Being the torch-bearer for the new pop movement is a role I do not take lightly. And I am honoured to have been found worthy of such noble albeit enormous responsibility.
The past twenty years have seen the profound development and evolution of the Nigerian music industry. The movement that we have today is a result of a gradual evolution and painstaking growth process.
Twenty years ago, there was a Nigerian music scene. There was an active gospel music scene, a juju, fuji and highlife scene and an active reggae/dancehall scene. There has always been a simmering music scene, fragmented and of course, not doing as well as it should do. However, there was a lot of activity; talent-driven activity.
The years prior to and leading to the late ‘90s had seen a rising increase in the incidence of piracy. As the sound carrying device changed from vinyl to cassettes and then to CDs, it became a lot easier for bootleggers to mass-produce copyrighted works and to distribute them illegally. The lack of effective enforcement of copyright protection laws and a dysfunctional collective management system frustrated the efforts of record labels and right owners and forced the flight of the major international record companies and the closure of many Nigerian-owned labels. Sony, EMI and Polygram sold off their assets and shipped out, while local players like Tabansi Records, Premier Music, Ivory Music, Rogers All Stars, Ossy Affasson and Supreme Disc had to contend with the increasingly harsh business environment and declining revenues as the mid-eighties glided into the late nineties.
With shrinking “majors” and withering structures came the era of rampant piracy and gloom. Music, in my opinion, is driven by three pivots – the artistic, the business and the spiritual. Music is for the consumers, the food of love, the balm of the soul, the soundtrack of life. Music to the composer, writer, producer and performer is the release, tranquillizer, escape and ultimate high. So much so that even in the absence of business structure and government protection, the music will survive and the artiste will strive. There’s no killing the vibe. It’s IMPOSSIBLE!
So despite the rot, we had an active music scene – active music scene but not a thriving music industry like the one we are clearly growing now. What we met was a scene with mainly talent-driven activity. People made music. People performed music basically for release, self-expression and joy. People produced and performed music irrespective of whether there was the right support structure to promote or push. More often than not, we made music not primarily to monetize but to self-aggrandize.
The Late 90’s
Towards the late ‘90s, the dominant sound on the mainstream was the dancehall. We had gradually moved from roots reggae to the dancehall. If we were to trace it back a bit, it was the era of Majek Fashek, Ras Kimono, Oritz Wiliki, Daniel Wilson and Blackky and it eventually made way for the “Ajegunle sound” of the likes of Daddy Showkey, Daddy Fresh, Baba Fryo, Father U-Turn and a lot of talents within that space; particularly the AJ/ Orile axis of Lagos mainland. They made music that ruled the airwaves.
There were a few labels like Ultima and Felin Records, who despite the challenges kept promoting artistes and a few other individuals in the media and other sectors supporting the talents in personal or corporate capacity but it was all largely as side gigs or passion projects.
Towards the end of the ‘90s, a more Hip-pop/R & B – flavoured Nigerian sound was gaining a foothold. This coincided with the birth of independently-owned radio and later television stations. Raypower FM, Rhythm FM and Star FM came afloat and contributed significantly to the growth of the movement. This development changed the game tremendously. Local music began to enjoy a bit more airtime because these FM stations, being more urban music and youth market-focused, dedicated more airtime to music generally. The more local music they fed the audience, the more they demanded. The need to satisfy the yearnings of the listeners created a gradual shift in the balance of power. As the radio and television stations multiplied side by side music shows and later, dedicated channels, more and more local talents found the platform to get heard and make impact.
So there was the talent pull and there was the media push. From the mid-nineties down to say, Year 2000, there was such steady growth in this area, it virtually birthed a different music consumption culture among young Nigerians. Artistes like Lt. Shotgun, Blackky, Zakky Azzay, Daddy Showkey, Baba Fryo, Daddy Fresh, Father U-Turn and Lagbaja and a few others at some point contended with the likes of Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G, Snoop Dogg, Toni Braxton, Busta Rhymes, Patra and Mariah Carey on Nigerian airwaves.
Digitalization: Recording Technology And Media
The introduction of digital recording technology simplified the process of recording music. A decade or two prior, to record music of reasonable quality was an expensive process. Huge studio space, large equipment, a band of session men, rehearsal time and low margin for error made analogue recording a cumbersome and expensive process.
