Should Cameroonian artists call for a ban on Nigerian music in their country? [Pulse Editor's Opinion]

Over the past few months, popular Cameroonian entertainment figures like Pancho C.Y International and Stanley Enow have complained about the popularity of Nigerian music in their country

Cameroonian need to be more patient and strategic, not irrational. (Naija Music)

Those issues are;

  1. Is Nigeria obliged to consume Cameroonian music?
  2. Given that Nigeria is Africa's leading entertainment nation, is her market and media open enough to embracing other African music?

This comes after Pancho C.Y International, a Cameroonian comedian and actor, accused Nigerians of refusing to open our market and media space to embrace music from other African nations. In a nationalist action with subtle xenophobic hints, he called for a ban on Nigerian music. He felt Nigerian artists were taking food off Cameroonian tables.

Earlier in January 2021, Stanley Enow also pleaded with local DJs to prioritize local music over Nigerian music at Cameroonian events.

If Cameroonian DJs play a lot of Nigerian music, it’s because their audiences love Nigerian music. If the audiences didn't love Nigerian music, the DJs wouldn’t play these songs. It's no fault of Nigerian artists that their music is desirable and enjoyable.

During the year-end round-up at City FM, Lagos in December 2020, a conversation ensued about the influence of Nigeria on African music and why 'Afrobeats' is almost always synonymous with Nigeria and Nigerian artists, especially from a foreign gaze.

Veteran Culture Journalist, and Senior Editor at Opera News, Ayomide Tayo weighed in on the matter and said, "It's not our fault. Nigeria is the most populous black nation on earth. We are also very fashionable and aware of pop culture trends. Our artists are more popular because we have the numbers.

"It's easier for our music to get through social media channels and streaming platforms. Other African countries perceive Nigeria as other Nigerians perceive Lagos and it's not our fault.

"Only in Europe will you get a system where one country isn't more culturally influential than others. In other continents, there's always that one country with more cultural influence than others. In Africa, that's Nigeria.

"I know that we Nigerians can be a little obnoxious sometimes, but it comes with the perception... we know how other people see us. Everybody wants credit and recognition from America because America is America and you can't apologize for being a cultural force.

"Even if we try to refute certain things, they will end up pinning them on us. If you get check the album charts on Apple Music or Boomplay versions of all the Sub-Saharan African countries, you will find more Nigerian albums on the charts of other African countries than you would find in ours.

"Asides from South Africa, Ghana and maybe parts of francophone Africa, music from other parts of Africa usually struggle to break through Nigeria, whereas ours break through theirs with ease. I think a lot of it also has to do with the Nigerian jolly, lively, ebullient spirit that has a lot of vim.

"It's even evident on social media because our cultural conversations/bants get on global trends than that of other African countries. It's not our fault that what we endorse flies.

"We can't stop making music and we can't apologize for who we are. What we can do is be more accommodating and we are. Currently Amapiano is sweeping through Nigeria.. it's South African and nobody had to really market that to us. Previously, Soukous and Gqom tore through Nigeria and so did Azonto and Ghanaian Pon Pon.

"In the past, Cabo Snoop, Fally Ipupa and Big Tril had their respective runs in Nigeria and this was recently. As a matter of fact, other African countries have inspired our sound and influenced our pop culture scapes at different times over the past 15 years. I can’t simply tell other African artists to simply improve the quality of their music because their music is also fire, but maybe the marketing could be better across board.

“Maybe they could also make music that could easily cross borders. But usually, nobody can predict what’s going to cross borders. I can tell them to simply market properly and be patient. There was a time Nigeria had to deal with songs from other countries being more popular and marketable than ours as well.”

Ayomide Tayo was unsurprisingly spot on.

This is simply because the Nigerian way, Nigerian music and Nigerian artists are more desirable than Cameroonian artists. And at one point, Nigeria was like Cameroon in this regard.

Nigerian music wasn’t always the most popular brand of music in Nigeria

In the 90’s, American Hip-Hop and R&B tore through and owned Nigerian urban radio. They were also more popular than Nigerian music in Nigeria.

This was further reinforced by a 2020 conversation with Abisagboola Oluseun John also known as Bankulli. He tells this writer that, “That era very much happened and it wasn’t even limited to the music alone. Merch and clothes had faces of Jay Z, DMX, 2Pac, B.I.G and so forth.

“This was because America led the world at the time and contemporary Nigerian music was in formation. A lot of our music at that time was also R&B and Hip-Hop of the American brand. This couldn’t have exactly happened in the 70’s because there was no MTV and other avenues to directly consume American media.

“Instead, we loved and stuck with our traditional brands like Highlife, Afrobeat, Juju, Ogene, Fuji and so forth. But by the end of the civil war, all of that began to change. We had more Rock, Electronic and Disco influences in Nigerian music.

“I’m not saying that foreign music wasn’t popular here in the 70’s or 80’s because James Brown, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson were popular to varying degrees in Nigeria, but it’s nothing compared to what happened in the late 80’s and the 90’s with Hip-Hop and R&B.”

Like Tayo, Bankulli was right. The popularity of American R&B and Hip-Hop in Nigeria and on Nigerian radio was also largely down to Nigeria’s lack of a recognizable African pop sound. By the late 90’s to the early 2000s, boy band culture was also popular in Nigeria.

Acts like Westlife, Backstreet Boys, N’Sync and Linkin Park sold millions of fake CDs through Nigerian vendors and so did acts like Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

Around the same time, Awilo Longomba tore through Nigeria with his albums Coupe Bibamba and Kafou Kafou. So did other African acts like Brenda Fassie, Koffi Olomide, Sakis, VIP and more.

Around the same time, former President Olusegun Obasanjo also oversaw the introduction of widely accessible cell phone culture into Nigeria. It came with Caller Tune culture, internet modems and an improvement in personal experience with the internet.

