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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Homing Song

Back in Naija and loving it. My relieved and delighted shrimp, the okra soup with eba and fresh fish, the noise of the generator, the smells, texture and tone of home.

Talking about being back in Naija, the Man Magnet drew my attention to the facebook face-off between Abati and Generation Next over the interpretations of the socio-cultural shift that a new generation is championing, especially as expressed with 9ja hip-hop.

Now my first reaction was abeg leave them alone, but the more I read, the more compelled I felt to comment.

To start with, one of my core Aspen conversations was on the role of new media in a new world order and like all else, I was fascinated by the role of twitter in the Iranian protests. The thing that struck me in Aspen was not just the real attempt at understanding new media but the very psyche of the generation that powers it.

Unfortunately, as it seems to happen with many things, Nigeria is not having an honest, informed conversation about the post-IBB communication convergence and liberalization generation and her unique social and economic construct.

Dr Abati’s article is a typical knee jerk reaction by a generation that takes the seismic shift that is occurring amongst the Nigeria youth too literarily and dare I say, feels a little left out.

I can understand the young people’s frustration with Dr Abati as too often, no one has taken stock of how the dark post-second republic era and the complete breakdown of the physical, social and economic fabric of Nigeria resulted in the conditioning of the generation born and reared of those times. The seething resentment against the so called generation that did nothing, reared its head, as it is wont to at such times, whereas in fairness the generation before fared no better.  The Tiananmen Square or not argument though, must be left to another day.

Now, now doc, abbreviating the name of a country, place or person is a way of owning it. It is a term of endearment amongst the young. So the abbreviation of Nigeria into Naija or the even funkier and frankly twitter generation-friendly 9ja is not a crisis of identity, but the very first and tentative move by any Nigerian generation towards cultural confidence.

To castigate the use of pseudonyms or stage names by Naija (yes Naija) artists is frankly puzzling to me as this is an age-old productive/ creative exercise. Madonna, Sting, Anikulapo, KSA, KWAM 1. Should I go on? To the uninitiated, a stage name is a useful tool for artists to separate the self from the persona and often salvage one's sanity. Even those artists who use their given names alter it slightly, not just for commercial purposes but for creative or identity protection purposes. 9ice is called that because he is the nicest soul you can encounter plus he writes a song every 9th day. He is still Abolore to his family and can thus be Abolore at home and 9ice at work. Asa, so nicknamed by her mother because she is swift as an eagle. Ditto most of the others including the very cool Banky W and the very intelligent Naeto C.

Finally that vexatious argument about the meaning of the songs and so-called lewd, or (horror) immoral nature of the lyrics, irks me. Whilst there may be a few censor-worthy lyrics, the majority of the music is actually great and a real innovation in the way they are creating a new form of music unique to regions of Nigeria but with universal appeal. The deeper meaning of some of the lyrics, which comes from Nigeria’s peculiar street culture and realities, is actually beguiling. For example “Ori o foka sibe” is not sexual unless you want to interpret it so. It is really street talk for bringing your brain cells to the issue. Literarily you scattered your brains on that issue o.

I was educated in Ajegunle whilst filming TWF as to the origin and structure of dance forms such as Galala, Konto and Swo which are an amalgam of Yoruba, Ijaw, and Igbo dances with a touch of Ajegunle madness. These dance forms have interestingly made their way from Ajegunle to dance halls around Africa and certain parts of the world.

I can also understand and identify with the oft self-affirming words of Naija music. This is a generation that was completely disempowered, redefining and psyching herself to greatness. To begrudge them that is to be insensitive. They are also telling stories of Nigeria as she is. Note the haunting but strangely empowered telling of the Odi massacre by Timaya. We cannot wish a gentle Victorian nature on people reared of such realities. Our job is to unearth, understand and grow a better vision of self and nation.