But by the mid-nineties, with the coming up of the digital era, studios like Klink, Digitrack and Dolphin Studios in Surulere, Lagos were doing great with digital music. Popular acts like Alex O, Edmund Spice, Ese Agasse, Zaaki Azzay and others were the main exponents of the Cubase/Cakewalk sound. Smaller and more affordable studios sprouted in all major cities and towns across Nigeria. By the time Pro Tools and Fruity Loops came through, many budding stars were primed to drop monster hits produced and recording on a desk in their BQs.
Digital recording technology prepared the ground for the revolution that began toward the end of the nineties. Five young producers who would play a pivotal role in the rise of the new pop sound, Nelson Brown, eLDee, Paul Play Dairo, Mighty Mouse and OJB Jezreel had mastered their digital production and recording tools and were ready to create sonic magic and perform social miracles working with other “hungry” talents determined to birth a new era and change the game once and for all.
By the time hits started raining from the likes of Plantashun Boiz, Remedies, Maintain, Trybesmen, Sound Sultan, Azadus, Tony Tetuila, Jazzman Olofin, Sunny Neji, Lagbaja, Eedris Abdulkareem, Ruggedman, Danfo Drivers, Marvelous Benjy, Lord of Ajasa, Funke, 2face Idibia, Faze and later, Styl Plus, NIGGA Raw, Mo Hits, Weird MC, P Square, Naeto C, Sasha P, DJ Jimmy Jatt; it was clearly the beginning of a new day for Afro-pop.
We were listening to, loving and buying more and more Nigerian music. And people took notice. Brands and businesses saw the prospects and more people starting taking active interest in the emerging industry.
At this point, it is noteworthy to mention the media personalities and platforms that were critical to the growth of the sound, movement and industry. Keke and D1 (Raypower, AIT Jamz), Ayo Animashaun (Hip-hop World), Emma Ugolee (Top 10 Video Countdown on MBI), Tajudeen Adepetu (Soundcity) Kwame (Star FM, Global Sounds, Nigezie), JAJ (Rhythm FM), Olisa Adibua, Grand Master Lee, Cally Ikpe, Oscar (Galaxy TV), Joke Jaiyesimi (Music Africa) and many others. They made Naija music cool and the artistes took full advantage of this. They put out more exciting music which connected with the audience and fueled a new-found sense of patriotism while thoroughly entertaining them.
Another major catalyst for the growth of Afro-pop was the launch of the 24-hour music channels on cable television. Nigerian fans turned their attention from MTV at the arrival of Channel O and MTV Base simply because of the presence of local content. By the time Soundcity, Nigezie and HipTV transformed into 24-hour cable channels, the buzzing content hitherto consumed by Nigerians alone became exposed to a continent-wide audience. This opened the floodgates to a bigger market with all the attendant opportunities everywhere from Ghana to Gambia, from Egypt to South Africa, Cameroun to Kenya, Tanzania, Angola and beyond.
Technology basically changed the way music is produced, accessed and consumed. Although it has thrown up a few challenges, it also presented tremendous opportunities. For the first time in a while, technology has given us numbers; verifiable data. It has enabled us to measure performance by clearly showing sales figures, chart positions and general market performance and trends. Technology unlocked music distribution opportunities through Caller Ring Back Tunes, download and streaming. What for a lot of Nigerian content owners, started as small additional side has grown to become the mainstay of the recording business.
As the numbers grew, the world took interest. As of today, the Nigerian music market is by far the biggest in Africa, in terms of numbers. The number of smartphone usage in Nigeria is high and growing and the potential is huge. As we speak, everyone is already or will soon be on ground – Apple Music, Itunes, Music Plus, BoomPlay, Tidal, Sony, Universal and many more. And it can only get bigger.
The growth of the local live circuit has also played a key role in the emergence and growth of the pop movement. The void created by the demise of major concerts platforms of the eighties and early nineties like Lekki Sunsplash, Benson & Hedges Gold N Tones and Rothman’s Groove was filled by concert experiences and tours like Star Music: The Trek, Intro: The Independence Jam (which offered Nigeria talents the platform to play large outdoor venues in the UK and opened the doors to sold-out O2 Arena dates today), MTN Y’ellow, Glo Rock n Rule, Rhythm Unplugged, Buckwyld ‘n’ Breathless, Guinness Concerts, Glo Campus Storm, Jos Chillin Mega Fiesta, Industry Nite, OLIC, Phynofest, One Africa Fest and scores of comedy concerts all year round which provide live performance opportunities for artistes.
