Nigeria’s Pop Culture: A Perspective

pop culture

Lagos, it should be said, holds the collective consciousness of Nigeria. While there is undoubtedly social, economical and cultural boom elsewhere, the City of Excellence is placed at the forefront of all these activities, making it a central point in any dissertation concerning Pop culture in Nigeria and beyond.

In a nonfiction piece, the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explores the workings of the state, its forceful psychological effect on whosoever encounters it. Lagos, no doubt, in the eloquent lush of her words, becomes a character vivified by its domineering presence in discussions about cities, the reach of their influence, and everything else.

1977: FESTAC, held in Lagos, attracted over seventeen thousand people. It was a grand showcase of African music, fine art, literature, drama, dance, and religion. Among prominent artistes who performed were Mariam Makeba, Stevie Wonder, Mighty Sparrow, and many more. It was, at the time, and many would say to this day, the largest Pan African gathering to be organised.

Unsurprisingly, the then Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo was the grand patron of the event which earned plaudits from almost everywhere. Everywhere, except the Kalakuta Republic. As written in his official biography (“Fela: This Bitch of a Life”) by friend and journalist Carlos Moore, Fela was invited by a highly ranked military officer to part of the Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC). The Afrobeat pioneer agreed, suggesting a nine-point program which aimed at the festival including everybody else. Probably going for an elitist agenda, Fela’s program was rejected and there was subsequently a man hunt which might or might not have been related to the FESTAC fall-out.

That perhaps, marked the first direct confrontation between the idealism of a well known musical practitioner and the Nigerian government. In as much as FESTAC couldn’t be termed a failure, it was a major shortcoming that the country’s most prominent musician didn’t feature in it. More so when many artistes who came in for the festival still visited Fela at his house (Kalakuta Republic) and sometimes, The Afrikan Shrine.

The Federal Government’s relationship with the entertainment sector

As earlier discussed, Lagos is the foremost state as regards entertainment in Nigeria: the actors are there, the films are premiered in cinemas across the states, independent musicians move there, hoping that through proximity to record label offices and owners, they will secure a deal.

However, as Lagos continues to thrive, the general entertainment sector suffers; that is, a lack of experienced personnel and the capital power to go with it has caused other regions to produce content of considerably lesser quality and clout. This is because there isn’t enough corporate backing to go round, and the average foreign consumer of Nigerian entertainment can only mention some household names when asked about practitioners in such sectors. These include Nollywood, Fuji music, music coming out of other states – with the exception of Lagos.

What would surely lead to a robust scene would be to take the entrepreneurial breakthroughs of the past years, and study them. There also ought to be more purpose-driven interaction between the actual artisans and members of the Government. In fact, it is imperative that the roles each play in the overall perception of Nigeria within and outside its shores cannot be understated.

Across the scenes of Fashion, Music, Photography, more entrepreneurs are springing up everyday, setting up virtual shops (online) and connecting across borders and within, pushing the limits. The disconnect between the Federal Government and its creative youths can be summed in a sentence from a yet-unpublished essay by a prominent Pop Culture writer who I reached out to: “To draw a line of connection between the youths and the Government would be to sketchily trace a thin thread of the money-enabled relationship between select entertainment personalities and politicians, as regards campaigning for public offices.”

The trend of individualism

Nigeria’s economy basically operates in capitalism. This doesn’t mean however, that the Government takes too many a steps back, leaving the private owners of businesses toil endlessly, when some effort could be made. Policies, financial backing, mutual respect amidst others, can do much in this regards.

On social media platforms, the Government has continuously been made a joke of and this is not helped by the continuous ill advised reactions. One of the perks of democracy is the freedom of speech and thought, it should be said. Why then, in 2017, were there widespread reports about monitoring the social media accounts of Nigerians? Although reason given was credible (to monitor hate speeches), there was a quote from the then Director of Defense Information, Major-General John Enenche, who, speaking to Channels Television, said “We have our strategic media centres that monitor the social media to be able to sieve out and react to all the ones that will be anti-government, be anti-military, (and) be anti-security.” This begs the question: was announcing their intentions imperative? Surely, social media has its evils, but it is also the space where the philosophy of the age which is individualism is collectively displayed. And instead of seemingly being on the other side, there should have taken the time to understand – rather than correct, as if one is dealing with a child – the workings of the Nigerian social media space and how over the years, it has shaped up to be the best thing to happen to Nigerians who amongst other things, have used it for the purposes of information dissemination, activism, networking, and many others.

Taking Ms. Adichie’s words for a relative use, the social media space is a city of blurred boundaries: musicians form relationships with fashion designers, caterers form relationships with university students, journalists share their thoughts on news, writers support each other through the writing struggle of getting published, everybody is interconnected and yet, everybody is about The Self, I.

Popular culture of the past four years is best characterized by the convent of a group of people, who are primarily united by the struggle of creatively expressing themselves. Tagged Alté (short for alternative), they are youngish in appearance, and instantly outlandish. Among artistes who have been called alté are Odunsi, The Engine, Lady Donli, Tay Iwar and Santi. The journalist Joey Akan aptly describes their everyday struggle when he wrote that “While other communities have investors and big budgets, the Alté crowd are mostly self-funded, scratching from corner to post, and denying themselves a lot of comforts to create music.”

Perhaps one would rubbish this “individualism” tag, but because of the early mentioned blurred boundary, it holds weight: basically, everybody recognizes they are on their own, and this binds them together and often, their medium for letting off steam is mocking the government and its officials.

Next Level how far?

The government should look no further than 2018, when Nigeria was the toast of the world. Blacks in the diaspora proudly associated with being Nigerian, people in online spaces were forced to let go of their single story of Nigerians as internet thieves.

That is the image the country’s government officials should hold on to when dealing with the creative sector: the globally acclaimed Nike jersey, the Zanku dance, Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart snagging a Netflix deal, the private corporations–organized shows, the musical concerts, and many more. There’s no African entertainment industry without Nigeria’s.

More than ever, in the next coming years, investors will flock into states like Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, seeking the persons leading at the frontiers of Nigeria’s creative sector. Now more than ever, will the Government (that promises to take Nigeria to the next level) need to step up, to protect these ones, and like shrewd business people, make money off it. This money, when it circulates within the country and not outside in the coffers of foreign brands, will boost the overall economy, and create a boisterous environment that will only lead to more success.

By – Emmanuel Esomnofu


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