By Yinka Olatunbosun
It may be a testing-the-water measure. It could even be uncertainty. Whatever it is, it is a fact that most Nigerian artistes do not admit to be dedicated to a particular music genre. Most of the time, it is attributed to economic reasons. A typical artiste, when interviewed by a journalist avoid naming a particular genre because of the fear that he would, inadvertently, box himself in a category that in the event that his music popularity wanes, he may switch to a different flow that is trending. For instance, when Brymo’s Ara Nbe was making the waves on the airwaves and rocking the dance floors at club houses, a good number of Nigerian artistes began to do more techno tracks than any other music genre. It is not strange. In the entertainment industry, it is common for some to assume the role of technical advisers on potentials for hit tracks or hit videos. Some directors have discovered their talent in predicting hit songs if not hit genres.
What stance does a new artiste assume in such scheme of things? More often than not, a music artiste when asked will tell you that he or she does not have any particular genre. Most times, they do but they may not own up for the fear of being boxed. But what is so wrong with stating one’s music genre? For ages, a lot of prominent artistes in Nigeria are known with a genre of music. Ebenezer Obey was known for Juju, Shina Peters for Afro Juju, King Wasiu Ayinde for Fuji, Fela Anikulapo Kuti for Afrobeat, Victor Olaiya for Highlife, Majek Fashek for Reggae and many more. The new generation artistes can also boast of new genres as well as classic genres. For instance, Banky W is known for R ‘n’ B, Wizkid for Hip Hop Fuji, Olamide for Hip Hop, Ill Bliss for Rap amongst others.
Some new artistes have a portfolio of works that cross the music genres. Omawunmi has done songs that fall into categories such as pop, highlife and soul. Darey Art Alade has done Soul, R’n’B and hip hop. Even the seemingly consistent artistes would not admit that they do a particular music genre. It is beginning to appear like some music illiteracy of sorts. The concept of determining a music genre is the academic aspect of music. This is why in prestigious music awards like the Grammys, experts in music are consulted. Sometimes, relatively strange music genres are exhibited at the award categories. These experts in music realise that there are emerging genres and they depend on the knowledge from the team of academics in music to adjudge a song as belonging to a particular genre. It is common to classify a class of music under ‘cross-over’ in Nigeria. Almost all contemporary songs now have that cross-over appeal. That is why particular genres are required, not to box an artiste under a category but to identify the song on its merit and worth.
The fear of genre naming by Nigerian artistes may be to steer clear of unguarded criticism when a switch is made from a particular genre to another. It would be recalled that Eldee began with his musical group, Trybesmen with Rap and Hip Hop. He rebranded himself as a solo artist with hip hop and a lot of mockery came from the media questioning his motive behind the switch from rap. “Rap is no more selling, so he has decided to sing”.
The forward-looking and economic-minded artiste is attuned to the taste and the changing temperament of his audience. In Nigeria today, any genre of music can sell provided it is laced with hip hop or pop or Techno. Flavor N’abania did that with Highlife. Wizkid did that with Fuji. Rock is one of the genres that is only popular with a select audience in Nigeria. It is natural. Some music genres are geographically oriented. Fuji and Juju are essentially Yoruba genres. Highlife is more popular with the South-South and South-East region but it created a unifying effect on its popularity nationwide and even reaching some international communities. Salsa is known with the Spanish people and Ragga is synonymous with Jamaicans. These music origins may have affected the growth of the genre but may not affect the development as much as anyone would think. The way Nigerian artistes popularised Ragga between 2002 and 2008 was phenomenal. Almost all Nigerian songs at the time had the same sound and beat about that time and artistes were scared of experimenting with any music genre that would bore big holes in their pockets. That fear had since been overcome and some experimentation is going on.
Glenn’s Movement is one example of a pop experimentation. Being a street wise artiste, he launches in his lyrics the reason why genres do not count anymore. According to him, as long as the song makes you move, ‘’All na movement”. He lists Swo, Makossa, and other genres and calls them all ‘Movement’. Perhaps, the new generations of Nigerian artistes are gravitating towards a movement of cross-breeding genres and while they are at it, the audience and critics should just watch and move with the flow.
Still, the music academics in Nigeria have a lot to do. In-depth research and paper presentations should be publicly regularly too in order to reflect the emerging discoveries in the Nigerian music industry and reduce the music illiteracy that is creeping on the talented new artistes. Gone are the days when a music Professor speaks on the impact of music on the polity and makes 60s and 70s references. We need current academic papers and socially relevant content that will rescue the audience from the black and white screen with which they still view our colourful music scene.