Over the years, we have seen artists across diverse genres come and go. For new artists in the Afro-pop, R&B, Alternative categories, there is room for longevity. Yet, for street-hop artists, the opposite is the case. For some reason, artists like Portable do not last.
Several factors contribute to this norm. One is record label management controversies, and another is a cynic Nigerian audience. Nigerians love Lamba. We want a song that will get our heads nodding, our feet stomping, and our hips swaying regardless of any street performer or Dj it originates from, especially during festive periods. But after, we toss them aside and return to our refined grammy worthy records from elite artists.
This is not to condemn, as Nigerians rightly have a high fancy for excellence, [a fact some of our Ghanian siblings fail to grasp,] and this excellence is not limited to music alone. It includes marketability, fashion appeal, and overall eloquence. But considering the backgrounds most of these street artists come from, they perceive the standards too high, too strict, that they either do not strife to attain them or even when they do, a significant portion of Nigerians being social media critics keep them in a box of their first hit. Hence, the attempts of artistic evolution are not acknowledged that the artist(s) may have a remarkably successful run.
But the times are changing. Nigerians are becoming more liberal. Yet maintaining authenticity in afro-beat and its sound, which even foreign artists experiment with.
Fans admire artists we see ourselves in or see ourselves becoming. Although ZaZoo Zehh is a national anthem, only a few can relate to the Portable on any level; And is that entirely fair?. We want his voice but not the story that accompanies it.
Some may wonder, “But it’s just music, it does not have to be that deep”, but that thought is problematic because it reveals superficial elitism and snobbery. We are basically saying we want a sound, but it must exclude certain attitudes that do not check our tiny boxes. It is similar to how privileged white people appropriate elements of black culture whenever they feel like it and dispose of it when they get bored.
Portable and similar street artists should refine their image and music to international accolades, yes!. But then, where is empathy and patience to see this process through? Where is room for mistakes? Where is the space for growth? If these are not present within the factions that determine which artists get airplay and PR credibility, then the esteemed factions’ standards need review. Except these factions have substituted Excellence with Perfection. Which, need I remind, is impossible to attain nor sustain.
In a recent podcast interview with renowned rapper Jahbless, Portable made many statements regarding the dynamics of his buzzing career. However, one comment stood out, and I paraphrase, “That he was willing to drop three albums because hunger can lead him to”. That speaks volumes!. First and foremost, It demonstrates how little he and most street artists understand the music business. Most of these musicians want to do what they do best and earn a satisfactory revenue from it without having an adept understanding of how the business really works. So, sadly, they end up in terrible record deals with managers who do not have their best interests at heart.
On the 21st of December, 2021, Portable made a controversial outburst over a split of beneficiary funds. However, the noise was settled in no time due to appeals from fans, momentary self-reflection and maturity from all parties involved. Whether in the public eye or behind the scenes, the artist and his team will make more mistakes. However, these missteps must be rationalized and learnt from because the definitive success of Portable will establish a hopeful course for more up and coming artists from Nigeria’s lowest grassroots who also deserve a fair portion of Afro-beat’s glory.
The emergence of new school artists since 2019 includes Rema, Fireboy DML, Joeboy, Tems, Fave, BujuTYE, just to name a few. Most of them had passed through intense grooming, from media training to performance. So when they become activated, they are well conditioned to handle whatever event or scenario they find themselves in. But for Portable and similar artists less privileged to receive proper education, with a debut hit, they are launched into the limelight and cast into the wilderness without any roadmap nor knowledge to navigate it.
It is crucial true afro-beat enthusiasts stick with Portable’s run, not only because his music is deserving of every attention it is currently getting, but also his success will prove there is room for talented artists to enter the music industry even when they still have a lot to learn.