Photo courtesy of ArtXLive!

Art X Live! Is Making Space For Emerging Artists In Nigeria

The musical portion of Art X Lagos featured standout performances from some of Nigeria's most promising rising acts like Lady Donli, WurLD, BUJU and more.

It's 10:40pm in Lagos and the Art X Live! crowd has just been treated to a surprise performance from global star Mr Eazi. The audience is bubbling over with enthusiasm that subsides as BUJU takes the stage. A relative newcomer, BUJU has the tough task of following one of West Africa's most charismatic performers and it's not clear yet if he's up to the task.

But BUJU is one of the freshest young talents in Lagos right now and his emotional yet upbeat set quickly wins him new fans among the young Lagosian art lovers and the international visitors in town for the art fair. The applause he receives as he walks off stage is significantly more boisterous than the one he received when he started.

Photo courtesy of ArtXLive!

When we talk on the phone after his performance at Art X Live!, BUJU is quick to credit Art X Lagos for taking chances on young artists. He tells me ''Not so many brands and platforms [in Nigeria] are willing to associate themselves with upcoming artists but ArtXLive! does. Most [platforms] prefer working with big and established names."

Just like in the visual arts portion of West Africa's premiere art fair, the live music programming is about showcasing what's vibrant and new about the local scene. In particular, ArtXLive! Looks for artists who are still discovering and experimenting with their sound.

For Lanre Masha, the music curator for Art X Live, the goal is to expose the audience to new artists. And this year that artist was BUJU. "He is probably the rawest artist we ever worked with on Art X Live!,' says Masha. "I found him on Instagram—he was singing Commander on a canoe boat in Makoko. When he dropped Spiritual [with Zlatan] not too long after, I became a fan. Although he was still raw as a new artist, I thought Art X Live would be a great platform for him to be discovered."

Masha had been following the two other featured artists WurLD and Lady Donli for some time and considers himself a fan.

Photo courtesy of ArtXLive!

As BUJU exited the stage, Lady Donli, the only female performer of the night, came on and her set kicked off with screams from the crowd of 'My President' which made it clear that she had a sizable amount of fans present. Lady Donli's performance at ArtXLive! was one of her best performances yet. She sang several songs off her debut album Enjoy Your Life, brought on dancers at certain points, delivered stunning vocals and even took off her shirt. While BUJU's performance was emotional yet upbeat, Lady Donli's performance was hedonistic in the best possible way and by the time it ended she had proven herself capable of dominating a stage and platform as huge as ArtXLive!

Photo courtesy of ArtXLive!

For Lady Donli, it isn't just the exposure that a platform like ArtXLive! provides to an emerging artist but how it provides a space for you to work harder and push past one's limits. She describes the experience of performing at ArtXLive 2019 as "immersive and demanding." Telling me that "As an upcoming artist, [ArtXLive!] makes you push yourself. It shows you the potential, how big you could be on a huge stage and introduces you to a new audience. Femme Africa, Lemon Curds and….I think that's it," says Lady Donli. "There aren't really many other platforms in Nigeria that care about emerging artists."

It is interesting to note that these artists who performed at Art X Live! are all part of the growing alté movement. Regardless of whether or not they identify as being alté artists or being a part of the subculture, there's something about their style and how they fuse eras and genres together that shows that these singers do not conform to the already existing landscape of mainstream Nigerian music.

Photo courtesy of ArtXLive!

This also plays into the mandate of Art X Lagos, as Tokini Peterside, the founder of Art X Lagos describes the artists showcasing at Art X Live and saying they will show the world "what it really means to be an individual, to stand out, to have no fear, to not conform, to play the game the way we want to play."

Photo courtesy of ArtXLive!

Photo courtesy of ArtXLive!

Photo courtesy of ArtXLive!

Photo courtesy of ArtXLive!

Photo courtesy of ArtXLive!

Collage by Ta'Ron Joyner

I Would Rather Breathe Than Think Outside the Box

South African artists were already working for little to no pay, but the pandemic has unleashed a flood of exploitative work requests right when we need money the most.

This essay is part of OkayAfrica's SA Reframed series, featuring personal writing from some of South Africa's best young writers edited by Verashni Pillay.

On the radio the other day, I heard a small business owner of a costume design company being interviewed and asked how they have managed to:

a. Reinvent themselves during this period, and

b. Think outside the box while doing so.

Their conversation made me think about how I have not managed to wrap my head around any sort of future, or reinvention outside any kind of box—beyond the one that wraps itself around my immediate reality. When the lockdown was announced, three friends and I withdrew to a remote area where internet access was dubious and, most times, simply not available. I would need to walk a bit of a distance to locate a spot under a tree or up a mountain to be connected for thirty minutes, or so.

