The Lemon Curd: Will craft ever matter to Nigerian performers?

If you really care about being the best artist you can be...

It has taken a long time but concerts and festivals are finally becoming part of Nigeria’s music ecosystem. From the hallowed ‘shrine’ at Fela Anikulapo’s Kalakuta Republic, to repurposed parks, galleries and coffee shops, concerts and festivals are happening everywhere. Some artists lip-sync their entire oeuvre, others sing to a backing track and the rare artist performs complex melodies with nary a glitch, besting studio produced and enhanced versions of themselves. But Saturday’s The Lemon Curd II, the events that preceded it, and the feedback that followed marks a point that we must document and discuss.

The work of Tomisin Akins, under the umbrella of her media company Lucid Lemons, the Lemon Curd is an evolving amalgam of several event genres; part souk fair, part music festival, part artist showcase and part millennial meet up. This multiplicity of functions is one of the event’s strengths. Gen-Z, the demographic that Lucid Lemons and the Lemon Curd seems to court most vigorously is easily distracted and exhibits a strong preference for a multiplicity of options, if they can be coaxed to leave their houses. The genius of Tomisin Akins and the continued success of Lucid Lemons’ off-line events is how well they have been able to harness her knowledge of the demographic her work appeals to and offer them the perfect incentive; an opportunity to earn social currency.

As technology expands the boundaries of our definitions of success and charts new channels to gaining success, we’ve come to see concepts like ‘social currency’ which has always existed to a much lesser degree become the primary defining factor in the way off-line interactions happen. Social currency for uninitiated, refers to the level of influence a person or brand has on the average social media user. Influence is gained through interaction with followers and friends and community building. As a person’s network grows, so does their influence and their social currency. Tomisin Akins has strong familial ties with many of the ‘new age’ artists currently growing into mainstream success, and has time and again, leveraged those ties and the vast secondary network of fan communities to turn Lucid Lemons from passion project to industry player in the digital media space. She has also leveraged that network to promote The Lemon Curd, by offering many Gen-Z’ers the chance to see many of their new favourites in concert and get upcoming artists mainstream attention. It’s a brilliant, brilliant strategy.

By all the standard markers, the Lemon Curd II was a roaring success, it had at least a minimum of 1000 people attend the event, a revolving door of emergent celebrities and influencers (social currency in excess) and a decent mix of underground and established artists grace its stage. Its sound equipment was much better than the inaugural Lemon Curd, and the event’s vendors all had a profitable evening. The event had an impressive presence on social media and decent reviews after. But, this is par the course for any event in Lagos, and we mean any event in Lagos. Sao and the Muse did similar numbers. What then could have elevated the Lemon Curd into game changing status?

Two words; Craft and detail.

The ‘diversity’ at T.L.C II’ was as much a crutch as it was an incentive. The Lemon Curd is first and foremost a music festival, and that got lost in the noise of all the nascent activity. The first suggestion that while the Lemon Curd was a labour of love, it was not a particularly well-thought festival, was the fact that the headlining artists announced weeks in advance neither gave us individual set lists, nor did the Lemon Curd team give us a definitive set list of all the artists performing and the order in which they would perform. The time paying festival goers set aside to attend our events is precious, and offering a set list before the festival allows them plan their time around the artists they are interested in seeing.

The Lemon Curd’s lack of a definitive set list was especially damning considering Akins had faced some backlash for requiring underground artists pay for performance slots, with the caveat that they would perform for industry heavy weights who would help ‘discover’ their music. It seemed quite presumptuous to expect said ‘heavy weights’ to sit through the entire festival with no idea who was performing and when their time slots were until they were announced.

But all of this could have been forgiven if the festival’s headlining artists had shown craft on stage. The festival was slated to start for 12pm, but the complex sound system and staging and sound checks were still being worked on  5 hours after doors opened. The headlining artists didn’t start showing up to the venue till 7pm and when they did, they were barely discernible from the festival goers.

I don’t know about other people, but if I wait 8 hours to see you perform, the least I’d expect is an event. What festival goers at the Lemon Curd got instead was at best a run of the mill jam fest. The performances were good but predictable, a little like your favourite artist showing up to your karaoke night and camping up a handful of their songs. The glorious stage and sound set up went largely underutilized, the instrumentalists reduced to uninspired work you’d expect from a wedding reception cover band. Pretty much the same performance many of these artists have been giving all year long. It was obvious few of them had truly considered what it means to be a performing artist.

The Lemon Curd is an annual event so the headlining artists this year knew months in advance that it was coming. It was the kind of opportunity to introduce yourself as an artist through an unforgettable performance, carefully crafted, detailed to the point of narcissism. Many of the songs our ‘new age’ artists perform tend to ride on the sonic zeitgeist and a festival like the Lemon Curd seemed the perfect place to switch things up, to perform an unplugged version of a hit song, or go the other extreme and ham it up with a massive electronic wall of sound. It was also the rare opportunity to craft a stage persona through costuming, a reason to ditch the ugly sweat pants and the faded t-shirts and actually give your fans a visual to take home with them, a reason to dress up as you at their next costume party. I hoped fervently that someone would finally ditch the microphone cradling and rictus faces and actually give us some choreography; I wished and waited for anything to break the monotony of singers and rappers showing up on stage to scream at us to dance to music that doesn’t even deserve a perfunctory ‘hands in the air’.

A live performance is not about an artist singing. If it was, the Bantu Collective’s Afropolitan Vibes wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has, and gained as much respect in the industry.

If we wanted to hear you sing, we’d listen to your music, which is often the best version of you singing that particular song. We go to concerts and festivals to see you offer your craft, to see you affirm the things we’ve come to assume of you as an artist. A verbatim karaoke performance with the occasional ad-lib is an insult to the festival goer; we pay to see you inhabit our fantasies, to create new ones, to fully inhabit your mystique, we want to leave with a sense of awe at how much of your skill translates in real life, we want to feel as though we shared an intimate moment with you.

We do not pay for a rendition of your music, we pay for an exhibition of your craft,  and at The Lemon Curd, there was no craftsmanship.

Featured Image Credit: Tammy Deshiy

Edwin eats his rice and cabbages. Tweet at him@edgothboy

can we discuss how mr eazi cannot seem to own any live stage