Afrobeats is enjoying a great cultural moment globally, but why are Nigerian fans excluded from this by a toxic concert culture?
The first shows of the December season are starting to roll out. Fans of Nigeria’s Afrobeats scene look forward to being serenaded by Nigeria’s biggest music stars. But that excitement is tainted by the fact that many of those artists do not seem to share their fans’ excitement for showing up at concerts and events. And this story has become all too common, happening year after year.
On the part of the fans, the concerts that proliferate at the end of each year are a way to celebrate, to immerse oneself into what is becoming Nigeria’s biggest cultural export; Afrobeats. Yet, it is hard to reconcile that in the era where Afrobeats is being lauded and globally recognized, fans in Nigeria seem to be left out of that excitement by the way artists behave or misbehave at their Nigerian concerts.
It is clear now more than ever the influence that Afrobeats has on the world. It is able to create global-calibre superstars with a sound that is uniquely African but the fans that propelled this genre to global status in the first place, who nursed it from its more obscure days on Nigerian streets, are not able to reap the joy that others fans experience globally; the thrill of watching your favourite artist play your favourite songs live. And to have that experience in a safe and professional environment.
Over the years, there have been multiple episodes of Afrobeats artists not only disrespecting their fans with late coming, and poorly executed shows but also with violent mistreatment of their fans. Videos online show artists like Burna Boy kicking a concertgoer in the head. Or last year when singer, Asake, showed up late to an event in London causing a stampede before his arrival. In the aftermath, the artist issued an apology that did not take much responsibility for what happened.
What makes this behaviour even more jarring is that many such musicians play their international shows with comportment and professionalism. Yet are unwilling to extend such civility to their Nigerian fans who in many cases built the foundation of their fan base. And whose continued support by paying for concerts becomes more difficult year after year with the rising cost of concert tickets, and Nigeria’s shrinking economy.
Perhaps the generally poor law enforcement in Nigeria is to blame for how artists are able to get away with how they treat fans. In addition to this, Nigeria’s general disregard for civil rights could also explain their behaviour. In a country where laws to protect citizens are either poorly executed or non-existent, there is little to dissuade artists from carrying out such unsavoury behaviour.
What is harder to see, however, is the direction that the tussle between Nigerian artists and their Nigerian fan base will go regarding how concerts are run. As it appears now, it doesn’t look to be in favour of the fans.
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Given the situation, an important question is this; could there ever be a point where Nigerian fans decide they have had enough; where they are pushed to finally act out on their discontent and demand better? But in the background of this question lies the Nigerian condition where everyday Nigerians are made to suffer worse at the hands of people who are there to serve them; from police officers, to government bureaucrats, to the judiciary system. There seems to be an unspoken pact in Nigerian society that in whatever relationship a power imbalance exists, that power is meant to be abused, to needlessly humiliate the party without the upper hand. And this is expected to occur without repercussions.
Artists primarily exist to create. But along the line, they begin to owe a certain amount of responsibility to the fans whose support ensures they can earn a living. But that reality seems to be twisted up for some artists in the Afrobeats scene. The elevated social status that Afrobeats artists have with the affluence and privileges it brings them, further blurs this reality.
For example, in one of Burna Boy’s first shows of the year, the artist showed up several hours late for the event, and after being booed by fans, informed them that he had toyed with the idea of not showing up entirely following some backlash he had received online about a shooting at a nightclub which the artist was linked to. The very idea, of not wanting to appear for an event that hundreds of fans had already paid for shows a peculiar attitude that reoccurs in almost every cadre of relationships in Nigeria. And in the manner of Nigerians’ oddly placed tolerance, his fans stayed on for the show despite all that he had said.
This is in stark contrast to what happened to US rapper, Akon, in 2007 after he pushed a 15-year-old fan off the stage. The rapper was able to plead guilty of second-degree harassment, as opposed to a more serious charge of endangering a child. After the court case, he was fined $350 and asked to participate in 65 hours of community service. It might seem a small price to pay, but it is a far cry from Nigeria’s reality where no consequences are meted out to offending artists.
In the Western world, where many Nigerian artists seem more likely to treat their fans with respect—the consequence of not doing so is very difficult to evade. Stringent rules of engagement, and of running concerts exist. The whole concert culture exists to make money for stakeholders such as the event promoters, the artists themselves and the venues.
Some international artists like Taylor Swift were projected to make $4.3 billion to the American economy from touring alone. Concerts are very serious business. Therefore laws, protocols and other measures are put in place to ensure that this is achieved.
Unlike in Nigeria, the consequence for not showing up on time in many cases means the artist has to give up their time slot thereby opening oneself up to severe consequences like litigation for the money lost due to refunding tickets, and promotion costs. American artist, 6ix9ine was sued by concert promoters to the tune of $2 million because he didn’t show up for a scheduled event in December of 2021. Many other artists have faced similar consequences for being no-shows at concerts with no valid reason.
