On Friday 17th September, a special of the television show Project Fame aired. It featured the contestants sharing the stage with successful singers- an idea that might have been
considered good when it was thought up by some maverick among the organizers. Those who applauded this maverick were right to, this much I’m willing to admit. Then why did that episode leave with me with an uncomfortable feeling? And why was I relieved when the episode reached its end?
And no, it wasn’t because of what they say about “too much of a good thing”. Neither was it because of a major goof on the stage, the kind that calls for the performer to abruptly exit the stage. No; no one fell on stage, no button popped, no belt unravelled, no strap unhinged- no wardrobe malfunction. Rather, it is an accretion of little things. In the beginning it was based on an irrational feeling of disconnect with the program, what in a Gladwellian sense is called thin-slicing.
That episode made lucid what was initially unclear.
It showed too much of our music industry’s shortcomings.
The show is for singing talents and it was bewildering and mildly amusing when I heard Timaya was on the bill, then Eldee J.Martins and Kefee, the latter being the only person capable of passing an audition into the Academy if it was held for the stars. (I can’t quite say Iyanya is a star- at least not yet.) Due to its ratings and the imperial nature of the US media, American Idol is the singing talent show most of rest copy- though I’m certain this would be denied. That show doesn’t feature rap artists and with good reason. It is not racism or anything unwholesome; the reason is simpler. It is because rappers can’t sing!
Both the judges and faculty I’m certain know this but they were all grinning like Billie Halliday was on stage. Even the regularly grumpy Nomoreless was glowing, evidently grateful not to have another fight with the faculty- a wrong move considering those fights were about the only reason the show was salvaged from one about wannabes murdering incredible music over and again, though there is the occasional good performance like Chidinma’s rendition of My Heart Would Go On.
I thought: have these judges sold their souls for airtime? In recent weeks all they have do after another insipid performance is smile and offer platitudes, phrases like “You did well” becoming clichés. Why would anyone pay people to sit on a chair and spew banal rhetoric?
The answer is not hard to find. The show is winding up; how else can Mtn get people to text if the judges don’t make it look like we’ve just witnessed Whitney Houston hit yet another high note? Several times I’ve wished the camera was on the judges’ interaction among themselves and with the telecom corporation. That would make for better television.
For now we have to watch the contestants play catch to the judges. So utterly boring is their community that a minor skirmish between two of the contestants had to be the focus of one of the daily summaries.
Great swathes of boredom is not the only sin the contestants are guilty of. The way they suck up to the judges is bothersome. I believe there should be an element of self examination in the singer each time he/she ends a performance; these people seem to just swallow what the judges tell them and next week they do same thing on stage. Thinking they are really that good, they go back content only for the daily tasks to start and same faculty that lavished them with praise on stage would destroy it by finally saying the truth.
It is at this point the crew receive blame for complacency. That those bits where the faculty does a volte face in the Academy are shown shows the lackadaisical attitude that is a virus to our Arts. Maybe the crew wanted to show us what two-faced creatures these faculty members really are. They have my gratitude if this is the case.
Sadly, that isn’t the only aspect the crew is complacent. There’s the issue of the songs. Attributing songs to artists who only did covers of the original is indicative of sloppy researching, that is if any was done. Examples: The song, I Want to Know what Love Is was originally by The Foreigners, Natural woman was by Aretha Franklin, I Love You Just The way You Are was by Billy Joel; Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Barry White respectively only did covers. It seems a minor detail but it is necessary the teachers do a good job if they are to have a moral right to charge their pupils to deliver their duties with diligence.
Complacency is also a problem of the Nigerian artist, represented here by the contestants. They do not want true greatness- when it appears they do, they do not know or want to do what it entails. I recall the contestants were asked what the money would be used on if they were winners, one particular answer struck me and it wasn’t because I was impressed. She said she’d buy stocks. That statement tells you of the mindset of the average Nigerian artist: it is all about the money. If the organizers had thought the Nigerian audience was more enlightened and more demanding of their artists, that interview would have been scrapped. Personally, I cannot believe that after spending several hundreds of naira in form of credit, to vote someone, she’d take the money and run. That is equivalent to throwing money in a well for the audience and wasting immaterial resources for the faculty (and indeed the sponsors, that is, if they have such lofty ideals.) I expect the winner to plough some of the money and the other resources into an album- that would mean spending more money but it would also be considered as compensation. I have since forgotten what I spent buying five Asa albums, because it was repeatedly stolen, but the value I have received from my surviving copy of her abides. When I insert that compact disc into my drive, it takes me to a place where only good music, Art takes one to. This complacency is redolent of alliteracy, that chronic Nigerian disease that pushes us to avoid books outside of institutions that force us to read.