This aided easier dissemination of Nigerian music to consumers. Simultaneously, we also started finding our own pop sound after acts like Mad Melon and Mountain Black, Zule Zoo, Konga, Timaya, 9ice, Wande Coal and Wizkid released monumental projects that impacted the soundscape like no other.

Alaba marketers also latched on to the early days of Nigerian pop music. A recent conversation, Gospel Music star, Ada Ehi confirms this to Pulse Nigeria.

“In the studio where I used to record, [Alaba agents] would come there and feel like some type of expert A&R or Simon Cowell [laughs],” Ehi jokes. “Whatever you’re singing, e nor concern them. The only thing they say is, ‘This song nor go sell o… Do you know who I am? I have marketed…’ Those guys were arrogant, man [laughs]."

The piracy was wrong, but they bridged the gap between Nigerian artists and the audience," she continues. "They encouraged and promoted our sound because they kept asking for the Nigerian/homegrown sound. Their mischief played our well for us.”

It's also untrue that Nigerians don't accommodate other African artists.

Even when Nigeria found its pop sound, Ghanaian sounds inspired songs like ‘Two Women’ by Tony Tetuila and ‘My Love’ by 2Face.

South African Kwaito inspired D’Banj’s classic, ‘Fall In Love,’ Cabo Snoop, Toofan and Fally Ipupa had their respective runs, which loosely inspired music from P Square and J Martins in the late 2000s. This also made it easy for P Square to become Pan-African brands.

In the mid-2010s, Azonto tore through Nigeria. S did South African Afro-House sounds, which made Mafikizolo a household Nigerian name as their sound recycled their sound. In 2018, King Monada’s ‘Malwedhe’ also had a run in Nigeria.

Currently, Amapiano is the trending genre of music in Nigeria. Master KG’s songs, ‘Jerusalema’ and ‘Skeleton Move’ were part of the biggest songs in 2019 and 2020 Nigeria respectively.

First, they need to understand what confronts them. It's just sad that this is another instance of the anti-Nigerian sentiment coursing through Africa at the moment. The other two instances in just the last three years happened in South Africa and in the recent arrest and trial of Nigerian artists, Omah Lay and Tems in Uganda.

Arguably, Nigerian artists are more marketable due to their large fan bases, the large population of their home country and the western sentiment, which endorses Nigeria. You can't simply hate and blame Nigerians for being Nigerian.

The combined effect of that means that streaming platforms and major labels might put Nigerian music on African playlists and push more Nigerian artists.

Around 35% of the songs on the current Africa Rising playlist on Apple Music belongs to Nigerian artists for a reason.

It’s not like other African artists aren’t getting any coverage either, the churn rate of Nigerian music is just crazier due to population. At this time, Nigeria also has a lot of goodwill within and outside the African continent.

Recently, PWC reported that Nigeria will soon become the world’s fastest growing entertainment and media market. A lot of that is due to the rising rate of internet penetration in Nigeria against the immense population.

In 2016, Jason Njoku wrote that Nigeria is a highly mobilized country where the average multimedia phone user consumes at least 35 megabytes of data everyday. Of the 130 million phones sold by Transsion in 2018, the highest percentage was sold in Nigeria.

Second, Cameroonians might need to market their music better and work on their branding/marketability. Nigerian artists do a lot of pan-African marketing with muscle, vim and tactic despite the that they naturally get. In 2019, Salatiel did a media tour in Nigeria and Pulse Nigeria interviewed him.

Magasco has also been on three Listen Africa playlist editions.

One thing that also helps Nigerian artists is lots of pan-African collaboration. Cameroonian artists need to do more pan-African collaborations. Magasco is definitely on the rise. His song with Jeune Lio is elite.

If they can work on that, music from franchophone Africa has always been appealing to markets in western Europe.

Third, they would need to be patient. Nigeria will not suddenly be displaced - it has an excessive amount of aces for that to suddenly happen. In the 90's, Nigerians had to be patient and strategic. Cameroon will also need a distinctive sound - that helped Nigeria to overcome the influence of American pop culture.

UPDATE: Joan Ngomba, a journalist and the founder of DCoded TV added some knowledge and perspective to what's going on and to what Stanley Enow was trying to say.

She says that, "In Cameroon, we have some problems. When Stanley Enow was talking, he wasn't coming from the perspective of hating Nigerians. Cameroon is 80% francophone and 20% anglophone. The francophone and anglophone people have been in a political fight for a while.

"The francophone people dominate everything and they play more Nigerian anglophone/pidgin music than the music by their anglophone Cameroonian brothers and sisters. Stanley was at a party in francophone Cameroon and the DJs kept playing mostly Nigerian songs over songs of their brothers from the anglophone side of things.

"As you can understand, the separatism can be annoying and frustrating. As much as finding a sound will help our music, we also need to be intentional about how we project and support our own artists. We can never hate Nigerians, but some things also have to change."

With that being said, xenophobia should never be the African solution to doing better in one’s own country. Nigeria and Cameroon have too much in common for it to be an option.

As Nigerians, we can get a little too caught up in ourselves.

Sometimes, it’s our fault because we get satisfied with the quality and virality of our own things. Other times, it’s not exactly our fault because we can only love what we see and what resonates with us.

Cameroonians aren’t playing Nigerian music simply to support. They listen because it’s desirable and enjoyable.

Cameroonians need to get their music to that level. Stations lie MTVBase, SoundCity, HipTV, Afro and more show African music, but younger millennials and Gen Z continue to stray away from TV and onto internet phenomena.

Statistica reports in 2020 that over 50% of Nigeria was 19 and below. Other African countries need to make their music more desirable and with greater internet-based marketing, so that we can all reap the fruits of pan-African music successes.

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