Let’s give it to Nigerian youths. Any day, time or place, the Nigeria music industry rocks, winning awards and accolades within and outside the African continent! You really don’t have to understand the lyrics (when some local dialect is infused to flavour the song) to have a good time when the music is enjoying air play as the beat gets you thumping your feet, nodding your head or swaying on your seat.
But there is a damper to this otherwise ‘hot’ sensational industry and it is gradually eroding the huge appeal and followership the music industry has achieved: scantily-clad ladies gyrating to hot banging music, or a group of them groping a shirtless man who has a Cuban cigar in his mouth, with loads of blings on his body. This is the present reality in the Nigerian entertainment industry, especially in the music videos.
While their male counterparts are fully clothed, looking dashing in three-piece suits or lovely traditional attires, like ‘Senator’ or ‘Agbada’, the ladies, like vile seductresses, shockingly bare it all.
It is true that sex sells, but at what point did obscenity become a form of entertainment in the Nigeria society, where wild orgies are shown? Some videos depict a made-man as one who has a lot of cash oozing out of all his pores, pops champagne like water and has several half-clad girls swooning over him.
Obscenity, according to the dictionary, is the state or quality of being obscene. Amongst its synonyms are words like indecency, vulgarity, debauchery, vileness, unwholesomeness, eroticism, and carnality.
This is also reflected in the lyrics of most songs being churned out on a daily basis in our society. While the songs are repetitious, the lyrics leave a lot to be desired. Curse, dirty and swear words, such as the f-word, expletives, lewd allusions and general gutter language are all part of the mix – a sad reflection of how the society has decayed.
But obscenity may not be new in the Nigerian entertainment space. Fela Anikulakpo-Kuti, globally acclaimed Afrobeat legend, was notorious for the display of obscenity. It was him against the world. He was rebellious of everything western and took it to extremes by appearing in his famous white pants, surrounded by his ‘harem’ of beauties, all dressed in African attires. But the current reality on ground surpasses any of Fela’s bravest moves.
Highlighting the level of indecency prevalent in the Nigerian entertainment industry, a recent article published last month laments that the greatest danger is that government agencies have not played any roles in improving an industry that is rated as our fastest developing in the last decade.
“One realizes without trying hard that corruption and indecency are huge in this part of the world. There are several reports of models, actresses and aspiring female musicians subjected to different illegal acts as they struggle to climb up the ladder of fame and then fortune,” the article says.
“It is terrible and touching, among other things, but it explains the desperation even though whatever the case, it remains unprofessional that people have to resort to sexual gratifications to allow others the opportunity to chase their dreams. The indecency in the industry isn’t inspiring. But I suppose it makes sense given the economic realities of today.”
Etim Bassey, a visual and creative artiste, says the spate of obscenity in the music industry is a frightening development.
“It is wrong to believe that nudity sells. Directors of musical videos erroneously go with the belief that nudity holds the audience captive, but that is far from the truth. In most cases it is rather a turn-off. It actually portrays a kind of shallowness in the creative stream of the director; especially as the entire production clearly puts up an undue exhibition of the female anatomy,” says Bassey.
Asked if he would be comfortable watching Nigerian music videos with his children, he says an emphatic no.
“Twerking and nudity is not something you watch comfortably with your kids. It is not a kind of scene you feel happy if you should chance upon your kids watching, which is why my children do not watch music channels on cable TV; because all you see are nude girls pushing their behind in your face,” he says.
“I think for us, it is the western influence and we have no measure of censoring what plays on our screen. It is also a function of intellectual laziness and very inaccurate stereotyping. The wrong notion that the female form is basically an attractive piece of ornament that nobody can ignore is also a result of loss of value, societal decadence, where the belief that sex sells is rife,” he adds.
For Bolaji Baylor, a professional and mother of three, the trend is simply appalling and goes to show how much lower our morals have degenerated.
“It is a total no, no for me! Why would a lady go naked because she wants to drive home a point? I believe a woman’s dignity should be respected, which I see lacking everywhere. I want to say that all of this starts from home – and then, it trickles down to the society. Again, what we have now is rhythm; a song can be groovy yet lacks lyrical power. And that is what it is,” says Baylor.
“When we were younger, we were not exposed to all of these. Even if we were, they were not to the extreme like what we have now and I am not comfortable with it at all. Most times, my children will tell me, ‘Mummy, change it. It is not good’. As I said earlier, it is about the values that were/are inculcated in individuals. It all starts from home. When there are no values, there definitely would be excesses. There should be a stop to it,” she says.
In a July 2009 piece, Bayo Olupohunda, educator, writer and independent journalist, bemoans the fact that the music scene is a complete bedlam and has spun out of control. Forget it, the regulatory bodies can only bark.
