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State Of The Music: Do we still have ‘music for the streets’?

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Street music has become the underground sounds from these less affluent neighbourhoods. That talent pool of creative hopefuls still drawing inspiration from their mundane struggles, and marrying it to their hope and dreams of pop success.

Do we still have ‘music for the streets’?

When the Dagrin popularized indigenous street music many years ago before his untimely death, he kickstarted a wave. Before that explosion, buzzing names such as Raski, Lord of Ajasa, Nigga Raw, 2shotz, Big Lo, Slow Dog, and others who were working hard on convincing the people that there was some meaning, pride and entertainment in the local elements and genres.

Dagrin’s talent and hard work got married to time and chance, but he passed on before consolidating his position at the top of the game. What he did was termed ‘street music’, due to the Afrocentric and indigenous lyricism and melodies that were the signature properties of it.

Nigeria is a heterogenous society, divided in many ways. Ethnicity, political affiliations, religion and tribalism are core separators, but none can match the mental and physical chasm that is created by strata in the standard of living. The gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria isn’t just physical. Rich people are stereotyped as more Afropolitan, with more globalized tastes, while the poor are closer to the local influences. While there is some truth in this, (Access to more funding always equals the spending power on pricey and exotic entertainment), these stereotypes have proven to be false on many levels, but they still hold firm as the discussion on entertainment rages on many fronts.

The streets laid claim to the new wave. The stereotype came into play, and the tag ‘street music’ was used as a moniker. Another premise for the claim was the pre-celebrity origins of the artiste. A huge number of the artistes who took up the indigenous cloak were from the ‘poor’ neighborhoods. Dagrin made his mark after struggling from the suburbs of Meiran, but according popular belief, after his death, his baton was picked up by Olamide, a champion of indigenous music, was the son of a cab driver who lived in the slums of Bariga. Over time, these artistes, via hardwork and struggles have gone pop, with their sounds penetrating every corner of the country. But the widening scale of their success, the effect of Western influences, and the need to penetrate more markets by introducing new elements have made them far removed from the ‘streets’. How many hit singles have video treatments on location in a poor neighbourhood, devoid of wanton consumerism, and ostentation? The ‘street music’ have become bigger than the streets, rebranding to come alive as pop music.

With the increased shift to all things local experienced by the Nigerian music industry, we have eliminated genre diversity, and pop music, has become inundated with local elements that we have exported. What then is street music? Do they have a formula for this? What are the core markers to christen a song ‘for the streets? These are all a blur.

It is 2016, and we still have the poor neighbourhoods and creative slums. Talents who are influenced by the living conditions of these hoods, aspire to go pop and sell their music to the highest bidder for profit. Neo-street acts such as Small Doctor and Terry Apala are out with steroidal indigenous tracks which have become hailed as ‘for the streets’. Interviews with these acts will reveal that they all look forward to going pop with their sounds, and making it more accessible and acceptable to a global audience. To do that, they must compromise that sound, and perhaps lose it all together. To them, street music is the starting point and a means to an end. Once that is achieved, that cloak is shed for the rightful pursuit of wealth and durability via expansion of influences.

In light of this, street music has become the underground sounds from these less affluent neighbourhoods. That talent pool of creative hopefuls still drawing inspiration from their mundane struggles, and marrying it to their hope and dreams of pop success.

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