These concerts, brand product launch events and corporate/private parties provide the bulk of earnings for pop stars, their support cast, crew and their families and friends by extension.
There was also the arrival of television shows like Project Fame, Idols, The Voice, Big Brother. The frontiers kept expanding. Opportunities kept opening up for songwriters, performers, producers and talent managers. There was a steadily growing enabling environment for diverse talents to come through and establish their own niche.
International Collaborations And Awards
Another major development that contributed immensely to the global acceptance of the Afro-pop phenomenon was the visibility and penetration created by the string of major international awards, international projects and collaborations. For that generation of talents, it was unimaginable to picture oneself on a track, concert stage or award podium with global superstars like Wyclef Jean, Beenie Man, Mary J Blige and later Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Rick Ross, T Pain, Sean Paul etc.
It was a whole new level unlocked, a game-changing moment when at the peak of his popularity, ex-Fugees frontman, Wyclef with remarkable wins under his belt from hugely successful projects with Destiny’s Child, Shakira, Mary J Blige, City High and more came to Nigeria in 2004 to headline a series of Guinness concerts and requested to have Sound Sultan, Faze and my humble self on a track So Proud To Be African featured on his 2004 Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101 album.
When Jamaican dancehall king, hopped on Nfana Ibagha Remix with Ghanaian Hip-life legend Reggie Rockstone and nominations and wins followed at Kora Awards, MTV Europe Awards, MOBO and World Music Awards it signalled a new dawn. When African Queen was used as the lead soundtrack for the Hollywood film, Phat Girlz, it gave impetus to every young African making music at home or in the diaspora and showed them that there were no limits. Impossible is nothing.
And the wins continued. With awards, collaborations and major projects – D’Banj, P Square, Ice Prince, Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Sarkodie, Diamond Platnumz, Casper Nyovest, Timaya, Patoranking, Stanley Enow and the list goes on and on, each taking the music to a whole new level, time and again.
During my Plantashun Boiz days, we had secured a brand ambassador deal with Daga and the experience left us yearning for more but corporate Nigeria didn’t appear to fully embrace the strategic alignment with music stars to drive youth-targeted marketing until 2005/2006 when two of the biggest (at the time) endorsement deals were signed by Guinness and yours sincerely for Extra Smooth and Cross River State Government and Sunny Neji for Obudu Cattle Ranch.
It was soon to start a trend and open a vista for major revenue for talents in Nigeria. Subsequent deals followed with corporate Nigeria and government institutions, driving visibility, sales and marketing penetration. The success of multi-million naira brands and projects tapped into the goodwill and fan base of Nigerian artistes. It did open a few doors for a lot more people in the industry. The telecommunications companies arrived, and artistes got signed a lot more, and for a lot more money.
Afropop or better yet, simply pop is at one level a genre of music. At another level, it is a movement; a cultural revolution that has helped to reshape the perspective of the young Nigerian and his or her relationship with the nation or the continent. It is at another level, a growing industry that is providing opportunities for a wide range of talents ranging from photographers, graphic artists, video directors, producers, sound engineers, stylists, cinematographers, PR practitioners, digital marketing resource and several other professionals working hard to create value, earn a living and make a lasting impact.
Over the last few years, they have bridged the gap and made it increasingly difficult to spot the difference between locally-made Nigerian content and foreign-produced ones. They have made Nigerian music more marketable globally. Cover arts, music files, music videos all attained international standard. And all these elements are what came together to form the success of the Afropop as a genre, and as a movement. So today, we can say without fear of contradiction that “we global now”.
A lot of these developments would not have happened without the development of technology in the internet space as it affects music distribution and access.
So what we see today are the fruits of years of diligent work of a few young passionate and tenacious people who have taken advantage of everything that has happened from broadcast deregulation, media expansion, live opportunities, to endorsement deals.
Music Business And Regulation
In recent years, there has been sustained engagement between stakeholders and members of the Federal House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee to probe activities of telecommunications companies set up to resolve the issue of revenue share ratio. The current situation sees the telecommunication companies earning a lot more than the actual content owners, which in my opinion is unjustifiable. There have been scenarios where telcos claim as much as 78 per cent of total accrued revenue from music sale, leaving less than a quarter of the pie to be split between the aggregator, the record label and the artiste and anyone else in the production value chain. The beneficiaries from this anomaly, of course, are not eager to give grounds.
