The Nigerian music industry has evolved over the years. The 70’s and 80’s may not have had the publicity, razzmatazz or funds available today; but what it had– good music- it had in abundance. The gramophone spewedKing Sunny Ade’s, “One love”, Ebenezer Obe’s, “kete kete”, Sir Shina Peters’, Seven Seven Seven, I.K Dairo’s, “Mo Sori Ire”, Oliver de Coque’s “Ka anyi bili ndu”, andSir Victor Uwaifo’s, “Guitar Boy”. Music back then may have more often reflected the socio-cultural, political and economic plights of the people, but it was enjoyable all the same. For instance, it was not uncommon to hear the great Afro Beat legend, Fela and his Egypt 80 band proclaim “International Thief Thief” when he was displeased with politicians but you still drank your pepper soup and beer with relish on hearing “Lady”. Majek Fashek sang “Send down the Rain” in the face of pervading poverty but it stands out as one of the greatest songs of that time.In the 90’s, the likes of Junior and Pretty, juiced up the airways with a classic-Bolanle while Blacky pleasured us with “Rosie, can I have a dance”. But for whatever reason people sang about-whether for love or for war- these songs, now classics, will remain in our consciousness for a long time. A transformation in style and form of music continued through the 90’s and artistes like Daddy Showkie, Baba Frayo, Bright Chimezie, and Charlie Boy emerged. Again, Baba Fryo’s “Denge potz” stands out in that decade as a classiic as did many others. Along the way, Fuji, Juju, Reggae and Highlife music began to lose their dominance while R&B, Rap and other highly westernized forms, got increasingly popular. At the turn of the century, Nigerian musicians began to fully practise “Ars gratia artis”. Not that they didn’t have families to feed or misgivings to address but there seemed to be a desperate appeal from fans for something different.
In 2004, that something different came along. It wasn’t the regular brandishing of big-ass shaking women or a song about your girlfriend visiting you in your estate in Lekki. It was pure, beautiful music. It was what our hearts longed for. “Olufunmi” was the song. Style-Plus was the band. Olufunmi with its soft tune redefined the Nigerian music industry at that time. It wasn’t just a song, it was a person. And she followed you everywhere you went. In your car, in your bath tub, in your office. Olufunmi was everywhere. Olufunmi is in the hall of fame of the last decade as like Tuface’s African Queen and D’banj’s, Why Me. Style-Plus received massive airplay and were soughtto play at major music shows. With a promising career ahead of them, an eager fan base, and a burgeoning music industry, the sky was theirs to take.
They didn’t just have the market back then, they owned it. They wrote reasonable lyrics, had great vocals, and appeared to know the way round musical instruments. They looked professional and were moulded in the image and likeness of Boys 2 Men. Other singles like “Call my Name”, “Run Away” and “Stay Alive” also had originality and depth. They had the ladies on their side. And in music, once you have the women, you have the men too.
Style-plus originally started as a quartet. One member, Lanre Faneyi died in 1999, and was replaced by Zeal Onyecheme. In 2002 another member Yemi Akinwonmi left the group to pursue a career away from music leaving Shifi Emoefe, Tunde Akinsanmi and Zeal Onyeacheme as the remaining members of the group. Style-Plus teamed up with T-jazz (Anthony Ukpong) and Joey (Joseph Ukpong) to form their own record label; Styl-Plus Music.
Style-Plus have however had a turn of fortunes in the last couple of years and their fan base has withered drastically. A number of reasons have accounted for this plunge ranging from poor management to issues relating to publicity.