Great music, like all great art, calls for discipline. To write a great song is hard work. And we do not have more than a handful of these songs. I am surprised when The Sunday Sun newspaper turns out yet another popular song lyrics; that these guys actually wrote down those overwhelming absurdities like tongolo, jokolo, palongo, jogodo etc- words that are mostly not good enough to enter our popular culture- is shocking. Supporters of such are quick to declare poetic license forgetting or ignorant of the fact that usually such excuses are proffered by or at the behest of the most inept artists. How many songs by Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Fela, U2, McCartney, Marley employ such devices?
(Speaking of discipline, there’s evidence that the Nigerian artist can learn but only if compelled. Ochuko provides us with this detail. It is amazing that he has lost several kilos and can dance now- as was evident in his self-composition- without looking clumsy. It has been said that, the truly great things come from the individual who can toil in freedom, so when Ochuko goes home to his mother, sister or girlfriend’s cooking we would know if discipline is a movable virtue.)
The self-composed songs episode was another telling one. Most of the songs employed one word choruses which does not say much for song writing ability. Maybe their talents lie in carrying a tune rather than fitting words to them. Or maybe laziness is to blame. As the saying goes, time would tell.
In the star pairing episode, all the contestants appeared to be happy with the arrangement either because they had another’s voice to hide in; or the songs were so ridiculously easy, practice was conducted with laxity; or perhaps just the euphoria of finally meeting (on stage!) a star they have admired, Kesse the most culpable, what with his prancing on stage, diving and lying in between Timaya’s legs- for the first time I saw the Egberipapa surprised. In spite of the contestants looking like they didn’t rehearse with the stars themselves, the entire panel applauded them one remarking that the star and the contestant’s difference in lyrics made them both stand out!
I was disappointed by this but not shocked. We as a people routinely praise average performances or outright mediocrity. (Recent examples include the World cup match against Argentina, crashing out at the semis of the Nations cup, hailing of any movie that manages to include a white face as a Hollywood collaboration, applauding every politician commissioning a stretch of road or an ordinary overhead bridge.) Besides, the panel has become too one-dimensional that whatever the theme for the day is, it is easily diffused to all members. Joke Silva dishes motherly compliments forgetting that even mothers have to be firm; Ige is always overly muscular in her assessment, Nomoreless, grumpy like he’d take half the money for another job; drama-king Ogbeiwi grandiose in his speeches, invoking melodrama at every opportunity; Kwame too content one fears he might start purring if the season doesn’t end soon. The others don’t do too much. Kaffy’s moves are a delight though.
Several times I wanted to query: where is the frank Frank Edoho? (Incidentally, he was brought to the show as the organizers and sponsors are also responsible for his own show. Sadly, he didn’t fare much better as he too couldn’t tell them Dion only did a cover, but then that isn’t his job.)
It’s a show and it is incomplete without an audience. That special episode had the studio audience jumping and cheering the star- the stars themselves oblivious of their purpose on the show- forgetting the aim was to evaluate the contestant’s performance on stage with an established act.
Do not blame them alone. Only he who’s not guilty should throw a pebble- a form of this troubling behaviour is evident whenever we lap up the kitsch almost routinely produced by our artists.
I believe if the public were more circumspect, though we would not be able to stop those hell-bent on releasing the next jogodo, we might have a body of music capable of challenging for world honours. For now that is only a dream, even the very optimistic Nice has stopped singing about bringing home a Grammy. For now, we would keep claiming Sade and Seal- telling our foreign friends on facebook their real names- as though their music would be widely accepted if released here.
It is not too long ago, Idris Abdulkareem’s rap had a legion of fans. I met people in the university who would defend those unintelligible lyrics with any object that could cause bodily harm. I am happy this has changed, but we haven’t moved too far in terms of music appreciation, several good artists are still languishing in obscurity or are been drawn into the mud of bad commercial music. Perhaps this is really the problem. The rap genre in contemporary Nigerian music improved soon after Ruggedman educated us by questioning the lyrical strength of Idris’s verses. It would be good to see this education in other genres.
As for that Project Fame episode, I do not blame the audience entirely, it is usually impossible to sit during a Timaya performance.
Neither do I blame the contestants entirely for appearing to be wannabes that ne’er-would-be- winning six digit figures and receiving the Andy Warhol promise of five minutes of fame (isn’t that the name of the show, anyway?) seems a good bargain. If only they would consider longevity.
The judges and faculty cannot be blamed fully as they can boldly be said to be following a set procedure.
Rather, everyone connected with the show- and by extension with our music industry- deserves a substantial slice of blame.
In retrospect, that maverick that brought up the idea thought up a really special episode- special in making the show a microcosm of the music industry. And special yet again, in its inability to determine what it was supposed to be doing on television that night.
By Aigbos Oris