The concept of success in Nigerian music is a very ambiguous subject, often finding meanings that are in keeping with the societal definition of success.
Nigeria is a hugely consumerist and materialistic nation which depends heavily on the possession of material wealth and money. Generally speaking, a man is referred to as successful if he has money, and wears it proudly. The CEO who runs a very profitable business, lives in a bungalow, and drives a moderate car will never be called successful. But his employee who talks a big game, and drives an expensive car will most likely have the ‘successful’ tag slapped upon him.
In Nigerian music, success is pretty much judged with the same yardstick. The artistes with the flashiest of lifestyles, which are generously documented on social media is regarded as the more successful ones, as compared to the one who sells more records, performs more shows, makes more power moves, and broadens their income bases. In other words, you don’t wear it, you don’t flaunt it.
In my relatively brief period in the Nigerian music industry as a media man, I have conducted interviews for a record number of musicians. Away from the basic gathering of interesting facts for the public, each interview session comes with a bright new opportunity to dig deep into the minds of the artistes who come my way. I have come across a lot, ranging from the geniuses to the shallow. These classes of people are easy to identify, with many masking ignorance and dimness as a strength. But one question never fails to unveil the true nature of the person: “When you are through with music, how will you judge your success?”
A huge amount of pop singers and rappers who are thoroughbreds from the streets and that have been conditioned by the prevailing mindset of the country, would always never fail to judge it by the amount of cash that their music rakes in for them. To hell with all the lofty talk about ‘touching people’ and inspiring a generation of performers. These ones just want the money.
But a select group of acts drawn from the alternative scene, and some of the most cerebral of producers wa lyrical about the music being more about the fulfilment, than the numbers from the bank.
Pop music in itself is often shallow and materialistic, hence the propagators of such a culture will have very little by way of depth, to offer. That’s why if you aren’t on Instagram, turning up on Fridays, and making video productions of your time with seemingly-mindless model-types, you are not successful by pop standards.
That’s why an artiste with a niche sound, who makes money via digital sales, international deals and performances, will be regarded as being not successful than a Ycee who only has three hit songs to his name. Brymo has consistently made money via a number of sources, and runs his business independently. But the society will bestow the success tag on Ycee off his flashier genre of music. Not considering the facts that Ycee is signed to Tinny Entertainment, and probably still operates at a loss.
This is the flawed reasoning that has birthed mediocrity in Nigerian music. The average Nigerian pop hopeful has no other ambition or purpose in life than ‘to blow’. “Baba just give me the chance to blow”, they say, before being trapped in a slave contract that renders them puppets.
Success is relative, and never truly be defined. But in the pursuit of that success, huge emphasis should be placed on more than the money. The money is fleeting, fame is unsteady, and the adoration of pop fans never endures. The best decision to make is to create art that will instil a sense of happiness and pride, art that satisfies the mind, and makes your creative spirit glow.
Irrespective of the money, anytime you can achieve that, you have become successful. Art is success, be art.