Nollywood Can Benefit More From Its Relationship With The Music Industry

The possibilities for consistent excellence when they interface could develop into a mammoth cultural force

Before Nigerian rappers Reminisce and Illbliss made their acting debut in the Kemi Adetiba’s crime-thriller King of Boys (2018), and Phyno followed right after in Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart (2018), there was Christy Essein-Igbokwe in Chico Ejiro’s Flesh and Blood (1996) and Onyeka Onwenu in Chimdi Chiama and Ndubuisi Okoh’s Conspiracy (1999). These artists were not just making cameo appearances in these films; instead, they were taking on full roles that took them out of their otherwise pop star glam and inhabiting worlds very different from that of stardom.

Nollywood and the Nigerian music industry have always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. Often, when musicians starred as actors their songs were used to soundtrack the films, even when their acting roles were minor. This was the case with the 1997 feature film Mark of the Beast, which featured the late Reggae musician Majek Fashek in a cameo role. In fact, a silhouetted image of Majek Fashek played the guitar and sang a tune as the film’s opening credits ran over. Onyeka Onwenu also lent her original song “You and I” to the soundtrack of Conspiracy (1999). The late Gospel artiste Sammie Okposo composed soundtracks and scores for films, outside of releasing his singles, and is behind the music of so many Nollywood hits and classics like Most Wanted (1998), Issakaba (2001), Emotional Tears (2003), and The Amazing Grace (2006). There was also a quality to the kind of music produced in that time that isn’t attainable today.

“Early Nollywood scoring was reflective of what music consumption was like in the 1990s, before the Afrobeats boom. The scorers of the time demonstrated lots of influences from originally Western genres like R&B and Blues,” Kelechi Njoku, a Nollywood enthusiast and writer, tells the NATIVEThe soundtracks of ‘Glamour Girls’ (1994), Domitila’ (1996), Blood Money’ (1997), and Scores to Settle’ (1998) all have this flavour. There was a commitment to vocal dexterity in them as well. A few examples include composer Stanley Okorie’s work with singer Thelma Yakubu on Chika Onu’s Confusion’s lead soundtrack “Something’s Wrong Somewhere”; or the vocals on “We Have Overcome,” which is Omololu Richard Ogunleye’s work for The Mark of the Beast.

Thankfully, there was a penetration that homegrown Nigerian sounds started to have from around 2003 that wasn’t happening in the 1990s. However, this development failed to produce remarkable soundtracks. In the 1990’s flicks, composers like King Jaja, Mike Nliam, and Abay Esho paid close attention to the stories they were composing for; the music was never in the way. “By the mid-2000s, we could be watching a movie and there’s just song underlining the entire flick, sometimes in ways that are emotionally dissonant from the story,” Njoku stated, adding that a lot of serious stories were rendered comical with that kind of music. Unfortunately, the practice continues to this day under the onslaught of Afrobeats club hits thrown into our movies.

Another consequence of the diminishing artistry with the music of Nollywood starting from the mid-2000s was that filmmakers started to rely on foreign hit songs to soundtrack their films, especially for romance dramas. Celine Dion and Westlife’s discography were great resources for these filmmakers. But that was only an aspect of the many issues with Nollywood from the year 2004 when marketers became filmmakers and placed a ban on actors they considered too demanding. These actors were Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Ramsey Nouah, Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD), Emeka Ike, Stella Damasus, Jim Iyke and Nkem Owoh. That singular act, now known as the G8 ban, had a colossal effect on the industry: the marketers-turned-filmmakers cared more for commercial gain than artistic merit, and for that reason, the quality of films, the music in the films inclusive, dropped.

Following the ban, Genevieve Nnaji released her debut album ‘One Logologo Line’ in December of 2004 with “No More” as its lead single. Her film influence shined over the song. Against the song’s upbeat tempo, she narrates, in English and Igbo, her experience in a relationship that started beautifully but quickly turned toxic, and finding the strength to flee. The song’s music video is a short film depicting this relationship.

