Published on May 14th, 2012 | by thetoolsman27
Much Ado About Jollof
My parents where quite strict and protective about a lot of things but thankfully, exposure to music wasn’t one of those things. Maybe it was because we had older cousins living with us then but for whatever reason, I’m extremely thankful I got to grow up with music. And that’s the best way to describe it because back then, it wasn’t just about knowing who and what was hot, lyrics delivered in music served as a window to worlds I knew very little about. The occasional glimpses of music videos were like journeys to destinations I could only imagine.
I caught a glimpse of Jamaica through Shabba Ranks and Petra, I fell in love with young Toni Braxton, Boys II Men taught me what to do when in love, R.Kelly and Aaron Hall made sure I knew how to translate emotions into actions and Michael Jackson made sure I never stopped dreaming. As I grew older and began to form my character, music took on yet another meaning for me. It wasn’t only my teacher but a form of expression for me.
My love for music was strong, so strong I began to go about with my music and I had my father to thank. Well, maybe not him directly, but his 90 and 60 minute tapes of Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade and the likes certainly proved useful. The teenage me didn’t just want to know about music or casually listen to it, I wanted to have mine; I wanted to be able to call on my teachers, my friends – En Vogue, Milestone, Tevin Campbell, All for One, Notorious B.I.G whenever I wanted. It certainly wasn’t easy. Several radio presenters known for talking mid-music during their radio shows were lavished with all kinds of curses. How dare they soil my music with their cultivated hybrid accents?
Kehinde Ogungbe and Dayo Adeneye, Kenny and D1 changed all of that for me. Access to my beloved music was easy on their weekly radio countdown show and for this I was beyond thankful. But with unlimited access comes all kinds of ‘other’ things – some good, some bad. In their quest to promote and develop local acts, they encouraged participation from young upcoming local acts and in no time they were averaging about three local artists on their weekly top ten-countdown show. I had been exposed to local music while growing up. I used to think of them as the ‘cheaper’ versions of the foreign artists they all tried to copy. The Sunday Rendezvous show was hardly ever missed at our house. NTA had introduced me to Alex O, Alex Zitto, Danny Wilson, Mike Okri, Esse Agese, Blacky, Ras Kimono and so many more but none of them sounded like the young acts that made it to the Kenny and D1 countdown.
The new acts didn’t sound better, if anything at all, most of them sounded almost ridiculous in their attempts at copying some of the foreign artists just like the older local artists had done. But whether they were trying to rap as fast as Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony or harmonizing in high pitches like Michael Jackson, one thing stood out in their music and that thing was the difference between the local acts of then and now, it was rhythm. There is almost always rhythm to all forms of music but rhythm can differentiate Kwaito from Highlife, Salsa from Makossa and Soukous from Juju.
As much I tried to fight the ‘intruders’ in my world of music, I found it hard and in no time, some of these local artists began to make it on to my tapes. What did this new crop of local artists do differently? What was it about their music that just made it so easy to identify with? When the Plantashun Bois sang Knock me Off, The Remedies did Sade, it wasn’t just the adoption of recognizable and danceable rhythm that could be easily committable to memory, which might have been accidental, it was also because of their demonstration of Nigerian lingual dexterity. This proved to be the base of the resurgence of the Nigerian urban music industry somewhere between 1996 and 1998.
Needless to say, it has been a successful revolution. Several young men and women much like myself, who had spent several years while growing up, digesting music from the western world felt like they finally had a shot at creating their own blend of music solely for their own people. Some may disagree but as far as I’m concerned, Kenny and D1 started this revolution. From radio, they went to TV with the famous AIT Jamz show. The show helped put faces to some of the rising local acts and in no time, followership for local acts like Azadus, Alariwo, Tony Tetuila, Ruff Rugged & Raw, Paul Play soared. I remember attending a party in 2003 and for an entire night, the DJ didn’t play one foreign song.
A few more years down the line and many more joined the revolution. Local record labels sprung up everywhere, producers, radio shows designed strictly for Nigerian music, TV shows – we are Nigerians, when we go in on a trend, we throw in the kitchen sink and with our numbers, the world was bound to notice. And notice they did, frontrunners like D’banj, Tuface, PSquare reeled in the international acclaim. The KORA, Channel O, MOBO, EMTV and even World Music awards. The media world went crazy; the artists of the Nigerian music industry were finally catching up with their Nollywood counterparts.
The music stayed the same; localized foreign content with that ‘special‘ rhythm but as time went on, it became obvious that the people were more drawn to the rhythm than the content. This was possibly borne out of the fact that the average African is rhythmic. It’s something that stems from our core and this is very visible even in other African musical cultures. Place an average African and a Caucasian side by side and ask them to dance with no music playing and you’ll almost notice a rhythmic pattern in the way the African moves. The common African musical genres were formed on this premise and so it was understandable when the content began to give way for the rhythm.
Popular music as we have it in Nigeria today is more or less devoid of content. Gone are the days when a younger me could learn important life lessons from music. Today we don’t even bother with lyrics; cheap pirated production software has helped to produce tonnes of cheap music producers. As thankful as the adult me is, for the simple fact that this helps keep young people off the street, the young boy in me mourns the slow demise of his childhood friends.
The revolution that started over a decade ago has birthed a genre we now simply refer to as ‘Jollof’. Jollof music is dance music, it is party music that simply makes you want to get on the dance floor and shake your behind. It is very rhythmic and cares little for content. With ambassadors like Terry G, Timaya and Wizkid, artists with enough energy to engage their fans, who needs lyrics? A few ‘iye ye ye’, ‘sangolo’ and ‘chai’ laced with enough auto tuned vocals on recycled beats and you have another hit record.
Perhaps it’s a global disease. The Western world seems to have caught on to the trend and globally there’s an ongoing merger of musical genres. HipHop, r’n’b and artists from other genres are slowly finding expression in ‘pop’ or popular music with high paced rhythmic instrumentals and loud, repetitive shallow vocals. No wonder these songs have returned to our local social scenes. At another party I attended recently, there was a healthy mix of similar local and foreign music.
Unknown to some, there is on-going debate about the origin of the term ‘jollof’ which is a form of rice meal common in West Africa. Ghanaians claim to have invented the meal and refer to it as ‘jelof’ but Nigerians disagree. I really don’t care about its origin. I just can’t wait till we eat it all and perhaps go back to the days when music meant more than ‘whining’ or ‘shaking’ something.
I’d like your thoughts on this. Who or what do you think is to blame for the slow demise of our music? Do you see it getting better anytime soon? You know the drill, use the comment box and speak your mind. Cheers.