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Why watching live performances is killing my love for Nigerian music

Nobody wins when the music family isn’t happy.

Last week I turned down the chance to see one of my favourite Nigerian musicians perform his new song. I didn’t know why I did initially, I simply told his people that I wasn’t interested in watching a performance of that guy.

The next day, while chilling at home, and enjoying a Spotify playlist, the song came on. While dancing, it got to me that the reason why I didn’t want to see him perform the record. I was scared. Scared that he would be a disappointment, and give me a live version of the song that would kill my love for his recorded art. I wanted to protect myself from him to appreciate it better.

This isn’t a new thing. Over the past 3 years, my love for Nigerian music has been on the decline. I have moved from being a fan to a student of the culture, mining the relationship between fans and creators of the music, to offer them more than they get on Instagram, via educating, entertaining and informing them.

Much of this means chasing the art, its creators and all the people involved in ensuring that the music industry works. Live music is a crucial part of this mission. The pursuit of live music means I have to travel to different cities, attend various shows, and see these artists leave their studios on many nights to bring the music to an audience. They come out from the earphones and music video screens, away from their Instagram feeds, and Twitter updates, showing up in the flesh to ensure that they recreate the music in an atmosphere of energy and happiness.

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Attending these things mean that there is a certain expectation from the fans who put their money to watch these things play out before them. The average fan in Nigeria does not ask for too much. They don’t demand special effects, CGI or more. They simply want to get an experience, see you live in person, and enjoy the atmosphere that your music creates, with you at the centre of it all, pulling the strings and appreciating them.

When they don’t get this, they feel a certain bond is broken, and are hurt. That hurt gnaws at the emotional centres and reserves that they have for that artist, essentially reducing their love for their music.

Think of this situation, and multiply it by a hundred times yearly. That’s my life. Watching Nigerian artists drop the ball repeatedly when presented with opportunities to further their art does only one thing: reduce my love for the music. Over the years, I have gained perspective on a lot of musicians via watching them perform across stages. And it gets very depressing when you know beforehand what their set would be. It’s like going through the motions. You see them come on stage, say their intro, launch into songs and leave. Sometimes, you can predict what they would do next.

Falling out of love with an artist is a slow but depressing process. First, the songs begin to sound a little less exciting, because every time it comes on the radio, or someone with the aux cord chooses to give it a spin, there’s a strong possibility that you conjure up images of that bad performance. For me, I see images of a string of them, thereby accelerating the process. When they drop a new material, you feel a certain reluctance to be a part of it, to consume their art and support the craft. Why? Because you can’t shake off images of them failing to entertain you.

It all seems like a charade, where they drag you in from their headphones, but fail to bring that magic live. Who wants that?

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Things need to change. For the sake of the musicians who need to get their money up, and the fan who simply wants to be entertained and bask in the glow of the art. No matter the stage, the city, the time, and the obligations. As long as the musician grabs a mic, and walks in on a crowd of people waiting for something, anything, they need to deliver in a way that justifies the ticket prices, the calendar reservations, the transport fare, the risk of journeying to that venue, and more. They need to.

Otherwise, the art will lose, the love will run cold, and eventually, the artist would lose too. Nobody wins when the family isn’t happy.

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