What the G8 ban did was that it started an era of actors also becoming musicians and this wasn’t restricted to the G8 actors. Omotola, RMD, Desmond Elliot, and Ebube Nwagbo also tried their hand at music at some point. Nollywood producers also capitalised on this wave and introduced albums inspired by films. For instance, Nkem Owoh’s ‘I Go Chop Your Dollar’ is based on Andy Amenechi’s 2005 film The Master, a film about Owoh’s character defrauding and scamming unsuspecting white men. On the album ‘National Moi-Moi,’ Patience Ozokwo takes on the personality of her character Mama G, a middle-aged woman dedicated to the epicurean lifestyle much to the annoyance of her husband and community, in Gabriel Moses’s Old School (2002). The ‘Dinta’ album with vocals from Chioma Chukwuka, Fred Aseroma, and Chiege Alisigwe is adapted from Amayo Uzo Philip’s Sacred Tradition (2005).

Today, however, there is an almost complete abandonment of creating original soundtracks for films. Our films are often jam-packed with the latest Afrobeats hit or club banger. This isn’t right. These songs, no matter how catchy they may be, are not written for the film and so hardly ever elevate the film. Music aids storytelling and even helps the tone of a film, and thus, should be part of the story-creating process.

“Music can propel narrative swiftly forward, or slow it down. It often lifts mere dialogue into the realm of poetry. It is the communicating link between the screen and the audience, reaching out and enveloping all into one single experience,” said American film composer Bernard Herrmann, who contributed scores to films including Citizen Kane (1941), Psycho (1960) and Taxi Driver (1976). Nigerian filmmaker Raymond Yussuf and a member of The Critics Company relied on music to help drive the narrative and form the emotional core of his film One Can Only Hope and Wonder, which was recently exhibited at the Zollamt MMK in Germany. Inspired by German composer Hans Zimmer’s “Cornfield Chase” for Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film Interstellar, he employed a filmmaking tool, the leitmotif, to achieve this.

“There was a certain scene in the film where the rhythm of the music was very important to me as it influenced the editing, the performance, and the filming process, so we had like three pieces of music already composed before we shot the film,” Yussuf tells the NATIVE.  Without dialogue, Yussuf and the Critics Company were able to tell an emotionally cohesive story with the aid of music. Another Nollywood film that actively employed the use of leitmotifs to enhance its storytelling is Daniel Oriahi’s 2018 film Sylvia with the score composed by Michael “Truth” Ogunlade. Its haunting, sombre tune set the mood for the film.

But these are exceptions and not the norm. This isn’t to say that most Nollywood films are entirely bereft of score or soundtracks. They’ve just not been properly employed as tools for storytelling. It is common to watch intimate scenes where the music applied distracts rather than heightens the emotion. And there is no crime in using popular music in films but filmmakers need to be deliberate about its use and consider what they want the audience to feel at that moment. Has the use of it rendered what should be a melancholic scene comical? Does it enhance or align with the actions in a scene or contrast it for irony? Does it connect to the characters and their situation in a meaningful way? Does it serve the story?

The music in many Nollywood films reveals that music is often treated as an afterthought. Film is a form of audiovisual media; both sound and picture need to work in unity. The symbiotic relationship between Nollywood and the music industry needs to go beyond featuring musicians in films, or Nollywood actors trying their hand at music, to a point where the relationship between our film and music industry reflect in the quality of music soundtracking our films.

Musicians who have also become actors are in the best position to lead this movement. Banky W, for instance, before venturing into acting was telling stories with his music videos that aptly captured the message of his R&B love songs. Aside from that, musicians already know about  sonically creating emotions with lyrics and melody. It is no surprise that one of the most memorable soundtracks we have had in recent times is “Original Gangster” for King of Boys, produced by the multi-award-winning music producer Sess with vocals from Adekunle Gold and Reminisce, one of the stars of the film.

Even with the generally intriguing history between Nigeria’s contemporary music and film scene, the possibilities for consistent excellence when they interface remains vast and could develop into a mammoth cultural force.

Featured image credits/NATIVE