22 March 2019

Nigeria: Heroes and Villains - Nobody in Nigerian Music Is a Saint

Ubi Franklin and Iyanya have shared a story that is shocking to Nigeria. Over the past two weeks, the former business partners, have had a number of revelations about what crashed their business partnership at their record label - Made Men Music Group (MMMG).

MMMG was once at the zenith of the music industry power structure. They had Iyanya who was a sublime talent, picking up the biggest cheques, and choking the charts with a string of hits. Tekno was the boy wonder who fulfilled early potential by evolving into a superstar. Today, they still do have a name. But what is left of it has been dragged in the mud. Ubi Franklin and Iyanya went into business with trust as their bond. Today, they are in the news, sharing dark stories of betrayal and a breach of trust.

And while many of you might have come across the stories and made up your minds about who the heroes and villains are, it's never that simple when you operate in the music industry. The music industry only has heroes and villains. Often, they are the same person.

It all comes down to the structure of the industry; the Nigerian music industry is fragmented and cephalous, with very few regulators. Big businesses are done daily, money changes hands every second. When people come together to operate in an ecosystem that lacks checks and balances, it leaves room for the true nature of humanity to be revealed. Much of it is basal and dark. People are desperate and hungry in the music industry. The desperation diminishes a person's character, and hunger pushes them over the edge. And when you strip a man of his humanity, they become primitive hunters, looking for prey to feed on. They prey on the weak, the noble, the kind, the meek, the good, the gentle, and their recurrent favourite - the vulnerable.

And while that is their most dominant narrative in the industry, it doesn't cover their full story. There are almost no complete villains. Every dark player has a speck of light in them. That light comes out periodically to alter the linear direction of their actions. A man who scammed a funded artist of N5 million, might see his neighbour who has a talented son. He will assist by helping the guy structure his/her career and give them a good platform to kick off. The artist he scammed will brand him the villain, while the little fry he pulled up, will forever be indebted. One person. One lover, one hater. Two perspectives. Hero and Villain in one.

This is prevalent in the industry as a "normal level." That's why in every controversy involving two people from the music industry, the obvious villain would have pockets of support. It doesn't mean he is innocent of the charge or lacks the wickedness that has become public. What it means is that although this person is fallible, and has behaved beyond the acceptable limits of human decency, they have also mixed some of that bad with some good.

That's why a public villain can still operate within the game and go on to keep achieving things. Ubi is the villain of Iyanya's story. But he will still find willing collaborators in the game who believe that he can push some money into their pocket. Those people will work with him. They will have extended meetings, where they will shift awkwardly, and avoid the stories of his underhand business tactics. It will be the biggest elephant in the room, but that elephant will be lonely from no one addressing it. Periodically, he shares money on Instagram, via giveaways, and quotes the scriptural passages as captions to his shared photos on social media. For many people, that's enough light to blind them from the darkness. And their views are valid.

The music industry in Nigeria is designed to bring out the best and worst of humanity. Angels and demons walk amongst people, and most times, they are the same person.

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