Young people whose favourite stars were obviously inspired by these genres do not necessarily listen to them.
In March, this writer was invited to moderate a panel at the Ariya Repete Roundtable Conference where the state of traditional Yoruba music and its influences on Nigerian pop culture was discussed. The panel comprised legendary heavy-hitters: Fuji icon K1 De Ultimate, Afro-juju maestro Sir Shina Peters as well as King Sunny Ade‘s longterm manager Clement Ige. At some point during the conversation, I suggested that pop music is why Nigerian music appears to be taking over the world. All three disagreed vehemently for nearly half an hour. K1 reminded the hall of his antecedents on the world stage, performing at international festivals before acquiescing. Then he blamed the media for not playing enough traditional music, SSP blamed the younger ones for wanting to be ‘hip hop’ and so on and so forth.
They did have a point though- for all fuji and juju’s exploits- and both genres have had a lot- it does look as though they’ve been banished away from pop culture, becoming the music of ‘old people’- or worse still music of the illiterate and ‘razz’. Young people whose favourite stars were obviously inspired by these genres (think Wizkid, Olamide, Adekunle Gold) do not necessarily listen to juju or fuji.
But in fairness to them, those genres hardly have the appeal needed to attract younger listeners. Dancing to KSA and K1 at a wedding reception is one thing; watching a group of young fuji musicians jam beside a bus park in Bariga is another. Most fuji artistes have regular jobs, either as carpenters, vulcanizers, bus conductors, okada men and career area boys. So it is inevitable that ‘cool kids’ may generally be put off.
The problem lies with older, successful stars who have not been able to create a system that will ensure that their genres do not die with them.
Some of the most successful entertainers have had less than ideal beginnings. Sikiru Ayinde Barrister sang on his Reality album of how he was a bus conductor and then ‘motorboy’ before joining the army. Similarly, King Sunny Ade ran away from home to chase his dreams of being a musician. But both men had their rough edges smoothened out by years of tutelage and continuous education.
That training is what is missing in today’s budding musicians. There are no record labels investing in their talent and helping them shed the popular and incorrect perception that Yoruba musicians are louts and layabouts. Interestingly, many of them have longer careers than pop acts. Wasiu Alabi Pasuma, for example, is one of the younger fuji stars who has been active for almost three decades. His contemporaries who make pop music have since retired. Only a few urban musicians from 1995 are still active today.
The aforementioned Ariya Repete recently held a series of auditions to select talented fuji and juju musicians as well as drummers for a chance to win a grand prize of 2 million naira. Nearly forty of them made it to the quarterfinals.
In hindsight, it is perplexing that such a platform had not existed before now. One of the reasons why urban music is as successful as it is now is the involvement of corporate bodies in the shapening of the genre through different talent shows. Some of the biggest names in entertainment were part of these talent hunts, either as winners or contestants.
It is hard for traditional music practitioners to blame other people for the state of their genre. Again, Pasuma who is regarded as ‘young’ is actually fifty years old. And it’s not as if the talent does not abound, you can hardly go to anywhere in southwestern Nigeria where the inner cities don’t have a thriving music movement. For their sakes and the genres- and the history of Nigerian music in fact- it is imperative that these diamonds in the rough are discovered and refined.
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