Sunday, October 5, 2014

OB Vans Relayed Joe Black's Shows

Joe Black
In the 1980s Radio Plateau, now the AM arm of Peace FM Jos, alongside night clubs such as Nenman Night Club, Murtala Mohammed Way; Jockeys, Ndagi Farouk Close and the club section of Tati Hotel, Gada Biyu created a feel of New York and Hollywood in Jos. They did this playing the big music names of one of the most extraordinary music eras in world’s music history, the Disco era.

There were DJs who led this colorful era of music life in Jos.  Some were exclusively on radio, others on TV and a last group that were in the clubs, solely. There were names like Nansel Nimyel, Daniel David Dalyop, Joshua Pwajok, Uncle Steve, Steve Amok, Sholly Brown … Joe Black was however, the most conspicuous of them and was sought all over. Hence he was on TV, radio and the clubs.

When I met Joe Black at Tudun Wada suburb of Jos, I could not believe what I saw. He was younger than I thought he should be. He used to wear an Afro hairstyle. When I met him, however, he was clean-shaven and remained as slim as he was back then, still exuding the darkness that earned them the last of his stage name, “Black.”

Joe Black was born Christian Osume by an Urhobo father who was attracted to Jos by tin mining.  Joe Black went to St. Paul Primary School, Jos and then a number of secondary schools that spanned through Commonwealth College of Commerce in Jos; Gyel Commercial College (now Zang Secondary-Commercial School); Jula Daco High School and eventually St. Finbarr’s College Akoka in Lagos. St Finbarr’s had a band from which he learnt drumming. He said, however, that his major interest was Disc Jockeying. As a result he joined renowned DJs in Lagos to play in clubs. Some DJs with whom he worked in Lagos included Patrick Oke that used to present Pop around the World on radio over there in Lagos. The others included Jacob Akinwunmi Johnson (J-A-J), who still works with Rhythm FM today; Kelly Moore, Black Stone and many others.

Satisfied with his experience in Lagos, Joe Black returned to Jos to lead the definition of the extraordinary era. He presented music shows on NTA Jos, Tin City Showcase with Musa Azores on Plateau Television or PTV, for short. PTV is now the TV arm of Plateau Radio and Television Corporation (PRTV). Joe Black says Tin City Showcase was inspired by Don Cornelius’s Soul Train in the US.

 Joe Black gives credit to Fred Chagu for his rise to the spotlight. Fred Chagu was an actor who starred in Behind the Cloud television series that used to be produced at NTA Jos and transmitted across the country on Sundays.

On Radio, his most spectacular show were The Big Beats on Saturday afternoon on Radio Plateau (AM arm of PRTVC) and another, later in the day. The letter show used to happen in the clubs but was relayed through radio, using PTV Outside Broadcasting (OB) Van that was driven to the club premises.  When Joe Black left the radio, the evening show came to be hosted by Steve Amanga Amok, better known as Papa Steve Amok. This time, Steve hosted the show directly from the studio of the FM arm that was already operational at the time.

Pop musicians also define fashion and so it would have been incomplete to talk about the Disco Era without discussing fashion. The trousers where tight at the hips but opened up at the feet. They were known as pantaloons overhear and, at times, “keep Lagos clean.” The shoes were the high heel shoes with layers varying from three to four. Hairstyle was the huge ball of hair known as Afro. Joe black said girls use to weave his hair. They would then unravel it just hours before going to the night club. The aim was to make it as huge as possible. Often, hot-picks could be used to condition the hair to give a striking Afro look.

Joe Black now runs a recreation center at Tudun Wada, Jos where people pay to play games and watch European league matches.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How to Become a Music Maestro

By Yiro Abari High

Chapter One: Introduction

In keeping with tradition, this book begins with definitions of terms that are inescapable and fundamental to the understanding of the subject of the book.

Sound is a sensation that is perceived by the ear and which is caused by air vibration. If one should strike the leather surface of a musical drum, it vibrates. The vibration is relayed to the surrounding air. The air, in turn, relays the vibration further until it reaches the ear. The sensation this causes to the ear is called sound.

In chemistry, an atom is the building unit of matter. In biology, the cell is the building unit of organisms. In music, the building unit of sound is the beat. Music beats are commonly referred to as musical notes.

A regular arrangement of sound notes constitutes music. By technical implication, an irregular configuration of sound notes gives rise to noise.

