Why Does Music of Yoruba Origin Breakthrough Globally?
First published in my column, #TheAlternative, in today’s ThisDay.
Nigerians do not understand why Shatta Wale took a swipe at Nigerian artistes. Shatta, like many other African artistes, feels that African music is turning to Nigerian music, and rather than understand why this is so, he has allowed his frustrations to boil over in his failed attempts to instigate xenophobia against Nigerians.
But why has Nigerian music reverberated around the world? What is the secret?
First, I need to explain that when people buy your culture, they will invariably buy your products. This is a fact that the United States has mastered ever since World War II. They have used their culture to good effect by employing it to market their military and industrial complex.
Where Hollywood first goes, corporate America followed like a shadow. If you liked an American cowboy actor, America would use him to put a bottle of Coca-Cola in every hand in your country. If you like an American country singer, the US would use that point of attraction to saturate your country with made in America blue jeans.
That formula is tried and tested. The actors and actresses change. The music stars come and go. Genres emerge and die out. But the same way America used your love for John Wayne to sell you peanut butter is the same way they are currently using Beyoncé to sell you Pepsi.
One thing the current Mummy GO phenomenon has laid bare is how easy it is to manipulate the psyche of our people.
And it was even a factor in colonialism. European traders beguiled our ancestors with mirrors and other curiosities that they had previously never seen. Then they sent missionaries to Europeanise us in the guise of Christianising us.
At first, they held their version of Scripture, which they called The Bible, while our ancestors held on to their ancestral lands. It was not too long before our ancestors were the ones holding the European Bible (not Scripture), and the colonialists were holding their ancestral lands.
Let no one be deceived. I believe in Christ. I believe He is the Only Way to God. And I believe in Scripture. But what the European colonialists brought to Africa, Latin America and other colonised places was not the historically accurate Christ, nor the spiritually pure way to God, or indeed the genuine Scripture.
If you want to understand true Christianity in one of its purest forms, go to Ethiopia. Ethiopia is like a time capsule of the ancient faith brought back from Israel to Abyssinia, by the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts chapter 8.
And sadly, till this day, my people still celebrate European cultural weddings, burials and pagan holidays, and think they are practising the same pure faith that was handed down by Christ and His disciples to the early church.
That is the chief reason why Mummy GO is sending everybody to hell. She, and many others like her (many of whom have branded thousands of children witches, leading them to be kicked out by their parents) do not know the difference between Christendom and true Christ follower-ship.
And that is why African Christians are gradually being beguiled to be intolerant of polygamy, which was practised in Scripture, but tolerant of same-sex marriage, which is condemned in Scripture. To think otherwise is to be uncivilised.
Culture is both a weapon of war and commerce. Therefore, to win as a nation in this current world order, you must identify what aspects of your culture resonates with the world, and why?
Reason is that when you have this information at your fingertips, you can use it to non militarily promote your economic interests because other nations are doing it to you.
Countries exist to promote their selfish national interests by finding out ingenious ways to exploit others and economically dominate them politically. Anything you can legally do as a nation to improve your balance of trade position vis a vis your neighbours, and the world at large, should be your hidden agenda policy towards the world.
Unfortunately, Nigeria does not seem to be aware of this. We have our own areas where can dominate. But we appear to be blind to it.
It will take us more than a century to catch up with the West and China in the area of technology. However, we can, and should, be able to catch up with them, and even overtake them, in the area of entertainment.
And how do we this? We should take stock of those aspects of our culture that the world is buying.
That is the reason why I posit that music of Yoruba origin should be studied as a course in Nigeria’s ivory towers because it has the capacity to not only rapidly change Nigeria’s negative international image, but also to take our economy out of the doldrums by attracting music-loving tourists to our nation, the way Rihanna has done in Barbados, and even in death, Bob Marley is doing for Jamaica.
For every decade of Nigeria’s existence as an independent nation, music of Yoruba origin has dominated our nation, and now it is dominating the world.
* Bobby Benson dominated the 60s
* Abami Fela Kuti over dominated the 70s
* King Sunny Ade and Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey dominated the 80s
* Sir Shina Peters and King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall dominated the 90s.
* Paul Play Dario shared dominance with a non-Yoruba artist (Tuface Idibia) in the 2000s
* D’Banj the Koko Master shared dominance with non-Yoruba artists (PSquare) in the 2010s
* Davido, Wizkid, and Burna Boy (non-Yoruba, but sings music of Yoruba origin) are dominating in the here and now.
Their female artists are not left out. Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Asa, Simi, Teni, Seyi Shay, dominate locally and internationally with their girl power!
How do they do it, that even where they sing wholly or partly in Yoruba, their music is able to crossover locally and internationally?
Christy Essien Igbokwe was quoted as saying she would not have made a breakthrough in the music industry without her anthem Seun rere, which was performed entirely in Yoruba.
Throughout the Black world, no other ethnic group has been able to CONSISTENTLY breakthrough in the music industry internationally while singing wholly or partially in their native tongue. I am not saying that some others do not sing in their native tongues. What I am saying is that they have not been able to crossover internationally while singing in their native language.
Caribbean reggae artists sing in English or patois. African American R’nB, Jazz, Soul, and rap artists sing in English. Black Brazilians crossover with Portuguese. Francophone artists (with the exception of Manu Dibango), crossed over with French. South African artists crossed over with English (with the exception of Brenda Fassie and Mariam Makeba).
Even the world’s top Francophone female artiste (Angelique Kidjo), did not crossover internationally until she sang in Yoruba.
There is something about that language and the musical genres that the Yoruba have introduced that can permanently put Nigeria on the world map for good.
And it is not just in music. Also in theatre (theatre is stage plays, not movies), the first Nigerian theatre company to have broken into the global theatre scene, as far back as the 60s, was Herbert Ogunde’s theatre company. The only other Nigerian theatre company to have broken through internationally is Wole Soyinka’s theatrical company.
Nigeria needs to rebrand quickly from our unfortunate and undeserved international reputation for corruption and scams. And the best way to rebrand a country or a corporation is by projecting positive things about that entity that are ALREADY happening. Sadly, our government’s rebranding efforts focus on things that they hope will happen.
So, again, I call on universities, and research institutes, to do thorough researches into this phenomenon, with the aim of identifying what makes that sub-sector of the music industry so successful, so that already established acts can use that knowledge to further crossover, and young upcoming acts can act on it to make inroads into the music industry globally.
Globally, music is a $5 trillion industry. Let us use what we have to corner at least 10% of that bottom line.
No one is too busy to take your call or respond to your SMS. People make out time for those that are important to them, and block out those who are not. When people don’t take your calls or respond to your texts, make yourself scared in order to raise your value. Give yourself six months. Shun all attention. Avoid negative people. Read Scripture, and leadership books. Devote yourself to learning high valued skills, like coding, ethical hacking, blockchain, crypto trading, etc. Use your new skills to get a good job or start an impactful business. Then emerge and your value will explode!