Ever since I began doing music professionally, I have always been fond of looking away from the circus, and taking up the responsibility of addressing serious issues that affect my industry.
"Can't I do the RIGHT thing in a WRONG industry?" - That is a quote from a song I recently recorded. And actually, this article is centered on that thought.
Apart from wordplay, you would also notice the lyric contains an ounce of depth if you meticulously read between the lines. It might even be deeper than I think. After all, people's perception and standpoints differ.
I will be paying more primacy to two phrases in that context, viz: 'right thing' and 'wrong industry'. What is the 'right thing'? And why did I frankly use the term 'wrong industry'?
Well, a wrong industry is one that does not encourage the right art. And as such, mediocrity is celebrated while creative freedom becomes a myth. I could go on to list a myriad of other definitions that will describe a 'wrong industry'. For now, I will just pitch my tent with the one stated earlier.
However, the fact that a particular thing is unacceptable in Country A does not mean it won't be embraced with open arms in Country B. Variety is the spice of life, but that does not rule out the fact that mediocrity will always be mediocrity. There is no such thing as 'little mediocrity' or 'too much mediocrity'. In fact, it could be likened to sin. Sin is sin. I guess I will have to stop there, otherwise I might start quoting bible verses if I choose to proceed with that topic.
In Nigeria, sometimes I feel talent is wasted on talented people. Hard work beats talent where talent does not work hard. In other instances, these talented individuals are not given appropriate and enough platforms to showcase the ample skill they possess. "What about Project Fame, Peak Talent Show, Nigerian Idol and the likes?" - That is probably one question you are craving to ask me right now, isn't it? Yes, what about them? No doubt, they hunt for talents, but at the end of the day how many people get selected out of thousands of Nigerian youths that participate in these auditions annually? The ratio is like 1 out of 100. Even those that eventually come tops, win just the money and not all the required support they need to make them stand the test of time throughout their music career.
I also noticed something pathetic that made me shake my head in 3D. After the contestants were short-listed, they were asked by Reggie Rockstone to dance in the next round before scaling through to the finals. Those that couldn't bust a move to save their lives were evicted, despite they had nice voices. Then I asked myself; 'Is X-factor a singing competition or a dance competition?'. Perhaps the organizers could have been more specific.
I remember the last talent hunt show I participated in, some years ago. It was held in Enugu. I performed a rap verse right before the judges (DJ Jimmy Jatt and one other dude from Jamaica). I was applauded and received positive remarks that seemed honest. Majestically, I left the stage smiling, with the thought that I would get to the finals. To cut the long story short, I did not. As much as I was disappointed, I never allowed that experience deter me. Years later, I got featured on a mixtape alongside mainstream acts such as Tha Rapman, Ice Prince and Wizkid. Coincidentally, the project was hosted by Jimmy Jatt and my first music video even got premiered on his TV show (Jump Off). I didn't allow that audition define me, because I believed in myself and I knew my potential was limitless. Perhaps today, Uncle Jimmy does not even remember I participated in that audition. It is a small world.
As long as Nigerian show business is concerned, nobody cares about talent unless you are wealthy. These days, daring to be different alone won't cut it. If you lack affluence or you are not affiliated to one superstar or the other, it is difficult to draw the attention of the media. And that is probably why it is easy to manipulate today's showbiz. Some Nigerian bloggers are more concerned about the traffic their sites get than the content of a song. While some Radio DJs and OAPs want their arses to be kissed before they play your song. Notwithstanding, I acknowledge the few good people that still unconditionally support great music in this country. I hope they won't become extinct someday.
It is rare to find Nneka's album on the streets of Lagos, but I am pretty sure she is contempt selling her intellectual property to the world and Africans in Diaspora via iTunes. Germans and Europeans alike adore her afro-centric style and music. It is safe to say that this talented Nigerian songstress based in Luxemburg has been doing the right thing in the right industry.
So is it better to compromise standards because you find yourself in a really frustrating industry that celebrates mediocrity? Well, personally I believe artists can always find a way to strike a balance in the aspect of making great music that is enjoyable and still delivering good content. That is one of the key factors that define your creativity anyway.
Working hard is good, but working smart is better. Truth be told, without proper positioning and making your skill sellable, talent won't pay bills in this country, or even anywhere in the world. Once upon a time, good music spoke for itself in Nigeria; am afraid, not anymore!
Apparently, the Nigerian music industry has evolved, but this sudden evolution has yielded more cons than pros. The outcome is something I have always previsioned. And it is inevitable simply because our music industry grew at a fast pace without a more streamlined structure and solid foundation.
Unless music is just a hobby for you; as an artist based in Nigeria, you just have to discover whatever works for you, and make it lucrative. Your persistence, creativity and versatility will eventually make you stand out in the long run.