Last weekend, I was at the Nigerian Music Video Awards at the behest of one of my close friends who owns an entertainment company and had one of his artists up for nomination. The event held at Eko Hotel on a balmy Sunday evening, so I threw on a pair of jeans and a sports blazer and headed there with 2 of my mates and my girl.
At the start of the awards ceremony, the organizers played back a 20minute video chronicling the tortured history of the present day Nigerian music industry. As the NMWA was founded by Cally Ikpe, a former music video presenter in the mid to late 90s, footage was shown of him interviewing up and coming artists back then, some of which included Messer Tuface Idibia who had a full head of hair then, a really slender dreadlock-less DJ Humility, Weird MC when she was less weird and was crooning to the world about that famed Ikeja Boulevard in her hit single “Allen Avenue” plus also the remaining members of the Plantashun Boiz crew.
Speaking of the Plantashun Boiz, the group included Black Face. Remember him? He was most people’s choice to blow with a solo career as he was the most obviously talented then. Sometimes having the most talent in a group doesn’t mean you would have the most successful solo career; sometimes the least celebrated member sneaks up on everyone. Robbie Williams of the Brit pop group Take That is a case in point (nobody gave him a chance).
Back to the NMVA event, the audience screamed while the music history video was playing, because our artists had grown in the public eye, and music in Nigeria has really come a long way from the rut of the early 90s. Artistes like Chi Chi of Africa back in the day wore costumes on stage that belonged on the set of the German game show Telemarch. Even as recent as the 90s, artistes lived from hand to mouth and were written off as drop-outs and never-do-wells. Nollywood actors were no better treated. I remember seeing Ramsey Noah at Video Mart in Surulere circa 96, and no-one in the video-club even gave him a second glance. The video store cashier even fined him for a late return without a smile.
Apart from that, some people around me was marveling at how Cally Ikpe looked back then in his Boy Alinco spectacles and polka-dotted button up shirt. He looked like Spotty from the SuperTed cartoons.
The host for the evening was a veteran of Nigerian TV presenting by the name of Israel. Now if you don’t know who Israel is, let me tell you a bit about him. He was the kind of person you imagined in a circus with a tux, brimmed hat and a magic wand opening the show for a set of performing sea-lions. He spoke in a barely understandable accent, rolling his tongue and using huge words. He is the type of fella to say something like: There was pandemonium and gnashing of teeth when the motor-car ran out of premium motor spirit.
He was also the type of guy who would say “I had cow-peas and cassava flakes a fortnight ago” rather than simply saying “Two weeks ago I ate beans and garri.”
When he came on stage in a black suit, waist coat and a bow tie, and spoke his special brand of English, in a grandiose, ventriloquist’s voice, the crowd just laughed and laughed. Not at him, but for him. Feeling he was doing something right, he carried on with his amazing brand of showmanship which seemed like something a ringmaster would do in a circus before a magician came on stage. A chap sitting behind me opined that his type of hosting seemed out of sync with a basically hip-hop music award setting, and he was dressed like a shipmaster on an ocean-liner cruise for oyibo OAPs.
I recalled when Israel was a host for the popular movie phone-in program on DBN called “The Night Shift” which aired circa 97-99. He, like his alternate host on that program a female called “Eva”, used to get harassed by some members of the calling public. The unfair bit about Naija people is that they hit on female hosts, and try to unsettle the male ones.
Well, there was this particular night that a girl called in to select a movie. Before she made her choice, she observed that she hated Israel’s shirt and said that he didn’t have a good dress sense! Israel was wearing an Ankara safari suit with huge shoulder pads and large plastic burtons.
He was so embarrassed that he didn’t know where to look, so he said something along the lines of “thank you, I am here to please you, and if you think my top is not nice, then I am sorry for displeasing you.”
The girl wasn’t budging and said she thought he should improve his dressing and change his wardrobe.
Israel thanked her for her comments, and she said he was welcome.
That was not the end of it. Two nights later, the same girl called again and commented that she noticed that he had improved and how much she liked his top. Now he was wearing a smart fitted polo shirt with the Ralph horse proudly galloping. He resisted the urge to grin from ear to ear as he reiterated that he only aimed to please his audience. The naughty female caller advised him not to stray, said her thanks and dropped.
In the present at the NVMA, as the video ended and Israel spoke and disembarked from the stage, my mind drifted to a forgotten area of Nigeria entertainment. These days choreographers and dancers like Kaffy are celebrated and earn a decent sum from their craft. But almost two decades ago people were strutting their stuff on the hit TV dance program Sunday Rendezvous, and were getting laughed at by members of the viewing public.
