Children's Day: Child singers can never succeed in Nigerian music industry

Child singers have a difficult time in Nigeria.

Let your children sing in the local choir, in children competitions, in classes, gatherings and for other children. But no child in contemporary Nigeria, can be a superstar.

The Nigerian music industry, with its setup today will never produce a child star.

The above statement has a definite tone of finality to it, which might seem a little disruptive to the optimistic part of you which still believes in ‘catch them young’.

The music industry as it is set up, is harsh for budding child stars that have dreams of being the next 2face Idibia, for many reasons. Child stardom robs kids of their childhood. Many child actors and singers did not have that, and they were all miserable. Kids whose parents pushed them into acting often grow up to resent them. They never had a choice, and worse, they never had the chance to be a kid. The next time a former child star is in the news, look at the age at which he or she started performing. Then imagine making a life-changing decision at that age. Chances are good he or she wasn’t the one who made it.

 

The lack of structure is the primary killer to these dreams. The Nigerian music industry, for all its growth and invasion of world music markets, has no definite structure. Away from all the hype, PR and musical releases, we operate in a lawless market, where the copyright laws are obsolete, and the enforcers of it, lackadaisical. When an exception to the rule happens, and someone does decide to follow the rule of law to make these laws matter, profiteering is his ulterior aim.

Distribution channels are weak, people don’t buy music, and even the disconcerted efforts by certain groups to distribute music commercially, come across as too little and lacking in synergy. Alaba International Market still stands tall as the den of offline intellectual thieves and pirates. How can this work for the kids?

Money and the lack of it is also the root of all evil. With the lack of proper distribution channels, we have seen the organised world-conquering record label giants refuse to do business with our entertainment sector. The gaps in copyright enforcement, even down to the basics of royalty payment by broadcast media and institutions, is still hotly contested. There is no Return on investment guarantees.

Consequently with the lack of corporate investment, this gap has been filled with money-lords who have no professional background or technical knowledge of the music business. Their deep funds give them the capacity to launch a record label, sign acts as vanity projects and control these talents. This situation almost never ends well for all parties.

 

The money bosses don’t buy the idea of investing in children. It’s tough already for an established grownup talent. Kids will be a charity project with no business value.

Remember Tosin Jegede, the child star who bestrode the Nigerian music scene like a colossus in the 80s. Renowned for persuasive lyrics, ‘urging parents to listen to their children and pay their school fees’ among other hit tracks, today, she is real matured beautiful girl, radiating with life.

 

The highly talented kid-singer, Tosin relocated to the UK, to further her studies after releasing two albums.

In her days, her music videos enjoyed generous air play on NTA Channel 5, 7 and 10. She left the shores of the country about 18 years ago, with three albums to her credit and then returned briefly in 2005, to stage a visual arts exhibition of her some of her works.

That’s the last true child star the country produced at a time when we still had sanity in Nigeria. Her story while impressive at the start, ended badly.

Jegede signed a 25-year deal with Polygram Records back in 1989, a period that saw her as the biggest child singing sensation in Nigeria. Jegede was well known for the reflective message in her music – highlighting issues with parents and children. She released two albums before relocating to the UK to further her studies.

Polygram were so impressed with how much recognition her first album “Children Arise” (1985) and follow up single ‘Leaders of tomorrow’, that they offered her a deal without hesitating. They promised to release the album and promote the album around the country.

In 1989, Jegede released the album “Leaders of Tomorrow” under Polygram. In 1992 she released her third “Children Africa”. She later revealed that she was never paid for the album deal. The only problem was, they had never signed a child star before and had creative problems pushing her brand.

That contract finished in 2014, and Jegede is free to handle her masters independently. PolyGram Records was setup as a recording company by Philips in 1945, to cater for its its music interests . It was however sold to Seagram in 1999 and eventually merged with Universal Music Group (UMG). Other Nigerians signed to Polygram at the time include the late Highlife maestro Osita Osadebe and reggae musician Ras Kimono.

There ended the last child star story in Nigeria.

Child stars can also get exploited by their parents. A good case happened in the US, back in the 1930. Jackie Coogan was not only the biggest child star in the world, but one of the biggest stars, period. The kid had $4 million (more than $48 million in today’s money) to his name, but when he turned 21, he found that his mother and manager/stepfather had spent almost all of it. Coogan sued his parents, and while he only got $126,000, he did get a law named after him. That’s a nice consolation prize, right?

The Coogan Law isn’t perfect, though: While it has long protected a kid’s right to a trust fund, it still only protects 15 percent of a child’s earnings. There are still lots of ways parents can misuse their kid’s money. And it’s easy for them to get away with it, because most kids don’t have the guts to take their own parents to court and scream about all the things they can’t handle (the truth, and so on).

In Nigeria, no law exists for child stars. The parents of the kids who have marketed their kids, and used them to generate income cannot be held accountable. These monies and the future of the kid is at the mercy of the parents’ whims.

Currently there are a number of children who do music. They include Mya K, Amarachi, Ozzybosco, BoyChyko and a number of others.

For all of these kids, the hustle to be relevant and monetize their craft is an interesting one. All of them have one thing in common: they are financed and managed by their mothers.

How much does a mother make to run a household, and sponsor the music career of a child?

 

Visit the Ikeja City Mall, Lagos, and you will understand the gravity of this situation. There are talented children, hawking their unprofessional music albums. It’s a sorry sight when a child meets you smiling, but the eyes cry out in exhaustion and despair.

“Good day sir, please support my music”.

This is the peril of maternal sponsorship. The family goes broke for a dream that has a low probability of transitioning into money. A child’s talent, which intrinsically is a blessing, becomes a curse for the entire family. I have seen this happen on many levels. Nigeria just isn’t ready for this.

As an alternative to budding child singers, parents should invest in their children’s talent, in line with their education. Extracting them from this pathway and support system, and grilling them to be pop stars is an effort at futility. It won’t work. It will only hurt the family, and the child.

Let your children sing in the local choir, in children competitions, in classes, gatherings and for other children. But no child in contemporary Nigeria, can be a superstar. The country isn’t set up for that.

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