Have you ever been at a hang-out with your crew and a TV happened to be on a rack against the far wall and you found your attention suddenly absorbed by an unfolding interview? The VJ had just asked this young Afro pop artiste why his latest work/song was the “same, same; a hodgepodge of street jargons and celebratory boast about blowing, spending plenty, plenty money, on flings.”
And the young man smiled snugly and answered with glinting eyes, “it is what Naija wants, we give them. Look, we have to respond to what our fans want. It is how we do it, blow.”
And you felt scandalized; if this was at home and you had the remote control, you would immediately have changed the channel. “Who are the fans telling these guys that their Naija audience do not know any better?” you countered and almost everyone on the table, six guys in all, agreed with you and threw all manners of jeers in the direction of the silver screen at the “upcoming” artiste. So you threw your hands up, “Not a soul here supports their silly claim, you see!”
Noise is Easier to Make; Yes?
I once walked around also with my temper on my sleeves, asking these questions of every Naija music enthusiast I came across, who made the same pathetic excuse for the lack of creativity in the works of most entrants into the Nigerian Afro pop scene. They just knew. No research. They just knew because most of the acts they saw on video shows, allegedly on the “blowing” arc, were adding to the same noisy trend. They reasoned simply that noise was working because it was everywhere on the airwaves? I disagree; noise is everywhere because noise is easier to make.
Not to Foul Our Music Heritage
The problem with this “it is what Naija wants” reasoning for the blow-hungry upstarts is that it undercuts their inspiration (artistry) and overcuts their expectation (stardom). If this were not the case, how come that most of these tens of wet-eyed new artists on these video shows appear once and disappear never to be seen again, leaving just a few, who made repeat appearances, and only one or two in as many years who continue to get mentioned on equal platforms with the Tu Face, Wizkid, Davido, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage of the Naija scene. These names, among the scene’s stars, have endured for years.
“For those not afraid to face the truth, the ones who are this successful are the ones who have got enough initiatives to reinvent their own wheels in more ways than one.”
They are the few who write songs with some meaning, with creative twists, some distinguishing appeal and with cut-through sounds. They follow in the footsteps of the legends of great Nigerian music like Jim Lawson, Victor Olaiya, Sunny Okosun, Christie Essien Ibokwe, Sunny Ade and Fela Anikulapokuti; persons who had before taken Naija sounds beyond our borders to international acclaim. Therefore, to attempt to replace the music heritage left by these greats with “noise” is to criminally disrespect Naija sounds.
Deliberate Intervention Attempts
About ten years ago, I attended a music business workshop by “Dear Artiste,” an organization founded by radio OAP Fola a.k.a The Boss Lady, at some location on Opebi Street, Ikeja, and I was impressed with the forward looking attitude of the resource persons brought to address young artistes who incidentally were serious enough about their careers to have paid the #2,000 registration fee for the workshop.
“I was not a guest, I paid the fees. It had to be that my interest was piqued really well concerning the direction the artistic content in Nigeria’s music industry was preparing to take.”
A veteran music producer, a top class music manager, an entertainment lawyer and Fola herself, then a music entrepreneur, spoke at the occasion and one could only have left the event with a very hopeful and positive mindset. For me, it got better. I met Mr. Habib Mohammed, a former Bellview Airlines Corporate Affairs manager, who introduced himself as a Music publishing enthusiast, then working on acquiring an A&R start-up, with which he hoped to “re-invent the Naija music writing landscape.” Those were his exact words –ten years ago. I noticed that he had paid the registration fee too, and had sat through three hours of the discussion, which was rather meant for young impressionable artistes; I took him serious.
Never Too Late for a Revolution
I am writing this piece because he called me in March 2019 and told me he has a new music brand, Fah mi li, on the build. It is a music performance group of three singing sensations –girls- who have vowed “to show respect for Naija sounds.” He wanted me to remember our meeting of 10 years ago at a Dear Artiste” event. I laughed off some nerves and told him that I could not have forgotten that meeting by any means. He told me how it had taken him this long to put a brand up for the challenge, ready for public appraisal. He asked me to prepare to write the first opinion piece on the progress Fah mi li represents.
Fahmili Has the Music and the Point
Next, he invited me to a very private listening party at the premises of Righton Projectz Limited, his new music publishing outfit. I entered the company’s recording studio (somewhere in Ikorodu, Lagos) and realised I was the only guest for the day.
“I saw his girls, listened to three demo songs and I felt vindicated. I have always known there is a vacuum in the Naija music management enterprise waiting for a creative and imaginative entrepreneur to fill.”
Mr. Mohammed has the right ideas and had the patience and perseverance to have incubated it and seen it take-off. He has created a “business class” music brand, cut and diced immaculately with songs and sounds fitting into a discernible form and theme.
“There is something about his term “business class” that connects cerebrally with what the three gorgeous girls of Fah mi li called their genre of music: ruminative pop.”
I think it sounds heavy, but the girls have a lightness of style that corrects such a first impression.
If you are wondering what the next thing is for Fah mi li, I asked. Mohammed said Righton Projectz is presently in partnership talks with a Nigerian Music Label (undisclosed) and will issue a statement as soon as the delicate negotiations are completed. “The idea is to employ very high level of specialization in the entire management spectrum for Fah mi li. The partners we seek will handle the label end of the responsibility of growing this brand with utmost professionalism.” Mohammed said, explaining that his company’s core interest shall remain music licensing and rights exploitation.
Naija Songwriting Recovers Big
Fah mi li, as far as I can see, is a fitting name for a ruminative pop brand; a fresh and sizzling effort, of girls who sing their hearts out with infectious fun. Their materials cut too deep at times, but they make it look so easy and relatable that you will be entertained long before you feel the heavy swings. I have listened to their debut single but I am not allowed to say a thing about it or disclose the title. I was only allowed to smile away, to dispel the blues of life: to write like a promise. For sure, they are showing enough respect to Nigeria’s heritage of good music.
— Helen Thompson is a writer with KemMedia, Lagos.