Nigeria’s Kings of Bling

By Ayeni Adekunle

Posted on Friday, 27 November 2009 11:03

With jaw-dropping mansions, chartered planes and diamond jewellery, Nigerian rap-artists are finally making the big time after years languishing in poverty – and are inspiring a new generation to do the same. In a pair of interviews for The Africa, Ayeni Adekunle asked R&B King Darey Art Alade and MOBO-nominated rapper-entrepreneur eLDee The Don about the pop scene in Nigeria, and the musical influences that led us to where we are today.

Read Ayeni’s piece on Nigeria’s pop culture revolution here.

The Africa Report: How would you compare the pop scene today, to when you first started?

Darey Art Alade: When I started many years ago, it was not as vibrant, creative and competitive as it is now. It has definitely come of age and is now comparable to the rest of the world in terms of production quality, songwriting etc. Although there are many challenges and more growth to be made, the prospects are really high.

eLDee the Don: When I started, there was absolutely no structure for the urban Nigerian artist. This was due to the fact that most of the major labels had called it quits over the years, due to lack of proper infrastructure and government support by means of enforcement of anti-piracy and publishing laws.

By 1988, Most Nigerian artists were acting as record labels, producers and directors of their own music which did not allow for much growth. Most Radio and TV media houses in Nigeria also did not support much of local content on their stations at the time and that did not help local talent to get their music across to the people.

A lot of artists took to other professions as music was no longer a fruitful venture for most. A few of us were able to identify the problems and figure out ways to tackle them over the years and that brought us to where we are with the music in Nigeria today. We had to develop independent record labels and source funding for artist development and eventually, distribution.

Today, the average artist is able to promote their music with much more ease. More record labels have emerged, jobs have been created in the various sectors and music has once again become a thing of cultural pride. Distribution, though not absolutely well structured yet, is available and the music is more accessible by the general public. Brands and agencies also have found value in using local talent to sell products and this has helped the mainstream Nigerian artist to earn a decent living.

In what way do you think music stars are helping to define today’s pop/youth culture?

eLDee: The music most artists make is a reflection of their environment. The styles and genres are also a reflection of the influences by the Western mainstream media over the last few decades. Since the music scene became vibrant, a lot of young Nigerians/Africans have created idols of some of their own celebrities and emulate them in many ways. Some artists have chosen to use the music as a way to convey messages to the populace and have been able to motivate the people.

Alade: In a very unconscious way, I think – although many of our stars are making a huge impact on the youth of today. A young generation is watching very closely and imitating everything they see and hear. So we need to be more responsible in our music, lyrics and music videos to lead by example. I have numerous give-back programs including my soon-to-be-launched foundation.

What kind of impact would you say your music has on young listeners?

eLDee: Most of my music is inspired by my everyday experiences as an African and I have written a number of songs about politics and social issues. I mostly write songs about lifestyle and urban African culture. My fans are able to relate to my music easily and are inspired by a lot of its social message.

Alade: I have a wide range of listeners and supporters from people as young as six-years-old to as old as 55 years. Because I try to make clean, easy-to-listen-to music devoid of cursing, explicit content etc., I have been able to garner fans from primary, secondary institutions and so on. From time to time I have also been approached by parents to counsel their children who show behaviours that raise their concern. But most importantly it puts a smile on my face each time I perform and young children sing along. It makes one feel like an impact is being made.

Compared to music coming in from Europe and the US, how would you rate Nigerian music, in terms of local acceptance and popularity?

Alade: I would say Nigerians now comfortably listen to 100% ‘Naïja’ music. Of course there is still a decent presence of foreign content but our music has become a thing of national pride. With the nominations and winning of internationally-renowned awards and coveted prizes, we have just begun.

eLDee: Compared to Western music, the acceptance of the local music has grown over the years and has become more acceptable than Western music. The local media houses and night clubs play up to 75% local content and it has helped the local music and movies to become more of the mainstream in Nigeria. The average Nigerian is more excited about local music today and that is very commendable.

Growing up, who were the icons, role model you hooked up to and wanted to be like?

Alade: My late father Art Alade, Quincy Jones, Louis Armstrong, Jay Z, Seal, Luther Vandross, Fela Kuti etc. For their resilience, strong characters and of course superb musical abilities.

eLDee: I liked a lot of different artists for different reasons. I never really had one person that was the perfect role model. I liked Fela for his socially conscious music, King Sunny Ade for his rich cultural sound, Michael Jackson for the performance, more recently, Jay Z and Sean Diddy Combs for their business acumen and many more artists for creativity.

What kind of people do you think today’s youths mostly look up to?

Alade: People in the limelight. People they read about or see on TV. People in various positions of power, and also most importantly their family members – parents and siblings.

eLDee: Most youth look up to their societal role models. Musicians, actors and the people they see on the big screen.

Do you think Nigerians have defined their own pop culture, or is it just a corruption American pop culture?

eLDee: Nigerians have definitely defined their own pop culture because a lot of the music produced in Nigeria is a reflection of modern day Nigeria. You can hear the influence of hip hop, R&B, and reggae in most of the music but that is a reflection of modern day Africa, after the infiltration of western media over the past three decades. Though quite similar to Western music, a lot of Nigerian music is done in local languages and is a true reflection of the African youth of today.

Alade: I believe that there is nothing new under the sun but we are gradually creating our own culture, which cannot exist without borrowed elements from around the world.

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