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How Nigeria’s Emerging Acts Are Navigating the Pivot to Virtual Spaces

The pandemic presents a unique challenge for non-mainstream artists who rely on physical engagement with fans, but there may be benefits to adapting to the new normal.

It was the 28th of March, two days before Nigeria's lockdown order would go into effect. The singer Dwin The Stoic was playing a live session on Instagram for the Afrocentric fashion brand Juju, which he represents as a brand-ambassador. The session was a peculiar one for the folk-fusion artist, as he was performing without his instrumentalist, which almost never happened. Instead, he played the instrumentals through his speakers. Dwin remembers watching people popping in on the live session and telling him how happy they were to be a part of the virtual show and this—the quick feedback—made the stress of setting up all by himself, worth it.

He was aware, as the existing COVID-19 information suggested, that live sessions on social media apps, mostly Instagram, would come to be the new normal. They would be the only way to keep in touch with his fans, at least before some degree of physical contact is deemed safe enough to begin again.


For artists like Dwin, sharing a physical space is what really marks their genre, it is often the best way for their fans to fully experience the full spectrum of their craft.

"A major part of the kind of music I do is human emotion and being able to perform and create experiences for fans of the music is doubly important" Dwin tells me.

But Dwin is not the only artist in this kind of situation, Mo'believe whose sound is rooted primarily in folklore and is enabled greatly by being physically present, explains that,"Urban folklore is a blend of the traditional and the new, it's music that is aided by live performances and experiences. In fact, the crux of the impact is in intimate performances and exhibition because it is often thought provoking music and having people share what the music says to them individually is a mighty plus to fan conversion."

Dwin The Stoic

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Celestearth

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This is the same for Celestearth, who describes her sound as surreal, transcendental and calming, and for whom convincing an audience is an integral part of performance that can only work in a physical space. In her own words, "Having a feel of it [her sound] through live performances is like finally touching an aura. Technically live performances give a better aura than recordings or social media in general."

The shut down of congregational spaces has greatly affected creatives in the music industry, especially emerging artists whose sounds are yet to latch on to the ears of substantial amounts of listeners enough to retain a healthy engagement outside of physical performances.

This ban, which is an undeniably necessary security measure, is greatly redefining the possibilities of connection for many Nigerian music artists. There has been a heavy pivot to virtual spaces where people can watch their favorite artists sing, talk to them while reading their thoughts in real-time. What was once used for regular updates and the documentation of mundane or special experiences has become a useful means to keeping fans glued to their phone screens. Virtually curated music sessions like Udux X-Switch which hosted Asa and Davido, and Youtube's #stayhomewithme festival, have all tapped into this new wave, but while it is exciting for artists in mainstream genres and with a considerably bigger online following, emerging artists have to do more while trying to enjoy the shifting dynamics and lessons it brings, creatively speaking.

Kingsley from the contemporary highlife band, The Cavemen, tells me "This time has made me realize how we take things for granted, it makes the physical space special."

The Cavemen

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Yinka Bernie

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The Cavemen, whose last physical event was held last month, have naturally had their tour canceled, are putting out new music and exploring ways to keep their fans engaged.

On keeping his fans engaged, Yinka Bernie says, "I made a post for my fans to send me their emails, then my team sent out a mail to all of them. I made a separate instagram to interact and share content with those fans and they also got the chance to listen to my upcoming album privately"

Remy Baggins tells me he has been doing interviews and beat breakdowns on Instagram live for the most part, these, along with a couple of call-in radio interviews. "I've also been sharing some home made content to promote my new EP and it's been going well so far."

Mo'believe and Dwin are both taking opinions from fans so as to know exactly what content fans would love to engage with. Celestearth has been making random song-writing videos, and multi-genre artist Joyce Olong is increasing her social media engagement while working to put out new music soon.

Remy Baggins

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Joyce Olong

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It can be argued that this period has leveled the playing field in some way, it has broken down some walls and upturned the agency of gate-keepers in the industry, particularly for emerging artists in Nigeria, where there are almost no incubation platforms. The equal medium with which entertainment can now be accessed, however overwhelming the options may be, could potentially help the rise of overlooked talents. As rapper Reespect tells me, "[The official processes of labels] will become useless, [music] will become a very direct thing, between the artist and the fans"

But right now, the playing field is anything but equal—in both creative and financial terms. If bigger artists can afford to cancel tours and other events lined up before the arrival of the pandemic, these cancellations mean much more for emerging artists. Artists like The Cavemen have found the income from music streams highly resourceful at a time when other sources of income such as ticket sales, bookings or endorsements have been put on hold.

Singer, Preyé Itams tells me of the unavoidable cancellation of the plans she had before the pandemic set in. "I had a few shows to do in Lagos. Had shoots canceled. Also was meant to travel out to a couple of places because I had some things planned for my music as well, but they closed the borders and the pandemic really won."

Reespect

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Preyé Itams

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Above all of this, artists of all levels are learning to thrive. They are learning to adapt, adjust and develop innovative means of staying present, not just in the lives of their fans, but in their own lives as well.

Dwin also recalls how performing began to feel different during his Juju live session "[Different] in that for the first time as an artist I got to see the thoughts of my fans typed out in front of me while I sang. They typed the lyrics, made requests, told me what the songs meant to them. I had them ask me questions and I answered them. They made me laugh a lot. It felt like I was in a room with friends and I was singing to them." He tells me.

Live performances might not happen any time soon, even with the ease of the lockdown that kicked in on May 4 in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital, Abuja. However, virtual spaces also hold their own potential.

With plans to host other virtual concerts soon, artists are coming to terms with this redefined meaning of connection, while fans now exist in a world where their favourite artists are becoming gloriously human and growing closer than ever.

News Brief

Michael Kiwanuka Wins Highly Coveted 2020 Mercury Prize

The British-Ugandan artist proves that staying true to yourself will get you further than you can imagine.

British-Ugandan musician Michael Kiwanuka has gone on to win the 2020 Mercury Prize at this year's virtual awards ceremony.

The win was assigned to Kiwanuka's 2019 album KIWANUKA, produced by Danger Mouse and Inflo. KIWANUKA, Michael's third full-length so far, seems to be the artists' most personal one yet.

In his own words, Kiwanuka told New Statesman, "I thought, what better way to say that you're comfortable with who you are than by using just your name? KIWANUKA goes against fame, it goes against success. It's not in the pocket, it's not a smooth rock'n'roll name that's up in lights. It can be clumsy, if you haven't seen it before."

Well, we are certainly grateful for the singer's personal evolution as it has landed him top honors in the industry, as well as, amongst his die hard fans.

The artist said of his win, "I don't even know what to say - I'm speechless. This is amazing...I don't even have any words. This is ridiculous, it's crazy! I'm so happy. Third time's a charm. It's blown my mind. I'm over the moon, I'm so excited - this is for art, for music, for albums. This is the only thing I've ever wanted to do so to win a Mercury is a dream come true. I'm so happy. Music and art means so much to me and this is an award that celebrates that so I'm over the moon."

Watch Michael Kiwanuka's performance of "You Ain't The Problem" off of his Mercury Prize winning album "KIWANUKA" here.

Mercury Prize 2020 Winner | Michael Kiwanuka - You Ain't The Problem (Later... With Jools Holland) www.youtube.com

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