Lagos to London and beyond

What do artists such as ­Naeto C, 2Face and As’a have in common? The ability to sell out a concert on their home soil and draw in the crowds in ­foreign countries. They are just a few of ­Nigeria’s musicians who are forcing international artists to take note.

Although Fela Kuti has been the face of Nigerian music for decades, it’s the urban music market that has taken off in Nigeria and on the African continent.

But it didn’t happen overnight.

When Nigerian music videos hit TV screens years ago, we laughed at the ridiculousness of it all – the bad lighting and a general racket disguised as music.

Something has obviously changed because you can now walk into a club in any of South Africa’s cities and find locals shaking their “groove thang” to Banky W’s Ain’t No Party Like A Lagos Party.

According to Obi Osika, owner of Nigeria’s biggest record label, Storm Records, there have been significant changes in both the country and the industry.

“There has been an attitude change in the youth of Nigeria. They are supporting their own music and fashion. They are known as the Naija movement and they bring a certain kind of swag through supporting their home industries.”

With a population of 152 million, it’s easy to attribute success to local support.

Nigerian-born MTV Base vice president Alex Okosi says marketing and attention to detail has also brought about the shift.

“Six years ago, it seemed as though musicians spent no time working on their videos, but they’ve obviously realised that a good music video is part of the marketing strategy that can work for them. They are producing better-quality videos and refining how they market themselves to their fans globally.”

It’s obvious that the business model has changed. Before, artists would come out with a song, do some live gigs and then get enough money to produce a ­video.

Now the video and the song have become part of the marketing tool. In addition, 17 million people have access to cellphones in Nigeria, meaning they have access to technology and social media.

“Artists, record producers and music players are generating their own relationships by collaborating more. Musicians are using the technology and social media to connect with each other and their fans from anywhere in the world,” says Osika.

But Okosi also believes that piracy has played a role in how Nigerians access music.

“Music used to be illegally sold on websites. Now these websites are cutting deals with the artists offering them a percentage of the take from the downloads. This is creating another legitimate platform for artists.”

In addition to technology, social media and marketing, there has been a shift in the way music is produced and packaged.

“There used to be a distinct Nigerian sound that urban music artists were making, but artists have realised they need to get the combination between international influence and their sound just right in order for it to be accessible ­globally,” adds Okosi.

Nigerian artists are focusing on what brings home the bacon – live performances. And the sellout concerts tell the story.

“If PSquare is performing in London, you can be certain every Nigerian in London is going to be there – not just for patriotic support, but because PSquare’s performance is so well rehearsed that it is something unmissable, ” says Okosi.

Despite all the music industry ingredients finally coming together for these singers, Osika points out one very important thing.

“When it comes to Nigerian musicians, you can close the door in their faces, but they will find a way to get on to that stage.”

And that’s certainly true.

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