Imagine being a car collector, with a diverse taste and appreciation of various car models. On one of your usual visits to the dealer, you see a beautiful piece of work and you go mmm-mmm-mmm to acknowledge its beautiful exterior. Next thing is to find out the specs, take it for a test spin before you acquire your new ‘precious’. When it’s a trusted brand or referral as is the case most times, the specs might not even matter. Even if the interior isn’t really comfortable as per impulse, you might buy it and besides why care for comfort when there’s beauty and speed.
Every sort of musical output – singles, albums – is like a car, the summation of different parts to form a moving piece. Let’s say production is the engine, melody/flow and mixing are the exterior, vocals are the wheels and songwriting is the interior. Every part is essential but sometimes one or more of these components isn’t in tune with the others. It is human nature to latch onto something else – what drew you in initially especially when it comes to a favourite artist, instead of fawning over its flaws. Finding flaws and acknowledging them doesn’t mean you have to stop listening, it only means you’re aware of which part isn’t A1.
I really appreciate when lyrics are meaningful but I feel it is fine to listen even when they are nonsensical, simply admitting that the lyrics are thoughtless won’t kill anyone. At the turn of the year, the biggest Nigerian song was Runtown’s ‘Mad Over You’. It was (still is) so big everywhere you turned you’d find it waiting for you with a smug smile. If you go on Twitter to call the song anything less than God’s best gift to mankind since Jollof Rice, say good bye your notifications (I like the song by the way). Nigerians don’t tolerate slander with some songs, it doesn’t matter if it is truthful criticism; you will not be spared from twitlash. The song receiving this distinct treatment at the moment is Davido’s ‘If’.
“girl you’re beautiful too/my number one tuntun/sip burukututu/for your love itutu/i go chook you chuku chuku o/biko obianuju/shey you do me juju/cos im feeling the juju shake it o, take it/i wanna catch it o ,take it/you can have it o,take it/you know i gat this o” – Prolific Nigerian Artist/Poet, Davido.
If you thought last year’s golden boy, Tekno sang ludicrous lyrics, Davido’s lyrics on ‘If’ are inane bordering on stupidity – what was I expecting? The song is produced by Tekno. If Davido or his supporters come across this article, the calling card would be numbers – sales, sold-out shows etc. which I’m not mad at. The fact that people support your music and you make a whole lot of money off it doesn’t make your music any better, it only mirrors the minds of those who actively support you or indulge your music as the case may be. I like a lot of Davido’s songs, he sure knows how to craft hit songs, picking irresistible beats and melodies that will get stuck in your head but his vocals and lyrics are horrible. My problem is when people attempt to seem ‘woke’ when it comes to specific artists that have the same or even lesser flaws.
Let me not even start with criticizing Davido’s voice before his fans remind me of my father’s worth that doesn’t have net😒🚶🏽♀️
— ٭smallie (@LolahJune) April 2, 2017
Which takes me back to the whole debacle surrounding Yemi Alade and her tumbum-ish lyrics. When Yemi won the maiden edition of peak talent show in 2009, there was some buzz around her talent and I was even particularly interested in her career. Her first official single – which I still listen to occasionally – ‘Fimisile’ which featured eLDee got some attention but not the nationwide clout I felt she should have garnered. A couple of moderately successful singles over some years and it seemed like she was going to be another talent show fluff, until she released her juggernaut single ‘Johnny’ in 2013. Yemi’s new-found style and partnership with producer Selebobo worked well and she ran with it most of the time, each new release got applause until her style became ‘unbearable’ and cheers became jeers.
I’m not appropriating Yemi Alade’s musical choices, I even feel she’s underselling her self – her voice is much bigger than Tungba music (as Folarin would call it). While she’s making money off these half-brain-dead songs, making a video calling out ‘haters’ only furthered animosity. Never in my time on Twitter have I seen the names of graceful Nigerian singer-songwiriters like Asa, Bez, Timi Dakolo (who has a master’s certificate in songwriting) & BrymO thrown around in one day until during that Yemi Alade fiasco. Everyone wanted to act like they don’t support artists that create songs with absurd lyrics and repetitive musical choices. Yemi was the scapegoat while others were spared because they didn’t air out their grievances with being called out. I bet Davido and Wizkid would have made the same video even with harsher nuances and not only get away with it, they’d even receive support.
There’s a thick red line between criticism and hate, both fans and artists go all Ray Charles to the line until it fits their narratives or when they feel like they should join the bandwagon. A couple of weeks ago, I asked why people didn’t hold artists like Wizkid, Davido and Tekno etc. accountable for their lyrics, the first answer that hit my notifications was that these artists always created hits. And I retorted by asking if a hit song with garbage lyrics was less garbage, what I got as an answer was the fact that meaningful lyrics don’t mean much in the Nigerian market and all that mattered was that the artists were making money.
The same people that vibe to Wizkid’s ‘In My Bed’, Davido’s wildly repetitive na-na-na-na on ‘Dami Duro’ and Tekno’s songs do not have a right to dissect another artist’s lyrical choices if they aren’t willing to do the same with their favourite artists. I enjoy big brain-numbing songs as much as I can, you should too – you have a right to, but please let’s call a spade a spade even when it’s inconvenient.
Words by Peter Ade Dennis, aka MusicWriter, aka @ayo_dennis.