Nigeria’s Greatest Tourist Asset

Music is one of Nigeria’s chief tourist and economic assets.

Perhaps, the apotheosis of recognition of Nigerian creative expression in the global space in more recent times was the Grammy honours accorded to two Nigerian musicians, Burna Boy and Big Wiz (otherwise better known as Wizkid) in March, this year, both in the categories of Best World Music album and the Best Music video.

These awards appear as the culmination of the efforts of numerous artists from the country, whose various musical forms, idioms, and styles, have widely come to be acknowledged as touchstones of excellence, as they define standards, and set the artistic pace for a growing world community – whether in the genius of their productions, messages or unique add-ons, like dance accompaniments.

Prior to these monumental attainments of Burna Boy and Big Wiz, Nigerian music had been no new farer to global recognition or acknowledgment of its distinction, as evident in a long tradition of modern artistry – ranging, in no particular order, from Fela Anikulapo-Kuti to Haruna Ishola, Sonny Okosuns, William Onyeabor, Oliver de Coque, the Lijadu Sisters, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, Orlando Julius Ekemode, and I.K. Dairo – which has been as remarkable in its diversity as in the virtuosity of the individual talents.

Further to these have equally been the industry and innovativeness of King Sunny Ade, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebey, Ebenezer Obey, Prince Nico Mbarga, Majek Fashek, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall, Femi Kuti, among others. And closer to the present times, there have been 2Face, Nneka, Asa, D’Banj, PSquare, Banky W, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade; and, of course, Phyno, Timaya, Davido, Harry Song, and Sound Sultan (may the Almighty rest his soul), etc., who have all added an essentially Nigerian colour and spirit to the global sonic landscape.

While Nigerian tourism is about the allure of the palpable forms of the country’s experience, its people, cultures, material and mental artefacts, which draw those from far and near to partake in its charm and attraction, what has apparently made this pull stronger has been the huge expressions of Nigerian creativity – from music to film, and others, which made the Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, once remark that the creative industry is the country’s major tourist asset.

This is no mere academic designation, as the numbers are there to bear witness to the massive eruption of the creative industry and its patronage from across the world, with music – in its entire gamut, including shows, festivals and events – accounting for revenues in excess of N300 billion annually. Equally, filmmaking draws in about N140 billion every year; as comedy, dance and the performing constitute a N17 billion industry, spawning numerous events across the country all year round.

In creating an indelible mark on the moment, globally, Burna Boy and Big Wiz have become the newer redoubtable faces of a tradition defined by the profusion of abilities, and which had witnessed earlier canonising efforts, such as in the 1991 Grammy won by Babatunde Olatunji in the Best World Music category, for a collaboration on the Planet Drum album. And later on, the 2009 Grammy award to Sikiru Adepoju – alongside a medley of other artists – for the Global Drum Project as the Best Contemporary World Music Album.

In a resolve to shatter as many ceilings as possible, Burna Boy is the first Nigerian to be nominated back-to-back in Grammys, from 2019 to 2020 when he eventually won, even though Femi Kuti had been nominated at least four times prior to these feats.

There are crosscutting features of the sound of many of the newer generation Nigerian artistes, which is both distinct and a tad generic, sometimes inappropriately lumped under the rubric of Afrobeats – at times as derivate and inflection of the unique form fashioned out by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti – yet also a cross-mix and composite of the RnB, blues, pop and rap music genres. Particularly, for an artist Burna boy, his peculiar medley is described as Afro-fusion, comprising echoes of the classic Afrobeat sound, braided into something different with touches of reggae, dancehall, and RnB.

One of the great architects of the new Afro sound is Michael Collins Ajereh, widely known as Don Jazzy, whose productions have been described as the hallmark of the efforts of a whole generation of music producers, once attaining a remarkably high note in the signature work – ‘Oliver Twist’, performed by D’Banj – which has headlined major musical fests to universal acclaim.

The implication of the Grammys for Nigerian music – extending to our tourism – is how it – in its protean forms – has become canonised as a compact of creative and cultural expressions. This is more so evident in the prestige and variety of world stages that our artistes are performing on, the quality of collaborations they are having, as attested to in those with acts of great transnational reckoning – from Snoop Dog to Beyoncé, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Youssou Ndour, Mafikizolo, and Diamond Platnumz, etc. – and the number of awards that our artists are garnering globally.

