This is my response to the article entitled "A Nation's Identity Crisis" that recently ran in The Guardian Newspapers. It was written by Dr Reuben Abati, a well respected name in Nigerian Journalism. His original article can be found here: http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/editorial_opinion/article02//indexn2_html?pdate=210609&ptitle=A%20Nation
Please try and read the original article before commenting on my response. As Dr Abati has stated his opinion, I felt it neccessary to state mine. If anything I'm sure both pieces are at least food for thought.
In the immortal words attributed to P.T. Barnum, "I don't care what the newspapers say about me, at least spell my name right." My name IS Banky W, full name being Olubankole Wellington. Not Willington, as you stated in your article entitled "A Nation's Identity Crisis". I read the piece repeatedly, and found that misspelling my name wasn’t the only error. At it's worst, the article seemed like an attempt to discredit and slander an entire generation of artistes and consumers, and at best it came across as having some valid points but being grossly misinformed, prejudiced, and hypocritical; definitely not what we would expect of a highly regarded publication as The Guardian, or from a person in Mr Abati's position.
In the very least, the article warrants a well-informed response. I have little doubt in my mind that it will generate a slew of responses, positive and negative, and as one of the many subjects that was mentioned in the write-up, I feel compelled to voice my opinion (with all due respect) on some of the issues that were raised in your piece. What I'm going to attempt to do is to directly address issues that stood out and resonated most with me.
The writer asked "What's in a name?" and went on to honor a "...generation which sang music under its real names, not abbreviations or slangs"; this would have been a valid point if he had not himself mentioned Greats like King Sunny Ade (real name: Sunday Adeniyi), I.K. Dairo (Isaiah Kehinde Dairo), and Ebenezer Obey (Real name: Ebenezer Remilekun Aremu Olasupo Fabiyi- Wow!!!). We could also point out other legends like Ras Kimono and Majek Fashek as others who, for creative or other reasons, saw it fit to have stage names that happen to differ from what's on their passports. Shortening of full names and/or the crafting of stage names is not something new from our generation of artistes that "lack the discipline or the patience to write complete sentences" as you said; rather, it's the creative right of an artiste to go by whatever moniker he sees fit. And if we want to talk about the names of today, we can highlight a few: Eldee - actually L.D. which stands for Lanre Dabiri, similar to Isaiah Kehinde Dairo's transition to I.K. Dairo. Naeto C and Banky W are simply short forms of their full names. In my case, my father's nickname among his friends is actually Banky as well.
Furthermore, on the topic of Names and abbreviations let's set a few things straight. Nigerzie is actually spelt Nigezie and is not an abbreviation for Nigeria. It's a TV Show, much like Soundcity or Hip TV, except they choose to incorporate "representing Nigeria" in their name. It's like the "United Colors of Bennetton", or DKNY, both companies that choose to represent their locations or origins in their name. Also, for the record, Gidi doesn't mean Nigeria either. It's a term for Lagos... coined from "Las Gidi". And as far as the popular term "Naija" goes, who remembers Shina Peters singing "♫ Naija lo wa yi o o o, wa jo, afro juju lo gb'ode ♫" I hate to point out that our generation did not come up with that term... the "golden age" that you long for did.
As an editorial head of a National Newspaper, you owe it to your public to at least do proper and accurate research before printing an article. The risk in not doing so, is you might unknowingly mislead your readers, and you might actually come across as being ignorant or out of touch. A quick look at all the reference names of artistes and songs mentioned in the article goes to show that the author was sadly way off base in his accusations and examples. For instance, to make a point on how today’s Nigerian artistes lyrics are meaningless and prurient, he referenced the Rooftop MC's song "La Gi Mo". What he failed to realize or crosscheck, is that the said song is probably one of the most meaningful and important songs that have been released in the last few years on the Nigerian Music Scene. The Rooftop MC's are actually a Rap Group that leans to the Gospel or at least Socially Conscious side of music, and their songs always have a positive message. That song itself talks about the errors we make by trying to take God's glory for our success... getting caught up in the limelight and asking God to bring you back to reality to know that HE deserves the praise for where you are.
The author mentioned other songs like D'banj's "Fall in Love", and doesn't realize how hypocritical he sounds by attempting to ridicule some of our most popular love songs. Felix Liberty sang "Ifeoma, ifeoma, I want to marry you", D'banj sang "Omo U don make me fall in love" and Banky W sang "Till my dying day, I'll love you". Barring a difference in musical styling, are these songs not cut from the same cloth? Why can't someone in Mr Abati's position be proud of the fact that at Nigerian and African Weddings nowadays, couples are choosing these songs to mark their first dances instead of previous choices like “Endless Love”? Why can't we appreciate that the days of going to Nigerian Parties and clubs and celebrating to foreign music “all night long” are long gone? Despite these facts, you still see International festivals and concerts being held in Nigeria where the foreign acts are paid 30 to 40 times what some of our biggest stars are allowed to charge.
