“Blown or unblown”: Is your fave artist a top dog?
I watched Teni Makanaki perform a headline set, last week at Art X Live, a concert offering by Art X Lagos. She was impressive. People hung to her words. Her movement carried with it a palpable confidence. Her crowd control technique had grown. She wasn’t just performing. She was having fun with the audience. She walked the length of the stage, a red durag covering her hair, as she performed her hit singles, remixed Christy Essien-Igbokwe’s classic number, ‘Seun Rere’. When she walked off the stage to a rapture of sounds and happy noises from the crowd, someone asked me the question: “This girl done really blow?”
I had to think about the answer for a bit. Teni Makanaki is having a great year. Her song, Askamaya, is one of the best pop tunes out of Nigeria in 2018. The previous year, she found some career joy when she scored a record deal with Dr Dolor Entertainment, and rode the wave of ‘Fargin’, her single into mainstream awareness and appreciation. Between that time and ‘Askamaya’, she’s exerted herself, releasing a number of singles which failed to command listenership and adoration. ‘Askamaya’ put her back on the burner, and now she is hot. Not hot like a tried-and-trusted A-lister. But hot enough to have a following, get performance bookings, and be a wave. That’s a level of ‘blowing’ that she has. She’s a big deal now.
Blowing is relative in the Nigerian music industry. For musicians, they just want more people to connect with and appreciate their art, which would put money in their pocket. It’s the basics of blowing to them. The more people connect to the music and push it into their personal spaces, the more they grow. If enough people do it to cause a splash, they earn a breakthrough. They have blown.
For fans, when the definition of blowing is aligned to the musicians. Anyone with a popular song is blown. When a particular record is on TV, radio, online, and on their friend’s phone, then that’s a blown record. If they love the song enough to keep returning to it for their birthdays, their dog’s celebration, and all their happy moments, it’s a hit song. The fans and the artist are aligned in that note. The love for the music, which leads its mass acceptance and circulation is what is defined as blowing. A truly blown artist simply releases the music and plugs it in all the right spaces and on all the effective platforms. The rest is down to the fans. If they love it, great. If they don’t, then try again next year. If you have a high ratio of songs loved by the fans, compared to the ones that got away with not even a glance, or outright rejection, then you are blown.
It is this dynamic that informs the music industry practitioners on how to deal with you. From pricing of performances and appearance fees, down to brand endorsement conversations, everything hinges on this. What are your numbers? Will people leave their house, drive to a venue and unite under your banner to see you perform your songs? How much influence does your music possess? Do you matter?
There are exceptions to this rule. In niche music spaces, blowing takes on a different meaning. Niche artists, who have no pop aspirations with their art blow when they become prominent in those spaces. Brymo is a prominent alternative artist. His name endures in pop circles because he once operated in that space during his time with Chocolate City. His current art isn’t pop and doesn’t pretend to be in the conversation. But he is a big deal in his turf. The alternative genres and all its consumers embrace him as a god. A better case study is Odunsi The Engine, for so long, he had become a blown niche artist. There are people who could carry crosses and burn torches for him and his music.
But it’s only this year, with the release of his “rare.” album, has he began to make incursions into the pop space. Depending on your perspective and the lens through which you view his art, he might either be a blown or an upcoming artist. He is big in the alternative space, but pop culture looks the other way, for now. Where then would you place him? If you dismiss him as an upcoming act, you become guilty of oversimplifying his journey and status. If you call him a blown artist, then you run the risk of inaccurately classifying him also.
As time passes, and the way we consume music and relate with its creators change, there’s an opportunity for everyone to learn, adapt and move. The industry has already moved into the future. Artists are finding themselves pushed into doors where their art can be explored and exploited for value. Teni Makanaki isn’t the biggest musician in the country, but she is booked at a frequency that can be called ‘regular.’ Art X trusted Odunsi The Engine, with creative control for their concert. At the same concert, BOJ was also a performer. He too, sits in the unconventional space, where classification and recognition of success are varied and unstable.
Fans should update their understanding of the scene. Your ‘upcoming artist’ might be another man’s superstar. Your ‘Ye’ is different to their ye. Everyone is both blown and unblown in some manner. It just depends on who’s asking, and who’s answering.