Finally, the thing about even the innuendos and all, is that this is a generation which can laugh at herself and her own excesses. They know better than to buy it on surface value. So dancing Yahooze or Big Boy does not make you a 419ner or a glorifier of it, as dancing to Booty Call does not make you a streetwalker. This is adult music and parents are responsible for what they allow their children listen to as are broadcast regulators for what is put on the family belt. It is creative subversion that appeals to all but is clearly understood as that by a thinking, informed generation. It was irritating to read the brouhaha about Powell dancing Yahozee and thus glorifying Nigerian 419 by western media when they give awards to music, shows and films which use subversion as art form -- Pulp Fiction any one? So they can laugh at themselves and we cannot abi?

The girls who shake their backsides to Bumper to Bumper are as likely to be investment bankers or lawyers as hardworking traders. They are comfortable enough in their post-feminist skin to be sensual and smart or as someone aptly put it, “may just be that my skirt is short and my IQ is high."

If the young people begin to apply the same principles that has seen the emergence of this vibrant, evolving and eventually to be deepened music industry to other aspects of life, we will begin to head towards a new Nigeria.

The challenge of Generation Next actually is how to bring that to bear, otherwise in a decade or two, they too will be accused of being the generation that did nothing.

Now shall I retreat with the words of one of my favorite 9ice’s songs, “ohun t’o ba wun eni bodi l’o le f’enu won so. Omo o’ ran yan, omo j’o mo lo, omo mati jagbo lo, e fi won si le e’je kan ma so lo, orin yin ni o, e ma ko lo"… Remember not to take it all too literarily o. Peace.


nubiangal said...

...."Unfortunately, as it seems to happen with many things, Nigeria is not having an honest informed conversation about the post IBB/communication convergence and liberalization generation and her unique social and economic construct.....

The conversation is begining...
The Noisemakers are coming....

and as Fela would say

"Basketmouth don start to sing ohhhhhh!

Anonymous said...

I think Mr. Abati raised some really valid points (let's just look, abi read beyond the criticisms -contradictions- in the article). And I also agree that Banky W is cool to step up to defend the industry (even at the risk of being asked 'who be dat small boy wey dey yearn okpata?)

However, my submission is that the current crop of 'artistes' need to actually earn respect by being less superficial (the blings n crystals can be annoying), put more sense in their lyrics and actually SING with their CLOTHES ON!

Some 'artistes' come up with really nice song (beuriful vocal delivery, lyrics etc) and just manage to ruin this with the video (a good example: G/Jiga's 'Nothing has changed'. Wetin dat babe wey dey smoke cigar/tobacco towards the end of the video dey signify- dat smoking is d new cool?)

And Dr. Abati Sir, just because some of us use abbreviations or pidgin english does not mean we can not write or speak English language (through our noses, too!) it's just dat ideas too plenty, and writing in full fit cut the flow, as writer concern, u get wetin I dey yearn?

Make I run b4 d barrage (of literary bullets) start.

Toye Sobande said...

On a second thought, Abati had his shine during the Military era...he has gone political and in the bid to be politically relevant he is running out of social commentary skills...so at best he raises the dust of controversy...so you and I can keep echoing his name, while he keeps his seat at the Guardian Editorial Board...I need my old Abati back with better social flavors than empty socio-political controversies.

dafe Ivwurie said...

We never will agree on this matter because age, taste, education, miseducation and orientation are involved.

I do not believe that Dr. Abati's article was an outright condemnation of today's music 'stars'. I personally hold the view that most of them will be out of the scene soon and that is because that is the fate of popular culture.

In the 21st century when nations are asserting themselves with innovative thinking, we are busy borrowing cultures and ideologies and are actually proud about it.

In your quiet moment, please reflect and think of the things/people that have positively put us on the world map/stage. Do the research yourself and you will see why they are there. and these ones will never get there no matter how many Arise concerts we organise and how many Collin Powells dance to a fraud anthem if we continue to be in a hurry and adopt other people's culture wholesale.

Funmi, things are happening around the world and I wonder how today's youth can shake off this present mediocrity by pushing some superior indigenous ideas forward... Like i said alsewhere, may be there is hope as i am impressed that some of the artistes are bold to defend their trade eloquently. But it goes beyond that. Hip Hop ain't us...