In Nigeria, the consequence for doing any of this is, almost nothing. It is a stark contrast to the way things operate in the rest of the world—but very on brand for how things operate in the Nigerian context. Strangely, there are regulatory bodies that exist to promote proper conduct in the music industry like the Performing Musician’s Association of Nigeria. However, like many of their counterparts across other Nigerian industries, they fail to carry out their duties, thus the continued existence of similar issues over and over again.
CAN THERE BE ANY REAL CONSEQUENCES?
Nigeria is not a country known to properly punish offenders. Nigeria is ranked 118th out of 140 countries surveyed on the strength of the rule of law. With the lax capacity of actual governing bodies in the music industry, it seems Nigerian fans are alone in their quest to demand better from Nigerian artists.
During the promotion cycle of Burna Boy’s latest album, I Told Them, he had an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe where Burna Boy commented that ‘Afrobeats is mostly about nothing … there is no substance to it… It is all about having a good time’. It was a comment that Nigerian fans found to be deeply upsetting—given that he was throwing a genre that had propelled his career, under the bus.
Many fans took to social media to decry his comments—which Burna Boy gave no response to. It was an odd comment to make given the history that Nigerians have with trying to have a good time listening to such music, especially at concerts. Nigerian fans are unable to have the promise of that good time that Afrobeats offers—if that is truly all that it offers.
Despite the online outrage at his comments, the album is the best-performing album commercially that the artist has released. Something that is remarkable is that many of the album reviews on international media platforms did not mention the way the artist behaves towards his fans at home or the way that many other Afrobeats artists behave towards their fans. They seem able to separate the art from the artist or are entirely unaware of the situation in the Nigerian space. It shows that the solution to this problem is one that is going to have to be found domestically. International fans are not going to hold Nigerian musicians accountable for what they do in Nigeria—it is possible there might not even be enough awareness of the problem to do so.
The tussle continues.
WHAT COULD THE FUTURE HOLD
The conversation around Nigerian concert culture seems to revolve around bigger, and more established music artists. However, not much is spoken of about how the actions of these bigger artists could hurt younger artists who are still trying to establish their careers.
With music distribution being reliant on streaming now more than ever and Nigeria’s problem with piracy, artists often have to rely on concerts and festivals for a large percentage of their income. Music streaming is also not sustainable as a source of income for any artist, Nigerian or otherwise. To earn $100 (equivalent to N80,000), 10,000 streams need to be reached on platforms like Apple Music—not an easy feat for any upcoming artist.
This is why the whole situation needs to be given a lot more attention. If the culture surrounding concerts continues, fans might be much less interested in showing up for music events, in paying for concert tickets—and this translates to lost income, lost opportunities for exposure and the crucial work of building a fan base. This could be devastating for younger artists who do not have the international reach that ensures them wider avenues for income.
The conversation around Nigerian concert culture, the way fans are treated and the lack of remorse from artists, is one that is likely to go on for a long time. A vicious cycle of musicians acting as they please because they can get away with it, and of fans being unable to demand better because there are no well-enforced regulations to protect them. There seems to be nothing that has been able to disrupt this cycle.
It is a lose-lose situation in the end. For fans, they suffer while trying to engage with an art form they are passionate about. And for artists because slowly, they might lose the support of the fan base that created their global superstardom in the first place—leaving them in the unknown territory of international climes that might not be as loyal as their Nigerian fans back home.
LOOKING BEYOND THE OBVIOUS ANSWERS
One thing is important to note; the way that Afrobeats is a cultural export is the same way that the support it was first exported to the rest of the world by Nigeria’s diaspora, a trickle effect that found its way to even obscure corners of the globe. And then it entered global consciousness.
Because of this, the way that Nigerian fans are becoming increasingly disgruntled by how they are treated is something that should be taken seriously. Those murmurings that seem like voiceless cries can be exported in the same way that Afrobeats was exported; via the diaspora.
Nigerians all over the world use Afrobeats as a way to maintain a semblance of connection to their roots, it would be ironic for them to hear the sad state of affairs back home from the same artists whose actions compound the suffering of their own countrymen. And it wouldn’t be the first time that the diaspora has proven influential in amplifying the issues back home. In the #EndSARS protests, as well as the irregularities in Nigeria’s last election, the diaspora has been crucial in bringing global attention to Nigerian issues.
The current concert culture more than anything, is a Nigerian issue. And like any other issue, no one is going to work harder at solving it than Nigerians themselves. In this case, specifically, the fans who have to endure mistreatment by the stars they look up to, over and over again. If they do not respect the voices of their fans back home, perhaps they would be more wary of the fans they have in the diaspora who are closer to establishment and industry figures that could make or break an artist’s international career.
If all else fails, Nigerian fans do have a final card up their sleeve which is to boycott the music shows entirely till they become better handled, better able to ensure that fans get the respect they deserve, get their money’s worth from the shows that they attend. Yet, with all that Nigerian fans have seen, no artist has been boycotted en masse by their fans for how they treated them.
What will be the culmination of this saga in the Nigerian music festival scene? Will it evolve—by force or by sheer effort on the part of the fans—or will Nigerian fans continue to tolerate the situation as it is? Perhaps this year’s shows will give us a clear picture of the answer to these questions⎈
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