‘The Nigerian state has always been a potpourri of different tribes and cultures which also reflects in its music that comes in diverse languages and sound but as diverse as things are, the general perception is that you are either an artiste who’s Yoruba (the west), Igbo (South, East or South-south…) or Hausa from the northern region. No matter how easy it is to be argued, this ideology is still the bedrock for the presidential seat in Nigeria.
The Nigerian music industry have a record of several great Igbo Highlife musicians but a lot of them could not break into mainstream. The musical exploits of Oliver De Coque, Sir Warrior, Oriental Brothers, Okonkwo Adigwe, Zeal Onyia, E.C Arinze, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Bright Chimezie, Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson e.t.c are huge but despite this, all of them only recorded regional success with the exception of Victor Uwaifo with his Joromi hit song and Nico Mbarga with Sweet Mother. They could not conquer the language barrier and by so doing, could not have a share in the Lagos music market which is the major market to go mainstream. The fact that most of these artistes are based in the eastern part of Nigeria, also halted their appeal to the mainstream audience.
The struggle to mainstream for the Igbo artistes continued with the Pop generation. The likes of Mike Okri, Felix Liberty and Chris Okotie attracted more audience but they shied away from associating their music with their language. The Reggae generation of the Mandators, Majek Fashek, Ras Kimono, Peterside Otong also made further inroad by infusing pidgin English but none could solidify their mainstream status until the Hiphop generation came along. They were the arrogant generation that understood all the mechanism to break into mainstream. They relocated to Lagos, infused all the modern day sound and also bought into the managerial and packaging principle of today’s industry but most importantly, they made sure they infused more of their native language/rhythm into their music until the Nigerian music market could no longer do without them. This is the exploit of the likes of Illbliss, Big Lo, 2Shotz, Phyno, Mr Raw and Flavour; this is the journey of the Igbo artistes. This is the ILL-BO PHENOMENON’.
In the words of Sesan Adeniji, publisher of Mystreetz magazine.
This is a must read.
Cover photography by August Udoh