Monday, March 17, 2008

.... That We May Have The Good Life ....

This is further to the post on GNaija's blog and my comments thereon.

Most of our (grand)parents have/had lived through two great wars - WW2 and the Civil War - and were witnesses to the attendant deprivations. They did not want their children to go through same. They were witnesses to the struggle for independence and the eventual attainment of that goal.

After independence, the challenge of our (grand)parents was to pass on a high quality of life to their children. A qualify of life most of them never had but they knew was possible. If only they could raise their children to know what the white man knew. Building this new society called for more doctors, more lawyers, more engineers.

So they struggled to give their children an education to achieve their goals. So our parents became the doctors, the lawyers, the administrators and shortly after, they too became parents.

It is not in question if our parents had artistic talents. A generation that produced Soyinka, Achebe, Fela, Onabrakpeya and Ogunde could not but have had it. But for every Soyinka there must have been at least a thousand others good writers who became engineers or doctors. For every Achebe, would have been at least a thousand businessmen with fine painting skills. And Fela could have become just another manager in UAC.

There were a lot of talents but they had to survive first. And survival meant getting a degree in medicine, engineering or whatnot. Getting a 'good' job and then working hard at providing the good life for your family.

It is true that we do not have the same challenges as they had. Our generation can afford to pursue our artistic (and otherwise) dreams because they have provided for us. They had cleared the bush for us to plant.

As I had said, we will be ungrateful if we do not recognize their sacrifices for us. They sacrificed their dreams - and happiness - that we might have the good life. That we might have the luxury of dreams. That we might nurture our talents and become all that we can be.

You know, every time I hear Tuface sing, I remember Felix Lebarty of the 'Am Your Lover Boy, Lover Boy, Boy-y-y, Am Your Boyfriend' fame. He was one of the few Nigerian acts to sell a million records and go platinum. Last I heard, he was selling cars.

Asa reminds me of Martha Ulaeto. Martha who? you'd probably ask. She was an artiste in the 80s and sang ballads back then. She actually had a song - 'African Life' back then. God knows where she's at now. (New and correct information: The song was 'Africa Rise' and there's more info on Martha here. Also, listen to the song there too. Go there people, I recommend it. Many thanx to Comb&Razor!)

And there was Prince Nico Mbarga. Remember 'Sweet Mother, I no go forget you ...'. Probably still the highest selling Nigerian act ever. Last we heard, he died on an okada in Calabar.


ablackjamesbond said...

Definitely a fresh perspective for me. Never really saw what they did in this light. Thank you.

As for Felix and co...whats happening to them goes to underly the fact that nothing lasts forever.

When its your time, make the most of it.

Naapali said...

NIMMO I am going to humbly agree and disagree with you.

I agree with the premise within a strictly Nigerian historic context as you describe it. I fear though that something else is at play even within the narrow confines of our recent history. The something else is that tendency of the recent convert to demonstrate a fervor and zeal for what is new and disgust and disdain for what was a part of the old life. In embracing our colonial history we discarded everything that was not regarded worthy or of consequence. Our colonial masters wanted engineers and doctors and civil servants to build the roads and rails to move the goods, to keep the natives healthy enough to make the goods, and civil servants to ensure the goods and natives were accounted for. Their rationale for not promoting the arts is understandable. What is not understandable is our residual inability to value the arts.

To the other part of my disagreement, I read Guerreiranigeriana's post as reaching beyond the Nigerian experience in Nigeria, to that of a generation of people growing across various parts of the world. I am too old to think this movement is new as I am frequently reminded of Harry Truman's statement "the only thing new is the history we don't know". However, it is refreshing to think that a generation of people from many different backgrounds, in increasing numbers are choosing to break step from the marching hordes and dance to their own rhythms.

Comb & Razor said...

how odd is it that you made this post on the very same day that I made this post?

ablackjamesbond said...

@ Naapali...'Their rationale for not promoting the arts is understandable'

I was under the impression that the colonial masters promoted the arts and not the sciences and they did that because their intention was not to develop problem solving skills which the sciences would have facilitated.

If not, how would u explain the fact that the 1st university in Nigeria, UI, had more art courses than sciences.


N.I.M.M.O., I actually made it into the top 5 this week. Interesting, lol! Okay off to read


N.I.M.M.O said...

@Black007: I think that lesson still remains valid even for those in the spotlight now. Thx.
@Naapali: Nna, we agree even when we seem to disagree.
1. I realized GNaija was talking more in the US context but I believed the same thing was happening here and everywhere and discussed it as such. And its happening in all the arts, not just music.
2. Who really wanted the engineers, doctors and others? I think it was our grandparents. You see most of them never saw white artists, musicians etc. Rather they saw white doctors, lawyers and administrators and that was what they aspired to be. Also, the Africans felt the power of the empire lay with these professionals.

I was actually going to follow that line of thought but felt it would have made the whole post too long and thus deleted most of it.

Come to think of it though, I also agree with your disagreement. Err... Am I allowed to disagree with myself? LOL. Many thanx.

@C&R: Brother-mine, where have you been all my life?! I went straight to your blog and have been reading -and listening - all day long. I heard some songs today, I actually shed tears. Such were the memories. Bros, you are a treasure. Many thanx for stopping by.
@Black007: Insightful. And this probably explains why the arts were looked down upon by our parents. As you pointed out, the colonialists setup colleges and universities for us to study art subjects such as Classics, Latin and the likes probably because they wanted to continue to be the doctors, lawyers and administrators.

Our parents wanted their children to know what the white man knew and do what the white man did. I guess that was the reason for the preferences for the sciences then.

