ARt & OUTrage 5

I love Daddy Showkey, I am choking

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 at 4:09 PM WAT

A Love Affair With Daddy Showkey
By Olaiya 'Subomi
My friend James barges in this afternoon, visibly agitated…
"Why, you guys don't give Daddy Showkey and the guys from Ajegunle the respect they deserve; you don’t even put them on your pages? You are biased and segregationist…"
The activist poet raves on. And when he goes like that, you'd better hush him.
"But where did you pick up all these accusations", I launch at him, a bit irritated at his incorrigibility.
"I don’t have to pick it up from anywhere. I read your pages. When was the last time you wrote something about Showkey? Even when he won four award including best song and the best musician in the country award, you only mentioned it in passing. That is not good. The guy is great and he deserves more than you are willing to give him!"
James drops into one of the seats before me, dives into the bowels of his bag clawing at some object. I observe him: such an intelligent fellow but sometimes, lousy with his reasoning; and a running mouth to boot. Perhaps he talks before he thinks. But then his word sparks a thought in me:
Have I really being unfair to these new age Nigerian musicians who peddle their wares as afro-hip-pop and see themselves as culturally more exposed than the musicians in the traditional or trado-modern forms such as juju, fuji, highlife, kalangu, ikwokrikwo among others.
Well, to credit, the new wave musicians (mostly singers in fact, as they hardly play any instrument) have succeeded a lot in wrenching a great deal of space from the hitherto tight clutches of the local airwaves and screen by the Western (American) pop works.
The radio stations for instance, now find themselves playing more of Tony Tetuila, Azaadu, Remedies, Plantashon Boys, Zakky Adze, Maintain, Eedris… The more reggae steeped of them run the Showkeys, Father U-Turns, Fryos, Mighty Mouses on their various programmes.
This is a great cultural statement indeed. At least, a Westerner would not any longer, step here, listen to local FM stations and, ask if he was back in his homeland. That used to be the case and it happened in 1998 to a group of American journalists on a research mission here.
And of course, in a time of economic depression and political uncertainties buoyed by social disequilibria, the hip pop acts have provided entertainment for the distressed and liven up the stressed social space. They have found jobs for themselves and others in showbiz fields such as audio-visual, dance, designs, fashion, even marketers and others. They might have even re-coursed certain potential miscreants from the landmine planted on their path to future by massive graduate unemployment and youth disempowerment.

