As Nigeria celebrates its 63rd Independence Anniversary today, there is every cause for jubilation in the entertainment and creative industry.
Though, many hit makers of the ‘60s through the ’90s had fizzled out of the scene, the last couple of decades had witnessed the rise of young talented artistes who are making waves and keeping the flag flying all over the world.
The retreat of highlife
Highlife was more or less Nigeria’s truly national musical genre in the ’60s/70s. Devoid of tribal, cultural and political colouration, the music was widely accepted among Nigerians of that era. It was on this note that a highlife band, Victor Olaiya’s All Stars had been invited to headline the state banquet held as part of the country’s independence celebration in 1960.
But as nationally accepted as highlife music was in those days, sadly, it couldn’t survive the cultural tsunami that came with the civil war. Reason: most highlife musicians were of Igbo origin and they decided to leave Lagos for the Eastern region at the outbreak of the crisis. And by the time the war ended, many of them preferred to stay back in the East; the few that came back to Lagos couldn’t cope with the changes they met on ground.
However, from the ashes of the war had emerged a plethora of new highlife musicians, including Oliver De Coque, Oriental Brothers led by the late Sir Warrior, Ikenga Brothers International, Prince Nico Mbaga, Eddy Okwedi, Osayemore Joseph, Maliki Showman and Bright Chimezie, among others. These younger artistes shared the limelight with old warlords like Osita Osadebe, Victor Uwaifor and Morocco Maduka, the King of Ekpili music, among others.
But right now, there appears a glimmer of hope on the highlife horizon with the re-emergence of legendary highlife musician of the Oriental Brothers’ fame, Godwin Opara popularly known as Kabaka. After 17 years-long hiatus, Kabaka, 77, staged a comeback with a new highlife album, Abialam, (I’ve returned) launched amidst fanfare in Owerri, Imo State on September 15, 2023.
Sixty-three years on, the sun appears to have set on some indigenous genres such as apala, waka, sakara, kalangu, and, of course, reggae. As of now, the only surviving indigenous idioms are juju, Afrobeat and fuji, which have vanguard stars like Wasiu Ayinde Marshal a.k.a K1 De Ultimate, Adewale Ayuba, Wasiu Alabi Pasuma, Sulaimon Adio Oladele a.k.a Atawewe, Abass Akande Obesere, Shefiu Alao, Muri Thunder, Taye Currency, and Saheed Osupa, among others.
While fuji musicians are thriving, juju veterans like King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey and Sir Shina Peters are limited by age and struggling to remain relevant in the industry.
The story is not different on the reggae front. Ortis Wiliki, who alongside Majek Fashek, Ras Kimono and The Mandators dominated the scene in the ’80s through the ’90s, recently waxed nostalgic, boasting of his large repertoire of untapped songs.
According to the self-styled “Koleman Revolutionaire”, there is no retirement in his lexicon because he has over 200 songs yet unreleased. But today, he is missing in action. It appears the reggae icon, now chairman of Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN) has hit gold in another sector: copyright administration.
From hip-hop to Afrobeats
Either it’s called Afro hip-hop or Afrobeats; hip-hop has never had it so good in today’s Nigeria. In clubs, homes, hotels, on radio and television, including cable platforms across the country, Afro hip-hop has caught on like a wildfire in the harmattan. Songs of stars like Tuface, Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, D’banj, Yemi Alade, Burna Boy, Kizz Daniel, including the younger ones like Rema, BXN, Asake, Teni, Tems, Ayra Star, Spyro, Zlatan, Joeboy, Rayce, T-Classic, Fireboy, Mohbad, Crayon, Zinolesky, Odumodublvck, among others have become some sort of national anthem to the youths.
To former Prime Time Africa presenter, Idowu Ogungbe, the rise of Afro hip-pop could be attributed to the interest the youths have shown in the music.
“Hip-hop is a global phenomenon. Nigerian youths like their counterparts around the world are opting for hip-hop instead of highlife and Afrobeat. It is not only in Nigeria that this is happening, if you go to Ghana, the same thing is happening there. The kids don’t want to listen to highlife and Afrobeat any more. They prefer hip-hop,” he once told this reporter.
An authentic African sound created and made popular by Fela, Afrobeat is highly percussive, heavy on instrumentals and rhythmically pulsating. So, since all these African musical elements are equally embedded in Afro hip-hop or Afropop, many believe that the genre is an offshoot of Fela’s Afrobeat. And this informed the appellation ‘Afrobeats’ now given to the Nigerian version of hip-hop. One only needs to listen to Wizkid’s Ojuelegba, Yemi Alade’s Shekere featuring Angelique Kidjo, and Burna Boy’s African Giant album to agree more with this position.
In 63 years of Nigeria as a nation, it is gratifying to note that a homegrown music, Afrobeats, has not only conquered the African continent, it has also made a significant inroad into the global entertainment scene.
From the streets of Rabat in Morocco to the exclusive nightclubs of Johannesburg, South Africa, Nigerian Afrobeats is now the rave of the moment. Not only this, apart from being in hot demand all over Africa, Nigerian musicians now pack concert halls, win major awards like Grammy, BET, AFRIMA, and collaborate with international megastars including Drake, Beyonce, Nikki Minaj, Selena Gomes and Chris Brown to produce hit songs.
Pretty Okafor, President, Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), is more than excited for what the entertainment industry has been able to achieve in more than three decades.
“The entertainment industry has done better because we have grown geometrically. Musicians get paid more for their jobs; now we can count many millionaires in the entertainment industry. As I speak, I am in the United States and I discovered that our Afrobeats is threatening to take over American hip-hop. Yes, our politics might be messed up and our currency dwindling in value, but the truth is that we have been able to change the bad perception of the country with the export of Afrobeats. Nigerian youths are no longer called fraudsters or 419, which is really good for the mental health of the younger generation,” he remarked.
