Stop the music please

by Ikhide R. Ikheloa

Reproduced here for archival purposes. First published on Next and elsewhere, July 2011.

In my youth, my favourite cartoon character was a musician called appropriately, Cacofonix in the comic Asterix. Cacofonix was so awful, each time he threatened to play music, he was quickly tied to a tree and his mouth sealed to ensure no instrument met his lips. Most of today’s Nigerian musicians remind me of Cacofonix. From D’banj on down, they should all be tied to mango trees and their mouths plugged with fake Naira notes, never ever to play music again ever. Nigerian music is undergoing a major crisis and we should be concerned. Mimicry is the word; mimicry of the worst sort. Just like our jheri-curled accented pastors, Nigerian musicians seem to have figured out that mimicking anything Western pays. And so just as Nigerian pastors are climaxing to the beat of dollars in the pulpit, overdressed characters with contrived accents are shuffling about like drunks on stage, grabbing crotches and convincing the world that there is perhaps not a single musical talent in Nigeria. The lyrics appear to be repetitious odes to materialism, and more troubling, an open invitation to misogyny. The untalented should not profit from their mediocrity.

Nigeria has never been this afflicted by a horde of horrible musicians. One might as well be listening to the symphony of nails on the blackboard. All day. There are bright spots, like the goddess Asa, but today’s music is mostly united by a lack of originality, and a distinct lack of talent. It just seems like anyone with access to a laptop and the Internet can go to a “studio” in Ajegunle and “release” something. If art imitates life, then Nigeria must be on life support judging from what passes for our music these days. I do not understand why I would waste my time on these wretched offerings when I can simply gouge on the better produced, better written and infinitely more interesting Western originals that they are plagiarised from.

We are better than this. I am quite sure that in the crush of these crotch-grabbing trash-talking wannabe musicians, there is talent there. The first thing they need to acquire is some self-confidence. Fela Anikulapo Kuti came back from the West and started a group called the Koola Lobitos. He was mimicking all sorts of Western prattle. He probably would have been successful at it if he had stayed in white shadows; but he had the common sense to strike out in an original direction. Bad ideas don’t need visas to go to Nigeria; they are welcomed wholeheartedly and uncritically where our people toil daily to turn our beautiful nation into a cultural rubbish dump.

When I complained on Facebook, my concerns were met with howls of outrage by friends that I admire for their good taste. One urged me to look past the illiteracy, the faux swagger, the gaudy clothes, the buxom ladies, the misogyny, the trash talking, the off-key singing, and just listen to the messages in the lyrics. I was given a helpful list of musicians to go study: MiI, Sound Sultan, Modenine Terry G, D’Banj, Ill Bliss, Six-Foot Plus, RuleClean ObiWon, Rule Clean. Polymath, Terry tha Rapman Flavour, Whizkid, Mi, Seun Kuti, Duncan Mighty, etc. Besides Kuti, these contrived monikers read like cheap booze labels blighting urban America. One conscientious objector made my point excellently, something like this: Ikhide, here is a dinner of stones with a few rice seeds in it. Em, ignore the stones, look really hard, you will see some rice in it. Haba, the late Saro-Wiwa once said, dem slap you, take your shirt, give you back one button, you say tank you sah! Forgive me, if I am not impressed. To be fair to these alleged musicians, mimicry is a real problem in everything we do these days in Nigeria – democracy, the new Christianity, etc. So, what I am complaining about is not unique to the music industry. I actually started studying the music in earnest after being drawn in by the poetry of Vocal Slender of the BBC’s ‘Welcome to Lagos’ fame. Let us be honest; the music is awful for the most part. And I don’t have to pine for the music of my generation, whatever that means. I am so glad I have an iPhone filled with Old School music. I would be depressed all day if I had to watch all these musicians mumbling into cheap microphones. Someone give them a real job, please.

On Facebook, a pained young man was so upset that I had sullied the reputation of an entire generation of musicians he expressed the fervent hope that I should be stoned to death. Actually, listening to today’s music feels like being stoned to death in instalments. Maybe I am an old man and this is all a generational thing. My father Papalolo and I both enjoyed music, period. Well he once chased me down the street for daring to wake him up to the blare of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get it On’. Papalolo was always prone to unnecessary drama.