“Hip hop is now one of the biggest and fastest growing businesses in the world. Its creativity in sound and lyrics has impressed many of today’s youth. It can be a tool for a positive, social change in our country if properly harnessed. But is hip hop music taking today’s youths where they need to be?” Olupohunda asks.
According to him, lyrically some of hip hop’s most popular songs and musicians have negatively influenced violence, drugs, alcohol, sex, disrespect for authority and disrespect for women. For many young children and teenagers, this type of music can create an environment that can become detrimental to their lives and education.
Ever seen Olamide’s ‘Falilat’, Timaya’s ‘Ukwu’, Lil Kesh’s ‘Wa Fe Joky’, Tiwa Savage’s ‘Wanted’, Flavour’s ‘Ashawo’, Inyanya’s ‘Oreo’ or listened to their lyrics? You will surely have an eye and earful of expletives.
Planet TV’s music rating programme ‘Access 20’ last week featured musical videos like ‘A Little More’ by Jidenna, ‘Wetin Dey’ by Rayce featuring Davido, ‘Pass Me Aux’ by YungL, ‘Meji’ by Tjan featuring Ycee, ‘One Time’ by Aka, among others.
Though the degrees may differ, the videos are basically all about seductive dance steps, girls in pants and bras shaking their booties, breast-flaunting, sometimes pole strip dance and sex simulation – in short, pure erotica!
While most of it can be attributed to blind copying of what obtains over there in the Western world, the fact that the men are fully clad in the same video where these ladies wear next to nothing seems to portray that ladies in the Nigerian entertainment space are purely seen as sex symbols and this is sad and disheartening.
Some artistes seem to believe that portraying this high level of obscenity is the only way to have their creative work out there and the best way to make jumbo sales and achieve stardom in an industry that has become overly competitive and attractive because of infused cash from endorsements and company sponsorships.
Olupohunda is quick to add that while we are creating our own thing and recording successes on all fronts in the Nigerian music industry as sales of albums boom and musicians and producers smile to the banks in spite of the evil of piracy, there has to be some level of control and order.
“Of course, we all admire the awards, the swagger, the air plays even on MTV and Channel O. Our youths are revelling and making success of their talents. Corporate bodies have crashed in (reaping where they did not sow!), creating a huge industry out of the ruins of the previous music hiatus,” he says.
“The entire Franco-phone African countries’ music industry has also been a massive success in Europe but they have retained their African culture in beats, lyrics, rhythms and performances. Kudos to the guys now on the driving seat of the Nigerian hip-hop music industry but enough of lewd lyrics; we need substance. Originality should be the name of the game. Hip hop will become better once the artistes and producers not only think of their pockets but also their listeners who, after all, listen the most. The regulatory authorities should add more bites to their barks,” he says.
Bassey agrees, pointing out the need for regulatory bodies to live up to their bidding.
“We are so deep in it; curtailing it would be difficult, but the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board could ensure that musical videos that put the female body on unnecessary display are disallowed from airing. A tall order, but at least it will send a message. But, most importantly, parents have the unique task of guiding the children. Use of the block buttons on erring channels is advised,” he says.
Indeed, it is time for the concerned authorities to look into this matter. The Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board, Nigeria Broadcasting Commission, and all other bodies directly or remotely concerned cannot afford to slumber while obscenity takes over our screens and airwaves.
In America, where the hip hop culture borrowed its ‘flashiness’ from, musicians, no matter how famous, are not above the law. Although the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, that is not the case if it is deemed “obscene”. Though it may be a nebulous term, some artistes have paid a huge price (and legal fees) for it. Sometimes their dance moves are a little too risqué, while other times their lyrics are just a little too dirty, but getting naked on stage is definitely a no-no. Many musicians had to learn the hard way that just because they have the mic does not mean they can do whatever they want with it. Though not all were convicted, there are records of others who faced charges of obscenity.
The other side of the story, the myth-buster, is the fact that most people who have ever-green songs and are referred to as music legends wrote sang and produced songs with clean, sensible lyrics that people could relate to and identify with. In the genres of music, it is almost impossible to find any country music loaded with obscene words. That genre of music has remained as clean as when it started, compared to ‘hip-hop’, rock, blues, etc.
Indeed, it is a given that music appeals to the mind and soul and has the ability to effect change. The scourge of various diseases, debasement and discrimination of women, corruption and numerous societal ills can all be fought with good music as evident in songs by musicians like Sony Okosuns, Michael Jackson, Lucky Dube, Onyeka Onwenu, Christy Essien-Igbokwe and others in that era.
Till date, people still identify with their songs and even children can listen and dance to them without parental supervision. Even recent artistes such as 2Baba, Dare Art Alade, Adele, Timi Dakolo and a few others have shown that you can carve a niche for yourself without following the band-wagon of ‘wanna-be-westernized’ hip-hop musician, as we have it today.
MABEL DIMMA (With contribution from CHUKS OLUIGBO)