Seun Kuti’s ‘Black Times’: Ignored at home, celebrated abroad
If the Grammys consider the Black Times as one of the best albums out of the continent in the past year, – an album that features the likes of international stars likes Yasiim Bey, Grammy winning R&B musician, jazz pianist and producer Robert Glasper and multi Grammy award winner Carlos Santana – how come the media and music circle back home make it seem so much like an anonymous project? Outside a few blogs that mentioned it in its ‘Album of the year’ lists, it was not even considered for any of the notable awards. While undoubtedly there is a cloud that surrounds his surname with Fela’s music only occasionally remembered during a time of crisis or rebellion, the Black Times album is not all about activism as he also offers short, danceable music that will fit into any drive home playlist or music blog roundups.
Songs like ‘Bad Man Lighter’ are high-energy, party starter providing a balance to others like ‘African Dreams’ or ‘Theory of Yam and Goat.’ In an interview he had with Pulse’s Ayomide Tayo earlier in the year, Seun pointed an accusing finger at the media when asked if he felt young Nigerians are beginning to appreciate his type of music. ‘’I think if they are exposed more to music they would appreciate it… it is a matter of exposure and visibility. I think our entire media, and not only in Nigeria really, I think it is a global phenomenon that people that own and control the media and control the institutions of influence want the world to see things from their perspective. They want their narrative to dominate society. In all the media that they own, they want the things that represent them to be showcased. I just feel that people in Nigeria, young people and old people, should be exposed to as many forms of music as possible especially music that represents us and generally elevates our consciousness. We shouldn’t stay on one plane and one basic level.’’
Considerably, there is a significant amount of work required to be done on the backend these days to promote one’s project but the media have gone through a self-fulfilling cycle, where only popular songs ever get pushed, coupled with Payola still a leading factor in the order of things.
But quite unlike what they have you believe, most people’s actual listening preferences are quite different and many of us enjoy a wider variety of music than most OAPs give us credit for, especially when the song is one worthy enough for consideration by the biggest music event in the world.
The impact of Black Times
On the impact of the album since it was released, it will be unfair to restrict Seun’s success solely to his Grammy recognition. (But it very rarely gets any bigger than the Grammys)
Shortly after its release, the album debuted at the number 8 spot on the Billboard world music chart, his very first album to achieve such feat and in the past year, Seun has performed at a number of festivals and concerts across Europe, Asia and America.
In August, he was on stage at the Haldern Pop festival in Germany and the Blue Note in Tokyo, Japan, and also went on a tour of the United States performing at sold out shows. The album also helped solidify his presence in certain areas where his music had previously not penetrated confirming his place as a worthy leader well able of carrying the torch of Afrobeat to the next generation.
Music journalists in Nigeria, from the broadcast, print to online, who are supposed to be the industry tastemakers, introducing the listeners to the music they don’t usually get to hear have all failed in their responsibility to the audience. Instead of providing a neutral platform, many have chosen to behave like gatekeepers, limiting the standards of acceptable and play worthy records, focusing only on what is trending, and unconsciously playing a role in the decline of other genres.
Black Times may not in any way be close to the popular sounds that millennials tune their dials in search of regularly, that doesn’t deny the fact that this is a well polished and crafted collection of songs that finds Seun Kuti at the most mature state in his career. This is his most accomplished album to date, one solid hour of vibrant music that is built on traditional Afrobeat sound with a lot of influence from contemporary styles, an album worth celebrating.
Perhaps his outspoken nature on recent social happenings may also be a factor but that hasn’t stopped the radio from playing Davido who in the past few months has fully put on the political garb. Seun, who heads the Egypt 80, a band he took over following the death of his father, may not have created the Afrobeat sound but he has succeeded in making it unique in his own way and even when we don’t readily consider other genres outside the pop sounds, it helps if we indulge in these type of projects even if it is once in a while. One year after it was released, ‘Black Times’ provides timeless music and it is up to the Nigerian media to do better and ensure its message widens to the ears of the young listeners.
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