To Be Nigerian, or Not To Be Nigerian?

(Back for another post. As a segue before I begin, I just want to say that I like club bangers as much as the next person, so I’m not hating on people that skimp on lyrics for entertainment value. I just wish they didn’t do it all the damn time (side eye at Souja Boi…). Like I said, I don’t want to lose too many brain cells before I get old.)

I wanted to expand on a point that came up as I was writing the last post. Where I said that Nigerians are proud to be Nigerian, but don’t like being too Nigerian. I’ll explain what I mean, starting with the music industry. A lot of the comments mentioned the fact that the Nigerian music industry has come a long way. I agree that it has, but I want to be clear on exactly what I mean by that. I believe that the music industry has come far in the sense that there’s now more access to quality recording and production materials, so artists don’t have to travel so far to record their albums, or record them in a back room somewhere. This opens up the field so that up-and-coming artists can get their music out there. The internet has helped a LOT too, with places like RadioPalmwine and TruSpot Radio enabling the music to reach a wider audience. This is a good thing.

But, if your understanding of the music industry coming far is that we’ve gotten to the point where we sound a LOT like Western musicians, then I ask you to stop and think for a second. Why is it that more Western automatically equals better or higher quality?

Now, we all accept that the Western World is the benchmark by which less developed countries like Nigeria measure their progress. However, I would like to make a point that not everything has to be measured by American standards. Music is one big thing for me, because it is rooted in our cultural history. Nigerian music has not completely lost it’s Nigerian-ness, but the number of artists mimicking Western musicians is increasing at an alarming rate. How many artists nowadays make highlife music? Compared to the number of musicians, especially new musicians, that make Westernized music (someone coined a term for it, but I can’t remember it now…), it’s a very small number. The only person I can think of aside from the Kutis is Jessy King. It’s not like people don’t like highlife music anymore. No musical genre completely dies out: you will still have people, young and old, listening to music, and some even making music, that sounds like it was made decades earlier. So you can’t argue that the genre is obsolete, nor can you argue that highlife music is a marker of a backwards society and not a modern one. So why this trend?

I think that highlife music isn’t made anymore because for some reason, the Nigerian music industry has decided to move towards a Western sound because they think that it is “better” somehow. I say this because I don’t just get this vibe from the music industry. Nigeria’s economy is growing, despite the economic crisis, and new companies and businesses are being started every day. Take a look at the names of these companies: majority of them are named something like Hertsfordshire Estate*, or Princeton Computers Inc*. Less and less of these companies are taking on Nigerian names. Why is that? Sugabelly told me about a conversation she with an acquaintance who was starting up a business, and wanted to call it Princeton*. She asked him why he wanted to name it after an American company as opposed to giving it a Nigerian name, since it was a Nigerian company. He replied that people would take the company more seriously if it was given an American name, because they would think it was American. Sugabelly then told him that that was a silly reason, and why not give the company a Nigerian name and allow people to see that Nigerian companies can be just as good as American companies. He said that he didn’t see how his changing the name to a Nigerian name would fix anything, and essentially said that it’s not his job to inspire change in Nigeria.

Hearing about this made me angry. Not only because it is evidence of a pervasive mentality that everything that’s American is better than any Nigerian thing, but that this man, who stands in a position to make a difference, if not in the entire nation at least among his peers, decided to give in to this negative mentality as opposed to trying to break free from it. And please understand that this IS a negative mentality. If you name your company Ojo Computers as opposed to Princeton Computers*, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be providing people with computers made out of obeche wood as opposed to high grade plastic or metal, or that they’ll run any slower than today’s standard computer. Geez. If we shun everything that is inherently Nigerian, we will eventually lose our Nigerian identity, and become a nameless people who used to be great, but fell from greatness because we were aspiring to be something we will never truly become. We can never BE America. We can become a developed country, and a world power, but we will never BE the US. We can only be Nigerian, and we should be proud of that and promote that, as opposed to trying to be something we’re not. I do agree that some aspects of Westernization are not the devil, and that once incorporated into a culture, some things can become a part of the culture and not look like it’s been fapped from another culture. But we should incorporate these things and still hold on to our own identity, instead of throwing it away.

