CONTEMPORARY NIGERIAN MUSIC: THE PAST INSPIRING THE PRESENT?
Today, the interest of producers and contemporary Nigerian musicians in what, ordinarily, would have been left severely alone and looked upon as decidedly ‘old school’, is amazingly on the rise. Why this is so remains elusive. Yet, the reality that we all live with, today, is that ‘blasts from the past’ and ‘raves from the grave’ are not just coming alive, leaping at us with unrestrained regularity, they are also returning as wondrous chart-busters!
Strangely though, the taste and preference of the Nigerian music-loving public can be very difficult to gauge and predict. I do not know if I am alone in this, but I have come to the shocking realisation that the kind of music which readily ‘blows’ (to use the contemporary or ‘trending’ language for describing the music which succeeds in the market ) can, sometimes, be confounding.
Who would ever have imagined that DJ Zeez’s ‘Ori e o f’okas’ibe’ (your head is scattered inside it) could garner such an appeal it did, upon its release, a few years ago?
Even 9ice, whose monster hit ‘Gongo A so’,took the music scene by storm and got everyone hitting the dance-floor, from home to home, city to city,club to club and concert to concert, once confessed that it was puzzling, to him, that the track he had put his bet on, as that to be the soar-away hit, in the album, did not quite crack it for him. Indeed, it was on the strength of ‘Gongo A so’ that he got the rare privilege of performing (with a mixed-race back-up) and sharing the limelight with Will Smith and his wife, Jada ,at the late Madiba’s 90th birthday, five years ago.
I have since been weaned away from ever taking the risk of pronouncing any piece of music a hit, until it has been tested on the ever-powerful and influential, even if whimsical, Nigerian music-loving public.
To return to the crux of this piece, the past has, indeed, leapt forward to meet the present. And the handshake between both has been quite astounding. For good measure, when Nomoreloss first ‘tinkered’ with the late Orlando Owoh’s ‘Ma pa mi o, Iyawo Asiko’, not a few people were pleasantly amazed and at once excited, at the ingenious thinking behind the ‘re-making’ of that riveting tune. Indeed, the young artiste imbued that old number with a more appealing melody, danceable beat and largely contemporary and upbeat character.
Since this brilliant stroke of musical feat, arising out of this successful fusion of ‘the old with the contemporary’, there has been no stopping music producers and latter-day hit-makers.
Another note-worthy crest-bearer, of this ground-breaking movement is Omawumi, whose ‘Bottom Belle’ does not fail, at any time, to rouse all music lovers to their feet, for its masterful melody and compelling rhythm.
This year alone, we have been titillated by Tuface with an arresting collaboration with the living legend and Highlife maestro himself, Sir Victor Olaiya,on the well above 80-year old’s evergreen track, ‘Baby Jowo’.
Even as I write this, Tiwa Savage-Balogun’s ‘Eminado’, produced by Don Jazzy, has taken over the airwaves, concert venues and indeed everywhere. With her mellifluous voice, the human Nightingale brings an overwhelming freshness to the delivery of that ‘oldie’.
In his recent hit single,’ Skelewu’, Davido draws, even if sparingly, from folklore, by taking from Dele Ojo’s ‘Esugb’omos’oko’ as he did in ‘E ma d’amiduro’ before it,in which he borrows from tradition,by singing ‘Agbaraagbo, l’Osun fi nw’omoreki Dokita o to de'(It is with the flood of herbal tea that Osun was looking after her children before the coming of the Doctor).
Perhaps the one who has done more than anyone, in this generation of singers, to create that all-important connection between the ‘old and the new’,is Flavour. Indeed, for bringing highlife back to reckoning and acceptance,by even those who are too young to know the origin of that genre of music, which has a dominant influence on his style,he deserves a plaque of honour.
Who can ever forget what ‘banger’ of a hit song MC Loph (God bless his soul) made out of OsitaOsadebe,the late great Highlife Impressario’s classic, ‘Osondi Owendi’, alongside his friend,the sonorous-voiced Flavour?
Ara (the amazon talking-drummer) may not have succeeded, like others, in her attempt at creating a hit, with her rehash of Commander Ebenezer Obey’s ‘Olo mi jowo’,which she did with Tuface. She, nonetheless, pushed the limits of musical revival.
How long this ‘unique embrace’ between the ‘old and the new’ will last, is difficult to tell. Yet, it is inspiring to note that the alliance has, so far, yielded a positive result, as evinced by the ferment in and viability of the present day Nigerian music industry.
But the nagging question begging for a quick answer remains : Will this influence of the ‘old’ on the ‘contemporary’ extend to the profundity of message in the ‘hits’ which daily assail our eardrums?
OlawaleObadeyi wrote from Lagos.