Music, Musicians and the Music Industry in Nigeria
Kargbo is a Lawyer, Law Teacher, Newspaper columnist and Movie Producer based in Nigeria.View all articles by Sam Kargbo
A good thinker has asked about how many of us ever stop to think of music as a wondrous link with God; taking sometimes the place of prayer, when words have failed us. Indeed music knows no country, race or creed, but gives to each according to his need. Music is the best of all art forms and luckily the easiest to acquire. It is only the musician who can talk to the whole world at once and be understood by all. Like all other societies, music is an essential part of the Nigerian society. Nigerians are therefore justifiably addicted to music. They make good music and have over the centuries had a positive influence over the music genre and style of other parts of the world. Look at how American popular music forms like Blues, Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Hip Hop or the Caribbean reggae and calypso bear the distinctive mark of the drum that originated in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa. From India to the Latinos and from Brazil to Cuba the pervasive influence of the drum in their music is unmistakable. There is hardly any popular music in the world today that is not hot on the drums. But like anything indigenous to Nigeria, Nigerian music has had several shifts and tendencies due to its receptiveness and dynamism.
All generations of Nigerians have had music of their generation. Yesterday’s reigning music is today’s oldies and our contemporary music would surely be old school to our children. Although the various nationalities in the country have retained their specific rhythms and melodies that we call traditional music, much of the popular or commercial music in the country today is a fusion or assemblage of American, Western, Caribbean or other world styles and Nigerian and other African beats. Nigerian musicians are understandably an integral part of the world music. Most young musicians in Nigeria today brand their kind of music as Afro Hip Hop, meaning that despite the western or foreign influences, Nigerian or African beats still form the benchmark of their music. Even though some of them merely mimic established American musicians, the majority of them justify their claim with their lyrics, beats and dance styles. If all other aspects of our lives have been adulterated by foreign pressures, there is no reason for us to expect our music to be insulated from foreign influences. In between this however, is the awareness that music is the most singular preserver of culture. To abandon the job of preserving the ‘Nigerian’ in the Nigerian music to the market place is like leaving mice in the custody of a cat. Techonological and scientific advantages of the music from the west enhances its all conquering nature and the unfortunate complex that our elites have for foreign music makes it imperative for all those who should be concerned to give a fillip to those who are putting out themselves to preserve the Nigerian element in our music.
The fear of the colonizing nature of foreign music especially that from America is legitimate and real. The Americans and Britons are making all the billions with their music and this fact gives the impression that theirs is the real Mc Coy. But those who know, know that there is something more than music in their music. We shall return to this issue later. The good news is that the strong patriotic and cultural pride of the average Nigerian has helped to keep Nigerian musicians in check in their capitulation to the strapping of foreign influences. Most Nigerian musicians that have been able to earn a living from music do so because they have the wisdom of striking a good balance between the media imported music and specific Nigerian beats. Although Nigeria has lost most of her good producers to America and Europe, some of them around have been doing a good job. Those of them that have a clear world view understand the influence of African beats to the monumental successes of contemporary American and European musicians. This gives them confidence and encourage them to incorporate considerable African beats in their productions. This is partly the reason for the distinctiveness of the Nigerian music and why it is easily recognizable anywhere in the world. Executive producers or music labels have also been making sacrifices of moderating the profit motive and the duty to promote the Nigerian cause.
Beyond the efforts of average Nigerians, Musicians, Music promoters and Producers is the need for the authorities to realize that music is not only an effective colonizing tool but also a multi billion dollar business. Apart from oil, and perhaps the movie industry, there is no other industry or sector that has the potential of earning easy but well earned money for this country than music. Like the movie industry, the music industry is environment friendly and its raw materials are the millions of talented men and women that abound the nation. The average annual market of music worldwide is in the excess of $40 billion. The annual income of the big four record companies in the world(Universal Music Group, Snoy BMG Entertainment, EMI Group and Warner Music Group) is much more than Nigeria’s annual earnings. Whereas some countries can boast of musicians that have sold hundreds of millions of records (ABBA/Sweden, The Beatles/UK, Bing Crosby/US, Led Zeppelin/UK, Madonna/US, Nana Mouskouri/Greece, Michael Jackson/US, Elvis Presley/US, Alla Pugacheva/Russia, Cliff Richard/UK and Frank Sinatra/US have all been said to have sold in excess of 350 million copies)Nigeria can hardly boast of a musician or musical group that have sold up to ten million copies for the whole of their career. This is in spite of the exceptionally talented musicians that the country is endowed with. America, Britain, Germany and France dominate the hit lists for obvious reasons: they own the big record companies. Their governments put a heavy premium in music and therefore protect the music industry like they protect their tax base. The bad guys know that f..king with the works of musicians is like playing with fire.
Nigeria used to host local affiliates or subsidiaries of world class record labels but the pirates have been suffocated out of business. Piracy has supplanted legit business in the music industry. Piracy has not only knocked out the essential backbone of the music industry but has also destroyed the careers of musicians that could have made a respected contribution to the global music phenomenon. The pirates have dismantled all the structures of the music industry (the activity of companies and individuals that share the aim of promoting performers and selling legitimate recorded music) and erected in their place crude and primitive structures of the one man one shop business. The Music industry is now populated with people who do not have the professionalism and interest to make good musicians or good music. People now run labels when they have no idea about music or the making of music. Anybody that can open a beer parlour or a spare parts shop can now run a record label. It is heart rendering and awfully pathetic.
In places where the menace of pirates is curtailed, the record labels dominate the industry. The record labels employ the best hands in the land to produce world class musicians and music. They own first class studios and a ring of distribution marketing and retail outlets that promote sales and enhance the economic stature and of course the capability of the musician to compete with the very best in the world. The record labels also work with a chain of professionals whose expertise is indispensable. To begin with, there are music agents (the Americans called them Artists and Repertoire (A & R) representatives) whose business is to recommend artists to labels after assessing them either in terms of their demos or performance in concerts. These agents can smell a good and talented musician from afar that is why their judgments are relied upon by labels. The agents also work with scouts who hop from place to place or stationed in a particular place. On their part, musicians know that the bottom line of their career is commerce and as such they need to package themselves or be packaged like any other brand in the market place. To enhance their profile and chances of being noticed by scouts or agents or signed by labels, Musicians employ managers who are knowledgeable about the workings of the industry and have links and contacts that they can tap to impact favourably on the musician. The fee of the manager is mostly standardized and may not be beyond 20 per cent of the musicians earnings. Since the remuneration of the manager is dependent on the earnings of the musician, it becomes very important for him to work hard enough to swell the purse of the musician.