The show which came on around 12noon on Sundays, just in time for after church Sunday entertainment was hosted by our own Don Cornelius, the amusingly named Prince 2000. I wonder what he would think about that name now, because in the 1980s, the year 2000 seemed soo futuristic. A shiny suit wearing, Afro-puffs sporting man, he was for famous encouraging encores from the audience by saying “Hit me! Hit me! Hit me!”
Nobody knew where the dance studio was situated although people claimed it was located somewhere in FESTAC town. Then people looked down on entertainment and certain people that appeared on TV, and the general though mistaken opinion was that the dancers who went on Sunday Rendezvous were mostly house-helps and domestic servants. I remember hearing that a madam sent her help to the market to buy vegetables for lunch. She decided to watch some TV, and screamed when she saw her help boogie-ing on Rendezvous. She screamed her head off reporting her hubby “I sent my house-girl to the market to buy carrots and cabbage, and here she is on TV doing the cabbage dance-step!” Na wa for this madam o.
Her husband looked up from his Concorde newspaper as he replied dryily ” I think you will find that she is actually doing the running man.” The house-help never came back home, and days later they heard she was back at her village.
I smiled as I reminisced. Back at the awards, Adeyinka the comedian was on stage cracking everyone up with some really funny jokes.
However I remember when the industry was a joke itself. There are things we take for granted now. You switch on your TV, and if you have cable, you have the choice of a multiplicity of music video stations to catch Nigerian or foreign music on – MTV Base, MTV, BET, Nigezie, Trace, Channel O and Sound City etc. There was a time in this country when everyone used to tune in to see the latest videos on AIT Jams. Some people found Kenny and D1 rather annoying, and stomached their long boring exchanges just to be able to see the music videos. It is a FUBU men!
I remember someone phoning into their Radio program on Raypower FM and saying that they reminded her of her favourite American entertainers.
Thankful, they asked her who.
She cheekily replied “Beavis and Butthead!”
They both rained abuses on her so she quickly terminated the call to escape their rising aggression.
Back to the NMVA, before I had settled down to watch the show, I had hung around the lobby saying high to people I knew in the industry. An acquaintance of mine who was an entertainer invited me to a suite upstairs full of some stars in the music industry – some artists, music execs and network owners. Everyone was well turned out, laughing, sipping cocktails and networking. I was so proud. We nearly got stuck in a faulty lift on our way down; the elevator cabin had that much star power in it!
I lifted up a champagne flute and toasted with another star by the poolside a bit later on as well. Later at the entrance to the event’s hall, I looked around proudly as I glanced around me, noting how far music, film and comedy had come. Casting a 360 gaze, I spied Djinee giving an interview to a foreign music TV network, exchanged daps with the chaps from Skuki and told them I was a fan; I saw Wunmi and Obe, our own Sunny and Cher – my friend took pictures with them while I clicked away. I saw Bisi Olatilo – broadcaster/presenter/interviewer/newscaster/ show host/ talk show host – a true jack of all trades. Stella Damascus was taking pictures with a few other entertainers. I realized what the above mentioned represented – film, broadcasting and music all in one room.
The award event went smoothly, but I left before the end as the missus was tired and wanted to grab something to eat.
One more thing, Kenny St. Brown came up to receive a Best Gospel Award for her song “Turn Me Around.” Receiving the award, she said that this award was her first recognition from any Nigerian award organization in a decade. She further retorted that her critics had said she could not sing but further added “Kirk Franklin nor fit sing, e nor fit rap.”
I understand her pain, but no artiste ever downplays his/her own talent in public. Ever. Jennifer Lopez is not a powerful singer but you would never hear her admit that in public, either directly or indirectly. It would also surprise many people to know that Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Queen and Diana Ross have never won a Grammy Award in their lifetimes but are all internationally recognized musical maestros, so Ms. Kenny St. Brown can draw inspiration from this.
It is great to see today’s artists being rewarded financially and critically for their craft, being well off and acclaimed for their artistic endeavors. Long may it continue.
Finally let them continue to be more original, apply their creative sides and make music and movies that are truly Nigerian. And what is the route not to follow? I will give an example – well in the early noughties, there was this Nigerian rapper who was a DMX copycat. He shaved his hair off, and wore heavy dog chains and spoke in a deep gruff voice just like the New York rapper did. Everything about this Naija rapper’s music, performance, ad-libs and on-stage mannerisms were similar to DMX’s to a tee.
There was a time a presenter was interviewing this chap -let’s call him “NMX” – on a popular Naija music TV show. Finally she asked him the cliché question – what final word would he like to say to his fans out there. NMX barked “Grrrrrrr…….” in the deepest growl ever. Madness.
You are easier to see when you are in flight/
So keep your game tight, do your thing right/
M.I. featuring Tuface (Nobody, 2010)