At no time in the history of pop-culture in Nigeria has the consumer dictated what the playing field for the performing arts (music, motion picture) should be than now. It is no different in other climes. No quadratic equation is needed to find x: as Nigerian music has revealed, the taste of the consumer has spelled out and shaped what music – especially popular music in our clime – has become. It is no longer the duty of the artiste to preserve the quality of art by setting and maintaining a standard; this act is now perpetuated by the help of conspiracies from all quarters you can imagine. Now, the consumer and the artiste agree upon – compromise on – the aesthetics and ‘crudity’ involved, the substance – all telling the story of the spirit of our age and ultimately revealing to us the health of our way-of-seeing socially and artistically.
Music intoxicates. In fact the artiste sings out of the intoxication of something; whether his or her subject is gay or serious, music comes with intoxication. In the interaction that takes place between the artiste and the listener lies one and the same aspiration: that their dreams both come true. When the listener gives up how they feel and their way-of-seeing to the artiste, with the hope that the artiste, in singing his song, will represent them (the listener), the artiste himself and that zeitgeist in the fulfilment of a dream. So, in the pursuit of this dream is anything allowed, like M.I. asks?
Yes. Anything and everything plays out. Stakes play, culture is created and the dynamics are tweaked to fit the times. Because ‘the times’ are responsible for the interpretation of culture and cultural desires: how we want to express ourselves and the meanings attached to same interpretation. No better actor for this role than the artist. It is why we easily identify with the nous of the artist in expressing what we are, yet with discrimination and a level of tolerance of how we are represented. For this reason, one may like a song others do not. Appreciation and criticism are part of the fulfilment of art. (And, of course, the intoxication.) But what about standard? The listener of music mostly is concerned with how their aspirations are met; standard is relative.
But our musicians, or to use the better term they prefer to call themselves, our artistes, are and have always been, our reflections, the creators, in our image, of what we feel, what we want and how we express these feelings and desires. In our time, the intoxication for music is so kill-sense; little room has been made for scrutiny, for how the artiste performs their role: what they make of meaning, their interpretation of collective desire, their thinking and representation of the zeitgeist.
Nigerian musicians now tell us what we think of ourselves in their music. They rely on the undiminished traffic we provide for them as our acceptance of their nuances, as an endorsement even. Anything they sputter out gets the green tick from us. Anything they say even when it is a bit mad we all go ‘mad’ over it.
When Tekno tells Folake shey she likes cassava and he has a big one, what do we think? Oh, the beat is good, it is the spirit of the age? I hear ‘play along’ like the guy in LMFAO’s Shufflin’ who urges his unenlightened friends who just woke up from a coma to find the world shuffling. But Tekno is singing a love song. Duncan Mighty’s Obianuju, which is permitted to be called a classic on its own merit, is a ‘powerful’ love song, too, if you imagine the intoxication invested in it. But Obianuju, the femme fatale, who is the object of Duncan Mighty’s obsession, is praised for the way she wings it, ‘anytime you dey for the club dey wind,’ and the next thing becomes ‘the best quality of wife’ (tell that to my grandmother), and, of course, the one he thinks of when he ‘wan sogodo.’ Catastrophic when you consider the subject matter in these songs, the aberrational context that is assigned. But these are hits of our time. Love, of course, is great intoxication, that’s why it gives us the best hits. Think Wande Coal’s Ololufe. Or a better comparison to Tekno and Duncan Mighty, Wizkid’s On Top Your Matter.
Enter Runtown’s hit Mad Over You released last year November, into the contextual test-tube with its peccadilloes. The song, which we are still getting mad over, begins with the line, ‘Ghana girl say she wan marry me o,’ that is going down as one of the more memorable opening salvos in Nigerian pop music.
The listener with no artistic agenda is easily lost in the seduction of Runtown’s Mad Over You. A feat if you think about the apathetical taste of the Nigerian consumer of music for melody or what we may call Blues. There has been a short supply of the genre. Check the hit lists―sorry―charts or the single-hit wonder list. Breaking from the shoki-tuned beat – a gradual step perhaps towards another style waiting to be abused – could be the anticipated change from the same-beat syndrome Nobody admitted he got tired of. There’s Mr Eazi’s Skin Tight, another hit. The style, an obvious appropriation of Ghanaian music heritage.
Mad Over You gets everything right but there are alphabets in its maths. Perhaps it is a love song; perhaps it is simply a song of a guy getting mad, once, over a girl. If it is the former then the lyrics and video are m-ba; if it is the latter then Runtown is acquitted by the zeitgeist. But alas, the usage of ‘Superwoman’ in the lyrics is a ‘hinter’ that it is a love song, and it is the backdoor scenario of finding its weakness. So, just before we get mad, how far has Runtown gone towards playing that role we talked about?
The last two lines in the song are,
‘I say your body na killer o
I fit to die on your body, only on your body.’
Like Tekno, like Duncan Mighty, the same irreconcilability with the subject matter they treat. The listener is okay with the food metaphors (waakye, shito) in the opening lines, only to hear,
‘That girl for the corner
Tell somebody make dem call am o.’
What corner? Why is the girl in a corner? The imagery is unsettling. Then the Nigerian artiste’s most monosyllabic cliché of all time, turned into a talisman, is used to identify the girl’s virtue, in the line,
‘Girl, the way you wind . .’
Wind. It is at this point that Runtown gets mad over his Superwoman (and he says so twice). And the rest is the rhyming-croon we hear often, which eventually ends with ‘shake bum bum.’ (Nice play tho’ with the end-rhyme ‘non-stop,’ the ‘dum dum’ effect.) Runtown’s Superwoman, if she follows him will enjoy (the lavishness and activity that’d happen to her), not find happiness. Way to go about love. Our age is an amazing one.
We are seduced by our age; Big Brother Naija, a testimony. Runtown is just a guy singing, trying to keep his hustle on, his fans onside, while having fun. After all, a little madness ain’t gon’ kill nobody. Like the rest in their legion, Runtown doesn’t take the fall; he takes the bait, acting out the role to which maybe we aspire to – shared intoxication and being soaked up in our seduction. The Nigerian artiste is created in our own image.