Daddy Showkey!
Now, I am thinking: James must be running a PR consult for the sensational reggae toaster from the seedy suburb of the Lagos metropolis.
In fact, hasn’t Showkey got more than he deserved from the critical press?
Sure, he is a dance floor favourite and knows how to waoh the popular concert arena, but he is very light in concept and vision…
Well, this is my (very personal) critical opinion. After all, some other supposed critical media workers had once blessed Showkey's head with the best Nigerian Musician for 2000 crown.
Yet this is where I think the problem is: Status Conferment.
There ought to be a debate on such ritual. Who for instance, should be confirming status on the Nigerian artists? What are the criteria to hook on? Should the venture even be the turf of some media workers who are not trained in music…? A legion of queries to be raised.
There is a violent misplacement of values when the wrong people have the wholly whim to give sensitive endorsement to certain artists and, for indeed the wrong or suspect reasons. Wrong signals may be sold to other more culturally civilized observers that we are a people governed by the masturbation syndrome; rather than the cerebral.
Showkey as the best Nigerian artists. Curiouser and curiouser!
"Oh well, he probably sold better that year, had the most frequent radio and TV airing, had more concerts bla bla… But was he really the most qualitative voice, best tuned musician, most sonorous singer, eminent lyricist, most philosophical composer… what in fact is in Showkey's songs to balm the pain of the hopeless, and satiate the discomforted with dose of tonic…?"
James springs to life again!
"There you are! I knew that you don’t know much about the guy. You have not been listening to him, because you are biased…he is a fighter for his people, the ghetto people. You won't know that because you are one of the oppressors of the suffering masses, the type in Ajegunle…"
Were James not my friend, I should have called up my lawyer to start preparing for our million-naira days. Such lousy accuser!
"Well James", I begin, "I can't really think of any great, deep work from that chap. He is a good performer, he even created the dance style, galala, but that is where it ends. As for lyrical depth, he is nowhere. As for singing, the voice is haughty. And his act though comical and so deceptively attractive, is in material and substance dirty. It is the stuff of the crass. Best for 'area boy-minded' fellows and…"
" See where you sell yourself in the open market" James shoots, "you mean you have not heard of 'Fire Fire In our country, give me plenty water make I quench fire'. James is singing. I am amused…
"Okay, give me another one".
" There are many of them… 'Fire Fire, In The Ghetto', said James and he dries up. I tease him"…Dianna, Welcome Daddy Showkey…"
He sure got the joke and cast his eyes away from my mischievous looks.
I lecture him: "You see there are populist artists and there are visionary artists, just as you have populist politicians and philosopher—politicians.
"The populist artist is the more popular because he appeals to your basal instincts, more to your brawn and purse, your dancing feet and your sexual desires. The Artist-philosopher steals your souls with his words and tune. He conquers your space of reasoning; he imprisons your emotions and overrides your cerebral cavity so much that you fall in line with his thought process.
"That is the artist that moves men to positive actions and speed up the process of change. He is a medium of national reformation or cultural regeneration. He is the one to spur a renaissance in the social consciousness.
"Your Showkey is not that kind of artist and neither are other artists of his ilk. They just want your pocket and your patronage. That is why their music go well with drinks and women, especially the easy virtue type".
Poor James. He gazes like rain-drenched chic…
I continue: "Of course, there are some of those Ajegunle artists who have come up very strong in terms of deep lyrics, even if flippant or perfunctory… I talk of Mighty Mouse, even Showkey and his good friend, Daddy Fresh…
"But the most surprising has been Baba Fryo who, curious still, has about the most unserious personal carriage of them all, with his usual one-eye mask. His Denge Potze debut happens to have approximated the rot in today's social etiquette and valuation system where a man's worth is no longer judged by the quality of his mind and resourcefulness of his handiwork, but by the flashiness of his appearance.
"You are only as big as the size and brand of your car and the depth of your intellect could sometime be your passport to public opprobrium. Your fat certificate can no longer earn you applause in your community.
"The ideal role model most parents sell to their children, is that chubby-cheek fellow from the city with a limo and an obscene bank account and grand house down the street. It doesn’t matter to such parents that to the vacuous fellow education is an anathema; or the volume of blood he shed to grab riches by the scruff.
"Fryo studied this new attitude and came up with Denge Potze, a treatise on the ignominious crash of values and morality of the new society. He follows up with Notice Me, which in content and context is a stretch of the message in the first.
"Now that is a popular artist who managed to scale the bar to the midst of philosopher-artists. And it doesn’t really matter how clean or astute the content of his message is. There are some of them like that too, even Daddy Showkey in some of his songs; except that his extraneous are sometimes too much that they tend to overshadow the substance."
I have a student in session, so I continue to pound ideas into James’ head:
"Popular art is a luxury to a society such as we live in, bedraggled by political iniquities and consistently raped (sorry, ruled) by mean men whose idea of leadership is underdeveloping their community and decimating their people to the deep of the abyss.
'In such a society, a real artist would not just be an entertainer doing the lewd and seedy songs that can only administer temporary relief to the people.
"The artiste will no doubt, find himself drawn into the debate about reordering the status quo; sculpting a more focused leadership and an enlightened followership -- he will indeed champion the struggle of his people, his potential fans, to get out of their precarious situations.
"Otherwise, he might find himself inadvertently as the harbinger of further fatal resolve on the part of the people. For one, the insincere note in his songs could breed false hope in the people to the point that they begin to resign to their fate and weaken their desire to fight their way out of their situation; and that is cancerous to the heart of the society and the psyche of the people themselves.
"That is the kind of thing a Showkey or those in his group who have the opportunity to talk but have decided to hum, could end up achieving".
I didn’t want to lose James, so I hit further: "Showkey is even fair. There are far more educated musicians whose initial pedigree was committed art, but who soon capitulated to the force of commerce that they abandoned the serious for the mundane and; they even have the audacity to proclaim in the market place their new found penchant for 'na ideology we go chop' attitude.
