Friday, 26 February 2010

If music be food

I like to dance. I’ve always been the first on the dance floor at weddings, not put off by being the only person above 9 years of age: for me being first means you have the most space on the dance floor to enjoy yourself, and it's when the DJ’s playing the really good tunes to get people dancing. Besides which I simply can't help myself.

I always tell people that I learned to dance in Nigeria. It was at the tender age of 15 amongst the expat kids of 1980s Kaduna that I had my first chance on a dance floor that wasn’t in the common room of my Sevenoaks boarding school, Walthamstow Hall. To the strains of Kool & the Gang, Earth Wind & Fire, Sister Sledge and the rest of the genre now commonly known as ‘80s Skool Disco’ (including the first ever rap song – Sugar Hill Gang’s Rappers’ Delight’ that I have been known to recite in full with a couple of bottles of Star inside me), I began appreciating the uplifting nature of a good beat.

And boy do Nigerians know a good beat.

I challenge anyone to sit for 15 minutes in a Nigerian bar or ‘night club’ (and I use the term loosely) without starting to ‘chair dance’. Whether it be foot tapping or shaking the shoulders and fists in time with the music, the rhythm’s gonna get you.

Nigerian men really know how to dance and they enjoy it too. No dancing around handbags for women here!

You’ll find music, singing and dancing at all the cultural events and weddings where traditional music and dance group, or women’s fellowship choirs, will fill the air with irresistible beats and wonderful harmonies.

(From left to right) - Batadon Day in Manchok; dancers from Bayelsa (Delta region) at the Abuja Durbar; some of the girls of the Vincent Kawai Memorial Foundation praise the Lord in song and dance.

Our very own Victoria makes an appearance in the main arena of Kagoro Day 2010 with her Women's Fellowship, whilst another group helps celebrate an album launch in a local church

What makes it even better for me – Nigerians love to dance. No more ‘lonely on the dance floor’ with the kiddies for me: there will always be several men, women or children who will get up and dance at the slightest hint of an opportunity. And, although the adage ‘white people can’t dance’ I’m afraid to say, really is true, just being a bature means that you will be appreciated.

I justify my attendance at the weddings of people I’ve never met before by knowing that I will be invited up to dance by the MC and, if I oblige, I will earn much more than my plate of rice and a mineral by the money that will be ‘sprayed’ onto my forehead (occasionally stuck into my eye) by other well wishers.

My fame as a dancing bature is spreading: as I was depositing my motorcycle helmet for safe keeping with the security guard in the front lobby of Kafanchan’s Oceanic Bank a couple of weeks ago, the guard, after exchanging the standard greetings asked: “So when are you going to dance for us again?”. “Excuse me?” I countered. He replied: “Don’t you recognise me? I was the MC at the Send Forth at the Fantswam Resort – you danced for us. You really tried!”

Dancing at weddings, Send Forths and Engagements with friends and colleagues!

I'm not the only one to dance at weddings: couples dance down the aisles, to the receptions and out of the church: this is real dancing for joy!

In addition to being a nation of dancers, Nigeria is also a nation of musicians. With little employment available, and a lot of talent, virtually everyone is looking to make it big in music. Not so different from at home, but with even fewer options available if you don’t succeed. The big challenge is how to stand out? How to make music your livelihood?For every one successful artist in Nigeria, I would think there are several 1,000s of unsuccessful ones. But it just takes something to stand out.

Local Kagoro musician"Best VD Boman" is hopeful at the launch of his gospel album. His nephew Steven sings amongst the dancing audience as he celebrates winning the Vincent Kawai Talent show in 2008. His album is due for launch this Spring.

I’m hoping my that blind friend Jonathan – or let me get his 'handle' correct: J T Shadow – is one of them. Not only does he have some talent, he’s brassy and puts himself out there, and he’s blind. When he shows up at radio station in Kaduna or Abuja having travelled there, sometimes by himself, to promote one of his songs, the DJs really sit up and take notice and sometimes, just sometimes, offer to play his songs without demanding the airtime fee which can run into several 1,000s of Naira.

JT Shadow and his crew performing "Selector" at the Gimalex Talent Event in Kagoro Town Hall

Here’s a link Jonathan’s debut song, recorded in the first two hours he had ever spent in a recording studio. Whilst not heading for the pan-African number one slot quite yet, you wouldn’t be that surprised to hear it on the radio.

These songs were made possible with the help of a Jos-based producer called V.I.C. who I was put in touch with via a volunteer musician friend at Fantsuam. A recording artist as well as producer, V.I.C. will often contribute to the backing vocals of the songs as he’s done with J T Shadow’s ‘Headin for the Top’ as well as my current number one favourite, ‘Ma Time’ that he recorded with his nephew, Jizzle.

Now I don’t claim to be a hit-spotter (although I will mention that I had no doubt that Gary Numan’s ‘Are Friends Electric’ was going to be a hit when I first heard it languishing in the low 30s in the UK Pop Charts in the early 80s) – however I can’t stop listening to "Ma Time" which I find positively addictive. V.I.C. hasn’t yet had time to promote it however he has given me permission to feature it on this blog.

I’m also not a music expert and frankly I sometimes feel a bit of a fraud trying to help Jonathan with his music aspirations when I can barely tell my ‘gangsta’ from my ‘hip hop’, but I think this number has potential.

Let me know what you think? And, if you feel in need of a change from Brit Pop (OK I know that’s a bit out of date) or whatever is hitting the charts where you are at the moment – do check out some of these top Naija jams which I have no doubt you’ll be able to find on Napster or iTunes. Here in Nigeria the concept of digital copyright is about as rigorously applied as the Highway Code so all these songs are freely available but I know you can all afford them so give those Naija artists the royalties they won’t be able to earn in their own country!

Naija – it’s our time to shine!


Anonymous said...

One word Cecil.......FANTASTIC!! I love that fact that you are spreading your batari dancing and being recognised for it!!! And those 2 songs were brilliant!! Saw Daddy/William today and he and all the 'dog' goers commented on how good it was!! Maybe one day he'll become world famous!!
Good luck to him!
Jared xx

Anonymous said...

Actually maybe we can find someone back here through Nick that might be able to give some advice ..... worth a thought! xx

Cicely Nigeria said...

Thanks to anyone who can help promote these songs - particularly those who might know what they're talking about... (e.g. Nick...!).

Sabine said...

Hi Cicely,
hearing these songs definitely brings me close to tears because they bring back so many memories ...
It's interesting, that with no doubt one can identify these songs to be Nigerian made - there's something about them ;o)
My favourite is still Asha's "Fire on the Mountain" even though she's not as truely Nigerian any more because she was raised in Europe.

Take care and keep on dancing!

Lizzy said...

Ha! Thanks for featuring me in your photos - that was such a fun night. We really tried! (I'd forgotten that particular Nigerian phrase - very appropriate to describe my dancing, at least!)

Cicely Nigeria said...

And there I was trying to protect your anonymity Lizzy! Still you've got a good groove goin' on there..

Unfortunately I don't think the venue exists any more after last January's troubles....