Beijing — On April 27, legendary African artiste, Innocent Idibia, popularly known by his fans across the continent as '2Face', is scheduled to perform live on stage at Chocolate Club in Beijing's Chaoyang District.
2Face, who rose to continental fame in the early 2000s for his 'African Queen' hit, is, arguably, Nigeria's biggest living music export to the world. But, even for him, China is new territory.
While Nigerian music has captured the attention of audiences worldwide, the Asian market remains virgin land. In China, the biggest barrier appears to be the language.
"Not many people are familiar with African artistes here," Mr. Peter Eze, the CEO of Peterson Entertainment, the promotion company bringing 2Face to Beijing, told THISDAY. "So, because they are not known, the market for these artistes is not as big as the United States or the UK."
And since the artistes, who are in heavy demand in other parts of the world, do not lower their hefty appearance fees to cater to a largely lukewarm market, it is very difficult for promotion companies to justify the cost of flying them to the East for live performances. "It is not easy," Eze said.
Why, then, has he led his company to go against the industry's economics? Eze, who spoke to THISDAY via a phone call, said the idea was borne out of the sore need to burnish and project Nigeria's image in a positive light.
"I love Nigeria like I love my family," Eze said, "and despite the fact that when you come abroad, you witness the shame of being a Nigerian, we should not wait for our reputation to be entirely destroyed. There are now a lot of young Asians who do not know about Nigeria and we need to introduce ourselves so that other people will not do it for us."
Eze's 'image reputation' call is not misplaced. This reporter, who has been in Beijing for several weeks, has witnessed the kind of 'shame' Eze describes; the kind that involves people reaching for their pockets immediately you announce yourself as a Nigerian. Even among Africans living in the city, the average Nigerian has a reputation for being a swindler, an intelligent thief.
In March, this reporter gathered that several Nigerian students who had come to China for study had been apprehended for doing drugs and/or engaging in financial theft.
In February, Nigerian Consul-General in Guangzhou, a trading city in China, Wale Oloko, told journalists in Lagos that over 600 Nigerians were currently in Chinese prisons. But the number was only for one province, Guandong. China has, at least, 34 provinces.
But it is easy to focus on the negative without realising how much positive goodwill the country can harness to its advantage, Eze argues. "People in Nigeria don't know how far our music and movies have gone," he said. "And we need to tap into these cultural resources to promote ourselves. Nations who focus on cultural heritage have progressed in all walks of life. If you look at countries like China and the United States, their cultural heritage provided the basis for economic development. And Nigeria is also a country blessed with a rich cultural heritage. And one of the ways we can promote it is by involving the individuals that have distinguished themselves in different areas of our popular culture."
It is true that Nigerian music has spread across the world like a virus. It is played in nightclubs across Africa, Europe, the Americas and even in Asia. This reporter, too, has heard it played in Beijing nightclubs. And it is also true that 2Face is one of the major artistes who have driven this rhythm epidemic. But, will it work?
Lagos-based music critic and essayist, Dami Ajayi, who described 2Face as a veteran, told THISDAY he is unsure how much effect this one-off event will have on the country's image.
But Eze is upbeat. For him, it's a start and hopes things spiral from here. "The process for getting 2face down was very difficult," he said. "It was not easy. It is normal for people to look at the result without looking at the processes. "We are happy because it is happening. We are trying to put the good things about Nigeria in the face of other people."