Do we understand Globalisation at all?

My case for now.

Dafe Ivwurie

Anonymous said...

i didnt get mr.abati's point at all...im a student in america and i listen to nigerian music all the time and my white friends cant get enough of psquare(noone like you),banky,naeto c's kini bigdeal,olu maintain's story of my life,9ice's congo aso has even been sung on youtube by a white hu doesnt even understand the wordings but feels the songs and rhythm.our entertainment industry is the only good thing that is putting nigeria on the map...the only reason people want to come to nigeria nowadays is because our entertainment industry is the best in africa and is beginning to find center stage in the world.

u wont believe the number of people hu love nigerian movies here in america that now i even have pride in it.u wont believe that when i tell someone that im from nigeria they go like 'u mean your from naija?'...whites oh!!its a way of identifying with our roots and lovin ourselves.

@dafe...globalisation is the process by which the people of the world are unified together and function together.we are not forgetting our roots we are only picking up what will make nigeria a better understood place by the world and even make them stop seeing nigeria only in the corrupt sense.the reason y they pick up most of the western stuff is so that other countries can relate to it and they infuse our languages and street languages into it to show a sense of place and origin.

its really suprising that mr. abati didnt mention the fact that there is a lot of piracy going on in nigeria and for these musicians to sell and eat they have to make it appeal to a wider range of audience.
he mentioned fela in his article...my parents and i are really not a fan of fela and they never let me listen to his music...y?my dad told me he once went to a fela concert and fela dipped his fingers into his dancer's pussy and licked it...ewww!! is this the so called 'golden age' he longs for?

i understand his point of lyrics but has he listened to psquare's noone like you?,'why e be say?,stand up? for every 'roll it' there is a 'noone like you'
did he mention that styl plus sings a song in a native language in all their albums?did he forget that in the so called 'golden age'..that most musicians didnt go to school...did he forget that stylplus,faze,psquare,naeto c,banky are all graduates?

im very angry with that man right now...if the entertainment industry is the only thing wrong in nigeria then nigeria would have been the best counrty on earth..as banky said...we want to learn but the lecturer's keep going on strike...isnt it the so called people who grew up in the golden age the people still ruling nigeria and running it to ground?im tired of old people talking and thinking because they are old people would shut up.
im tired of the 'children of nowadays' mentality back home in naija..they seem to forget that we are only working with the resources that we were left by the socalled 'golden age' that mr. abati longs for.mscheww.he should really do his research before writing in a newspaper as popular as the guardian..seems like banky is the person hu is even qualified to work in a publication.naija for life..yes naija...!!

but what do i know?im only 17 and from a generation 'that cannot finish a sentence in english'!!!

Anonymous said...

tell them naysayers aunty Funmi...u've said it all, so no need for any long story on my part...

Lolade said...

We should be objective in criticising Mr Abati's article. He has raised some valid arguments. When I listen to the Reggae music that I grew up on in the late 80's and early 90s, I realise that what the teenagers of today are growing up on is all junk. Most of the music that is made by our singers, yes they're all mostly singers, are ephemeral and empty noise. There are those among them that will stand the test of time but the bulk is all a clangy clangy recourse to crass commercialism aimed at an audience that is too light brained to ask for better music.
I recently did an article on Gbenga Adeboye's comedy and I realised that the research that went into his works is far greater than what obtains from today's "star" comics. We have thrown great research to the dogs all because we want to make money.
But I like to disagree with Abati's claim that the word Naija is a neologism of this generation. I first heard the expression "omo Naija" in 1990 growing up in Akure, Ondo state. Maybe the growth of the expression is what troubles him, I can't tell. But he sure raises some valid arguments.

The Girl with the Red Hair said...

