The fault in our charts: 4 reasons Nigerian music lacks a credible rating system

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“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

That Nigerian music is on the edge of a major boom is no longer in question. The increased commercial viability of the sonic scape, coupled with the information age and the consequent breakdown of barriers of culture transfer leading to international exposure, have all helped the industry thrive.

Despite the tremendous changes the industry has undergone since the homegrown music renaissance began in the mid-2000s, there are still obvious market fractures that glean a faulty system many stakeholders have done nothing to rectify over the years – even though the resulting problems also affect them directly. One of such leaky faucets is the lack of a credible music rating system for Nigerian music and this problem can be broken into many parts

The lack of numbers.

Unlike in established climes where distribution companies broker deals with record labels and artistes to distribute music and share profits, for many years, Nigerian artistes have been left at the mercy of Alaba marketers for doing the same thing. Only instead of getting a contract that includes sharing formulas, artistes are asked by Alaba boys to submit a copy of their music for a one-time cheque that cannot be re-negotiated. This does not only rob artistes of the true value of their creative work, it also makes it impossible to track numbers and sales figures, both of which are very important for mapping analytical trajectories for music, genres and artistes.

Labels and artistes encouraging free downloads.

Though digital stores like iTunes and Spinlet are slightly more rewarding in their sharing formula for music sold, there is a larger free music market labels themselves encourage by releasing their singles for free download. The latter counters the former and we subsequently head back right where we started. Only now the numbers are even spread further along an endless trail impossible to follow, the Internet alone wins and everybody else gets ripped off.

The absence of a critique culture.

Nigerians have a poor attitude towards the critique of anything ever. Between bias, sentiment and a disillusioned oligarchy of a celebrity class bent on making haters out of people that just want to hear better music, the truth gets lost in the wind. Good critics are even harder to come by because there is poor documentation of the pretext, premise, and wholeness of the Nigerian sound. Critics, therefore, are forced to constantly compare Nigerian music made for Nigerians to foreign music made for foreign audiences because there are no other standards.

This counter culture importation of parameters for critiquing music makes it hard for critics to hide their bias no matter how hard they try. Hence, personal opinions are wafted around sonic facts and the former easily discredits the validity of the latter. The bigger mistake they often make is to use a single element of an artistry to generalise and benchmark the quality of a sound as we have seen with Osagie Alonge whose only benchmark is commercial success, Tola Sarumi who only uses grand declarations of her own sophisticated sonic palates without setting actual measurable parameters, Jim Donnet whose near-preachy, judgy outlook towards mainstream Nigerian music is somehow taken seriously  and Wilfred Okiche, whose high-end music tastes are nearly impossible to separate from his criticisms. And these are only a few of the so-called most revered Nigerian music critics, the lot of the rest are social media opinion militia leaders passing judgements for retweets and likes.

The anatomy of an industry with artistes only focused on getting rich.

In an industry with the above precedents, all music released is lumped into the popular music category regardless of genre. This is because the few artistes who are able to craft hits and get paid via endorsements and live shows despite industry constraints form a small ruling class that determines what the audience listens to. Both up and comers and veterans past their peak find it even more difficult to carve a niche and are consequently forced to emulate this pop music formula in a bid to get some sort of remuneration – even if it comes at the expense of making better music. Subsequently, even the most creative acts are forced to into the pigeon hole bandwagon of making mediocre popular music because between recording sessions and music video shoots, bills must be paid.

In a coda, Nigerian music can not be charted credibly because there are faults in the system that are merely being patched instead of getting permanent fixes. There are neither numbers to measure the impact and success of popular music, nor diversity in content enough for genre based niches to be carved so money can go around. Critics are not taken seriously for obvious reasons and creativity suffers at the expense of mediocrity.

The fault lies not really in our charts, but in our fucked up industry.

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