I had the privilege of visiting Notjustok.com recently, my other residence online, and had a good laugh when I read an article by the latest addition to the Notjustok.com, AJCiti, titled ‘Why Naija Music Will Never Be Mainstream in America.’Notjustok.com is family for me so welcome AJCiti.
Ms. AJCiti gave three key reasons why Nigerian (Naija) music would never be mainstream in America. Her reasons were as follows: “1) Artistes sing in languages and use phrases and terminology unfamiliar to most Americans; 2) African culture holds very little influence in America; and 3) Generally speaking, Africa as a whole carries a negative connotation in America.”
Further, she defined Nigerian artists as follows: “The main points to realize about Asa and Nneka’s careers are that although they are African and sing with Naija influence in their music, their musical careers did not develop in Nigeria, they are not signed to Nigerian Labels and therefore cannot be categorized as typical Naija artistes.”
I’d like to think I am “always on the money” when it comes to spotting the next big thing, trend or talents in my specific niche area i.e. fashion and entertainment. Accordingly, mark your calendars on this date because one day, not too far away, Nigerian (Naija) music will be “mainstream” in America i.e. played on your radios and Nigerian stars and their music videos will be seen here in the U.S. Before I get into my 13 reasons outlined below for why this will unequivocally happen, I’d like to “move to enter into evidence as exhibits” as I do in presenting my cases, at trial in behalf of my clients, my knack for getting it right for new comers reading this who are not familiar with my work. Knock on wood; this will be no exception.
Sample Exhibits include: Zander Bleck now signed to Interscope Records, M.I Abaga signed with Chocolate City, Paul Carrick Brunson (the only African-American Modern Matchmaker in the USA about to just shut things down nationwide), Activist and Philanthropist Saran Kaba Jones, Fashion Designer Korto Momolu, Breast Cancer Survivor and Founder of Tiger Lily Foundation Maimah Karmo, my publication Ladybrille Magazine (four years ago no one believed my predictions), and yes even D’Banj now signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D music label. When D’Banj first visited the USA in 2007, he was unrecognized, even among Nigerians. Yet, at the 2007 Nigeria Reunion Convention of which I was invited as a panelist, I felt there was something about him and it pushed me to wear my journalism hat, and go out of my way to interview him for his first ever USA exclusive interview. Special thanks to Olasupo Dosunmu, relative of Filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu, who made that interview a reality.
Now here are my 13 Reasons why Nigerian Music Will Be Mainstream in America
1. “We done did it.” Nigerian music is already mainstream. Tinie Tempah, anybody? Last I checked, he was full blooded Nigerian and claimed Nigerian. Nigerians are funny. It is like we have this shifting bar. When it’s convenient, we are quick to bestow the title of “Nigerian” on popular Nigerian talents in the diaspora that the world recognizes. When it is not convenient or to illustrate our point, then those we once called Nigerians are no longer Nigerians. For the sake of this article, let’s disown Tinie Tempah for a second.
We still “done did it” with Wale who is signed with Rick Ross’s Maybach Music here in the States. Is Wale not Nigerian enough? Fine. We will also disown Wale, for a second. Let’s assume 2Face under AJCiti’s definition is the “typical Naija artiste” because he is based in Nigeria and signed to a Nigerian based label. 2Face’s song ‘African Queen’ was synchronized with Ethiopian Filmmaker Nnegst Likke’s Phat Girlz movie. Phat Girlz featuring Monique and Jimmy Jean-Louis enjoyed major publicity and promotions and African Queen is one song that many Americans, especially African Americans, are familiar with. Like I said, “We done did it.”
(T)here is a fundamental flaw with (AJCiti’s) arguments because they fail to even tell us what constitutes “Nigerian music.” What is Nigerian music? Is it all encompassing? Is it restricted to juju, afro beats aka Terry G or J-Martins kind of music, hip-hop aka M.I, Sinzu, Killz, Naeto C etc. kind of sound? Further, restricting the definition of Nigerian artists to those whose careers are developed in Nigeria and signed to Nigerian labels weakens her arguments because Naeto C, Ikechukwu, Banky W are just a handful of numerous artists who developed their careers here in the U.S. and amidst the extreme challenge of making it, relocated to Nigeria to break into the Nigerian music market. These transplants are also the pioneers of Nigeria’s contemporary music industry as we know it today; all of whom have their own record labels or co-own labels. Are they really “Naija artistes?” By her definition, “no.”
