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Slow Start, Sweet Climax


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Slow Start, Sweet Climax: From a dour beginning, the arts and entertainment industry in 1996 surges to a blistering climax

IT WAS THE SEVENTH EDItion of the Benson & Hedges Golden Tones concert and from Lagos and adjoining towns came a huge crowd of music buffs eager to savour the latest vibes from their favourite artistes. Five hours in advance that Saturday, December 14, hundreds of people had started finding their way to the cricket pitch of the Tafawa Balewa Square, venue of the concert ingeniously tagged "Loud in Lagos." By the 9.00 p.m. kick-off time, the venue had become jam packed, with hardly "a space to put your legs," as one journalist later said in reference to the heavy crowd at the concert.

On parade that night was the cream of Nigeria's pop, Afro beat, highlife and other indigenous music genres. Apart from Sani Dan Indo and his Kuntuji music group from Kano, the artistes on show were all from Lagos. The roll call: Kola Ogunkoya, the Gbedu Master who, unfortunately, was subdued by the overwhelming crowd in his first major concert experience, Charly Boy, Ras Kimono, Bright Chimezie alias Okoro Junior and, of course, Kings Sunny Ade, KSA, and Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, KWAM 1,

The organisers were well prepared for the surging crowd. Aware that a satisfactory glance on the expansive stage from all corners of the pitch would be impossible, they brought a large screen video truck, the first of its type in concert experience in Nigeria. By 5.00 a.m. on Sunday when KWAM 1, the last act for the show, mounted the dais, thousands of people were still on their feet, dancing away - an eloquent testimony to how much they had enjoyed the night.

Regrettably, however, the story that was the story of "Loud in Lagos" is not a reflection of the state of showbiz in Nigeria in 1996. It was a year in which the lull that had been the lot of the industry since 1995 when the country's political and economic problems of the previous two years virtually knocked the entertainment world cold. The first hope for a reawakening came in February with a change in the leadership of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria. But somehow, Lady of songs Christy Essien-Igbokwe, who beat Mike Okri and Skid Ikemefuna, now a new-wave gospel singer, to become the association's first woman president failed to keep her promise to resurrect the Nigeria Music Awards, once the reference point in the entertainment industry.

As if labouring under a curse, a greater number of musicians ended up with unsuccessful releases instead of the desperately wanted hits. Charly Boy released Reality but soon found out that how well an album does in the market is not determined by how many eminent personalities that attend its launch. Both Mike Okri and Stella Monye went into the studio and came out with works which hardly enjoyed air play. For Sola Idowu, a weird rap act who had to change the title of her maiden effort from an unimaginative Allen Avenue to Simply Weird, it was an experiment in failure. It was also the year when "prophet seeker" Peterside Ottong, attempted to stage a come-back after yards in the wilderness but hit had rock with Albatross, an album in memory of slain Ogoni folk hero Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Unsmitten by the bug of failure were the gospel musicians. Sonny Okosuns and Timi Osikoya aka Telemi created waves. Fifteen of the gospel artistes, including Ebenezer Obey, erstwhile juju star, were to come together in the course of the year to record Final Race in memory of Demos Deniran, an elder in their clan who passed away in 1995.

However-from the valley, the music industry started its way up about mid-year with the sentry of Lagbaja, the anonymous hornsman. THe masterstroke of the masked afro beat singer was Coolu Temper, his second effort on vinyl, which became an instant hit. The greatest strength of Lagbaja's music is its eclectic nature, borrowing substantially from jazz calypso and other deeply African traditional ensemble such as fuji (as in KWAM's Baby Mi Show colour Re), juju and other Afro beats. Lagbaja is also an acclaimed master at remixing popular tracks of established musicians.

From July when he came on the scene, the Fine Arts graduate lit up everywhere, literally jumping from one concert to another, with the gates going as high up as N2,500 in one instance. Significantly, the masked thriller raised the stakes and brought concert back from the abyss into which it had apparently sunk. And talking of concerts, Water Parks in Ikeja, Lagos, was perhaps the busiest venue in the Country. It hosted an average of two concerts per month, among them the Unity Concert of Essien-Igbokwe which took place shortly after she assumed duties as PMAM president. The greatest of the shows came September 30 when Afro music legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti started alongside, Femi, his son, in the triumpt of "the father, the son and spiritual sax."

KSA also turned 50 during the year, celebrating the landmark even with a carnival of sorts. For a whole week, the entertainment world in Lagos stood up for the juju maestro who incidentally was marking his 30th anniversary on stage. KSA would seem to have enough reason to mark his anniversaries with pomp. Some of his more elderly colleagues went with the year. I.K. Dairo, knighted by the British colonial government for his contribution to entertainment in pre-independent Nigeria, took his bow. His conqueror: diabetes, which fastened its grip on him shortly on his return from the United States where he taught African traditional music. Another oldie who went the way of the elders was E.T. Mensah, the "son of the amateur guitarist" who turned an accomplished trumpeter and saxophonist. His death in his native country, Ghana, provided an opportunity for nostalgic feelings in the highlife community in Nigeria.

One segment of the entertainment industry which did not witness one dull moment was home video. All over the land, producers sweated on locations and at the end of the day churned out all manner of works, some of them classics. Tunde Kelani, the magic hands behind Mainframe Productions, Bayowa Films International, Kenneth Nnebue, Amaka, Igwe, Okey Ogujiofor, Fidelis Duker, Zeb and Chico Ejiro were some of those who made the home video market tick all year. Some of their popular works include Violated, Glamour Girls Part 2, Tears for Love, Koseegbe, and The Brotherhood of Darkness.
 PHILIP EMEAGWALI'S READING LIST
  The Spirit-Man: Nnamdi Azikiwe

  Nigeria Needs Me; Odumegwu Ojukwu

  In Honour of New Yam; Igbo Day/New Yam Festival

  Africa Has Driven Into Exile Its Best Thinkers

  Works From a Country in Progress; Nigerian Literature

  'Just' an Igbo woman; Buchi Emecheta

  Kehinde, by Buchi Emecheta

  Talking With Ben Okri

  A writer on trial for his life Anthony Daniels recalls his last meeting with Ken Saro-Wiwa

  Slow Start, Sweet Climax; Nigerian Music

  Blacks Are Key to World Progress, Historian Asserts

  Superbrain of Africa

  Please visit http://emeagwali.com for the most recent list.

While artists, especially painters and sculptors, remained in the news for much of the year - thanks to corporate sponsors who ensured the staging of a long chain of exhibitions - the book industry had a less memorable time. For the later, the most exciting moments came in November when master story teller Festus Iyayi won recognition as the most outstanding author of the year. For displaying "artistic growth beyond the levels of his previous experience," Iyayi with his Awaiting Court Martial, a collection of stories, won two of the most coveted awards. First, he clinched the $1,000 (about N80, 000) Christopher Okigbo Prize for All-African Writing at the 16th annual convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors held at Kaduna from November 7-9. Another moment of glory came December 5 when he bagged the first ever Nigerian Author of the Year Award with a cash prize of N50,000.

Another major literary development was the publication of Breaking The Silence, which "presents for the first time in the more than a century history of creative writing in Nigeria, a choice selection of short stories by Nigerian women writers." Edited by Toyin Adewale-Nduka and Omowunmi Segun for The Women Writers of Nigeria, the 143-page book tumbled out of the press few weeks ago. It has the potential to take the country by storm if properly promoted and marketed.

Reviewed by Taye Ige in TheWeek, January 6, 1997.

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