Who Owns The Music…Producers, Beat-Makers or Singers…?
Let’s Talk Music by:
I have deliberately chosen to describe those that are usually called ‘musicians’ in Nigeria, today, as ‘singers’ and not musicians.
Because that’s what they are.
They are, by and large, singers/song writers who perform their songs on stage. Musicians play music, so this group of artistes cannot be described as musicians.
Our current beat makers are all creating by-force music.
They live for now and reap for now. There will be nothing to their names in future in the industry. Unfortunately, the industry is largely made up of them.
But that is not what is at stake today. Apologies for the digression.
Who makes the beat of today’s music?
Is it the artiste who also, is the song writer and performer, that conceives of the beat to his/her song and approaches a beat maker to produce such beat/s?
Or is it a beat maker that gets inspired by a song or songs and weaves a beat/beats around the song?
Or do artistes just walk into studios and purchase ready made beats that suit their songs? Such beats are made either by the producers or the beat makers.
A beat maker for instance, should be able to generate rhythms and beats from the digital consoles and subsequently store same for the benefit of whichever musician, sorry, singer, desires it.
A producer, on the other hand, constantly gets out sounds and rhythms from his/her feelings, store same for whoever desires it.
Producers are not only trained musicians; they are also gifted in the art of creating music.
So, who makes the beat vis a vis the music? In the Industry today, all of those three, options, mentioned above, are at play. There is nothing wrong with any of them. However what should bother Players in the Industry, is the direction of music or beats churned out into the music space. So, the question of who makes the beat becomes pertinent.
There are few singers who also make their beats. Simi, Tekno, Terry-G, Flavour, are a few of the singers who produce their beats. Of these Tekno, Flavour, are noticeably deliberately trying to recreate highlife and igworgrigwor music of South East Nigeria. What is lacking in the effort is the professional marriage of these native beats with modern instrumentations, by way of composition. It’s easy. They just need to work hard at the gift. First step is to go take music lessons. Nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a compulsory tool in their profession, except they have made up their minds to fail. Same goes to all our “star singers”. They must go back to music.
Beat Makers are those Sound Engineers, Disc Jockeys, proficient on the consoles and able to come up with melodious and highly danceable beats. Their only asset is that they know the keyboards of the consoles like the back of their hands. But the type of beat that come out of such factories, though sweetly danceable, are very transient. They are not the type of beats to change the direction of the industry because they are not deliberately focused on any thing beyond dance and melodies. This makes the work unsustainable even to those who create them. The best you get is a repetition of tones and rhythms from sound to sound, totally not based on any pattern that could or would create an identity for both the artiste and the beat maker. That’s why the singing voice remains the only means of identifying individual artiste’s works. No particular beat pattern is identifiable to any of our musicians, sorry, Singers, who are all using beat makers as their music composers. A good majority of them fit their songs into the beats of the beat maker who largely does not share the feelings of the songs.
I haven’t mentioned the first in the group of sound makers under discourse, the producers, because sadly they are almost nonexistent.
The producers control the beat. They control the rhythms and dictate directions of music.
Fela said to me, “production is in the ears”. And he should know, being one of the best producers in the world. What that means is that you must first hear the beat in your mind’s ears. You have to play it out completely in your mind before laying it out on the consoles. If you are a musician or an artiste with this gift, it is a bonus, because you will evolve your own music and sounds distinct from everyone else’s. But this type of musician comes in short supply.
What worries me most is the fact that there is a dearth of professional independent producers in the industry. Those who weave sounds, rhythms and melodies heard only originally in their minds’ ears, into beats.
As an Independent producer, your sounds will be peculiar to only you and all works with your input will sound like you. It is your style. You don’t necessarily have to create a new genre of music except you are a genius. I am talking about creative producers, with their own particular pattern of rhythms and sounds only heard by their ears and indeed can only come from them. That indeed, is the commerciality of your music. That part of your creativity that only you can produce. The digital equipment merely enhances that. You look for the tones and sounds that best suit the sounds in your head from the digital, not the other way round like the beat makers, where the digital dictates what they want to hear.
Now look around and confirm if any beat maker you know fall in this category. Not even the famous Don Jazzy can be identified with his production beats or sounds. Without the singers from his stables and or the famous line of “Don Jazzy again”, no one will be able to say for real, which is Don Jazzys beat. Same goes to every other beat maker in the industry today.
These are no producers. Beat makers, yes. With the possible exception of Femi Kuti particularly, Seun his brother, Nneka, Bez, some of the top Juju musicians, unsung Duro Ikujenyo, there is hardly any serious producer around. I wish someone can do something about Fuji Music. The Fuji Musicians themselves are a Group of highly talented tribal percussionists hardly able to read and write music and thus totally unable to compose and redefine the beat they play beyond the fact that they have blended with each other over time.
Our current beat makers are all creating by-force music.
They live for now and reap for now. There will be nothing to their names in future in the industry. Unfortunately, the industry is largely made up of them. They are the problem of the growth in the industry. They are unable to think and dig deep into the recesses of our environment and get out the best of our rhythms.
The key words; “think deep…dig deep”. Please permit me a quote from one of my FELA Interviews back in the days when I asked him how or what inspired him to create; “…my environment…the sounds of the trees and leaves being blown by the wind, the chirping of the birds, sounds of our languages and even the movement of the bum of the ladies around me..”. He continued, “I listen a lot to our tribal rhythms and beats and to the sounds of some great jazz artistes..”
Digging deep entails listening to the masters but above all, possessing the knowledge of music so to be able to translate what is heard in your brain to musical notes. This has to be deliberate.
The problem we are grappling with in the industry today is that of mental laziness. We are faced with more swags than the Music. True, the business is called Show business which implies the business of show. However the show can only be marketable if it comes with great music. Swags without music is empty and mere drama. Many examples abound. No need to mention names. Music is hard work. Serious hard work. I watched FELA punish himself to achieve those tones that set him apart from others. He never slept at night. He was either on his keyboards or saxophone every night, from midnight to dawn, January 1 to January 1, except when he was on stage performing. Every achievement was preceded by hard work.
Thinking deep sure comes before digging deep. Let’s begin by telling ourselves that we need our producers to think deep, we need our musicians to think deep and get out the beats that should and would sure change the world beats. There is no deep thinking in the beats we are churning out today. The advantage we have in today’s music world is that our beat makers inadvertently, comes up with sounds with a lot of their inborn African melodies. It’s been difficult if not impossible for the music world to replicate these because there are no patterns to them. They come from the abilities of individual beat maker on the console garnished by the innate African feelings. No concerted efforts at composing and arranging using music notes and symbols to achieve a totally African beat.
What is lacking in the effort of Simi, Tekno, Terry G, Flavour, is the professional marriage of their native beats with modern instrumentations, by way of composition. They need to take music lessons. Nothing to be ashamed of,
We all need to think deep, to dig deep, so to evolve the new beats from Africa. The Time Is Now.
-Okwechime has written about music in top music journals for close to 40 years. He was a columnist in The Daily Times of Lagos, Nigeria, in the early 1980s and did both culture and crime reporting for This Week from the middle of the 80s. He was close to Fela Anikulapo- Kuti and was briefly a manager of Femi Kuti. He will write the column LET’S TALK MUSIC every fortnight for BookArtVille.com