2. Language is no Barrier when it comes to Music: Nigerian accents and/or language(s) are no barriers in entering mainstream America. Didn’t a recent survey rank Nigeria as having the fifth sexiest accent in the world? Further, if Fela could penetrate and permeate the lives of mainstream America so much so we now have FELA! Broadway backed by Hollywood’s major players, why should there be any restrictions from our new crop of contemporary artists like 2Face, Asa, D’Banj, Sound Sultan, Nneka among others? Assume an argument could even be made that the Nigerian accent and language would be an impediment, then what happened to the Spanish who gave America Reggaeton? How about Jamaicans who gave America Reggae & Dance Hall Reggae? Sean Paul, anyone?
3. America’s stereotype of Africa and Africans is no Deterrence to Nigerian Music Breaking into Mainstream America: America’s fashion and media industries have indeed succeeded in painting Africa negatively, for decades. In the past five years alone, Africans, particularly Nigerians, have succeeded in helping to rebrand the image of both Nigerians and Africans in America. Nigerian and other African owned brands including brands such as Ladybrille, Africa Fashion Week New York, Arise Magazine, Nigerian Independence Day Parade, among many, have been at the forefront of the movement to destigmatize the image of Nigerians and Africans in America. Some of these brands have garnered mainstream media attention and are slowly but surely changing the image of Africans and Africa here in the U.S.
But, even the continued existence of such stereotypes cannot and has not deterred the gigantic steps; with more gigantic steps to come as Nigeria’s music inches towards mainstream America.
4. Nigeria’s Entertainment Industry is Slowly but Surely Catching Up to Speed on Marketing and Promotions. Insiders like myself here in the U.S. and other similarly situated persons understand that there is really not much to this than money and the ability to really market and promote yourself. America is excellent at marketing and promoting itself and for Nigeria’s music industry to go mainstream, we must be willing to work together, employ our best talents, resources and connected persons and puuuuuuuuuuuuuuush!
D’Banj did not just make a music video with Snoop Dogg or sign to G.O.O.D. Music. He dropped some serious money on the table and he also got the hook up from a Nigerian, Hollywood Jeweler Chris Aire. See my analysis of D’Banj’s G.O.O.D music deal here. The little steps D’Banj has taken has already garnered so much attention for a nation and an entire continent. To recoup on his investments and also push even farther, D’Banj and Mo’Hits will have to put together an intelligent team to deploy and hire the right professionals here in the U.S. who will work closely with his Nigerian team to execute the ultimate vision i.e. D’Banj becoming mainstream in the U.S.
What this looks like can be seen from one of our own. Look at what Nduka Obaigbena of This Day/Arise Magazine has done with African Fashion? It has taken loads of money, hiring the same PR squads the best in America’s fashion industry do and pushing on all fronts: CNN TV advertisement, print and online media, blogs, social media, hiring American celebrity musicians etc. Another example, although not on the same scale, at all, is Genevieve Nnaji. Nnaji’s PR in London has been able to take pictures of Nnaji hobnobbing with a few elites, post it on the internet and create a buzz to further her client’s personal brand. The buzz is slowly but surely now making mainstream fashion and lifestyle media and bloggers pay attention to Nnaji. There is no magic to this thing. It is engaging those who already know how the industry works to help execute on the ultimate vision for Nigerian music, starting with one artist at a time.
5. African culture Holds Strong Influence in America, contrary to assertions stating otherwise. Africa’s influence can be seen in Modern Art, Music (Fela and Fela! on Broadway etc.), Textiles (Ghana’s Kente clothing is a fixture in African American culture), Cultural traditions – did we forget Kwanzaa, and African cuisine – especially foods from Eastern Africa (Ethiopia). Due to Africa’s significant influence, many college campuses across the U.S. also offer study abroad programs in Africa.
6. America’s Music Industry While Important is Undergoing Major Shift Opening the Doors for a New Sound and New Entrant. Nigeria’s over-consumption of American culture, many times, seems to create a very myopic view on the reality of what is going on in a country like the U.S. America’s entertainment industry is hemorrhaging. From labor strikes to large record labels and film studios shutting or barely trying to keep doors open, it has been chaotic. There is a reason why American artists have explored and continue to explore touring opportunities and performances abroad, especially in Nigeria, more than ever before. It’s every man/woman for himself or herself. Further compounding the issues the industry faces, has been the digital revolution which has turned business upside down.
