Lessons from the Nigerian Music Industry

The way Nigerian songs have taken over the airwaves around the world, you would be right to say that Nigeria is now a musical superpower. Talents abound: Wizkid, Davido, Flavor, Patoranking, Burna Boy, 2Face, PSquare, Falz, Teni, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage among others. These are just a pinch of the new Nigerian musical legion currently sweeping the planet. They are producing in quick succession on a scale unimaginable just a few years ago. Superstars from other climates are now lining up for photo ops, autographs and collaborations with their Nigerian counterparts. Nigerians are doing with Afro Pop today what Jamaica did with reggae in the 1970s and 1980s. Neither the United States, Europe nor Asia currently has the level of genius, production, impact or follow-up of the Nigerian Musical Armada.

Everywhere you go in the world, you hear their songs screaming in taxis, High Street shops and nightclubs. You would see people of every human classifications imaginable (race, age, gender, social status, etc.) stomping their feet, shaking their heads, singing or dancing to Naija’s new rave beats. It doesn’t matter if they know what the lyrics really mean. It doesn’t matter if they subscribe to the message of each song. Music is a universal language with an open code. The sheer beauty of the craft, its melody and energy is enough to suck you in and make you proud – if you are a Nigerian.

All of this was achieved despite the overwhelming economic conditions as well as the hostile socio-political climate in Nigeria today. All of this has been accomplished without a shred of support or incentive from the Nigerian state.

This begs the question: What are the secrets of Nigeria’s booming music industry? What good are our musicians doing that other industries and sectors, especially the political establishment, can learn to improve their playing? Here are three indisputable lessons:

# 1 Talent and commitment are everything

The expression of musical talent does not conform to geopolitical boundaries. There is no north and south, no east and west, no religious division and no “us” against “them” among the Nigerian crooners. No one knows or cares where you’re from, as long as you can satisfy their musical thirst.

It doesn’t matter if you sing in Yoruba, Igbo, Ishan, Hausa, Birom, English, Pidgin, or a combination of languages. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman; PDP, APC, APGA or YPP. Everyone is welcome. Each bird is free to sing. The only disparity is the power of their music and how it resonates with a very demanding audience.

It is this free reign of talent and enterprise that has produced such a rich harvest that we all now enjoy and that the world seeks to identify with. This has made Nigeria not only self-sufficient, but also a net exporter of musical compositions and stars. Nigerians, like all humans, love good quality and would go anywhere they can find it.

# 2. Every corner of Nigeria is blessed with a bouquet of talent

Although I don’t really care where they are from, I heard that 2Face is from Benue State, Don Jazzy from Delta State, Davido from Osun State, Timaya from l He Rivers State, Flavor from Anambra State, Phyno from Enugu State and Tiwa Savage is from Lagos State. Prior to this generation of artists, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was from Ogun State, Osita Osadebey from Anambra State, Dan Maraya from Plateau State, Mamam Shatta from Katsina State, Oriental Brothers (Imo State) and Victor Uwaifo from Edo State.

If that proves anything, it is that the Almighty spreads His gifts widely to mankind like a farmer scatters his seeds on his farmland. In due course, the seeds germinate and sprout from all corners, each to its full potential. Nigeria is one of the agricultural lands chosen by God. The Creator did not throw all of his seeds in a corner. The flowering of our musical talents from all corners helps to prove this point.

In truth, it’s not just our music industry that holds the light for our country. Before music, sports and movies had also demonstrated Nigeria’s capacity as a world power. Once upon a time, the Super Eagles scared other footballing nations. To date, Nollywood is one of the three most prolific film industries on the planet. The football and film industries, incidentally, run on the same fuel as the burgeoning music industry – uncensored craftsmanship unpolluted by prejudice and the enclave mentality.

Clearly, we don’t need a pernicious quota machine to strike a balance between skills and contributions. Nature has already taken care of it. By imposing quotas and other artificial arrangements like rotation, based on ethnic, regional and religious differences, we are in fact reversing the natural creative process, poisoning our society and damaging the results. In the end, everyone suffers. Conversely, by trusting and working with Divine Providence, each one reaches their full potential with their unique gifts and talents. Each feeds the other with his harvest. Society is doing better for it.

# 3. If we strip our politics of primitive tendencies, Nigeria will be a world power.

Imagine what it would be like if the smartest politicians and technocrats with the best backgrounds of service in various sectors and the best ideas on how to move Nigeria forward as Presidents, Governors, Ministers and Lawmakers emerged.

Nigeria will radically transform in a few years. We will deliver a strong and thriving economy with a unique DNA that will provide solutions to human challenges based on our unique experience. We won’t need to shop abroad for most of the things we need. The world will notice it and come knocking on our doors. We will export our surpluses and unique brands on favorable trade terms. Our economy will experience unimaginable growth. Africa and the black world will be proud again. Our people in the Diaspora will hurry home. China, the US and the EU will have real competition on the world stage. Humanity will be better off for it. Just as he is blessed by our music.

But what do we have instead? Scammers with scary credentials and expired men with fake age certificates. Gangsters and bigots claiming to represent ethnic, regional and religious interests. “Area boys” and warlords who manage to intimidate opponents and rig the elections.

We don’t need to look elsewhere or look any further for a model to mend our broken politics and leadership recruitment system. We have a model that has proven itself globally in our music industry. We only need to be humble, to appreciate what we have, to learn from the classic case study now staring us in the face, and to apply the same principles to our most needy area – politics and the governance.

Anazonwu is a Lagos-based historian, journalist and author.

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Alice P. Darby