Melody is the audio identity of a song. Melody is what comes out when sound notes are arranged in a distinct way. The basis of melody in a song is in the uniqueness of the time gap between successive notes, the pitch variation of the notes or both.
If one should take two sets of five notes each and of the same pitch intensity but modify the time lapse between the notes in each case, he ends up with two distinct melodies. In a second case, if he maintains the same time lapse between the notes in the two cases but modifies the pitch intensities of the notes, he ends up with another set of distinct melodies.

The time gap between the first and the last in a train of musical notes which are played repeatedly in the course of a song is known as the rhythm of the song.
Different instruments in a song could play with distinct rhythms but they are shuffled, appropriately, to produce a bigger, harmonized rhythm. Rhythm is the heartbeat of a song, the pulse of a song.

A song
A song is a piece of music with a distinct melody and serves the purpose of message delivery, relaxation, dancing, healing, etc. It can be purely vocal, instrumental or both. When a song is solely vocal, it is referred to as a-cappella.

A singer is the person whose voice is heard in a song. His action, referred to as singing, involves dragging or compressing the lines of his message, known as lyrics, to fit into the rhythm of the song that could be imaginary if the song is without instrumentation or real if there is an instrumental accompaniment.

 Music Elements
Music elements, as used in this book, refer to the different bits that make up the music. They include the vocals, lyrics and the sounds from the different instruments used in a song.

 Music Composition
The act of putting together the different elements of music to make a song is known as music composition. A music composer is one who puts together the different elements to make the song.

Buy the book here

Nigerian Radio and Music Standards

Traditionally, two forces have often set standards in the music industry. These two are the music recording companies and the radio stations.

Musicians signed to music recording companies make songs for an upcoming album, the company listens and decides which should or shouldn’t feature in the upcoming album, based on the quality of the songs.  To make sure music fans get the best, recording companies place high thresholds. Musicians, wanting to be released, would have to aim high, leading to the high standards that have been the mark of the best music acts the world has known.

The next hurdle music-in-the-making would have to cross, prior to reaching the fan, is the radio. Music distributed by music recording companies would have to sound convincing to the radio music presenters whose occupation is to bring the music to the doorsteps of the fans. Thus, radio plays a decisive role in the elevation of standards in the music industry.

Information Technology brought an overwhelming revolution that cut across all fields of life. The music industry is one field that enjoyed a jump in prosperity as result of the revolution brought about by Information Technology, cutting across music education, song writing, composition, production, distribution and usage.

Since coming, Information Technology has, through computer software, placed the power of music production in the hands of individuals rather than allowing the big recording companies to hold on to their monopoly in music production. This happened because Information Technology made music production so cheap that a kid can sell his sneakers and use the money to make a single that, if good, serves as a springboard for a successful music career.

What this means is that recording companies have lost the exclusivity of setting up standards within the music industry.  It leaves the ratio stations as the sole means by which high music standards can be sustained.

Since the arrival of Information Technology, how has the radio fared in its role of maintaining high standards within the Nigerian music industry?  Despite the proliferation of FM radio stations across the country –a situation that should be a blessing –one can say that standards have rather fallen from the clouds where they had been. Everyday, one listens to the littering of airwaves by the irritating music the radio stations play. It means that the radio is either not playing that role anymore or is not playing it adequately.

One of the reasons includes the fact that most radio presenters work on part time and are not adequately rewarded. As it has turned out, this has served as a huge escape for untalented or unprofessional musicians. Desperate aspiring musicians who would not have been able to cross the high hurdles of recording companies approach the radios directly and bribe their ways to the airwaves. The presenters have come to see this racket as the source of conventional income with which to sustain their lives. They take as much raw music as possible to earn as much money as possible.

Round pegs in square holes within the administrative hierarchies of radio stations are also responsible for the low standards. Some persons in the administrative hierarchies of radio stations are persons who either don’t see the beauty in talents or have chosen to ignore it for selfish reasons or are afraid of fighting an unhealthy bandwagon. The general believe now is that a lot of guys/ladies who find themselves anchoring music shows come by virtue of being best friends of radio authorities rather than best brains.

The excuse, wacky presenters often give to defend their jobs, is that they are doing it to help promote the local artists. An artist is only promoted when the presenter, in his own judgment, sincerely believes the music has met a reasonably acceptable standard. What we often hear are, rather, chains of deplorable mess that tend to suffocate the airwaves. A good music presenter should, first, listen to a song and decide if it is truly good enough to be aired. You don’t play what is unprofessional on radio to allow the fans to judge. The radio is not a stage within the production phase of music. It is a stage for relaying what is professional.

