For those of us who have decided to make the analysis and study of contemporary Nigerian music a craft, one thing we can all relate to is the difficulty of defending the mainstream soundscape. Nigeria’s jollof music scene particularly has been ridiculed for a range of problematic values, among both artists and industry players.
The most obvious problem that directly affects the quality of music, however, is ‘payola’, a pay-for-play system that has riddled Nigerian airplay with nepotism and favouritism. OAPs and Radio DJ’s only choose from a select number of paying artists to play on the radio. This does not only defeat the independent music curator purpose of good radio, it also forces talented artists who can’t afford high payola dues into the backwaters to no fault of their own. Consequently, artists who are free-to-air thanks to reliable ‘connects’ become the mainstream, forcing us all into the mediocrity of single hits that do not further the culture or extend its post-release relevance.
This is the point where talent becomes secondary to fame. Where every artist is forced to mimic the sound of anything radio offers to make headway. The ripple effect of this is an industry where artists take stages they neither have training nor practice to carry because all it took to be famous was a commercial single recorded off a Macbook in a make-shift studio somewhere in Ikeja.
The only respite in all of this is that the internet is slowly starting to take radio’s place as a music curation platform. Over the past few years, music streaming platforms like Apple Music, Spotify and SoundCloud have centred efforts on curation by studying user listening habits. Now radio stations are forced to play songs that have gotten too big on the internet to ignore.
Talent is secondary to fame in Nigeria because artists treat the music grind like a giant honeypot for those with enough ‘connects’ to dip for a scoop of the sweetness within. The focus is turned away from the music and directed at ephemeral elements of fame and celebrity-hood at the expense of creative quality music. As social media continues to allow more DIY artists produce and self-promote music, the scales are definitely bound to tip in favour of artists with good music to offer. Until then, every time another jollof song becomes a radio hit, you must keep in mind who is to blame.