06 Feb Nigerian Concerts and the Performance Problem
Like just about every person between the ages of 16-27 over Christmas 2017, I went to musical concerts and a lot of them. Christmas in Nigeria especially Lagos is a really special occurrence. Everyone comes ‘back home’ and different reunions take place with common exclamations of ‘I haven’t seen you since primary/secondary/university!’ There are so many intimate dinners and lunches that your head starts to spin at some point. The club scene takes on a life of its own that’s impossible to replicate during any other season of the year no matter how hard club promoters and club owners try. Alcohol? The world’s most accepted drug flows as freely and effortlessly as the River Niger itself. Against this backdrop is the crown jewel of our Christmas season: our star-studded Christmas concerts.
So where to begin? Let’s start with the venues. Our musicians either overestimate or underestimate their influence and popularity in the music industry which can often lead to comical consequences. A great example of this would be Davido’s 30 Billion concert. Davido is unarguably one of the most well known and celebrated musicians in our generation. Not only that, the roster of performers that took to the stage were legends in their own right or promising up and comers. Anyone who can facilitate a Mo’hits reunion deserves some sort of award for that alone, in my own honest opinion. So the question is, with that type of star power there is absolutely no way Eko hotel’s venue would have cut it. It wasn’t realistic from the start. Another example of poor venue planning? Does anyone reading this remember a D’banj concert that occurred a couple of years ago on a beach? People had to walk miles to the actual venue and by the time everyone got there, everyone including myself was tired, irritable and cranky. Bad move.
“Overexposure is real … Although thrilling at first, this becomes problematic when these artists become almost fixtures at every performance.”
For the life of me, I can’t seem to figure out what is wrong with Nigerian microphones. Anyone that has been to a concert at Christmas in this country knows exactly what I’m talking about. There you are bobbing along to whichever artist it is on stage when all of a sudden you can only hear the backing track and not the artist’s voice. As soon as this happens, someone dressed in all black scurries onto the stage to pass a working mic, it’s like clockwork. Or even worse, that piercing, high pitched wail of an out of whack microphone that makes your ears feel like they’re bleeding or as if your eardrums have just popped. It happens at just about every show without fail and it is one a pet peeves. This goes without saying: every single aspect of a show should be looked over and corrected before any eager audience member arrives. The sound and lighting crew should work together to ensure a seamless production. Despite this, sound malfunctions happen all the time. Apart from those sorts of things happening, you also have tracks skipping, background art meant to work in conjunction with the show going dark…I could go on but….
“A lot of current, mainstream artists in the Nigerian music scene really believe in letting the backtrack vocals do the heavy lifting and just aren’t great on stage.”
The next problem I am going to tackle revolves around tickets and ticketing. The flyers for the concert come out on the usual platforms: Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (is there anyone out there who still uses Facebook??) Scanning the roster seeing some of your favourite artists you see the prices and there it is. Regular, VIP, VVIP (if they really want to take the piss). I am only going to say this once, VIP TICKETING IS A SCAM. Now, why would I say that? I mean, who doesn’t enjoy the finer things in life? But that’s not how it works here, in this country. VIP almost always means you get a table. That is stupid enough but it’s not where the problem arises. The conundrum lies where the tables are, which is always at the back of the venue. So let me ask a basic question: if you are sitting down at a table at the back, and there is a mass of people front of you, exactly how are you expected to see the artist? The whole point of paying extra is for an alternative experience of the concert, correct? Well, individuals who pay for VIP definitely get an ‘alternative’ experience if it means not seeing anything at all. It is even worse due to how cities like Lagos work which is on a ‘know’ or ‘get to know’ system. Almost all of us have that one friend/aunt/cousin/boy you’re using for a cruise that bought a VIP ticket or table. So what tends to happen is that the VIP area just becomes a revolving door of a mixture of people who have VIP tickets and those who don’t. So you can imagine it in your head: Crammed tables, charged conversations with the bouncers and all the while not actually being able to see anything. Incredible scenes.