Sometimes a situation arises where journalist employed to edit and read news find themselves anchoring music shows. If they never had any music interest prior to this, it leads to a situation where they lack the pertinent criteria needed in deciding which music should be on air. Persons with music interest follow trends constantly and have even, at one time or the other, nursed ambitions of either becoming musicians or music presenters. Hence merely reading a field that qualifies one to be a journalist does not necessarily give you the orientation a music presenter should have.

In every village, town, city or nation, talented people are always there and are God’s gift to that village, town, city or nation. When engaged, they bring joy and pride to the radio stations they work for and the host city. Still, it is the right of such talents to occupy such positions as they are most qualified to do so. The only way such persons can be pulled from the secondary schools, polytechnics or university campuses is by auditioning. One doesn’t hear of auditioning anymore.

The obnoxious effect of this trend is that Nigerian music fans are turning towards global music channels and the cable TV is serving them adequately. What that means is that our local stations would lose out in the competition that digitization is engendering.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reggaeing Involves Sacrifice – Jah Device

Jah Device
The automated security door of Access Bank Plc, Bukuru, opened. I stepped in and made straight to the counter. I took my position behind a line of waiting customers. Suddenly a guy approached from behind. On his head was a huge mass of dreadlocks, encased in a supple woolen cap that is typical of Rastas. I knew, there and then, that I was standing next to Jay Town’s most visible reggae star of all time. He is one who definitely has a concert odyssey, in view of his verve.

Every day I listen to local radio, I hear names of ambitious young men and women hoping to make an impression in music. Many often fail to cross the river, lacking the ability to swim in the tricky waters of music-making. I dismissed Jah Device as one of those who would surely drown. He however proved me wrong. I got to know that when I watched him perform on the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA. He performed with an amazing vim, skangking and whipping the air with his huge ropes of hair. Since then, he has continued to register his imminence in my heart and the consciousness of all Nigerians.

I told him I was his fan, he responded with a show of appreciation and rhymed with me when I noted that playing reggae music involves courage and sacrifice. He did not only agree with my position but went on to narrate his own experience that led him to recognize this reality. According to the reggae singer, he is an accountant by training and a reggae music maker by practice. He says a career in accounting is a toast, given the sparkling life it guarantees those who engage in it. The sacrifice he made involved shelving this aside to pave a way for a career in reggae music. Putting his certificates in the closet is a huge opportunity cost of playing reggae music. “To do that, you need to be courageous”, he said.

“Grow your dreadlocks, don’t be afraid of the world!” are words of late Jamaican reggae icon and the first superstar from the Third World. Marley made this suggestion in his song, Rastaman Live Up from the Confrontation album. It was a respond to the way people look at you when you allow those locks to sprout. That was even in the highly liberal Western society. Thus growing dreadlocks in a conservative African setting will, no doubt, involve a greater amount of courage and sacrifice.  This is what Jah Device has had to build in his mindset in order to follow his dream.

Jay Town’s loudest reggae voice talked of how his decision was vindicated by surprises he has seen in his life. While reggae artists are found at one end of the social gamut, clergy men are found at the other extreme –they are far apart. Against this odd, however, Jah Device’s wife descends from a lineage of clergies. Not just that, she is the only lass from such a family. Despite this, her parents conceded her to a dreadlock-carrying reggae man.

Against the deviant stereotype of reggae artists, he was able to catch the attention of the Nigerian Presidency, leading to an invitation that saw him performed before the President, Goodluck Jonathan, on May 29th, 2011. To consummate the deal, he had to visit Aso Rock a couple of times … his hair locks hanging loose –dreadlocks in a state House, a “Rasta” in a state house.

Jah Device did not fail to recall the ironic conflict between reggae gospel artists and other artists who find it difficult to reconcile reggae and generic gospel music.

Against all these hurdles, the man said he has moved. It is, he says, an indication that he has not taken the wrong decision.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Paradox of Nigerian Music Producers

A Music production studio

A music producer is that guy who is skilled enough to identity music talents, their weaknesses and how to fix these weaknesses through improving on their song-writing abilities, bringing out their originality/creativity, leading to the production of chart-topping songs and bestowing that fame to the protégé. It takes a musician to be able to perform these. Hence, a music producer is a musician who has chosen to use his talents to help others with the potentials and build the industry.