With the massive decline in revenue from album sales, big record labels, for a while, believed, albeit grudgingly, that digital sales could offer hope. But, even digital sales are on a decline. Worse, many labels did not anticipate the digital revolution and as a result omitted key provisions on how music is bought and sold in their legal agreements, an omission that is proving to be very costly thanks to lawsuits like Eminem’s ,among others. Finally, as if the industry has not been hit hard enough, especially from a label standpoint, music publishers are now on the verge of losing millions of dollars as the law provides a reversion of copyrights of many famous songs back to the original owners, the artists. Against this current backdrop, even America is looking for something new and fresh that can make tons of money. Nigerian music stands in the wings ready to step in. We just have to make sure we really know how to make money for ourselves and not have everyone else always making money off of our labor. That is where our entertainment lawyers and entertainment executives come in.
7. Music Follows the Money and Nigerian Music is Money. It really boils down to money. Bottom line, America’s music industry wants to know if Nigerian music and artists can make it loads of money. We already know Nigerians have a knack for making everyone else wealthy. Look at the many international companies operating in Nigeria? South Africans, Americans, Chinese, Spanish, Indians . . . everyone is clamoring over each other to enter the Nigerian market. Many are making so much money, they don’t know what to do with themselves. Our culture of over consumption of Western products, corrupt governance etc. has been really good for international business, believe it or not. In the U.S., if it can be shown that Nigerian music can rake in billions, entertainment lawyers and entertainment executives who are the true guards of the music industry; will gladly open the door into mainstream America. Can Nigerian music make American music executives and entertainment lawyers filthy rich? Ask P-Square and D’Banj.
8. Nigeria’s artists cannot and should not be compared to South Korean Artists in Terms of Entrance into Mainstream America. AJCIti in supporting her reasons, compared Nigerians to South Koreans, the most dominant music industry group in Asia, arguing that they have been unable to enter mainstream America. Nigerians cannot be compared to South Koreans. I should know this. As a Nigerian and/or Nigerian-American who follows the South Korean/ K-pop music markets and legal drama diligently; and have blogged about Asia’s music markets extensively and even dedicated a website, in the past, solely for that industry, the two simply cannot be compared. There are many K-pop artists that have tried to break into mainstream America including: JYJ, J-Lim, Rain, Se7en, Lee Hyori, The Queen and King of South Korean Rap Tasha and Drunken Tiger, among many that have been unsuccessful so far. While there are many reasons for this failure, a primary one is that mainstream America is historically not used to seeing Asian artists as their stars. In contrast, mainstream America is used to seeing black people as their stars and fantasizing about Black musicians. Young girls want to be like Beyonce whether they are white, black, red, yellow or orange. Similarly, young men want the swag and wealth synonymous with Jay-Z, Drake, Weezy etc.
Nigerians who are black people, are not that far removed from what Americans are used to seeing. Further with the adoption of American culture by many Nigerians (although I think it is a bit too much), many Nigerian artists can, especially when groomed on publicity and promotions specific to the U.S. market, easily connect with the American music fan. P-Square and Usher share a resemblance. When truly promoted and marketed well, these two would be such an easy sell to American fans, among many such artists.
9. Nigerian Artists are Winning Important Awards: We all would like to see Nigerian artists enjoy more exposure and visibility on important music platforms, especially in the U.S. market. But, in spite of that, Nigerian artists are winning important awards, worldwide. Our artists have been nominated for awards such as BET, MOBO, and Europe MTV Music Awards, among many awards, and are bringing trophies home. America’s music industry key players have had no choice but to take notice. These American key players, including BET, understand they will need to make some concessions to gain access or remain relevant in Nigeria’s markets, especially as Nigerians continue to become more patriotic. There is a reason why BET Networks and of late MTV USA approve nominations of Nigerians in their award events. Nothing is done for charity sake or is coincidental. BET returns to Nigeria for BET’s Sunday Gospel’s Best because they saw the money to be made from Nigerians. American media companies, among others, are gunning for that big market share of 150 million Nigerian consumers.
10. Key Nigerian owned organizations and events in the U.S. are finally getting their footing to better position Nigeria’s music for entrance into mainstream America. According to event organizers, the recently completed Nigerian Independence Day Parade in New York registered over 10,000 attendees this past weekend. During this time,these attendees listened to Nigerian music while at the parade and most likely have already shared, and will continue to share the word-of-mouth marketing about our music, creating a viral effect and demand for Nigerian music.
