I think I’ve set a new record for neglecting this blog. I have had a series of deadlines on various writing projects, and I didn’t want to allow myself to blog until I met at least one of the deadlines. Now, I have a lot to catch up on. Since it is impossible to go back and reproduce all the posts I should have posted, I will just start with the most recent–this week’s column in Weekly Trust. This is not my best or favourite column, but it is one particularly well suited for a blog, because I can bling it up with all kinds of videos to make the reading experience more stimulating. (Forgive me if some of the videos here are a little less than great quality. I was trying to put up this blog post on an internet connection that would usually only let me load about 10 seconds of the video before timing out, so I was posting videos from memory rather than verifying the youtube uploads that were the best quality. Please NOTE that the videos embedded here are being used in this blog post under Fair Use laws for review purposes.)
Written by carmen mccain Saturday, 22 October 2011 05:00
I heard a knock at my door. It was “Mr. Lecturer,” a colleague attending the conference, a big, tall man of probably around fifty. When I opened the door, he pressed himself so close to me that I took an instinctive step backwards and he wriggled into my room. He said that he needed a quiet place to work and he wanted to write in my room. “Do you not have a room in this hotel?” I asked. He replied he did but he wanted to use my laptop because his battery was low. I edged closer to the door and told him that my battery was also low and that I was just going out to eat. I grabbed my bag, ushered him out of the room and wandered in self exile around the streets of the unfamiliar city for a while. Before it got dark, I bought a compilation vcd of Naija music videos from a street vender, then went back to my room and locked myself in. Around 8pm, there were several knocks at my door. I turned off my lights and refused to answer. I sat in the dark fuming, until I remembered the compilation of music videos I had bought earlier. With nothing else to do, I slotted the vcd into my laptop.
This was the first time I had seen the video for P-Square’s “Do Me,” or D’banj’s “Booty Call.” I knew the songs and frequently sang along to the catchy choruses. But in watching the compilation, which also included music videos from American artists like Snoop Dogg, I grew angrier and angrier. The music videos were full of women in buttock-revealing miniskirts, brassieres, and fish-net stockings. The camera zoomed in on close-ups of their gyrating backsides and heaving breasts. It was like the representation of ‘natives’ by various parts of their bodies that Chinua Achebe noted in Joseph Conrad’s racist novel Heart of Darkness. This time it was women being cut up into body parts. Rarely would the camera focus on a woman’s face. In D’banj’s “Booty Call,” fully-dressed men sat back and leered, as barely-dressed women pranced and paraded before them.
P-Squares “Do Me”
Dbanj’s “Booty Call”
As I watched, I grew so angry that I was unable to sleep all night. I was angry at the musicians for objectifying women. I was angry with the women for allowing themselves to be objectified. And most of all, I was furious with Mr. Lecturer for thinking I, the only woman left at the conference and his colleague, albeit a junior one, was “fair game.” (Lord have mercy on his poor students!) The music videos did not make Mr. Lecturer harass me, but both are symptomatic of the same underlying disrespect for women—a condition captured brilliantly in Eedris Abdulkareem’s music video “Mr. Lecturer.”
Eedris Abdulkareem’s “Mr. Lecturer
I remembered that sleepless night recently when I finally had the bandwidth to download Dbanj’s music video “Mr. Endowed” directed by Sesan and featuring the American hip hop artist Snoop Dogg. It is one of the worst videos, Nigerian or American, I’ve seen.
Dbanj’s “Mr. Endowed, feat. Snoop Dogg”
Don’t get me wrong, I love hip hop and dancehall. Even though I hate D’banj’s and P-Square’s music videos with big cars and scantily dressed women, I admit to the contradiction of still singing along to the lyrics when they come on the radio. Although I think Snoop is a maddening sexist, I occasionally enjoy his deadpan voice and irreverent raps, which are so outrageous that sometimes all you can do is laugh. The Bollywood music video “Singh is King” featuring Snoop, for example, plays ironically with Orientalist stereotypes. There are dancing girls but they are included with a self-mocking wink.