Okafor, nevertheless, enumerated the challenges facing the industry to include piracy, adaptation to new technology, content distribution, unstable government policies and lack of access to loans.
Quoting a PWC report, the PMAN helmsman posited that if all these challenges are overcome, the Nigerian entertainment industry could generate annual revenue of over N15 trillion, which will go a long way to sustain the economy.
If Okafor is excited about the achievements recorded so far in the industry, fuji legend, K1 De Ultimate is full of lamentation.
According to him, “individual entertainers are working seriously to make the industry a better one, but their efforts are not yielding expected results. Business people have hijacked what should have been incentives for the entertainers, and this makes the principal actors in the industry to look like slaves in their own fields.”
But then, Jim Donnett, Head, Admin/PR, Sony Music West Africa, could not but agree with Okafor on the giant strides made by the Nigerian entertainment industry over the last six decades.
In his words: “We are better off now than we were many years ago. Technological revolution has been the bedrock of the vast growth and improvement that we have experienced as an industry. The process of making, creating music has been simplified, and the operations involved in having to connect the music and its creator to an audience has also been simplified. Anyone and anything is now accessible with the push of a button. It’s amazing!”
Donnett added: “But one major challenge is that the system is not fully setup to accommodate only talent. And in some instances where it is, it is not an opportunity open to all. The system is rigged in favour of certain factors. This is usually the case why some artistes end up accepting shabby deals, because their focus at the time is really on ‘blowing’ as opposed to their staying power as a music brand or career longevity.”
On his part, veteran jazz/Afrobeats promoter, Ayoola Sadare believes that the international ascendancy of Afrobeats is a major source of pride for the entertainment industry and the nation at large.
“But celebrating Afrobeats’ global impact should not detract from the urgent need for good governance, economic development, and the overall progress of Nigeria,” he posited.
Since 1962 when Nigeria rolled out its first feature length movie, ‘Bound for Lagos’, a production of Federal Films, there has never been a dull moment in the industry. Rather, it has been a record of monumental achievements and unparalleled progress.
In 1990, when the nation turned 30, the industry could only boast of a handful of about 110 movies. Most of these films, though produced on celluloid, were not that super in terms of quality.
But in the last 25 years, with access to modern technology and wide marketing platforms, including the Internet, cable TV, Showmax, Netflix, Amazon Prime, among others, Nigerian films now count in their thousands.
Today, the Nigerian movie industry, otherwise known as Nollywood, has tremendously improved in quality and content.
This is largely due to its exposure to technological innovations, including high-tech cameras, quality props and standard post-production equipment.
On the enviable list of award winning, high grossing movies that came out of Nollywood in recent times are Kunle Afolayan’s Irapada (2006), The Figurine (2009), Phone Swap (2012), October 1 (2014) The CEO (2016), The Bridge (2017) and Mokaliki (2019); Ayo Makun’s 30 Days in Atlanta (2014), A Trip to Jamaica (2016), 10 Days in Sun City (2017) and Merry Men (2018); Omoni Oboli’s Wives on Strike (2016) and Okafor’s Law (2016); Mo Abudu’s Fifty (2015), The Wedding Party (2016), The Wedding Party 2 (2017), and Chief Daddy (2018).
Others include Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys (2018), Toyin Abrahams’ The Ghost and the Tout (2018) and Seven and a Half Dates (2018); Chinny Onwugbenu’s Lion Heart (2018), Funke Akindele’s Your Excellency (2019), Charles Okpaleke’s Living in Bondage: Breaking Free (2019), Chika Ike’s Small Chops (2020), Samuel Olatunji’s Dear Affy (2020), Biyi Bandele’s The King’s Horseman (2020), Izu Ojukwu’s Amina (2021), Funke Akindele’s Omo Ghetto (2020) and Battle on Buka Street (2022), Kunle Afolayan’s Anikulapo (2022), Toyin Abraham’s Ijakumo (2022), Femi Adebayo’s King of Thieves (2022) and Jagun Jagun (2023).
Today, Nollywood is acclaimed as the second largest film industry in the world, relegating Bollywood of India to the third position.
Not only that, the industry emerges as the second largest employer of labour, contributing N893 billion to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2015.
To Emeka Rollas, President, Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), it’s commendation galore for the Nigerian movie industry.
Hear him: “Nollywood has done well over the last 60 years. The industry has produced great talents and performers and we have improved our technical to global standards, while our talents can compete favourably on the global stage.
“Although, we are still evolving, there are triumphs with what the industry has done over the past 60 years. Coming from obscure background in terms of production quality to global standard is a great achievement for the industry. However, our major challenges include unconducive working environment, lack of production treaties to help attract joint or co-production with major international studios, and lack of proper funding. Our financial institutions lack proper understanding of the industry, for proper funding and for better productions.”
Indeed, the Nigerian entertainment industry has recorded some appreciable achievements in the last 63 years, but the question on the lips of many stakeholders is: are we close or far to nirvana?
In the opinion of veteran showbiz journalist-turned evangelist, Ladi Ayodeji, it’s still a long walk to Uhuru, although there is every cause for celebration.
“There is cause for celebration because things could have been worse. Afrobeat has been making impact on the world stage lately; I hope it would last like reggae. However, with the drug lords, cultists and ritualists taking control of the entertainment industry, I am afraid we are in serious trouble. The Mohbad death saga is a big dent on the image of the industry and might damage its ultimate global acceptance in the long run,” he declared.