Nigerians have always done well in any endeavor they find themselves, and so have other countries too. Unfortunately, for lack of strong agency to advance the totality of her story on the global stage, only her flaws are often highlighted by the usual chroniclers of African woes – the western media. That is why I reason that, though Wizkid’s exploit within a few years of running his own Starboy record label is commendable given the kind of environment he created his music, it is debasing to say we are surprised.
From fiercely battling with lack of concrete structures and good support systems, to recording music in generator-powered studios, the creative process in Nigerian music industry, and other creative industries that rely heavily on electricity, is alarmingly challenging. What we now proudly call Nigerian music industry as we know it today, an industry that serious investors around the world are now willing to put their money in, was built through the doggedness and never-back-down attitude of young Nigerian musicians.
It is true that life presents challenges in different shades. In the process of creating something worthwhile, obstacles are bound to rear their stubborn heads. But young creative Nigerians have to deal with absurd challenges. Though many consider this comparison unfair, an American kid who aspires to become a music producer doesn’t have to bother about something as basic as electricity. But in Nigeria, this a big issue and only those with unflinching will and indefatigable determination to succeed, survive the hash landscape. Again, this is the environment that produced Wizkid, the prime ambassador of Nigerian music at the moment, who is being celebrated for winning the Best International Act at the MOBO 2017 Awards, over world class musicians like Drake, Jay Z and Kendrick Lamar.
Born Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun in July 16, 1990, the now 27 year old singer knew early enough that music was what he was born to do. He began singing in the choir of his local church when he just eleven. He did that for the edification of the brethren and glorification of God. But he would later go secular to become the naïve studio rat at Mudock studio, to the Starboy who now sings ‘ I want your body sleeping in my bed’ and ‘plenty man shall fall that day if them cross my lane’ and a Grammy Award Nominee!
Wizkids success story is commendable and the significance of his recent musical achievements can be understood, in part, by looking at the migrational push that forced young Nigerians to run away to Europe in the hope of finding a greener lawn on the other side, only for them to get trapped and placed on auction blocks in Libya by our Arabian African brothers, as 21st century slaves. The same environment that raised the WizKids of Nigeria is the same environment that many of these trapped young people couldn’t stand before they decided to leave.
Breaking into the entertainment market anywhere in the world requires more than talent. WizKid understood early enough that in order to push his career to mainstream visibility, he needed to partner wit an already established label that would help promote, market, and brand him. This requires lots of money.
Soon enough, he got introduced and signed to Empire Mates Entertainment (EME), owned by Bankole Wellington, aka, Banky W, the popular Nigerian RnB singer. With this record label’s support, the journey to stardom kick off when he release his Holla at Your Boy, his first successful single under EME.
The plight of an up and coming artist is that, too afraid and inexperienced to go the indie route, any record label that approaches them is good enough. Out of excitement or desperation, or sometimes both, these artistes sign contracts they may not fully grasp the full implications of the clauses of contract they were signing.
On the other hand, we must understand that no matter how talented an artiste is, he or she is a highly risky investment venture for business-minded and profit oriented record label bosses, who care more about return on investment than they do about the talent of the artiste. Dissatisfaction soon sets in, when the artist wants to make moves only to find out to his shock that it contravened the contract he had entered when he was adrenaline-driven by the prospect of superstardom.
In 2009, Wizkid signed a contract with EME where the income sharing formula was reported to be that the label got 75% of whatever Wizkid earned while the artiste made do with 25%. Maybe Wizkid was too thankful to concern himself with the income sharing formula, because he couldn’t help himself. At this stage, he needed all the grooming he could get in the business of music.
So Wizkid set assiduously to work. Being used to sleeping in the studio, he intensified his work ethics, making singing look like a child’s play. The long hours he spent in studio helped him gain confidence in himself and fine-tuned his craft. With time, and hit singles, his fan base steadily began to grow which translated to more shows, endorsement deal, and money for Wizkid and EME.
Wizkid’s success story is not just for Wizkid, EME or even Starboy. It is Africa’s success story. And it must be told compellingly before the chroniclers of African woes shift our attention to Zimbabwe dictatorial sit-tight President who has been disgracefully ousted. We must tell this story before we are reminded that Libyans are auctioning their own brothers on slave block in 2017. We must tell it because other things are happening in Africa apart from all these stories of depression.
Wizkid’s association with Banky W yielded fairly successful records, and an albums.
Having a level of creative control and artistic independence, can be beneficial for some artiste, but can also be a journey to extinction for others. Wizkid had his gaze set on higher grounds. He felt It was time for him to depart EME music, which he did, without the usual negative vibe usually associated with such moves, to float his StarBoy Music record label. It generated talks in the media as to why he had to leave, but because neither Banky W nor Wizkid gave it wings, the talks didn’t go far.
WizKid’s stay with Banky W’s EME sort of prepared him for his later exploits in Afrobeat music, a genre poineered by the late Fela Anikulakpo Kuti. He had being a studio rat, but in running his own label, he realized he had to work harder in other not to fade away like some of his colleagues who went that lane because they left a record label.
Like the biblical sower, Wizkid began to throw out ingles after singles. Some singles made him smiled to the bank, others expanded his influence and credibility while others were just bland. But one of his musical seed that fell on the proverbial fertile soil, was his 2015 single, Ojuelegba, a mid-tempo song which has started-from-the-bottom-now-we-here as it overriding theme. That song became s street anthem, and the airwaves went gaga for it.
Ojuelegba became an exponential, chart topping, and boundary breaking hit song. Drake jumped on the remix, Ghanian rapper, Sarkodie also jumped on it. That was how big the song was. The success of Ojuelagba, and especially the one that has Drakes collaboration, marked the beginning of Wizkid’s international prominence. One good turn, they say, begets another. Ojuelegba broke the ice for more Wizkid/Drake collaborations.
Wizkid has won impressivr awards from all over the continent including a Grammy nomination, which you can google to feed your eyes. He is the definition of Y.A.GI – Young and Getting It.
Commendations are flying in from every nook and cranny. The political class in Nigeria appears to be the most enthralled class about Wizkid’s achievement. From President Mohammad Buhari, to formal Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Ben Bruce, the elation is palpable. It serves for this class a remedial diplomatic tool.
But beyond the congratulatory messages from this people, the best way to celebrate this achievement is to create conducive environment that would produce more WizKids. It is by building concerts venues in other to cut down the cost of building a stage from the scratch after a show at Eko Hotel and Suite. By putting laws in place that lets the music pay. By providing electricity so that creative entrepreneurship can thrive. Until then, only the messages of the streets matter, the people who actually support the dreams of this artistes by showing love and attending their events.