Nigerian music is almost always in constant motion but one thing that has managed to remain through the chaos of change is the niche pockets of talent and accompanying audiences.
Vibrant and certainly colorful, the Nigerian music space is always morphing into one form or another. From the Juju & highlife wave of the 70s and 80s, to the hip-hop/rap era of the early to late 2000s and the pop/alte wave of today, Nigerian music is almost always in constant motion. Interestingly, one thing that has managed to remain through the chaos of change is the niche pockets of talent and accompanying audiences.
In the late 70s, Fuji was a niche sound (thanks to the dominance of Juju music at the time) before Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and later King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal took it to new heights. In the early to late 2000s, Hip-hop/Rap was a niche movement before the likes of Ruggedman and MI Abaga took it to new heights. Today, alternate sounds that used to be a niche thing are taking over with artistes like Burna boy and Johnny Drille.
On a broader level, this specificity has spread to other corners of the industry. There seems to be a collective realisation that niche audiences and artistes can make money and push the artistic envelope – at least to a reasonable degree. Beyond the financial aspects of the game, artistes like Brymo have also shown the industry that people want this type of content.
On Friday, October 25, 2019, I was at Afrovibes Live, a monthly live music event that specifically caters to a niche audience. The venue was packed and the performing acts weren’t popular – by conventional standards. The Cavemen, The Improv Band and Femi Leye are not acts you’d see on rotation on Trace or MTV Base. Yet, the crowd was singing along to their songs – word for word, bar for bar, melody for melody. They were dancing, screaming and gyrating from start to finish. It was incredible to see.
These niche experiences have become a thing in recent years (think Afropolitan Vibes, Jameson Connect, Mainland Block Party, etc) and for good reason. According to Jumoke Adebiyi, an entertainment lawyer, these pockets of activity have gained steam because the mainstream industry has become monotonous, for the most part. “Almost every event you go to, the various elements of the experience are pretty much the same: buy a ticket, attend, watch the artiste struggle to follow the track or straight up lip sync the thing, repeat and go home. Maybe a few overpriced games here and there. Nothing is radically different,” she said.
While this sentiment might not be shared across the industry, it certainly holds some truth. Generally speaking, the formula for putting out music, shooting videos, holding concerts and distributing music in the Nigerian music industry has largely remained unchanged – except for the advent of technology and social media. While this may not necessarily be the industry’s fault, it is definitely something that is not being talked about enough.
“At the end of the day, people have come to realise that there are other, perhaps even more rewarding, experiences out there. Artistes are realising that they don’t have to ‘go mainstream’ to lock in dedicated audiences. Brands are realising that people are willing to pay for these experiences so ultimately, the industry can’t argue with the fact that there is a lot of value there,” she added.
These things definitely add more color to the space and it also speaks to the potential for innovation. All in all, this not-so-new trend is good for the industry. Hopefully, it translates into bigger value for the entire value chain.
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