Music, Fun and Straight Talk at Nigeria’s Hip Hop Conference

by Bayo Olupohunda

The evening of Sunday 26th July 2009 witnessed serious, soul searching and no-holds-barred straight talk about the hip hop genre of Nigeria’s music industry. The first and the much hyped Nigerian Hip Hop Conference pioneered by the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA) lived up to its billing.

For most of the evening at the expansive ambience of the Main Exhibition Hall of National Theatre Lagos, the venue of the event, contributions by the passionate hip hop- “pop culture warriors” and enthusiasts that graced the first-ever conference about production, lyrics, future directions and social relevance of hip hop music in Nigeria would sometimes turn combative or defensive and in some cases frenetic depending on which side of the divide you were on. It was a climatic end to the Great Music Debate started by the Guardian Life and triggered by the Reuben Abati’s article “A Nation’s Crisis of Identity”.

The event which saw a large gathering of hip hop enthusiasts is poised to be an agenda setting forum- creating a platform for dialogue for hip hop culture stakeholders- artists, producers and listeners. In spite of the seriousness of the event and because it was pop culture that was the subject of discourse there was much fun and music and the usual glitz and glamour associated with this genre of music.

The event featured a town hall type meeting of enthusiasts, practitioners, critics and general observers of Nigeria’s most vibrant youth culture expression – Hip Hop Music. There was also heavy rotation from a DJ’s turntables powered by the world renowned sound infrastructure from Z-Mirage. While Soundcity, the foremost music channel, gave full coverage of the conference. An illustrative dance-drama skit from the Crown Troupe of Africa led by the award winning Segun Adefila. Audience was also thrilled by the emerging act T-Nice.

The conference which began on a high was compeered by the youthful Tosyn Bucknor of Top Radio, Chris Ihidero of MADE and the pidgin “chewing” Steve Yaw Onu from the ethnic Wazobia FM. They all rocked the audience with rib cracking anecdotes and kept the members of the panel on their sit with pointed questions about the state of hip hop music in Nigeria. It was quite an evening!

The Conference discussion opened with the CORA Secretary Toyin Akinosho remarks about the history of Hip Music in Nigeria. He questioned popular and often misconceived stereotypes and the use of the term “generation gap” which is often thrown up as an excuse when youths and pop culture is the subject of discourse. He maintained that music transcends age has never been a barrier to the appreciation of any genre of music.

In keeping with its role as Nigeria’s premier cultural watchdog, the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) convening of this first hip hop conference which was a direct intervention in the blossoming of a popular youth culture and its attendant music and sound in Nigeria is comparable only to the recently held New York Writers Institute Black Arts and Hip Hop Conference held in February in New York moderated by Sonia Sanchez a poet, activist and scholar who has emerged as one of the strongest voices in the Black Arts Movement and Saul Williams the supernova of the young Black Poetry Movement who starred an co-wrote the movie Slam.

Like the New York Hip Hop Conference, Cora’s plan is to provide a platform for leading proponents of hip hop culture and music and other enthusiasts to critically evaluate the musical output/cultural production from amongst their cadre in the past decade, in peer review sessions moderated by Nigeria’s premier culture powerhouse.

Interestingly contribution from last Sunday event will provide material for scholars and journalists working in the field of youth culture and to aggregate a cross section of perspectives on the successes and failures of a fast growing industry from the leading proponents of the music genre in question.

The Conference itself was a culmination of an intense one month debate in the Guardian Newspaper arising from an article written by the renowned columnist Reuben Abati titled “A Nation Crisis of Identity” which questioned the state of the hip hop culture in Nigeria and linking pop culture movement to our confused state and search for national identity. The conference is part of CORA’s direct intervention in the blossoming of a popular youth culture and its attendant music and sound.

The conference provided interesting and provocative insights into current discussions going on about this genre of music in Nigeria. Though opinions from the contributions were diverse, some attest to the widely held views that these days mainstream music is dominated by hip-hop (especially on the airwaves), and the broader hip-hop aesthetic.

Unfortunately the image associated with this genre is one of violence, decadence and misogyny. This situation is perpetuated and magnified by the corporations responsible for funding, promoting and distributing the majority of popular hip-hop music. Major labels encourage the projection of negative stereotypes as a marketing tactic, limiting creativity and musical diversity.

Furthermore, most popular artists are bound by unfair contracts that grant the record label the majority of the funds generated from the sale of their music. In this way, producers and labels have exploited hip-hop as a cultural art form, while failing to contribute anything positive to the peoples and communities responsible for its creation.

However, contributors at the conference also gave kudos to the creativity and resilience of Nigerian youths who have risen against all odds to create was a music genre that with content and form that is essentially Nigerian. They should be proud of what they have achieved.

A genre with a subculture that now has its own fashion, language and attitude. Whatever meaning is attached to it, hip-hop has definitely carved a niche in Nigeria culture and has gone on to become a global phenomenon. But the dialogue continues in a yearly conference being planned for this important music genre.

The CORA Collective feels it is necessary to host such a conference for several different reasons because there are a lot of scholars examining hip-hop culture and the conference provided a space in which these individuals can come together to exchange ideas. Again, it is also observed that a gap exists between those who study hip hop on an academic level, those who are practitioners of hip hop, and the general hip-hop community.

The aim of the conference and others to be held in future will bring these people, academic and non-academic, together to recognize that hip-hop can be studied and used to educate others. Given the scope and nature of hip-hop, it is impossible to define it as one entity. The variety of contributions at the conference was a testament to that. This conference gives those both familiar and unfamiliar a chance to broaden their concept of what is or can be done with hip-hop. The first ever Nigeria’s authentic Hip Hop Conference was a huge success. But the dialogue continues…

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