I have to disagree with the author's views. We are not all one and the same, but we ARE artistes. We may sing, rap, dance, mime, perform, play instruments or whatever else; but we are artistes. And Composers. And musicians. We may not all play the piano or the guitar, but neither does Michael Jackson, arguably the world's greatest artiste/entertainer. That's why he teamed up with producer Quincy Jones to create some of the best music anyone had ever heard. We have our own producers that have shaped Nigerian sound...people like Cobhams Asuquo, Don Jazzy, I.D. Cabasa, Dr Frabz, Tee-Y mix, Eldee, Terry G etc. That list goes on. These music minds are no less credible than those of Mr Abati's time, like the great Laolu Akins.
Far be it from us to claim that we are perfect and flawless in our art... we know that we are still growing and have lots of areas to improve, but the truth of the matter is we have worked very hard to create the industry we have now, and some people choose to criticize and lambaste most of us, instead of helping and teaching us. That is unfair. Yes, some artistes sag their jeans... however, a glance at the pages of THISDAY style or the recently concluded awards shows will show you very clearly that others wear three-piece suits and traditional attires just as proudly, myself included. This music industry that you have very clearly disapproved of has partnered with and given rise to the fashion industry in Nigeria as well. Just ask Designers like Mai, Babs Familusi (Exclamations Couture), the Okunorens, Muyiwa Osindero and countless others. Everything from the t-shirts and jeans rappers wear, to the shoes and suits are made by young Nigerians, where in previous years people preferred to shop in London. The youth-driven industries in Entertainment and Fashion have teamed up to thrust Nigeria into the world's positive spotlight, when for many years our dear country was mostly known for corruption, lack of infrastructure, and security issues.
Our country has not yet given us steady electricity, adequate education, safety from armed robbers or standard healthcare, yet artistes have risen like the Roses that grow from Concrete... and these very artistes love and represent their country proudly on a global stage. This music industry has given hope, jobs and income to countless youth of today. We are Rappers, Singers, Producers, Sound Engineers, Managers, Promoters, Marketing Consultants, Record Label Owners and we will not apologize for making the best of our circumstances; and all this in spite of the fact that we have Marketers that exploit but refuse to pay for our Musical pieces, Royalties and Publishing income that hitherto has been non-existent, a Government that is just now very slowly starting to enforce anti-piracy laws, and Event Organizers that would rather pay 50 Cent One Million US Dollars than give D'banj or P-Square 5 Million Naira.
You were right on some counts. We ARE businessmen and women, and we ARE interested in extending name recognition and brand extension. You were also right in that we look up to people like Jay-Z, who took their music and created multimillion-dollar empires. Since when did ambition and desire to succeed against all odds count against a person’s moral character? Shouldn’t we be encouraged to pay more attention to the business side of “Show Business”? Shouldn’t we want this music industry to provide for our future and the futures of our children?
We know we have a moral responsibility when it comes to our Creative works. Some of us pay more attention to it than others, and there is lots of ground to cover up. But how about a little appreciation and help, instead of trying to tear us down and discredit us? Time will tell whose music will last and become evergreen, but it is not in anyone's place to judge; and for the record, can we just accept that fact that hip hop music is an artform that is probably here to stay... I mean for goodness sake the Grammy's has!! Instead of fighting the change, we should learn to embrace it. I thank God for people like the great Adewale Ayuba that have reached across to our generation to collaborate with, bridge the gap, and help us improve.
We want to learn but your generation has to teach. We want to read but the Government must provide libraries. We want to go to school but the lecturers keep going on strike. We want to travel but previous generations messed up so they won’t give out visas. Most of prefer having our own live bands but the income needed to support that is not forthcoming.
You speak of meaninglessness and prurience, identity crisis and moral turpitude. You praise Legends like Fela Anikulakpo-Kuti and you ridicule us. 9ice does not drink or smoke. eLDee is married to one wife. Olu Maintain does not drink. Naeto C is currently obtaining his Masters’ degree in England. The ironic thing is, we look up to and praise your generation too. You seem to forget that Baba Fela had 27 wives, smoked marijuana in public, was himself half naked at shows (as well as the women around him) and allegedly died of HIV. However we look past what some may consider shortcomings and respect and emulate the immense contributions he made to our history. We are in awe of him despite personal choices that some may or may not agree with. All we are asking for is to be appreciated and afforded similar tolerances.
You danced to Shina Peters. Let us dance to our music. And for the record: for every "Anoti" by MI, he has a "Crowd Mentality" or a "Talk about it". For a Naeto C's "Ki Ni Big Deal", he has a "The Devil is a Liar". Just because an artiste uses a particular song to promote his album for commercial reasons, doesn't mean they should be judged on that alone. Anyone that is familiar with the cost of promoting an album (videos, press, etc) would know that you end up making hard decisions in terms of what you have to push and promote, for your best chance at success. I suggest that you buy whole albums and look at the body of work. Listen to the entire CD’s. I think you'll find that more often than not, Nigerian artistes are doing a pretty good job of representing this great Country of Nigeria. Naija Till We Die. Yes Boss.
~ Banky W.