Before globalization eclipsed localization in societal organization, we were left with only our judgment and opinions when it came to the task of awarding respect and accolades to artists. Today, this is far from the case. With most artistic endeavors, the general attitude of Africans ranges from apathy to outright ridicule. This behavior is hardly seen as a serious problem because it is not socio-economic in nature. When you take a look at other problems like the lack of infrastructure, power supply, and governmental corruption, it creates the impression that asking for appreciation of music is at best petty, and at worst stupid. After all, we have bigger fish to fry, right?
On the contrary, the importance of our attitude towards not just music, but all forms of art, cannot be overstated. Our present position on this matter represents a socio-cultural problem of incalculable proportion. If art is regarded as any creative manifestation of ideas then surely just as much as we need power supply and good governments, we need an environment encouraging for artistic expression. There is no better way to do this than to cultivate the habit of appreciation for good art.
Unfortunately, the media, charged with the promotion of quality music has all completely sold out to the fickle demand of the mass market often dictated by trending fads and club music. It also hasn’t helped that unlike so many foreign countries where there are multiple reputable blog and magazines offering critical review and promoting substantial bodies of work, Africa seems to trail behind with almost no publication, digital or otherwise, meeting this need. But before we bash the media too hard for this failing, the question that must be asked is what exactly is the place of our media when it comes to cultural improvement and sustainability? Is the media perhaps a hammer to be used to beat the society into shape, or just a mirror to reflect it’s current state? In my opinion, it should certainly be a hammer that beats us into shape but where is the financial reward for such nobility? Even in more developed countries it is no secret the statistics acquired by the Nielsen Soundscan is often used to regulate what gets both radio and television play. Fortunately, at least magazines and blogs maintain relative independence and the market for ‘indie’ and upcoming artists is viable enough to sustain a business around unconventional and unsigned acts. In Africa, the lack of this market is most likely responsible for the absence of such media houses. So while the current media streams can be blamed for constantly propagating mediocrity and promoting decadence, something must be said about the unwilling audience when it comes to participation in music appreciation.
This disconnect from our culture has affected artists by pushing many to dilute the content and sound of their music to be able to afford a living. For artists that refuse to compromise on their integrity, most are either forced to give up or wait for foreign recognition to earn a living and gain respect. It is ironic that Africans are quick to cry “cultural imperialism” when we are to kick against what we see to be Westernization. Instead, we refuse to get the structures necessary for propagating the best of our domestic culture in place. We would even go as far as staking a claim on the likes of Sade Adu but equally neglect talented artists at home because they have not received international acclaim.
On the Nigerian musical landscape today, Asa and Nneka represent the most successful alternative musicians when it comes to popularity. One can only wonder if this would be the case should they have never been recognized abroad. Acts like Bez and Nayosoul stand as alternative artists that will pass an acid test from the strictest of critics, but still they struggle to compete with mainstream artists when it comes to popularity and appreciation on a nationwide scale.
It is also worth mentioning that this lack of appreciation is partly responsible for an artistic brain drain as talented African artists would rather seek to establish a career abroad where their talents are better appreciated than return home to face the uphill battle of winning over fans with an obsession for only what is current, and a disregard for the authentic.
However, it must be noted that there is a connection between appreciation of art and affluence. Currently, with a high literacy rate of the population in Nigeria, there is so much one can expect when it comes to critical attention to music as an art form. As the spread of technology and information continues to increase affluence, we can only hope that eventually we hit a critical mass that makes the concept of alternative music media commercially viable. Some will argue that we are already at this point but businesses are yet to fill this gap in the market. Certainly, we can already feel the wind of change, but the question still remains, how long do we have to wait?
Now more than ever, the need for cultural pride is imperative to secure a domestic identity in a world fast becoming mono-cultural as globalization continues to progress. I cannot think of a better way to express this than by showing appreciation of our domestic arts instead of constantly relying on international acclaim to show us whom to appreciate.
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