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The Politics of the Nigerian Music Industry

Dissecting the tension between the older "gatekeepers" and newer artists in the Nigeria.

"It feels like I am working, but I can't enter the inner cycle of the music industry," says Dimeji (not his real name). He is a 27-year-old singer based in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital and music hub, where thousands of musicians hustle daily in the search for opportunities for their careers.

"Everyone needs to know someone to get a leg in, and the industry is all about relationships. I'm tired men," he despondently declares as we sit in a roadside restaurant in Victoria Island. Victor isn't the only hopeful artist with that feeling. There is an unspoken consensus about the Nigerian music industry that the scene is ruled by a political circle of powerful people, who control key affairs and opportunities within the space. They are regarded as both gatekeepers and chess masters, dictating the pace of movement, who rises and falls, who is blacklisted, and who receives a fair share of favours, deals and endorsements.

On Saturday, May 5, 2018, the country's most prestigious music award ceremony—The Headies—was held, in Lagos, with winners in the 25 categories. The aftermath of the awards saw a backlash on social media from viewers and music enthusiasts who believe that the recipients of key awards were undeserving of their trophies, citing industry and tribal politics as the reason why they carried home accolades.

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J. Cole's Lagos Performance and My Depression

After a suicide attempt, J. Cole became more than an artist to me. He was my life coach. One year later, he came to Nigeria.

"Why are you trying to kill yourself? What is so hard in the world that you want to end your life?"

I heard my rescuer asking as I sat on the waterfront, hot tears streaming down my face, mixing with the drops of water and ultimately dribbling into on my soaked clothes. I had tried to drown myself in Lagos that night in April 2017, and by some stroke of fortune, someone had dived right in to save my life.

At that moment, I wasn't grateful for the chance to see another day and breath the air. A part of me resented him for being a saviour, and not minding his business. Another part was filled with shame that I had let depression bring me to the edge of my humanity, and the final part was just bitterness from the pain. And so I sat on the floor and wept, while people gathered and gave me lots of advice and encouragement.

"Brother, there is so much to live for. And look at you, you are not poor. You are a fine young man," the voice of a lady hit me.

I returned to my office that night, and told my bosses that the resignation email I sent to them earlier was an error, withdrew it, and deleted all my parting letters to my friends and family. Not accomplishing a suicide felt like failure. I learned that day that rearranging the pieces of my existence back to how it was, was the morbid equivalent of a walk of shame. I did that walk of shame. On the drive back home in an Uber, I took the aux cord and played the first album that hit my mind.

It was J. Cole's 2014 Forest Hill Drive.

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Wizkid at Gidi Fest 2018. Photo: Tej/Gidi Culture Festival.

The Significance Of Wizkid's Failure To Perform At Coachella

And what consequences this could have for future Nigerian and African music shows abroad.

Nigeria's Wizkid didn't perform at the 2018 edition of the Coachella Valley and Arts Festival. While leading musicians across genres from all parts of the world climbed the stages over two weekends to provide concert-goers a live experience of their art, Starboy was absent. He was booked, his name was announced in the line-up, and two slots, over two weekends were allocated for his set. But he missed his placement due to "his inability to get US visas" for his band members.

Wizkid didn't just miss this chance. Africa did. Due to the significance of the his set at such a global stage, the Afrobeats movement did. Everyone, from creators, through the facilitators of the art, down to the consumers, everyone missed out on a crucial chance to bring our music to a diverse audience, at arguably the biggest music festival in the world. The timing was right. Wizkid, due to strength of his art, and the efficacy of his deals, found himself as the anointed one from Africa to do that.

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