I think that colonialism played a role here. When the British came, us Nigerians had to make a choice: to hold on to our culture and be branded backwards heathens who would never progress, or to abandon our culture and embrace this new culture, complete with dress, religion and language that was “better” than our own. But what makes British culture better than Nigerian culture? Did it lack the sophisticated art and music of other cultures? Did it leave us worse for wear? No. There was – and is – nothing wrong with Nigerian culture, or Nigerians. So why, oh why are we letting it rot away?

To come full circle and go back to the music post, I mentioned that I wasn’t a big fan of Dare Art-Alade. The Nigerian interwebz has been in hot debate over Dare’s latest videos, most of which have featured a foreign female lead who is lighter skinned than your average Nigerian. Some people say he doesn’t like/ is not promoting real African women. Other people are saying that he’s marketing himself to an international audience. All I’m going to say is that every person trying to gain international fame has to gain substantial fame in their own country. If all the female leads in your videos look very different from your fellow countrywoman, you give off the impression that your fellow countrywomen aren’t good enough for you, which hardly does anything to boost your popularity. Dare is married to a Nigerian woman, right? So why would he then use Indian women in his videos if he likes Nigerian women? This is not just a Dare thing. P-Square’s award-winning video for “Do Me” (it won a Channel O Music Video award) featured a LOT of white women, more so than you would see in a regular Nigerian club. Why? (In their defense, though, their other videos feature mainly black people.) It happens in other countries too. It’s like if you get a white person in your video, you’ll drastically change your chances of being successful. This is a blatant lie, and if you believe that you’re probably not that good at what you do in the first place. People need to stop feeding into this “white is better” mentality and start being proud of who they are and where they come from.

NB: I went natural a year ago because I wanted to discover my true self. Someone actually said to me that I was mimicking African-Americans by going natural. People also said that natural hair was not a “Nigerian” thing to do. If natural hair is not a Nigerian thing, then I must not be Nigerian. My God-given kinky hair had somehow become less Nigerian than the relaxed hair or weave that my peers wore to look more Western. Please people, stop the madness.

NBB: Eccentric Yoruba wrote a post a while back about ideas of beauty in Nigeria. I encourage you guys to read it, because it’s a good example of how Western ideals have come to shape non-Western culture in a way that is destructive rather than helpful.

*Name changed to protect identity


13 thoughts on “To Be Nigerian, or Not To Be Nigerian?

  1. Hey,I love this article, it speaks to a bigger problem that ails our society, it is not only music and business, it is language and culture…. it does sadden me but it seems the powers that be are in support of it.L.

  2. Mmm…And you know, a large chunk of my folks' generation have dug deeper roots for the language problem by rearing children that have no clue how to communicate in their native tongues.It turns out, I'm one of those children. And curiously, I find that there are more of my ilk than I had imagined. I have a Western name. If I need an interpreter to tell me what my own native name means, it poses a problem if I need to name anything/anyone.The matter of natural vs unnatural hair is pretty much the same as that of western vs native names and such like. Its the pervasive notion we are born into that considers a thing to be less classy if it proceeds from our culture.That's why Chinasa is "razz" and Monique is cool. Or why people adopt accents who have never seen the inside of a plane. I personally HATE HATE HATE that part!!!!I actually attended a church (a very large and popular one in Nigeria) where we were taught to act like "global citizens" by refusing to speak a local language. I was told to engage an interpreter if I ever needed to preach to a person who didnt speak English. I was a young leader in that church. The day I heard that was the last day I attended it. So you see…it actually reaches far deeper than our music.I've clogged up your comment space again…No vex. lol.

  3. its getting so riduculous that the new thing for a lot of European indie bands is to be influenced by Afrobeat and other african music styles (see Vampire Weekend). Its the problem with all former colonies- progress and westernisation are not synonymous. there are plenty of countries that are progressing in manner that is unique (consider Iran, or Korea. not examples of perfect countries, but ones where their populations are educated and their streets are paved). it isn't possible to copy the european model as we'd have to enslave a large percentage of the world's population and have them in some form of chains for centuries after, but anyway….