Their woes began with their first album; Expressions released in February of 2006. At first, Expressions could be thought to a successful album judging by the hype and air play received especially with hit tracks like “Imagine That” and “Iya Basira”. But what Styl-Plus failed to realize was that with “Expressions” they were trying to fix what was never broken. In a move to switch from R&B to the more popular dance hall genre, consequently, Style-Plus began to lose the very thing they were loved for. Not everybody loves the mainstream pop culture. And even if they did, Styl-Plus is meant to be an escape from the D’banj’s and Timaya’s of this world. A sort of go between the noisy club bangers and serenity. Let’s face it, not unless you are Coldplay or Black Eye Peas, you shouldn’t try it. It may have worked for Eldee of Trybsmen but changing lanes in music can be a risky venture. Shank tried to move from his raga style that brought him into limelight when he sang “Julie” to a more mainstream art. His latest single “Salute” is more like the Shank we love and are used to .Other artistes that have tried unsuccessfully to change their style or genre of music include JJC of 419 Squad, Baba Dee, Dijinee, and Eedris Abdukareem. Its one thing to be versatile and creative, it’s another to leave your fans confused thinking you are a mood swinging schizophrenic. In Eedris’ case, he allowed Rugged Man’s jibe get to him. To be frank, nobody ever heard what Idris rapped about but he was selling even when muttering his gibberish. Lil John and the Ying Yang Twins also produce incoherent words also and still sell. In an attempt to be like a “normal” rapper and singer (he didn’t do either well), Eedris missed it completely.
Another probable assumption for Style Plus’ dip in fortune is what is referred to as the “curse of boy bands”. To be perfectly honest, how many of these groups last? Where are NSYNC, Westlife, B2K, 98 degrees, Plantashun Boyz, and the Remedees now? Its either they fade into the crowd or there is a split and they all begin to pursue solo careers. Usually, the lead singer of the defunct group becomes the more successful. Omarion is a break away from B2k, Justin Timberlake has had a more illustrious career alone than when he was with NSYNC. Our very own Innocent Idibia fancied his chances away from the Plantashun Boyz and has never regretted it. Style-Plus have vowed never to split (not such a smart decision) with their song “Four Years” where they bragged, “we still dey carry go, no body waka nobody go solo…” If they ever go their separate ways (this may actually be the best thing for them right now), it would be interesting to see how Shifi who seems to be the leader of the pack handles himself.
Finally, producing two not so successful albums (especially when the videos are below industry standards) should make any serious thinking group begin to consider finding new producers or signing with another LP entirely. Whether or not they are friends with their producers or managers, if the business relationship is not prospering, then it should be severed. Michael Jackson fired his dad, Usher Raymond had to employ the services of a Jermaine Dupri when it seemed like Sean Combs wasn’t doing the job properly. Even Mariah Carey needed a lift when her career plummeted. The Emancipation of Mimi is rated one of Maria’s most successful albums ever. It may have cost Tuface some money to part ways with Kennis Music but those tough decisions do have to be taken.
Questions have to be asked about Style-Plus’ decision to remain in Abuja when Lagos is the commercial capital of the nation. Though with proper management and planning, they would flourish even if they decided to live in Otuoke. There are several producers who are doing the industry a lot of good right now. Cobhams Asuquo, Don Jazzy, Doctor Frabs, and Jesse Jags are a few names brandished around these days. Asking for help isn’t such a bad thing.
Good news is, Nigerians still love Style-Plus and want them to succeed. We want to be treated to the sweet melodious voices of Shifi, Zeal and Tunde. There is still a place for them in the industry howbeit small. With the amount of songs being churned out weekly, the competition is getting stiffer by the day. The bar is higher, and the quality of music is getting better. The need that brought Style-Plus into limelight is being met by artistes like Dare, Bez and Asa. They would have to up their game to reclaim the top spot in an overcrowded heart.
Olufunmi is an outright classic, no doubt about it. But so is African queen, yet Tuface has continued to remain relevant. To remain on top, you have to keep at it. Style-Plus must keep at it to get to where they should and deserve to be. As we await the release of their next album in an attempt to claw their way back into our consciousness, we would hope that they produce yet another classic.
Thing is, even if we love to meet Wizzy and P-Square in the clubs, we rather Styl-Plus remain in the car with us, on the ride back home.
©2011 Otaigbe Itua Ewoigbokhan