty of 50kobo per LP they released for him, and the Oriental brothers had about 12 platinium and 10 golden hits in their career. PMAN under leadership of Charly Boy needs to work earnestly to improve the welfare of its members. Corporate bodies and government agencies in charge of culture and tourism need to be actively involved in the promotion of Nigerian music which has not yet reached the level it should enjoy in the international scene.

The Writer, Felix Abrahams Obi is a Physiotherapist and Health management Consultant and works with the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos and can be reached by email via: [email protected]