This morning, I was going to make a light-hearted Facebook comment that would have gone thus: Sometime ago in Nigeria, Fuji artistes like Kollington, Barrister, Adewale Ayuba, and Obesere would go to the US and make a whole album of their experience. Even non-Fuji artistes like Gbenga Adeboye did the same. Today, if they tried it, they would be badly ridiculed.
I was going to make comparisons about how the times have changed and certain lifestyles have been demystified. How “going abroad” was no longer a big deal for Nigerians and anyone who sings about it will be considered bush.
Then it occurred to me that I was wrong. The old habits have not left us, what has changed is how we express them.
For those who are not lovers of Fuji, the aforementioned musicians at one point or the other in their career musically expressed their travelogue each time they returned from those trips. They sang about the glories of Oyinboland; how Oyinbos loved them, their music and treated them with deference. In those songs, there was usually the subtext of using whiteness – either through occupying Oyinbo space, occupying Oyinbo women, eating Oyinbo food, buying Oyinbo stuffs, using Oyinbo gifted titles and various forms of white cultural capital as a legitimation of their art and their personhood. In his video of his US experiences, Gbenga Adeboye particularly expressed surprise and gratitude to God that Oyinbo “servants” deferred to him. They opened car doors for him and made his hotel bed.
I found I was wrong about the past and present when it occurred to me that there was barely any difference between Obesere singing how he slept with white women in the US and D’Banj’s video shot in the US where he displayed very light skinned women in his videos as (his) sexual objects. Both of them are basically saying the same thing, only differently.
It occurred to me that there is no difference between Kollington singing in the 90s about how he went to Broadway in New York and D’Banj and Don Jazzy in 2011 showing themselves driving on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. There is no difference between Adewale Ayuba singing about how great the US was (and that Nigerians should fix their country) and P Square showing off crisp dollars on Twitter (and perhaps communicating to us that Naira was worthless as a status symbol?)
What really is different, I ask? How is the P Square showing off their homes in Atlanta different from Obesere’s singing about eating burgers and Kentucky fried chicken (a most trashy diet) in the US? How is Kollington’s self-praise that the New York City Mayor liked him and sent for him different from D’Banj’s Mr. Endowed remix using a voice of a white woman as a radio announcer to state that an important African performer had arrived in LA? Are both not using Whiteness for the purpose of self-authentication and to express mobility across class and transnational spaces?
In the video of “Chop My Money” that featured Akon, I noticed that Akon’s ‘cool’ with the light-skinned woman who was the subject of interest of the four men singing in that track was different from the ‘cool’ of Nigerians. Akon gave the woman a credit card, a miniaturized currency that leaves you to imagine the amount of wealth it contains. P Square and May D rather went for a vulgar display of bales of dollar notes, posh cars, jewellery and even shopping bags full of designer labels. They were the ones who had something to prove, Akon didn’t.
What I see as perhaps different between Obesere and D’Banj (and by extension the old/indigenous singers and the contemporary ones) is the medium and the way we use both. The music video as a genre wasn’t popular when those fuji singers reigned and so they had to rely on telling. Now we live in the age of visual and Hip Hop singers portray the same social/upward mobility as the older ones by showing. Nowadays, they don’t need to explicitly say they sleep with Oyinbo women. We see them in videos surrounded by almost nude light skinned women and we imagine the rest.
Yeah, just like Akon’s credit card.