Rebels, saints and sinners: The Kahli Abdu story

The Rebels

The unchecked steady edging of Chocolate City out of musical relevance saw a gleam of hope when the label announced several signings last year. The buzz created around the crop of fresh talented artists got even bigger when the label released its critically acclaimed compilation album TICBN. Following this premise, Kahli Abdu and VHS safari were the last acts the label officially unveiled in the revamping of a record company that used to stand as one of Nigeria’s biggest music entities.

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However, a series of tweets from an apparently upset Kahli Abdu saw the rapper deny having any contract with Chocolate City. Abdu chronicled his many failed attempts at finding a footing as an artist in Nigeria. He hinted his frustrations with the Nigerian music industry as a whole and promoters wasting his time. He later revealed that the bane of his social media outburst was as a result of his refusal to pay N800K (about $3,700) to promote his latest single, Festival.

He reconciled his earlier claims as an indie artist by praising Chocolate City and M.I, noting his initial excitement for the deal and blaming poor timing for his refusal to sign anything concrete. Abdu said he will deliver to the people individually if he has to, but reiterates he will not pay outrageous promotion fees.

The Saints and Sinners

Amidst his emphasis on fans helping to promote the single, the ringing question for fans remains Kahli and VHS Safari’s supposed record deal with Chocolate City. When prompted, Abdu casually replied “business” as the reason for the fall out of the deal.  As inconsequential as his response seems, it gives some context to the failure of the deal’s  fruition.

On the surface, Abdu appears to be a rebel fighting an exploitative music promotion system that takes too much from artistes. The problem with his fight, however, is the attempted downplay of the power of these “middlemen.” Kahli Abdu and VHS do music recognized as alternative by the Nigerian audience. The group is also New York based and will definitely  need all the promotion they can get. Futhermore, Khali Abdu’s puritan brand suggests the group won’t be bending to the rules of Nigeran music to increase their local marketability. Which leaves Chocolate City in a conundrum. The only reasonable move to avoid making losses is to reduce their investment in Khali Abdu, thereby forcing the rapper to manage his own promotions.

But nobody is a saint, not even Chocolate City executives.

The steady rise in the power of promoters who play no part in the creative process is a result of the sins of record labels and their formulaic album roll outs plans. Singles are released on the internet, promoted for digital downloads by social media and Alaba boys are given the marketing rights for the album itself.

Styl-Plus tried to fight this system many years ago, but the result was a four years don waka, without a waka come back nearly 6 years after. Nobody has really tried to change this system because the labels are concerned with endorsements and concerts rather than album sales.

The only lesson to learn from the fallout of Kahli Abdu’s deal is for artistes and labels alike to consider alternative avenues for album promotion and distribution rather than merely bombarding the webosphere with hashtags and  social media competitions. Furthermore, labels should confirm their signings only after weighing all the pros, cons and costs of both. Nobody dives into the ocean to suddenly back out because they only just discovered the water is salty. Do your homework.

 

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