Akshay Kumar and Snoop Dogg in “Singh is King”
Nigeria’s icon Fela Anikulapo-Kuti similarly thrived on the notoriety of extravagant sexuality, featuring topless women on his record albums, mostly naked dancers at his performances, and marrying 27 women in one swoop. Yet, as outrageous as his sexual excesses were, he was committed to the Nigerian masses, fearlessly speaking out against injustice.
Fela in England, 1984
Dbanj, on the other hand, as “Kokomaster” with his “Koko Mansion” and “Kokolettes” groomed to please him, courts the notoriety without any of the social responsibility. He seems to style himself the Hugh Hefner of Nigeria, surrounded by women who are not “queens” (and eventually wives) as Fela called them but mere sexual playtoys.
In “Mr. Endowed,” D’banj takes a song with narcissistic lyrics and a mediocre dance track and blings it up with exotic locations and decent cinematography. The conceit of Snoop being D’banj’s American uncle is clever, and my favourite part of the video is when D’banj presents the American artist with a Nigerian passport, giving him the name Baba Aja Oluwasnoop. There is also a certain nationalistic pleasure in seeing D’banj cruise the streets of Los Angeles in a green and white Rolls Royce, bursting into Yoruba while dancing around the mansion under a Nigerian and American flag. D’banj implies that he has done all this for Naija, singing, “At the end of the day when my people see me, I bring them joy, they give me a round of applause.”
But the rest of the video takes the clichés of wine, women, and song typical of both Snoop’s and D’banj’s videos to new levels of vulgarity. “Uncle Snoop’s” house has an elaborate marble and gold staircase that is decorated by two “vixens” in bustiers and bikini bottoms who writhe around licking their lips and stroking themselves. Musicians wander about flashing fistfuls of dollars, opening suitcases full of blingy time pieces. Snoop is not at his best. His rap is not mixed well, so that his voice is low and you can’t hear what he is saying. He seems a bit lost behind the enthusiasm of his Nigerian “nephews.”
I see no redeeming irony here. Perhaps, the repeated instances of one of the musicians walking in on women in the bathroom, one in a bathtub covered with $100 dollar bills and one seated on the toilet using $100 bills as toilet paper is supposed to be funny. To me, it is just embarrassing—a joke with a punchline gone flat.
D’banj usually has good beats, and sometimes clever lyrics, sung in a skillful mix of Yoruba and pidgin. But this “copy-copy” is not interesting or fresh. The music videos I enjoy the most are those that situate themselves in a recognizable Naija. The pitfalls of musicians like D’banj or P-Square and Darey, who make most of their videos in South Africa, or musicians who shoot endless “girls-in-the-club” videos is that no matter the “quality” of the video, they are not being innovative.
The videos I most love are those like Eedris Abdulkareem’s old but powerful “Nigeria Jaga Jaga” which uses actual footage of Nigeria or his satirical “Mr. Lecturer.” TY Bello’s simple but gorgeous “Greenland” focuses on portraits of Nigerians of all ages; elDee’s “Light Up Naija” uses similar simple portraits to highlight his call to unity. TuFace, DJ Jimmy Jatte, and Mode 9 in “Stylee” set addictive rhymes against a backdrop of Lagos traffic and danfos, a Lagos which Nneka also uses cinema-verite style in her video “Heartbeat.” The video for the late Sazzy’s “Mr. Chairman,” is nothing fancy but captures the fierce passion of the Abuja-based musician so well that it takes my breath away. Recently I came across a beautifully shot music video “Soyeyya” by a hip hop artist XDOGGinit, who raps in Hausa and features humorous acting by Kannywood stars. What makes a video good is not how much money is spent on it but how creative and “true” it is. I hope to highlight more of the ones I like this year. [Note: These videos may not be as sophisticated or polished as the "club" videos shot in South Africa etc, but they seem to me to have more SOUL.]
And to those musicians who specialize in getting women to remove their clothes for your videos. You may be young and “endowed” now, and there may be plenty of silly girls eager for the fame. But in a few more years, try that and you’ll get called “Mr. Lecturer.” A word to the wise.
Eedris Abdulkareem’s Nigeria Jaga Jaga (not the best quality upload but you can see what I mean)
TY Bello’s “Greenland”
DJ Jimmy Jatt, feat. Mode 9, 2Face, and Elajoe in “Stylee”
Sazzy “Mr. Chairman”