Then I would do a basic comb through my emails and respond to work or requests that were already underway pre-lockdown. I only responded to new requests that either afforded me the opportunity to earn an income or those that allowed me to be productive on my own terms.

I was tired, lowkey grateful for the global pause, and no longer interested in the overly productive, overloaded nature of my previous normal. Something about the forced halt made me realise that I was on the edge of everything—myself included. I turned down anything that required me to join the endless online festivals, zoom panel discussions, Instagram takeovers and live readings. I refused all opportunities that needed me to grapple with any sort of forced normalcy. The ones that offered data or airtime or solidarity as compensation or assumed that I had gone pro bono. I needed a moment. I needed the space and time to re-bargain with the point of it all.

The pause was both useful and scary. It brought to the surface fears and revelations about the shortfalls of our industry and how creatives are positioned within the productivity machinery and economy of South Africa, or rather all the ways we fall outside of it.

As Minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi mentioned in a briefing two months ago, "On the issue of freelance workers—unfortunately with the current legislation they fall outside. Maybe what we are going to do is that after this we will have to re-look at it in terms of our legislative amendments and start a debate about that." Why are there laws that have gone unchallenged? Who should be challenging them? Why are artists hearing, out loud for the first time, of convenient loopholes that render us outside of an economy that taxes us like everyone else, and consumes us and our work. Yet, in times of crisis, this same economy engages with our art and our productivity and our products, but still deems us on the margin, outside, and non-essential. If we are not assisted financially, how can we be productive, how can we acquire the resources to produce? How can we apply our minds to anything else outside of survival and scrambling to stay afloat.

Pandemics do not mean that artists have gone pro bono

When you approach an artist with the assumption that they have gone pro bono during this time, when you draft an email to request a collaboration, a commission, a participation, a productivity of any kind, please bear in mind that artists are up against an unconcerned and corrupt government that has failed to provide aid and assistance to their sector during this time.

Theatre critic Sara Holdren says "Art is hard and most of it fails—either in small ways or catastrophic ones." In South Africa, the process of making art is hard, sure, but more than that, the conditions and the context in which we make work fails us in catastrophic ways that will require more than a debate and amended legislation. It will need, for starters, a minister who cares about the arts and understands its soul and mechanisms. This pause has brought about more questions and concerns for me than inspiration to reinvent or think outside the box. I have questions about the box itself and why I feel asphyxiated and trapped by its design.

I would rather breathe than think outside of the box

This pandemic has made me question what my career, livelihood and stability have been built on; what has been propping them up all this time, and what has been allowing me to appear valued and valuable in this economy? What does and will the spectrum of value look like in a normal that has been disrupted and now sits in a near distant future that may or may not be near?

Then I find myself vacillating between hope and concern. My hope is that when the pandemic is no longer with us, artists can have a come-to-jesus conversation about what has contributed and exacerbated this attitude and disrespect toward our practice and industry, I hope we can challenge the legislations that we have been dared to challenge, I hope we can be productive in ways that serve us and make sense for our well-being, that we will be paid our worth and that our society will realize that without the artist producing, there will be no art, or music, or films, or books and things that have kept people entertained and creatively nourished during this time.

My concern is that the "free"content artists are currently creating and the free access to art or performances, will not make this realisation possible, and that this kind of access, that was already undervalued and exploited, will be irreversible. The exploitation dialogue is tiring. Being treated as non-essential is tiring and terrifying too, and while most of the world can slowly start going back to work, most artists will probably have to hang tight until 2021, maybe even 2022.

While artists deal with a hoax of an arts and culture department that is dead to us and a minister who tweets more than he does his job, in an ideal world, I wish that artists could afford to indulge uncertainty, and fear, and pause, in ways that allow them to heed the call made by Nicholas Berger in his piece The Forgotten Art of Assembly [Or, Why Theatre Makers Should Stop Making] "We must lean into this pain. We must feel the grief. We must mourn. Mourn the loss of work, the loss of jobs, the loss of money, the loss of life. Mourn the temporary loss of an art form that demands assembly. Lean into the grief. Lean in. Lean in. Lean in. We must remind ourselves that mourning is a human act, not a digital one."

Koleka Putuma is an award-winning poet, playwright and theatre director. Her bestselling debut collection of poems Collective Amnesia is in its 10th print run and her play No Easter Sunday for Queers Sunday for Queers won several awards.

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