My default look is a “raised eye brow” when I see someone describe himself as a gospel musician in a country like Nigeria. We are more religious than the white missionaries who brought Christianity to our shores, and yet, there is hardly anything to show for it. Christian music in Nigeria is a joke!
Erm, this is not what it looks like. The actual truth is, I have a lot of sympathy for the so-called gospel musicians in Nigeria. Upon a not too distant time, I had the privilege and chance to work with a young man, who was a makeup artist; a fairly good one at that. I was in the production and welfare department of a major production, and the fellow in question, a tall, gangly young man, was one of the makeup artists on the crew. Because my duties involved getting the cast ready and bringing them to the set on time, and because the production required lots of makeup to alter the appearances of the cast, we naturally began spending quite a bit of time in each other’s company. So naturally we talked. I noticed he was different from the other makeup artists, because, though he was a very good makeup artist, it seemed highly unlikely that he was that much in demand as to be perpetually jumping from set to stage and back again, and because he had a certain look about him, in those few minutes of inactivity that punctuated the frenzied action, as though he would rather be somewhere else.
So out of curiosity, I asked him what he did, and his response astounded me.
I’m a worshipper”, he replied, with a smug look on his face that suggested he was a better person than the rest of the makeup crew. Of course, I pretended not to understand, and asked for clarification. The young man had dreams of going into gospel music. I shook my big head, and advised him to introduce himself by another tag next time, maybe the course he studied in school.
On a serious note, I felt for the guy, and the several (hundred) thousand others like him. Every year, the various universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, public and private, scattered all over the country, vomit thousands of graduates, most of them half-baked, several of whom have cut corners in one way or another in a bid to make it through the system, not to mention the system itself, horribly flawed and poisonous as it is. When the students have limped through the system, after strikes and other sundry disturbances have elongated their stay in the school system, they meet the same problem that those who graduated years before them are confronting: the scarcity of jobs, and the people who are willing to pay twenty thousand naira, in the name of internship, for someone who will be a P.A/ Valet/ Childminder/ God-knows-what-else. Now perhaps the guy or girl sang for a year or two in his school fellowship choir when he was in school. And after some well-organized freshers’ welcome programs the guy fancies himself a gospel artist. And of course, he gets invited to a number of programs held by other campus fellowships, and he now has a “ministry”!
But wait a minute, now that he is out of school, what next? Does he go back and hang around school, hoping to be invited to some more programs so he can minister? Or does he try to learn a skill, assuming he hasn’t already, so as to be able to sustain himself and make meaningful contributions to society? Now let’s be generous, come and assume with me that some of these people actually made good grades in school, and got out of school, and got jobs. Will such a person now describe him/ herself as a worshipper? I think not.
Imagine a person who has some measure of musical talent, and realizing that he cannot be the next wizkid, or the next Banky W, because the current ones have not retired, and upon remembering his church origins, proceeds to record a couple of songs, an album perhaps, and suddenly the airwaves are buzzing with the hottest gospel song in town. But gospel artists are only as good as it takes to learn their lyrics. By the next program they are having, the church will, rather than shell out megabucks to invite the gospel artist, simply buy the cd and give the choir to use for rehearsal. And by the time for the program, voila! The choir performs the song, even adding ngwo-ngwo and crayfish, bringing a new remix which may even be sweeter than the original by the time they add talking drums and other local instruments to the song.
I listened to Eben’s “All The Way” a while back. The chorus is popular, and with good reason. The verses, however, are a far cry. There still remains the question of why Eben, who was more or less a soft rock musician, with an almost foreign feel to his sound, would suddenly switch to a more “streetwise” sound, possibly in a bid to increase his fan base. We all know the result: more people know one song, but he has hardly gotten wealthier. And it is also worth asking, since we are asking tough questions already, why FLOROCKA, whose hit song “TWALE” was a huge gospel hit remixed by several choirs and gospel groups across the nation, would perform as an opening act for (of all artists), the Shakitibobo Master himself, Olamide, popularly known as Baddo. But what relationship has light with darkness?
Truly, I know not. I’d like to ask as well. Before you decide to shake your head and go, biko, drop a comment.