  4. this write up is interesting but lacks understanding of allowing poeple freedom of expression. if any artist chooses to do whatever let them be. appreciate it and stop hating for nothing. can you satisfy everybody? yes you…can you? so you see, do your best and leave the rest. from p2 to dare…they r trying. if u wanna make a difference then be the difference! abi now?and to those in search of themselves…realize that the world is now global. if u feel like being staunchly traditional then fine…but done spoil it for anybody who has right to express freely. there is actually something like black people hating white people…as evident in this post…begin to look beyond names and skin color! jeez!!!

  5. @anonymous……… I think you missed the point. And you're commenting on the wrong post.I am not hating on freedom of expression. I am simply asking the Nigerian artists to provide better quality music. And I can ask that, as a consumer who buys their music. Their job is to make me happy abi? They cannot please everybody, but I am sure they would appreciate constructive criticism. They are trying. And I would make the difference, if I didn't want to be a doctor instead.It's not about being in search of your identity. Neither is it about choosing between Western and Nigerian culture. It's about holding on to one (Nigerian) while taking the good things from the other (Western). For example, I was taught in English while in school in Nigeria, while also learning a Nigerian language. Learning English allows me to be a global citizen, but learning a Nigerian language allows me to keep hold of where I came from. I can be an Esan woman and still go to school in America. The thing I am worried about is forgetting that I am an Esan woman, because all reminders of my culture – language, music, art, etc – will have disappeared because people neglected to pass these things on to their children. That would be a tragedy.I am surprised that you think it is "evident" that I hate white people in this post. Please, where is the evidence? Or are you just pulling that out of your ass so that you can invalidate my points? I AM looking past names and skin color – at the REAL problem. Clearly, you are the one who is getting caught up in it. There is nothing wrong with white names, just like there is nothing wrong with Nigerian names. So why are Nigerians overwhelmingly choosing one over the other? If you can answer that with a good reason, come back. If not, please don't.

  6. Dudes, "westernizing" Naija music is getting really bad. When I was in Lagos last October, I couldn't turn the radio without hearing the word "Nigga" from a NIGERIAN artist. Mental slavery, a silent killer.

  7. On the flip side of things, alot of 'western music' such as R&B, soul, hip hop, etc were heavily influenced by African music and instruments in their formative stages.I constantly here of this westernization of music or the arts in Nigeria in general, and all I can say is-what is being Nigerian anyway? Is music only Nigerian sounding when it sounds like high life or juju? I mean, in the world of literature, some authors go as far as to say Africans are not being African enough when they write in English. The truth is an artist is also a businessman/woman and must make an effort to reach a broad audience. The fact that he/she should not deny his/her roots in the process notwithstanding.The world is becoming more of a global village, and with that is a transport of sound. There is no denying that some artist try to hard to be 'Americanized'…but so many artist are creating a uniquely Naija brand. I'm with you-Nigerian music has come a long way.Now, don't even get me started on the natural hair thing…that one na another tori…

  8. ok b4 i get my blog here is what i tried to post on ur main blog a million times but to no avail. its on what u posted on black american someborri and also ur rantings on solomondsylle blog:i understand why african americans hate africans like u and me. all those with a sense of history also do. from their perspective we sold them into slavery. and they suffered from ship to shore and beyond. but me think they should direct their anger to white christians who invented slavery. it was the first act of terrorism on this earth. soon after they abolished it they came-up with yet another form of terrorism: colonialism. both these are crimes against humanity the like of which we shall never see on earth. the terrorism we see today is a child's play compared with these. but there were and are still more being perpetrated by these same callous people.this makes me to wonder what the world would have been like without christianity, without jesus etc. ever wondered about the sugabelle?

  9. I love this blog and the comments of this post. More black americans are rejecting the colonialized mannerisms that were placed on us hundreds of years ago, especially as more of us are learning who we really are. I'm growing out my relaxer and I don't listen to pop/mainstream music on purpose. But kids like it and it makes money so it will always be around. Keep up the good blogging!

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