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Twitter was still on fire yesterday over Mr. Eazi’s pronouncement on Ghana’s influence on Nigerian music. The hoopla has been louder among folks whose knowledge about Ghanaian-and-Nigerian music is limited to contemporary sounds. They can’t imagine Ghanaian music beyond azonto and Fuse ODG. One shouldn’t blame them. We’re a generation that treat history and culture with indifference.
Let me digress here. Our ignorance of history and culture will be the death of us. I personally find the recent destruction of the Mbari shrine in Owerri despicable and unforgivable. I felt quite traumatized by the pictures shared on social media. It’s nothing more than cultural treason to destroy that which represents a people’s spiritual essence and symbols of their creative and moral identity. This is even more sickening given that my first introduction to Mbari was in a book by Herbert Cole - “Art and the Life Among the Owerri Igbo”, and I learnt fascinating things about the Owerri people. (I lost that book in the university. Anyone that loves me should consider buying it for me o. My birthday is by the corner o). And Mbari Club was the first cultural group of young creative Africans who bore our stories in writings and in paintings, including Okigbo, J. P. Clark, Wole Soyinka, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Chinua Achebe, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Mabel Segun, etc. But what have we done to that source of creativity? Destroyed!!! Lemme just return to pop culture…
Mr. Eazi is right and Nigerians should swallow some pills of humility. You cannot rule out the influence of Ghanaian music on Nigeria. Laye laye! Especially highlife. All the Nigerian musical greats including Bobby Benson and his proteges - Victor Olaiya, Roy Chicago - I think Victor Uwaifo too, owe their sounds to Ghana’s E. T Mensah. When it comes to the evolution of West African sounds, you can’t bullshit Ghana (and Sierra Leone and to some extent Congo). No way!!! Nigeria, only by sheer ability to re-create and dominate - and with an incredibly large consumer market, has appropriated some of these influences that it’s hard to even tell where they are from. Of course, we have our own unique sounds too. But we’re the genius of remixing!
I suppose Mr. Eazi alludes to contemporary afro hip-hop music, which infuses highlife with R&B and whatnots. One only needs to trace the influences to discover that the legacy of old highlife lives on, albeit diluted. When I hear some of the new songs, I sometimes wish that the instrumentalists could launch into long guitar or trumpet or saxophone solos. But that will be asking for too much. Radio plays and repetitive choruses won’t permit that. This is highlife 2.0.
One shouldn’t blame these young(er) generation and their rude excesses. We don’t have the means to tell these stories. An older generation has failed to structure our history and culture.
We are in crisis!
Chris Ogunlowo is a writer and creativity consultant