THIS IS NIGERIA

Nigeria 2019 | MEDIA & ADVERTISING | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Falz The Bahd Guy, rapper and singer, on building a brand, dealing with political issues in Nigeria, and the challenges of working in the music industry there.

How challenging has it been to become successful and to create your own brand in the Nigerian environment?

It has been tough, as there are many challenges in the industry. This is such a saturated market; we are blessed with an astonishing amount of talent, so it is tough for anyone to succeed. What made me stand out was my uniqueness. I have always been different. My music is typically hip-hop, but with a contemporary twist. I always infuse traditional Nigerian sounds and modernize them. There is always a story or message in my lyrics. The element of humor is also a constant in my music. There is a certain persona in Falz The Bahd Guy that I brought out: the funny guy and crazy guy. People started to relate to him and his music, and that was the breaking point.

How important is the fact that you include political issues in your music?

In the current social and political climate, it is extremely important because many things are not in place in Nigeria. We come in contact with these things every day, and as an artist, one is affected by the environment. It is impossible to live somewhere and not draw inspiration from the environment around us. Our voices, as entertainers, are perhaps the loudest right now. We are the most followed on social media. People almost worship entertainers, and we must leverage on this. That is the reason why I make conscious music. People need to wake up, and Nigerians are resilient people. It is an amazing thing, though it can become a problem when we become complacent and not react to things that are happening. People need to be more awake. I am currently working on an album that is all about conscious music, tackling our issues and making people stop, listen, and think about what is going on and how they should react.

Were you concerned that 'This is Nigeria' would push a negative narrative about Nigeria?

I knew it would draw some controversy, though I did not expect it to be that much, and it was a pleasant surprise. The more talked about something is, the better. It was time to say what is going on, and it got people talking. Many people mentioned it might show the country in a negative light; however, if I had kept that in the back of my mind, then I would have sugarcoated our issues, which was not the point. Things are truly messed up, and we need to wake up. If someone's child is doing something wrong, they will not sugarcoat it; they would try to say it in a way that helps them realize what they are doing is not right.

What are the main challenges for Nigerian musicians?

The main challenge is that there is no structure; we do not have a proper system of tracking records. In the US and the UK, artists go gold if they sell 500,000 copies and platinum if they sell 1 million. Here, there is no way to know how much one is selling. People on the streets have been selling records without permission. There are different marketers, and marketers have agreements with certain artists and pay them a fee. After some time, the marketers realized it was not working as well as they imagined. They then started to have a percentage split with the artist, which is more viable. There is still no way to track that. In a country where there are many criminally minded people, we cannot truly tell if our sales numbers are accurate. Fortunately for artists, that is not really a big market anymore; everyone is online. It is all about digital sales, and Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon have changed the market.

Is Afrobeat going global or is it just a short-term boom?

It already has gone global. The coming to prominence of Afrobeat worldwide is unbelievable. Now more than ever, many African songs and artists are being played all over the world. I traveled to Iran, for example, and African music was being played; it is amazing to see. Something to point out was the big collaboration between Drake and Wizkid. Drake featured an African artist and got his first ever number one. The sound of the entire song is extremely Afro. Prior to that, Drake had never had a number-one song. It is a testimony to the fact that the sound is really in right now, and everyone wants to jump in. Afrobeat is putting Nigeria on the map in a positive light. When one thinks about Afrobeat, the first country they think of is Nigeria. The top Afrobeat artists are from here. Our music is one of our proudest exports.

How can Nigeria harness this boom in its entertainment sector?

The government needs to realize this is an important resource and find ways to invest in it. There is nothing stopping us from having huge festivals and carnivals; that is one way to attract people from abroad. These events are a huge tourist attraction and generate revenue. The government has not been paying attention to entertainment. We have generated all the revenue in the sector by ourselves. The government has not even helped in terms of enacting laws to regulate the sector and have a more structured industry. Generally, the government can play a bigger role in helping the entertainment industry grow.

What are your expectations for the industry in 2019 in Nigeria and for yourself?

The industry is going somewhere promising. I see many artists starting to perform all around the world, and Afrobeat is penetrating other markets. I see growth and an emergence of a new crop of talent. 2019 will be an important year. There are multiple A-list artists now, more than ever. Everyone is pulling out big crowds and making large sums of money. The sky is big enough for everyone to fly. 2019 is an election year, and we hope to find an individual who can take us to the promised land. As for myself, 2019 will just bring more music and more expansion. I am a multifaceted individual, and one of my aspects is in film, and I will be doing more in that regard. I want to produce my own feature film, so I am looking at doing something exciting. Our movie industry is growing quickly as well. I am known for comedy, so I want to produce a psychological thriller, something challenging.