11. Nigeria’s Nollywood is Helping to Further Drive Nigeria’s Music Mainstream, Especially with its Increased Film Premieres in the U.S. Nollywood is the second largest film producing country in the world. Nollywood has stepped up its game on all fronts, especially with Ghana and Kenya’s film industries breathing down its neck. Most importantly, Nollywood filmmakers are now collaborating and in most instances synchronizing music by Nigerian artists into their films. These films are now frequently screened in the U.S. to diverse audiences consisting of White, Black and Asian Americans, among many; further exposing Nigerian music to the ears of Americans. Indeed, it is only a matter of time . . . one day not too far away, as I began in my introduction, Nigerian music will be mainstream in America.
12. Nigeria is in demand. Nigerians simply cannot be ignored. I imagine, often, how much of a stronger force to be reckoned with we would be if we worked together. First things first, we MUST respect our fellow Nigerian owned businesses. To that end, I continue to pray and believe Nigeria’s legal system will get stronger and that Nigerians, especially those in the U.S. and UK, will use existing legal systems in the West to seek redress when wronged. If we know that we will be held accountable for breach of contracts entered into, stealing of intellectual property, among other bad behavior some of us engage in, I think we will have a healthier respect for how we approach the bargaining table to do business with each other.
Having said all that, Nigerians as a community and a society are generally not in the business of being limited by the word ‘no.’ Our middle names all carry “resilience.” Look harder you are sure to see that middle name. Our Nigerian music constituents have pulled up chairs, sat down at America and the world’s music table, opened their music briefcases, and not taking “no” for an answer, are asking, “okay so where did we leave off?”
13. Nigeria’s social media influencers and bloggers are making sure mainstream America takes notice. New media and social media have created a democracy online. Our influencers now make Nigerian key words easily trend on platforms like Twitter. Our Nigerian bloggers continue to create massive demand for Nigerian music. Such bloggers/blog sites include Notjustok.com, DJMightyMike.net, Iwantairplay.com. Truspot.com, 360Nobs.com, Jaguda.com, Gidilounge.com and too many to count. Our DJs are spinning Nigerian music in clubs across the U.S., especially in important markets like New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Houston. All of these coupled with an increase in music tours in the U.S. by Nigerian artists (albeit the tours are relatively new, shout out to our Nigerian promoters), only makes Nigerian music continue to inch closer to mainstream.
Folks, I believe in the power of the African people and in particular the Nigerian people. In every stratosphere possible, Nigerians have successful penetrated and excelled. As Naeto C sang “kini big deal” in our music entering mainstream America? It really is not that big a deal. We can do it.
As I said in my introduction, this has already been done. But, if we say Tinie Tempah, Wale etc. are not “typical Naija artistes” or that 2Face, Asa and Nneka’s achievements are not demonstrative of what is to come, then let me remind you all of your identities through Nkiru Asika’s Poem, a Storm 360 Record label Executive.
Indeed, I believe that when you know who and whose you are; and truly understand your legacy and the shoulders you stand on, the impossible is ALWAYS possible. When anyone says “It’s impossible” or “you will never” do XYZ. The answer is, “I’M POSSIBLE” or “BUT OF COURSE I CAN.” Nigeria’s Music in Mainstream America is unequivocally and completely possible.
Nkiru Asika’s Poem
I am a Nigerian.
I am one in 5 Africans.
I am one in 8 Black people, anywhere in the world.
I am a Nobel Prize Winner.
An Olympic Gold Medalist.
A Grammy Award Winner.
A Soccer Champion.
A Prince of the Vatican.
An Oscar Nominee.
A Giant of Literature.
A Distinguished Scientist.
A Musical Icon.
My roots lie in the dusty Sahel of the North; in the rich rain forests of the East;
in the Savannah plains of the West; in the oil-filled swamps of the Delta;
in the warmth of our villages and the vibrance of our cities.
My strength flows from the waters of the Niger and the Benue.
My joy springs from the rush of Gurara Falls and the natural wonders of Yankari.
Nigeria is my rock.
Nigeria is my hope.
Nigeria is my home.
I am the voice of two hundred tribes, speaking three hundred languages.
I am the dance of the circle of life.
I am the laughter of the world’s happiest people.
I am nourished by the crop of the soil, fed by the bounty of the rivers.
I am your neighbor.
I am your friend.
I am a warrior, priest, king.
I am a mother, teacher, queen.
I am my brother’s keeper.
I am a sage from an ancient civilization.
I am a child in the youngest nation on earth.
I am the beauty,
I am the sound,
I am the vision,
I am the spirit,
I am the passion,
I am the soul of a Continent.
I am a Nigerian.
I am the HEART OF AFRICA