Of Street Music and Selective Acceptability

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Quayyim Adedimeji and Temitope Stephens

Nigerian music has been the cynosure of all eyes recently, no doubt. Statistics projected the total revenue accrued by the music industry to be around $4.67m in 2022, with an annual growth rate of 6.47%, which could propel the market volume of the industry to the sum of US$6.65m by 2027. Afrobeats is the global entertainment industry’s new jewel, and street music is a necessary pivot for this bubbling industry.

Social media, being the bastion of public moderatism and percepted high ideals, now serves as the standards for veracity of contemporary discourses. On public microblogging platforms, individuals are either being graciously uplifted for their ideas or brutally being abused for their takes, for perspectives they express on the platform. This has partly fueled die-hard fan bases for African music practitioners, which had propelled Afrobeats’ influence into other geographies.

If you are anything like me and you use the micro-blogging platform, Twitter a lot, you can tell what is happening here. A tweep expressing her perspective on the selective adoption of street music, is being dragged for her take. The only thing here is that I think her take is right and a lot of the responses I have seen are reactive and people are not entirely accounting for unconscious bias they might have that is preventing them from understanding her point.

This piece does not intend to force the readership to listen to other “street hip-hop or pop artistes.” Asake deserves everything coming his way, and nothing in this article is written to reduce the hard work he put in and the excellence he is getting. However, it is quite hypocritical that while musicians like Olamide are regarded as legendary, and young superstars like Asake, Young John, Lil Kesh, Mohbad, Zinoleesky are gathering some popularity, street hop acts are still restrained from fully participating or being viewed at par on the mainstage with their counterparts. 

To fully understand why music rendered in local languages are not deemed globally marketable, it is important to unpack pedestals upon which these languages are placed in local markets. In schools, speaking Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and Pidgin has been termed vernacular, and fully embracing yourself in your mother’s tongue was never fully allowed in educational institutes. A Yoruba man with low command of English living his life on his terms or living his life as a result of his condition has never been an admired or supported as a dream lifestyle. Nigerians don’t listen to (and popularise) lived experiences of musicians except the mainstream topics of sex, drugs, women, money, and intimidating people that haven’t made it in life. It’s perfectly fine to do that and live in utopia but it is important that we understand and recognise the crux of these biases.

These stereotypes are consistently the benchmark of what to ensure that you fit into societal expectations. Music enthusiasts often complain that acts like Bella Shmurda and the boys sing about fraud but are rapping bar-for-bar lyrics which reflect killings, stabbings and other forms violence. These do not often stem from the proclivities of these artistes, but from the realities of their immediate contemporary environments. 

The reactions of Nigerians to “street” music when it comes on often ranges from an “Ewww, Razz – who is this one?” (this group of people are usually shocked when they have no visual connection to the music and just listen to it with an open mind), to the “Laugh at the music, the brand and the image they portray” geng (Portable, we all know he might not be conventional. People spent more time trying to confirm if Zinoleesky is a stud or a man than just listening to the Nigerian amapiano magic he is making). There is also a distinct minority that is either fascinated by the style of music or understands and relates with the message being portrayed through the music. However, for every style of music you claim to like, there is a “street” musician that makes a similar sound and tells a beautiful story. From prayer points, to worship-type sounds, to afro beats, to amapiano.

The problem with not rating street music and more often than not shunning it out means that the market might always be niche. Two notions that are often seen on the internet is either that there is absolutely no reason Zinoleesky is not as big as he should be — that he perhaps needs new management and better packaging and branding and that Asake has done so well for himself and global positioning and branding have played a role in his meteoric rise to stardom.

It is often baffling that whilst Asake and Zinoleesky are admitted to be talented and might only be constrained by effective management, an artiste like Seyi Vibez is still deemed not cool enough to be admitted into the halls of acceptability in spite of being an artiste versed in the genre the previous duo are participants in. What is cool appears to be selective in Afrobeats, and the Asake-Seyi Vibez dynamic is a clear indication of this fact. 

There is so much evidence of street music bubbling and making waves in Nigeria’s music scene. Davolee was an amazing rapper and storyteller and Mohbad has shown dexterity by being one of the few musicians that has sung on diverse themes ranging from mental health, the reality of growing up with a step mother and fall-ins with the police. Real life problems being talked about by people who live it. The reality, however, is that as long as music buffs are not attuned to these strides, these pristine records do not get playlist placements and elegant funding to push the music distribution on digital streaming platforms (DSPs).

It is imperative that music audiences steer clear of selective adoption and acceptability, evident in the Asake-Seyi Vibez dynamic, to allow the street pop genre fully optimize its potentials and contribute to Afrobeats global march.  All creative talents should be supported without bias, and criticisms rendered towards participants in music genres constructively. Through these, street hop would be given its deserved recognition, and its progression in Nigeria’s music scene would be secured and accelerated.