This is an issue with no right answer or response.
I am no fan of the "Ebute-metta" crooner but I must say He has answered it all.
Dr Abati's mistake was that he did not do his research well,imagine him saying 'gidi' is used in place of Nigeria. I believe his article is one which as been written a long time ago and just was not updated and crossed-checked. He raised some point but the negative criticism of his over-ride the positive one.

Afolabi said...

I cannot make a definitive statement about the Nigerian music industry, as there is good coming out of it, and yet so much bad that is overshadowing the good. I like when you say that the present generation is one redefining itself to greatness. I just wish that this path to greatness will not be a copy, and in the end a caricature of what is already present in the west.
We are a hybridized generation who have peculiar Nigerian experiences that we can harness for greatness. I feel that Nigerian musicians should view themselves as artists, who don't have to sing indigenous music, but yet should let their experiences translate into good music. People like M.I don't need to dress like Kanye west, his talent is sufficient enough.

Kayode Raphael Adegboye said...

I think Dr. Abati meant well but was too critical in his rendition hence he painted a picture that showed more condemnation than encouragement and guidance.

Well, this is a clear case of generational disconnect and like you said It really can be traced back to the IBB regime where there was a total breakdown in morality and responsibility. A ‘chop, i chop’ generation was bred and the nation lost its pride and honour.

I couldn’t agree with you more that this generation is pushing strongly for cultural confidence and if despite having to daily deal with the ‘sins of his fathers’ both at home and at abroad, she could still create hope and succour for herself through music, arts etc. then she would definitely view comments like those of Dr. Abati as subjugating her progress.

InCogNaija said...

word up Ms Funmi. Banky and Eldee as well as some other artistes have responded too. i believe that Mr. Abati should have recognized the error of his ways and shud be preparing an apology/retraction speech as we speak. He failed to realize that this generation of Artistes and indeed, Nigerians are educated, and vocal and will not take this kind of character assassination of a whole generation with levity.

Jeremy said...

Good post Funmi except for the 'post-feminist' reference.

Nigerian women were more feminist in the past than they are now. Evangelical christianity has massively disempowered Nigerian women in the South, just as increasingly fundamentalist strains of Islam are doing so in the North. It wasn't always like this.

Nigerian women need to become feminists again, and I doubt there is ever a role for 'post-feminism' in a world that is made in the image of men and controlled by them...

Iredotp said...

I am not a fan of Banky W, but then i never knew he could be so articulate!
I want to believe Mr. Abati did not mean to condemn the current musicians as harshly as his criticisms appear.
Funmi Iyanda has said it all though.
Naija for life!

Femi Talabi said...

Aunty Funmi,

Bravo! You couldn't have said it better. Glad someone who's in the middle understands perfectly!

pam said...

Sosong Eti eti
Afo edi ata anwan

*deep bow*

I remember the high life song Asewo na work ( refrain... Na proper work ma broda!) and marvel at the amnesiac qualities of reminiscers (i made that up im sure) who romanticize the culture of thier youth.
abeg jo

NigeriaPolitricks.com said...

I cannot agree with you more!...the term Generation Next is rightfully applied to these new genre of Naija artiste...Abati need to chill and enjoy the moment or the better yet, the new era!!!

akaBagucci said...

I think Dr Abati asked the right questions but fingered the wrong root causes...

Anonymous said...

hi anti Funmi ,even b4 i read ur post i knew u were going to support the "younger generation" ,again 4 some reasons i m one of ur biggest fans ,try as much as i try not to be,u v some GREAT qualities but then there r some things i dont quite fancy bout u,i knew u were going to support d half clad girls cos that is ur sense of style too sadly but truth be told ,it doesn t make it right,if u remember i ve written u a mail once saying i m sure ur mum wont be proud of u if d dead truly can look back and she sees u in those tthings u wear but i guess like they say no one has it all,there certainly is a lot of good coming out of these younger gen,more than ever b4 but hei truth be told,oun ti o da oloruko meji,ko da ni,some of those lyrics and videos i have banned form allowing my 8 yr old from watching,i bet u ld not wish morenike be one of those in most of the videos.as they say,were dun wo,ko se bi lomo