Besides, they had so much to prove . Thanx again for your comments.

Nine said...

You are right there.My perspective is that art is a strictly secondary pursuit.Survival first.The communities from which our fathers and grandfathers came from had artistes too;musicians,actors,masqueraders.But these were things they did in ADDITION to farming/trading.The palm wine tapper had a farm.So did the flute player.Any income they received from their other activities were simply a bonus,not their raison d'etre.

The logic was simple:arts are only in demand in times of prosperity.Ask a hungry man to go to a 2face concert and see what his reaction is.Our parents were simply playing it safe by trying to shunt us into professions that would always be in demand.Add in the fact that the lifestyles of many artistes was/is not "respectable" and there was no reason for them to want any of their kids to become a novelist(poor),musician(poor+/-loose morals),actor(same reason),or poet(what?).Let's not even touch on painters and sculptors,where the additional Nigerian prejudice against jobs that involve manual labour comes into play.That also extended to sports,though not as much these days,thanks to the pro footballers making money in Europe.

guerreiranigeriana said...

*throws her hands in the air* happy you elaborated!!!! may always do so with my posts...loved the dialogue that has ensued here, as i have learned...i need to read some more and talk to some more people so i can add to the discussion between you and naapali (although you did agree with him)...

@nine: i find your statement that the arts are in demand only in times of prosperity to be false...i think it may be a misconception, rather than false, excuse me...the arts serve as sources of has been music that has sustained me when i was very sad, jobless and in much despair...maybe i couldn't go buy it, but when i heard it, how it moved me, stirred me to action-a plan to make money even...the ability to dance (express myself through movement of my body) has also served to inspire myself and others;)...reading good books educated me and fed my dreams (careerwise and otherwise)...i think you get the point so i'll stop here...i think the arts inspire don't have to attend a concert to hear music, nor be rich to see a painting or sculpture or read a book...storytellers of old (oral tradition) were revered for their artistic manipulation of an ageless story...blah, blah, blah...all that to say that art is in demand always or rather it is needed always as a source of inspiration, beauty, expression of love, peace, justice, an unbroken spirit and on and on...

...again, thanks for writing this n.i.m.m.o....i have some things to go think about...and it is a more sympathetic, grateful and probably more realistic take than mine was...our grandparents and parents would smile and thank you for not allowing us to forget the sacrifices they did make...even if as part of a denial of self/culture-probably the biggest sacrifice of all...

Nine said...

I think you are missing my point.None of the elder generation that I'm acquainted with deny the beauty of art,they just don't see it as a reliable or indeed desirable source of INCOME.

You make a point about listening to music,reading books et cetera when you couldn't pay for it.I'm not disputing that,but how does the artiste make a living if his target audience cannot afford to pay for his WORK?You cannot expect a responsible parent to put concert tickets ahead of food for his children.Nor can you expect an artiste to do professional work to no return.

It takes a professional writer at least three months to write a first draft of a 200+ page book.Some take less,most take considerably more.Add editing and publisher scheduling and you end up with between one and three years between books.So each book has to make enough money to pay for the author's expenses for that time.That includes food,rent,utilities,transport clothes and medical bills.Oh,and there has to be money for research for his work,entertainment,and something left over for saving for old age.Let's not even go into taxes.See the problem?

That's just for a professional writer who is a bachelor.Give him a family with two kids and retired parents and see how much worse the picture gets.Add the fact that a book may get a printing of between 20000-30000 for a new author and the economic picture becomes clearer.

I use the writer example because I'm most familiar with it but the same applies to musicians who usually take between two and three years per album release.Painters?It took 16 yrs to paint the Sistine Chapel's roof.Sculptors?Think how much time it must take to first produce,then sell a statue.Dancers?Can you take a guess at how long it takes to produce prepare a popular dance performance,and then prepare for one?E no easy o.

Added to the difficulties of producing an original work is the element of risk.If your audience does not find it appealing,they will not pay for it and all that work might as well have been wasted.And in an economic crunch,one of the first things people cut back on is spending on entertainment.Look at the US today;current polls indicate that up to 75% of people have cut back on spending for entertainment,compared to 30% on food.When the amount of money available to spend on art/entertainment shrinks but the number of artworks remain the same,someone is going to lose out.

It's even worse because people with less money are less likely to take a risk on new novels/music/movies,preferring to stick to proven artistes whose work they already know they like this squeezes even further new artistes,who may be potentially better but just don't have the polish or experience in their field to compete.

Most artistes suffer a lot before they manage to break into their fields.Actress Jennifer Aniston (of Friends) used to be a waitress to pay the bills.Author JK Rowley(Harry Potter) was unemployed.Musician Rob Thomas(Matchbox Twenty)used to sleep on park benches.These are the people who hit it big.For every one like them,there are thousands who labour in obscurity,holding on to low paying jobs while hoping for their big break.For most of them it never comes.

Few of the older generation may have put it this way.Their upbringing was considerably more authoritarian than ours and they often don't think to explain themselves properly.But their primary motivation was to ensure that their kids had solid marketable skills to make a living and do well in life.Was their assessment wrong?No.Was it their decision to make?Probably not.Do I blame them?No.They sometimes,okay often,went way over the line though.

Basically,the point I'm trying to make is that trying to make a living from art is a high stakes,low probability gamble.And most parents disapprove of gambling:).

guerreiranigeriana said...

@ nine: i understood your point...i was only responding to that specific sentence...i agree with you wholeheartedly, it was just that particular statement that rubbed me, funny or maybe displeasingly:)...i was concerned with addressing the less obvious/less tangible demand for art and felt your statement was only valid for the economic/more tangible 'demand'...

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