This really isn’t a big enough critique to go in depth, but it is still worth pointing out; overexposure is real, and it’s not a good thing no matter what the Kardashians would have you believe. In the Christmas concert circuit there seem to be a few key artists that perform nearly every weekend whether on their own or as a guest. Although thrilling at first, this becomes problematic when these artists become almost fixtures at every performance. Eventually, because they have been seen so much, when they do come on stage the crowd thins out considerably. So on to my final rant; performances. To be quite honest, this is the main reason why this article is in existence. Remove all the extras, and what makes a good artist? His songs and her performances! For all the hoopla surrounding an artist like say, King Sunny Ade, for instance, when it comes right down to it, all he needs is a mic and a light. So what does that have to do with the Christmas concert circuit? A lot actually. Most present-day artists simply cannot perform; they have no charisma or stage presence. Case in point would be the Nonso Amadi concert. I had heard a couple of his songs and I think they are well written, and the production along with the vocal arrangements is great. My friend and I went to his concert at Hard Rock Cafe and of course, he was the last to perform. Before his performance, we had seen a couple of other artists but I will mention two that really stood out to me. The first being Maleek Berry; in terms of audience interaction, he was amazing. I am not a huge fan of his music but I was completely enchanted by his performance and by him as well. The second person that truly embodies the whole ‘a mic and a light’ approach to his craft that I mentioned are so apparent in older artists, was Banky W. He put on a hell of a show. He ran through some of his greatest hits with flair, humour, and true attention to his craft and the audience. A quick word of warning to new artists who are still shaky on their feet performance wise: don’t go on after Banky W. I’m going to cut Nonso Amadi some slack because I understand he’s still a relatively new artist but I will say he left a lot to be desired on stage. That is never a good thing especially when you’re the headliner. Personally, I thought it was just nerves but the same thing occurred during his own set at Davido’s 30 Billion concert. If I had to pinpoint the problems it would be poor breath control, he clearly does not have command of the stage and his interactions with the audience were in my opinion…lacklustre.
“Crammed tables, charged conversations with the bouncers and all the while not actually being able to see anything. Incredible scenes.”
That being said, he has all the time in the world to develop his craft but until he does I will not be attending any more of his concerts. This is not a problem that is unique to this artist. A lot of current, mainstream artists in the Nigerian music scene really believe in letting the backtrack vocals do the heavy lifting and just aren’t great on stage. If you want more proof, Tiwa Savage’s performance at the Made in America Festival last year in September is an unfortunate example. I am a millennial who lives in the present and really dislikes the ‘back in MY day’ argument that people older than me tend to have but in this case, it needs to be said. Musicians such as Fela, I.K Dairo and King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey endure because they were or are exceptionally excellent on stage. This is something that continues to be celebrated in Fuji and Juju music today although its popularity has been arguably waning in recent years. The next time you are at a wedding (where fuji musicians still reign supreme) watch the band. One can go to a wedding an witness for themselves the boundless energy that fuji musicians display and that’s before you spray them. Push crisp notes to their damp foreheads and they ‘skelewu’ or ‘shoki’ out of their trad in an effort to please and entrance you. Needless to say, Nigerian pop musicians could learn a thing or two from them.
Despite all this, there are some bright spots. Personally, I think the pop music industry is slowly beginning to realise the error of their ways and is rectifying the problems. For instance, Nativeland held its concert at Muri Okunola Park which was an excellent idea. It lent the entire event a festival vibe, there was enough space to move around and there were fans strategically placed at the park to cool people down. Olamide’s concert at Teslim Balogun stadium was a good move as well. Acts such as Wizkid or Davido or Burna Boy can demand the same sort of audience pull as they are his contemporaries. As for the other issues that require some much-needed attention, I have some suggestions. In terms of VIP ticketing instead of giving people tables and sticking them in the back, they can be sequestered off in the front so they are in direct vision with the artists, meaning front row tickets. Or there could be a meet and greet with autographs or even a pre-show party. As for the overexposure of certain artists, one possibility is discussing with their manager and booker way before Christmas madness starts exactly how many guest spots they should do and striking a balance between getting people interested in coming for their own show and artist fatigue. The last suggestion concerning live performances is the simplest. Study the greats and rehearse. Rehearsal is the key which by the looks of it, is not being used. I saw the Fela musical this Christmas and it was fantastic. These dancers, singers and musicians performed every night, twice for three weeks and they were phenomenal each and every time. If those performers can keep and enhance the quality of their tiring work that way for that long, then our pop artists can and honestly, should as well.
We the audience deserve better.
by Modupe Adio