The principle of equality of all mankind where the son of a miserable pauper can rise through talent and skill to become the richest man, thereby fulfilling that Shakespearean saying that some people are born great, is also demonstrated in music as it is elsewhere. Matter fact, it is demonstrated in music than in other niches of man’s struggles. This is obvious because “uptown babies don’t cry; not knowing what suffering is like” and so see it as weird taking the stage to sing and entertain others when they are the VIPs that should be entertained.

Prior to the coming of computers and software like FL Studio, Sonar …, the path of music production has been narrow, thorny, slippery, rocky and infested with venomous reptiles; not everyone with talent ends up in the spotlight. That slippery option was and is still the acoustic option which involves the assembly of a live band. You got to have two or even three guitarists, a percussionist, a drummer, a keyboardist, wind instrumentalist(s), back vocalist(s), and have enough cash to sustain them while the rehearsals last.  Because of this long trajectory, music stars in Nigeria where often a mere handful, if there were at all. In Nigeria especially, sponsors were often difficult to come by as we had an inhibitive culture, particularly in our north that saw musicians as unserious.

Technology changes the way we do things by presenting easier and affordable options. Thus the coming of computers and accompanying software gave talented men and women that warm option.

Music software is a masterpiece, a blend of all the components of live music production. Before software, live music bands were unavoidable. Initially, there were fears that software will never serve as replacements to bands; the sounds they produced were nowhere close to the sounds of live music instrumentation. However, later and superior versions came. They rendered their previous versions as ancestors, equaling and perhaps exceeding live instrumentation in quality and again reminding us of the gorgeous face of technology: evolution. Live instrumentations are, these days, used only by many, for live-shows or by those guys with the strength to trudge through their difficult paths.

Rather than a band of many people, all that is required now is a dude that is skilled at using the music software. That dude is the music producer. You write a song, find a melody, create the plain song, approach the producer and sing the song to his hearing.  He listens and develops an instrumentation that rhymes with the song, with the ultimate aim of appealing to the fan that is expected to pay for the music and put cash into the pocket of the artist, the producer and all others along the line, from the studio to the fan.

As the northern saying goes, “the well makes water available but the drawing bucket denies the thirsty man.” Rather than solutions, a lot of “music producers” in Nigeria have become the stumbling blocks. Since the exclusion of music as a course of study in most schools in Nigeria has become the norm rather than the exception, students leave school without basic knowledge of what good music making entails. Thus aspiring music artists approach producers without basic knowledge of benevolent parameters such as song-writing abilities, significance of melody, cultural reflection in music, how to professionally fuse music from different cultures to create acceptable hybrids. This is where the producers come in and if they fail to do the right thing, they become the problem rather than the solution.

Sadly not all “producers” know these swingers. Such producers have worked for many years for many aspiring men and women without pulling any of them from obscurity to popularity and crediting their bank accounts with millions. Since the clientele are wide, such producers are always in a rush to attend to as much customers as possible – the more artists they produce, the more money they make. It is know however, that speed kills.

Another way producers can kill dreams is by insisting on how your song should sound even when you same with an idea of how your song should be. Some of the best songs are revealed in dreams. Imagine a scenario where a song, the lyrics, melody and instrumentation are revealed to you in a dream (by God) and a producer insists that you must abandon this obvious fact that the song is already made to embrace what he has to offer. He is doing this not because he truly believes in the possibility of success for what he is offering, but because he has to be seen to be the boss and in control of all that goes on in the studio. This is a clear scenario of the abandonment of the principle of the game to embrace politics. A guy like this is not music producer; he feels the influence of politics more than he does for music influences.

What is certain is that the people who approach a producer are not completely ignorant. It is just that they are not sure of a few things. Thus a producer is supposed to help them in areas where they truly need help. Issues of variance such as these are the result of altercations often recorded in music studios. An artist comes out of the studio with a swollen face rather than a chart-topping single.

Good music producers appreciate the beauty of the talent of others and what it can bring. If an artist comes up with 80% of what is required, a good music producer should be happy to complement this by contribution the remaining 20%. A good music producer should not just be there to make a living but also to help build the industry through ensuring that a good knowledge of the profession spreads across, rather than wanting to reserve all the knowledge to himself.

Artists like D’banj, 2face, P-SQuare and the others, by their successes, have proven the potential of the industry to create millionaires from the deepest valley of penury. A lot of producers, by their selfish, deceitful or incompetent disposition inhibit the growth of the industry. Any folk that personifies these is an enemy of the industry and should be treated as such.