Yinka Olatunbosun writes on the trend of selecting a foreign headliner for a Nigerian-made concert and the economic sense therein, if any

How would you feel if you walk into a Chinese restaurant, place your regular order and find Nigerian ingredients all over your plate? You will likely call the waiter and demand some explanation. Now, our concert organisers are the waiters, serving us foreign meal in our indigenous kitchen.

Yes, we understand the meaning of collaboration and the language of artistic variety. But when the general call from the government is for entrepreneurs to look inwards and invest in the nation’s economy, one cannot but reflect on the economic sense that bringing foreign artists can make in the light of our economic situation.

It is a mess. The artist is likely to come from a country where the foreign exchange rate to Naira is cut-throat. Next, he or she comes with a much regimented schedule, likely to perform for a few minutes, 30 tops, and leaves the audience begging for more or completely angry. What value does the artist add to the host country? This foreign headliner is restricted by the contract he makes with the organisers, might not grant interviews to resident journalists, who, by the way, can no longer be referred to as local, with global media tools at their disposal. But then, this trend keeps repeating itself like Kim Kardashian’s online nude displays.

Recently, the warble about the arrival of the four-time Grammy Award winner, India Arie in Lagos subsided as she came and left, but not without some dramatic turns. Apparently, Arie didn’t realise how popular she is in Africa’s most populous nation until her plane touched down in Lagos. In company of her band members, she toured the city and sampled some Nigerian songs which she showed off later during her performance as the headliner for the fifth edition of Sax Appeal, a jazz concert organised by the master saxophonist, Mike Aremu.

Naturally, the media trumpeted the event some weeks before the arrival of the US-based artist. Radio jingles, fliers and news stories flooded the polity and it was a mega congregation after church for many who were present that Sunday at the Expo Centre, Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island.

The event was scheduled to kick-off at 6p.m. but to everyone’s chagrin, the show didn’t start until about half past nine. When will Nigerian fans learn to boycott shows for starting too late? Anyway, the hall was beautifully decorated. Almost empty it was at first until the audience trickled in. They seemed too pissed to allow the compere just a few minutes of self-expression since they didn’t pay such whooping sum to be entertained by someone who dressed like Arie and was furnished with a poor taste in jokes. A few couples left the hall after glancing at their wrist watches for several minutes and a mental knock reminding them that the working hours on Monday were just a few hours away. Yet, the majority of the audience would rather be late for work than to watch Arie’s debut performance in Lagos on Youtube or Twitter.

The Afro-pop, soul and swing musician, Isaac Geralds made up for the absence of Timi Dakolo who stood Lagos up. Geralds proved to us once again that he has “women issues’’ with his continuous “yabis” for women in his songs such as “Shakara’’ and “Fall in Love’’. He preached love and reproved women who play hard to get in romantic relationships through his lyrics. Geralds, while exhibiting his cheeky side, asked some women in the audience who are single when they would eventually fall in love as he sang-talked. Yes, he got some friendly slaps in the back for his performance which lasted for about 45 minutes. Praiz came on stage and performed very briefly. No praise for Praiz whose token performance wasn’t too cheering. He had been parading the reception area hours in his slacks before the show and it was unbelievable that he’d just do us a cameo. Why?

Then the man everyone had been waiting for, Mike Aremu left his audience completely stunned as he blew away the saxophone for six minutes non-stop, evoking the spirit of the jazz, in its pure form. Later he performed a song in Hausa dialect to preach love and unity in the face of challenges that confront Nigeria and indeed Nigerians. After an hour of performance, the headliner, Arie arrived in a flowing, splendid outfit in the Nigerian flag colour. How patriotic! She stalled her entry to the stage for at least two minutes and after her salutation, she warmed our hearts with her hit song of all time, “Video’’.

Arie had been a source of inspiration to a lot of women all over the world. She has sung about skin colour, self-esteem, relationships, socio-economic issues and love. She started her Lagos performance with a tribute to almighty God through her song. She caressed her guitar which was strapped across her voluptuous chest. Between the chords and riffs, she found the right rhythm to serenade her audience some of whom remained on their feet till the end of her show. She had 30 minutes to play and she didn’t get on stage until a few minutes past midnight.

The thought of returning home was quite sobering especially when your destination is about 45 minutes’ drive without traffic. The air at 1 a.m. is usually cold but more chilling as you ease past blinking amber lights at every traffic light junction, with no police in sight and a conscious fear of being robbed. Back to the auditorium, no one seemed to care about all that. All they cared about was for Arie to make their time count. Thirty minutes of performance just won’t cut it. Then she sang her inspiring tracks, “Strength, Courage and Wisdom’’ and “I am not my hair’’. Later, she sensed that the tempo was dropping and decided to surprise us a little.

“If I start to talk/ wetin my eye don see/ e no go end/ my brother e no go end’’, Arie sang. She delivered that chorus so efficiently that one could wish that she performed a duet with Tiwa Savage herself who did the song originally. As if singing in pidgin English wasn’t enough, Arie signaled to her band and switched from her own song to Simi’s “Love Don’t Care’’ and afterwards, she acknowledged Simi’s great vocal strength. She was excited to discover that Nigeria has enormous music talents apart from the trail blazers such as King Sunny Ade and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Behind the glitz of the concert, one should ask a few questions: Why are concert organisers so fixed on bringing foreign artists who would only perform for a few minutes after being paid heavily? Why don’t we invest more in indigenous artists? Why don’t we have exchange programmes with foreign artists if they must come to NIgeria, organise workshops whilst they are around and not waste money just to purchase a brand name? We need to support our own artists, most of whom are doing very well internationally. It is a duty.