As a way of celebrating Bob Marley, the late reggae legend, reggae artistes in Nigeria have decided to revitalise reggae music in the country
It is not an everyday music of which sound track the young, especially young girls, dance to no matter how meaningless. No. Reggae music, to many, especially those who listen to it, is perceived as an ideological revolutionary music rendered to correct societal ills and prick the conscience of the political elite to put an end to their anti-people policies. Perhaps, that explains why during the anti-subsidy removal protest last January, protesters at the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park, Ojota, Lagos, invited Ras Kimono, a renowned reggae artist who rendered his popular tune, Under Pressure, to the delight of the protesting audience. The reggae artistes in his music lamented the dearth of food, water, money and other basic amenities necessary for the survival of Nigerians in the country. Afro-beat musicians, such as Femi Anikulapo Kuti, son of the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, were also invited because their music, like reggae music, is seen as instrumental to effecting societal change.
It was not in doubt that reggae musicians in Nigeria, like their counterparts in other climes, are seen as fearless prophets who criticise governments and their negative antics against the people. Their songs are seen as a wake-up call to the oppressed to defend their rights while at the same time calling for justice in the land. Such calls for justice and true love for all are prominent in the songs of late Bob Marley, a Jamaican reggae legend and father of reggae. Marley who condemned the white racists for their discrimination against the coloured race in his song, “Buffalo Soldier,” went ahead in his other popular song, “Get Up,” “Stand Up,” to call on the oppressed to defend their rights. Peter Tosh, another celebrated late Jamaican reggae artiste, was known for his outcry for equal rights and justice. In Africa, and Nigeria in particular, the case is the same.
Reggae musicians such as late Lucky Dube of South Africa, Orits Wiliki, Majek Fashek and Ras Kimono cannot be easily forgotten for their evergreen music even though some believe that reggae has lost its place in Nigeria. Till date, Dube’s songs such as “Different People/One People,” “The Hand That Giveth” and “Born To Suffer” are some of his songs that condemn the injustices meted out to the people by slave masters who practised apartheid in the country. Though sung when the economic condition of the country was relatively better, Ras Kimono’s “Under Pressure” remains relevant in present-day Nigeria where citizens are under pressure to survive. Fashek, whose fans adore for the uniqueness of his music, has “African Unity,” and “Promised Land” to his credit, including his hit song, “Send Down The Rain,” which attracted international attention in 1987. Because of their belief that reggae is instrumental to societal change, reggae artistes in the country have decided to re-awaken the spirit of the music in the minds of Nigerians by bringing it back to life. This they have chosen to do through a concert which is scheduled to take place in May.
Obviously, the concert is significant to the artistes and the history of reggae. Scheduled to take place on May 13, it is organised in memory of Marley, a reggae legend who died on May 11, 1981. But as Murphy Val Anthony, national president of the Performing Musicians Employers Association of Nigeria, PMAN, stated during the group’s visit to the head office of Tell Communications Limited, publishers of TELL magazine, in Lagos recently, the concert would be used as a platform by reggae artistes in the country to revive the music and make it regain its lost place in the nation’s music industry. The reason, he said, is that most of the songs Nigerians listen to this days are meaningless though they have attractive rhythms which appeal to the younger generation. Entitled “The Return of Reggae,” the concert would feature reggae artistes including Wiliki, the United Kingdom-based St Peter, Ras Kimono, King Wadada and Fashek. These artists are expected to re-awaken the spirit of reggae in the minds of Nigerians and make it a singsong for young Nigerians who are hip hop crazy. This, of course, is one of the things they hope to achieve through the concert – to make Nigerians embrace reggae just as they do hip hop.
Lamenting the relegation of reggae music in Nigeria while the industry is awash with songs, which besides being meaningless corrupt the young minds, Anthony said the concert is aimed at reviving reggae, which he said is ideologically based and of good quality. Bringing reggae music back to life and restoring its vibrancy, according to Anthony, are his aspirations not just as a president of PMAN but also as a reggae musician.
Some have blamed the seeming death of reggae music in Nigeria on the artistes who seem to shy away from the public, allowing hip hop musicians to take the shine off them. But as Wadada said, artistes are not to blame. Part of the problem, he said, comes from music producers who now produce anything foisted on them in the name of music by anybody who can “make noise.” And because of the financial gains, producers are quick to push the songs to the market even when most of them do not have any message for the listening public. The irony, however, is that despite their meaninglessness, youngsters, especially girls, dance their hearts out to the tune. That is not the case with reggae music. As Anthony explained, reggae music involves intensive work to come up with. Their producers too take time to read the script to ensure that the song conveys a specific message directed towards to the good of the society. But with the advent of hip hop, such producers have disappeared into foreign lands and so are the artists most of who have left the shores of the country in search of greener pastures. But beyond the argument that reggae artistes make themselves irrelevant by shying away from the public is another belief that some of them have destroyed their career by turning to drugs.
Though some reggae artistes left the country because of the unfavourable condition in the country, the group said that some of them have returned hence their desire to revive reggae. Fashek, Anthony said, is one of those who have returned to the country. Now that they are set to fan the embers of reggae, Janeth Mbah, editor-in-chief of SCROLL magazine, said the magazine has decided to partner with them to ensure its comeback. But for reggae to thrive, Wadada said that programme presenters in the broadcast industry should not be selective in choosing which music is played. Arguing that presenters give preference to hip hop music due to reported financial inducements by the owners of such songs, he said that such partiality should be removed so that reggae music would also hit the airwaves. And to scale down the rate at which “worthless music invade the homes of Nigerians,” he also suggested that any artiste who wants his music played on radio or television should have it certified by PMAN. Mbah too supported the idea.