Sunday, February 21, 2010

Nigerian Christian Gospel Music and the Discourse of Discontent


Obododimma Oha

Contemporary Christian gospel music in Nigeria may annoy many people who have respect for originality and creativity with its tendency to recycle earlier songs played by other well-known Christian singers like Voice of the Cross and Patty Obassey and Obi Igwe. And if recycling the songs of earlier Christian singers is not a violation of “Thou shall not steal” commandment, what about the recycling of say the Dynamites’ Christian Makossa album into a Yoruba Christian gospel by another group of Christian singers, barely a year after the appearance of the original? Perhaps, in the logic of Christian entertainment, no one owns the Christian song except maybe the Holy Spirit and so there is nothing like violation of copyright.

If this tradition of recycling and pastiche making raises moral questions about what the Nigerian Christian singer is saying in recent times, the very discourses presented in some of the songs simply make the songs difficult to ignore, at least from an academic perspective. The Christian gospel singer knows the need to create a market and so makes efforts to let the song have an orientation to tenor, targeting the interests of specific groups of listeners and directly addressing such groups. The Christian singer talks to the barren woman, the unemployed person, the student wrestling with academic problems, the employed person looking for promotion, a lady looking for a husband, a man looking for a wife, the Nigerian looking for a visa to a foreign country, etc. Sometimes such a singer speaks to Jesus in place of these named groups and sometimes preaches to such groups about the wonders of having Jesus as an advocate. Obviously, the Christian singer as an advertiser of Jesus Christ or marketer of God is well in line with the evangelical assignment by identifying these target customers and presenting the wares in the assumed rhetorically attractive ways.

One needs a gift of patience to listen from the beginning to the end of the song, enduring the monotony of rhythm, exasperating repetitiveness and formulaic patterns, in order not to miss the logic of the discourse entirely. Here is one example: King Innocent Eziefule’s ablbum entitled My Year of Promotion is playing in my sitting room. It plays almost every day and I think someone between my wife and my children likes what the Christian singer is saying. It is not my kind of Christian music but it would be wrong to go and stop it. I am sure you can guess why. OK. It is not for me, but my ears have to listen anyway. Sometimes one benefits from what one does not like.

What? Listen to what the singer has just said: “Ekpere na-eme ka agbọghọbịa wee lụta di obodo oyibo” (Prayer makes it possible for a lady to get a husband from overseas). Jesus Christ! I check the jacket and find that the track is called “Ekpere na Abụ” (Prayer and Hymn).

This Christian gospel singer must have the impression that husbands from overseas are far better than husbands back here in Nigeria! Simply put, suitors back home are not suitable for the lady based in Nigeria. The hope and prayer of such a lady is to get a husband from across the oceans. It is an economic thing in marriage: dollars and Euros perform better at weddings these days in Nigeria than the local wall paper called Naira. Local suitors stand no chance when it comes to competing with dollar or Euro-laden suitors from overseas. Most fathers-in-law won’t hesitate to set their dogs on you if you insist on trying your luck with your Naira when the “di obodo oyibo” has already sent an email saying he is coming on the next flight!

Thank God my marriage is fifteen years old now. Otherwise, how could my wife still agree to marry me after listening to this Holy-Ghost filled, tongue-speaking gospel singer? Surely, I would have stood no chances competing with my Nigerian friends based in the US and UK such Olu Oguibe, Afam Akeh, Ikhide Ikheloa, Obiwu, Sola Osofisan, Pius Adesanmi, Biko Agozino, Chiji Akomah, and many celebrated scholars out there. Thank you for saving me, thank you my God!

But wait a minute! This singer does not also say that with praying and hymning a bachelor back home in Nigeria could get a wife from overseas! Why? Is miracle marriage for women alone? Is being married to a Nigeria-based husband a condemnation? Oh no. This is unfair, very unfair.

I continue to listen, although I am boiling with rage. This guy is also talking about getting a visa to ship out as one of the miracles of prayer! I am really mad with him now and will turn off the music soon. I could apologize to whoever is playing it much later. Imagine, getting a Nigerian visa is not a miracle but overseas visa is! I think I have also seen a similar celebration of foreign visa (especially visa to the US) in some Nigerian Christian video films. So, it appears Nigerian Christian evangelical rhetoric is literalizing the idea of an American “Promised Land” and is already constructing the Nigerian space as its sharp contrast! I don’t like this one bit. I’m still a patriot and cannot consume this crap!

There! Electricity failure! Thank God for answering my unsaid prayer! Who says miracles of prayers don’t happen in very mysterious ways?

1 comment:

The Dragon said...

Obodo, this is not new - abroad is always better, despite the fact that a lot of those 'abroad husbands', even those who have a legitimate source of livelihood may be struggling more than their home based rivals to pay the bills. And then the visa thing. Have heard quite a number of supposed 'men of God', even in the more established pentecostal churches boasting how they prayed for someone who was granted a US/UK visa - lets forget for an instance that some of the documents and claims submitted are far from pius. Even here pastors keep praying every Sunday for the immigration authorities to be blinded so they can approve permanent stays for members despite the false claims the members submit to the authorities. And don't get me started on the consistent and persistent association of our villages and our poor parents and relations who live there with all that is evil. Almost walked out of the church yesterday on that account. Like you I have very little time for any Gospel music that does not have some originality or obeys copyright laws. But I have to grin and bear cos, like you, I am the odd one out in the house.