Presently leading the winning pack is Big Wiz, who has won 65 awards, and is considered as the “most awarded African artist in the BET history”, garnering the Best International Act laurels in 2012 and 2017. He is followed by Burna Boy, with 36 awards. Davido ties with D’banj in having collected 29 awards each, and Olamide has received 22 of these honours. 2Baba has 21 awards, while Tiwa Savage has 20; Falz, Patoranking, and Simisola have been awarded 12 times each.

Further to these, many of our prominent artistes, including Big Wiz, Burna Boy, Davido and Tiwa Savage have sold out concerts and played in international venues such as the 02 Arena, the Royal Albert Hall, and Brixton Academy in the U.K; the Apollo Theater in New York; Skyway Theater in Minneapolis; Le Trianon in Paris, etc. Also, a number of them have performed in major music events, including the Wireless Festival, Coachella, and Summer Jam, among others.

Music as a tourist asset certainly inspires the return physical visits of many to Nigeria, to feel the gritty yet enthralling reality of the messages encapsulated in the ‘Afro’ sound – with noteworthy examples in festivals such as Felabration, the Lagos Jazz Festival, etc., besides the ordinary pleasure-seeking visits. Still, at this juncture in a world negotiating its way around pandemics and public health concerns, touring Nigeria’s musical assets – and the country that motivates this – has taken advantage of the digital access mode, with humongous numbers attendant upon this.

Some of the figures compiled by the Mp3bullet in this regard show the appeal of a number of the most internationally sought after Nigerian artists, through data on the digital access of their works. Big Wiz is the most-streamed Nigerian artist on the Pandora platform, with a lifetime number of 102.5 million streams till date; followed by Davido, with 99 million streams. Mr Eazi has 68 million streams; Burna Boy, 35.5 million; and Yemi Alade, 18 million streams.

In terms of YouTube video streaming, Davido has the highest number of subscribers, at 2.38 million, and a total of 847 million views, whereas Burna Boy has 1.83 million subscribers and has garnered 836 million views. Tekno is noted as having 1.72 million subscribers and a total of 718 million views; Big Wiz, 1.69 million subscribers and 733 million views, and P-Square with 1.61 million subscribers and 896 million views.

While the Spotify streaming service claims that as at August 4 when the numbers were last crunched, Big Wiz had gained 2.58 million plays; Burna Boy, 2.19 million; Davido, 631,900 plays; Mr Eazi, 607,000; Tems, 543,600, on the level of the global Digital Artist Ranking, Big Wiz as number 114 in the rating, is the only African artiste in the top 300. He is trailed by Burna Boy at number 349 on the Ranking, Davido at number 451, and Omah Lay at number 923.

It is without doubt that the world is witnessing an explosion of Nigerian creative energies and forms, from music to the visual and other forms of performance – evident in the sheer prolificacy and continuous expansion of the music industry, Nollywood, alongside other dramatic creations, including comedy skits, etc., which are evolving with copious verve across the legacy and online platforms.

The huge accolades that our creative industry is drawing makes Nigeria a destination of choice, first, in the mind (as our talents have a very large global mindshare), and then one which our negotiations around adjusted living – attendant upon the COVID-19 pandemic – with further vaccinations and entrenchment of safety measures would soon make a physical reality.

Hence, the huge uptake of our music and creative arts speak to the enormous possibilities of the growth of inbound tourism in Nigeria, in the near future, hitched to the public and private sector rally to grow our local music festivals, as worthy additions and successors to the Calabar Carnival, Gidi Culture Festival, Nupe Day Festival, and Rhythm Unplugged, among a plethora of others. The growth of these – coupled with the development of other music industry products – and their ripple effects, spanning diverse levels of the entertainment industry, the hotels and hospitality sector, aviation, etc. – alongside the soaring world of digital entrepreneurship – confirm the apt observation of music as being one of Nigeria’s greatest tourist and economic assets.

Coker is the Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation

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