"It is okay if an artist wants to chop, afterall it is in our cultural canon that 'a man eats where he sweats' and; besides, it is a matter of personal choice. The problem is: once you sentence yourself to 'chop chop' syndrome, you may discover that you are not able to get out of it again. 'Money good o, but money make man lose im soul, money na devil', sang Nico Mbarga… and that is what has afflicted majority of our musicians.
"And the pain is that most of the legends that they peddled as their mentors were not so given to flirtatious swing between the profound and the mundane. That was why they were able to create the evergreens, works of lasting virtues that you and I still coveted today", I submit.
"But all the musicians cannot be politicians or fighters. Life is not so dry… people have to live and love", a rasped James has finally found his voice. Wonderful!
But I am not done yet.
"Oh yes, they don’t all have to be. But each artiste has to be evaluated according to the nature and colour of his vision.
'If your vision is as deep as the hollow of your stomach or as vast as the space of the dance floor, why should any self-worthy critic accord you a deeper minefield of idealism or ideology?
"If you battered your artistic conviction for a pot of commerce and survivalism as some notable artistes here have done, why should a critic continue to ascribe to you the golden garb of the committed, when you have long abandoned the ship? And if you on your own, declared yourself no longer interested in making your art serve far more missionary objectives, why should the public continue to proclaim you as their voice of reason and wisdom?"
"Well, you are right", say James, but I was not convinced he got the message yet.
"You are a poet", I say, "If you write show your colour, konko below or omo pupa lemi nfe kind of poem, why should you be taken beyond the reach of your vision. That critic would have committed a faux pax, you know. And if you decided to capitulate into a socially conscious artiste to a mere entertainer, undistinguishable from the runs of the mill, why should I be expected to rank you alongside your colleagues who are futuristic and doing profound works? That is the crux of it all."
"How about those guys doing all those great stuff on rap and toast?" queries James, "I think you guys should look at them closely and see which among them would endure. They can't all be flukes!"
"Well, remember I said it too that they are fulfilling a role. They have for one, forced our exuberantly Americanized deejays and presenters to detune their selections a bit. Now you either have to play the local varieties of the Western pop or you are off the beat. Thanks to the doggedness of Kennis Music and the like who have taken those local boys to greater heights.
"But you see, you still cannot define authentic contemporary music of Nigeria from the musical products of those guys. What they are doing is cooking western delicacy with spices of local condiments. The taste can never be as real as the real indigenous menu. At best, especially to a foreign hear, it will sound like a well-grilled mistake, irritable but passable for unserious attention.
"Those of them who stretch their imagination further in terms of sound experimentation and style and identity would surely survive. And in fact those are the guys who seem to be doing something akin to evergreen. Maybe a Paul Play Dairo, whose real luck is that he adapted an already evergreen number of his father, IK Dairo.
The products of the hip pop guys are like tomato, highly perishable. If you don’t consume it soonest, it goes rotten. That is why you see them always rushing back to the studio -- to keep themselves in business.
"Imagine in a recording career of less than two years, some of them have had as much as eight albums. That is not the stuff of professional musicianship. It will sound ludicrous in some more musically enlightened clime.
"Really, I think many of those guys should team up and do one solid, serious work. You know the way, the Spice Girls did. And long before them, the Supreme Sisters that eventually threw up Dianna Ross. Or ABBA. Or Beatles. Or Rolling Stone. Or…
"Won't you for instance say that the Remedies would by now, have been a more enduring group but for the solo career ambition of Tetuila, Idris and Montana? The Plantashon Boyz remains hot because they are in some kind of a cooperative…
"But many of the guys just feel that they could croak into the Mic and get the studio engineer to strewn it up into some manageable sound and, pronto, they are in the market.
"Of course, after some cash-induced rash of radio and TV exposure, they crash off the sight and mind of the public. They have to hit the studio again. The music is two-for-kobo".
Now I am sure I have lost my boisterous friend, James. His gaze is fixed hard on the TV screen. Whatever was of interest there? The usual: suicide bombers have wreaked another havoc; this time in downtown Jerusalem; there was blood and pandemonium everywhere on the street.
I grab the remote control. There! The petit singer, Yinka Davies, doing Eko Ile, a one-off video clip promo she did long before her current album was released.
"Yeah, that is what I think a real musical effort is", I announce gleefully. "You could see some grand effort at quality performance".
James isn't listening but I continue, "now would you compare this with Showkey. Or would you put Showkey in the class of Kayode Olajide, Laitan Adeniji, Funso Ogundipe, Kola Ogunkoya, Seyi Solagbade and others…"
James retorts dismissively: "Many of those guys are only imitating Fela, they have nothing original to offer!"
There we go again. My friend James and his hasty brain. Yet I have known him to be capable of grander thought.
I feed him: "Including Lagbaja?"
"Lagbaja is just an entertainer like Showkey. The only difference is that he wears the mask which gives him a mystic quality", says James and he s
"Have you ever heard of afro-jazz movement?"
"Well, I see you guys write that all the time. I doubt if I know what you are talking about."
"That is the classification we have given the stuff by Lagbaja, Kayode Olajide, Adeniji and others. And it simply means that they are redefining jazz idioms in the context of traditional materials. It takes a lot of musical depth and intellection to do that.
"You must be well exposed to the complex nuances, the standard format of jazz as well as all the different schools, you must be musically literate and have a considerable competence in composition and arrangement; a good level of skill and artistic comportment…" I seem to be losing James again. "You can't just wake up and go into the studio the way your hip-pop dudes do.
"The chaps involved in this kind of form, plus those doing the afro-highlife blend, the so-called post-Fela Kuti experimentalists are the keys to our future musical destiny. They are most likely to give us that musical identity we have been craving for. The reggae-toasters, the Showkeys can continue to provide auxiliary services", I wrap up my treatise.
James sighs: "I know you will try to bamboozle me with all those technical. All I ask for is that you should give those guys some exposure too".
"Well we are doing that. But we shall take up your grievances, grumbling poet.

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