Quick question: Can Fuji act Saidi Osupa earn a Grammy?
Somewhat improbable, many respondents may say.
But no matter the responses it draws, the above question remains an intriguing one worthy of introspection especially if we consider the awe in which Nigerians hold everything brewed outside of our shores.
For the Nigerian music creative, the Grammys are a never-disappearing obsession. While every contemporary Nigerian artiste covets the award and the international recognition it brings forth, no artiste of note has been bold enough to express such obsession. It could be argued that many perhaps did, maybe in the safety of their bedrooms.
The enthusiasm that came with the boom of Nigerian pop in the last decade has seen many Nigerians appropriate the role of the Grammys Awards’ Committee by pronouncing their favourite artistes–––from 2face to Wizkid through Asa, all outstanding acts–––winners. Only that such pronouncements have never left the shores of Surulere and Festac Town and Ikeja.
Yet no one, no performing artiste, took the Grammy obsession to the studio with the intent of vomiting same into the microphone. No one–––er, except 9ice.
“Categorically I am the best mentally…” he sings in his 2Face-assisted ‘Street Credibility’, released off his ‘Gongo Aso’ album. On the surface, the pronouncement seemed propelled by a rather curious mixture of hubris and the all-conquering multipurpose Nigerian faith. But a few lines afterwards, it drifts away from uncertainty: “Don’t doubt me I go bring home Grammy,” he says, quite confidently, perhaps for clarity. That was circa 2008, when he was effectively on the A-list.
Today, a decade later, it is unclear if 9ice’s Grammys’ dream is still alive and valid. With a withering career that sees him struggling around the edge of obscurity, 9ice might have forgotten he once made a promise to his now disappearing fans. But then it is equally doubtful if, in the minds of the old fans too, the artiste and his promise haven’t disappeared.
Yet the probability remains that 9ice’s misfortune notwithstanding, the Nigerian artiste still has ‘one corner’ of his eyes on the Grammys. Ditto their fans.
In the Fuji genre, very few people have made public declarations hinting at this sentiment like Saidi Osupa’s. The argument, which indeed is quite difficult to brush aside, is that in contemporary Fuji circle, no one can compete with this musical god for the big prize. (Like his pop counterpart, the artiste goes around with practiced humility, and safely distances himself from the claim of his fans, even if it is an echo of his own thoughts too).
If indeed the Grammys were a recognition of excellence, then Osupa has history on his side. Femi Kuti and King Sunny Ade, both two Nigerian-based artistes who have had mentions in the Grammys are excellent artistes in their various genres.
Again, if the awards had soft spot for artistes who have done outstandingly well in the elevation of their indigenous culture through their arts, as it appears with the Best Traditional World Music (sub-)Category created in 2004, Osupa stands out among his contemporaries. The artiste, frankly, is one excellent lyricist and encyclopedic Yoruba folklorist in whose hands the Yoruba culture and language have undergone beautiful elevation.
But there’s a caveat: Osupa may never earn a Grammy–––as grandiose as that ambition sounds in the first place. The Grammys, it appears, favour sound over ‘deep lyrics’, which is Osupa’s major strength. From Kuti to Sunny Ade to Sikiru Adepoju, there is a pattern that speaks to a subtle obsession with sound, apart from the artistes’ own impressive feats in pushing their art beyond their immediate geography.
I have always argued that even though Osupa’s brilliance isn’t debatable in the realm of lyrics–––deep, thoughtful, philosophical lyrics–––he never shows up when the discourse swings toward sound. If there is any Fuji artiste whose experimentation with sound may attract world attention, that artiste is Wasiu Ayinde Marshal. Yet KWAM 1, in spite of his feats and clout and commendable innovations, hasn’t had a mention in the Grammys.
(The Grammys are not devoid of its own politics and It would be appropriate to put this in the context of the visibility many who had their works recognized enjoyed because they plied their trade abroad. From Kevin Olusola through Sade Adu to Seal and ultimately Sikiru Adepoju, the evidences seem incontrovertible. And due to the provincial nature of a number of indigenous Fuji artistes, it is doubtful if their art–––however excellent it appears–––would ever get noticed by a seemingly aloof Grammys Committee).
Now to bring it back home, and perhaps place the discourse on a (more) realistic pedestal, Saidi Osupa has not earned much recognition and awards outside of his immediate Fuji circle, at least not in the manner you’d expect of an artiste with his kind of talent. And this failure, curious as it seems, emanates not from the ‘crime’ that comes with the now clichéd accusation that his brand of Fuji is ‘too deep’, or, as many contemporary Fuji buffs are wont to say, ‘esoteric’. Neither is this a verdict on the quality of his art.
For decades, Osupa’s closest rival, Wasiu Alabi Pasuma, has done pretty well with his incursion into the mainstream of pop. He’s featured in pop hits more than ALL Fuji artistes combined; showed up in Celebrity Face2; won the AMEN awards in its heyday; gotten invites to almost all major pop festivals around. Yet when their outputs are placed on the slaughter slab, Osupa is by far a more talented songwriter/lyricist.
But because Alabi Pasuma is a better performer, and ultimately a show-man, he gets the recognition and visibility and, of course, enjoys the attention of the mainstream Nigerian audience while Osupa gets praised for his genius by housewives and artisans and the less lousy ‘thinking’ segment of the Fuji audience.
Curiously, with a Polytechnic certificate obtained long before he picked up the microphone, Osupa remains one of the few acts who came into the industry armed with a degree–––among whom Adewale Ayuba stands out. The default thinking, at least among Nigerians, is that education, nay a (university/Polytechnic) degree, provides the owner with an advantage in any enterprise. In the case of Osupa’s career, the validity of that assertion is shaky.
More important is the evident truth that despite his degree, Osupa lacks the phoney, affectedly dramatic ‘funki-ness’ of Pasuma; the artless gymnastics of an Abass Obesere; the (media-)savvy attitude and rich network of a Wasiu Ayinde (K1 de Ultimate); and the practised, even if theatric, sophistication of an Adewale Ayuba. Now with all of these, coupled with a rather poor, annoyingly provincial PR and media management team, the awards and endorsement deals may not come as they should.
To be sure, Saidi’s Fuji sound is unique, just as his wisdom-laden lyrics are often well scripted; and so they carry with them the baggage of value, of depth, and so of complexity–––and because they are naturally steeped in culture and require some level of thinking to enjoy, they become susceptible to being neglected at best, and scorned at worst, by the average millennial whose only preoccupation is dance and, well, dance.
It is therefore safe to aver that because most corporate communication messages today are directed at the semi-thinking, dance-obsessed, party-loving millennials, the genesis of Osupa’s frustration might not be puzzling.
But in all, there is a small consolation: the road to the party, often, isn’t same as the path that leads to the pantheon. And inside the pantheon of Fuji, there are very few gods. Not a few Fuji buffs, including his worst traducers, would easily agree that Saidi Osupa, has earned a (special) spot for himself amongst these gods.
And this feat, this attainment of immortality, quite interestingly, is the essence of art, the ultimate.