There is no tenable reason why Nigeria should not be different. There is a global best practice standard that we should guide the conduct of business with the music space. We need to constantly remind aggregator platforms that no matter how well accepted and popular your platform is, at the end of the day, it is basically still a distribution platform. It is a store. When we get to a point where the person who provides distribution access is taking home more than 70 per cent of the gross revenue, then it is clear that something is not right. We hope that sooner or later, everyone concerned does the needful, and we can enthrone a system that delivers a fairer deal to everyone in the value chain.
The lack of functional structure in the music industry in Nigeria is a reflection of the state of the larger society. Gaps in policy position and ineffective enforcement within the music space are some of the major reasons why the piracy rate is as high as it is.
The music industry has shown immense potential to grow and thrive, regardless of the major of the numerous challenges particularly the shrinking economy and absence of adequate support from the government.
I expect that the industry to continue to find smart solutions to some of these issues. We need a regulator that is better equipped to function effectively. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure that the regulatory process is more effective. But more importantly, stakeholders need to embrace the task of working with all the relevant organizations and government agencies to ensure better results.
As stated earlier, we have shown tremendous capacity to deliver great results in the face of crippling challenges. We can take that a few steps further. The more positively involved the stakeholders are, the more likely we are to fix what needs to be fixed. While it is great to look after and look out for your personal businesses, it is also important to spare some time and energy to get involved in helping to ensure that we grow the needed structures and create an enabling environment to operate optimally at your personal business level.
The Artsites That Were
As I close, I would like to pay tribute to all the heroes and heroines of the greatly inspiring Nigerian success story. True leaders and visionaries, everyone, too numerous to mention. The architects of the game – talents, label execs, media personalities, promoters, managers, directors, photographers, talent managers, PR consultants, pluggers, managers, agency personnel, brand managers, investors, stylists, ticketing solutions providers, venue owners, distributors, tech support resource and many many more.
You all have delivered one of the most powerful gifts to the coming generation – hope and concrete reason to believe. You will be forever celebrated.
The Nigerian music industry has shown tremendous capacity for growth. And one thing is clear; it can get a lot better if things are done right. Another thing to note is that it can get much worse. We can quite easily fritter away the goodwill, and this moment can easily become a point in our history when we were on the verge of seizing the main stage but missed the opportunity.
It is hardly time to celebrate and relax. If anything, it is time to double our efforts and put in the work necessary to sort out the issues. We need to strengthen policy, regulation, enforcement, engagement and cooperation. We need to sort out our collective system as a matter of urgency. We cannot grow a world-class industry without a world-class collecting structure to support it. The likes of Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and 2Pac are able to earn millions of dollars post-humously because the existence of functional rights management systems.
If we get lost in the euphoria of the present successes, which is but a tip of the iceberg, we will lose out on getting to where we should be.
Also, we need to fix the way the system works. For every Davido, for every Burna Boy, for every Teni The Entertainer, for every 2Baba, there is need for proper business management, proper road management, proper legal support, proper branding and packaging resource. Often times, we pay too much attention to the performer and the performance. We need to develop capacity. We need to train managers, publicists, lawyers. We need to have a system that provides certificate courses for each of these potential professions.
The legal framework that supports entertainment in Nigeria needs to be considerably improved. People need to learn to respect their contracts. We need to see the law resolve decisively, issues of breach of contracts. We need legal precedence. The process of dispute resolution needs to be overhauled. If we guide and regulate conduct, the risk factors will be reduced. Investors will be more confident, knowing that their investments are protected. The entire system needs to be properly fixed, for us to progress from where we are.
It is time to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty.
My Legacy Project
I have been immensely fortunate to have come this far. The story of my journey is one of hard work, perseverance, passion, amazing support and partnerships, and pure grace. And every opportunity I get, I try to give back to the society that has produced me, that has nurtured and supported a young Idoma boy born in Jos, polished in Lagos to international stardom.
As a legacy project, I am donating a fully-equipped digital and analogue recording studio to the school of music. I am hoping that this facility will help and enable young music students here to be the best they can and properly hone their skills and talents. The studio projected to be ready for use in the next 16 weeks.
I am also committing to a once- a- session combined class and/or recording session with the students of the school of music.
Thank you for this prestigious award bestowed on me. It is a great honour I will forever cherish.
Long live the school of music. Long live Obafemi Awolowo University. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Thank you all.
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