For years, Nigerian artistes and event promoters have given the same excuses as to why our concert culture has never conquered stadiums; “there will be riots”, “people will not turn out”, “they’ll rob and rape”, it is why venues like the conference hall at Eko Hotel and Landmark Arena have become the unofficial concert venues in Lagos.
Yet, yesterday, Olamide, an artist known for having his thumb on the pulse of the streets, showed at his stadium concert, why it is time for Nigerian music to move from hotels and canopies to stadiums and arenas.
Despite the relative commercial explosion of Nigerian music in the past decade or so, concerts have gone mostly in the opposite direction.
There are many cases for why Nigerian artistes do not make as much money as they probably should – “we don’t buy albums”, “nobody pays for the music” etc.
It is why performance fees are a big deal for most Nigerian artistes, because they are one of the few certain sources of income.
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Yet, with time, concerts have grown fewer and more exclusive. It is no mistake that most concerts happen in December, mostly within streets of each other at the same venues.
While in the past, concerts like Lekki Sunsplash connected the artistes to hordes of fans, there are few similar options today. Where they are, the gate fee is usually enough to activate one’s fear of instant poverty.
Save for a few attempts like D’Banj’s Koko Concert and Phyno’s seminal PhynoFest, Nigerian artistes prefer the safety of a conference hall to the sheer spontaneity of an open arena.
To be fair, most of their concerns are valid. First and perhaps the most important is security.
An open arena means that it is difficult to keep an eye on activities at these large venues. Miscreants can often easily mix seamlessly into the crowd and do their deeds.
It is by no means an assumption. There are reports of the Lekki Sunsplash years when female concert-goers would be assaulted by hooligans whenever Fela’s misogynistic songs came on.
Even outside the venue, concertgoers can easily be assaulted by loitering criminals.
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This is often a function of maintaining order. A larger arena often means dealing with more entry points and exits, a multitude of people to deal with and the risk that a small scream could escalate into a stampede.
Outside the arena, maintaining order means dealing with human and vehicular traffic and the inevitable prospect of a long traffic pile-up in the roads leading up to the venue.
Managing this is much more important than it seems. If concertgoers cannot reach the venue, then the concert is dead on arrival.
If you ask the promoters who invest in shows like these, you will easily find that nobody wants to lose their money to bad planning and problems that can be avoided.
This year, Olamide, the self-acclaimed voice of the streets and Lagos’ favourite son, announced that the fourth edition of his ground-breaking annual live concert would break even more ground.
Yesterday, the Lagos Mainland came to a halt as he hosted OLIC4 at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Surulere, a suburb reputed for its history as much as its proximity to places like Shitta and Mushin where a wrong turn can leave you phoneless.
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The concert held for 7 exciting hours and in doing so, Badoo created the perfect template for artistes and organisers who are ready to take Nigerian music and the energy it inspires to the next level.
A big part of the show’s success was down to the participation of the Lagos State Government. From security to managing the roads and flow of traffic, various agencies came out in large numbers to ensure a great production.
In a city like Lagos, it is difficult to muster a security presence that can counter any major threat without the government’s help.
Everywhere you turned you would find men of various security agencies, the Lagos Neighbourhood Watch, the Nigerian Police, The Mobile Police Force, soldiers, Civil Defence Corps members and officers of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The roads around the stadium were also closed. Farther down, traffic management officers directed vehicles and tried to keep things moving as quickly as possible.
It was clear that Lagos had made the concert’s success an important priority.
This partnership, between artiste and government, private and public, will be important for replicating and hosting such concerts. The state government plugged many holes that Olamide’s team would have struggled to fill and let them focus on the actual production of the show.
And boy, was it a great production. Stage problems early on delayed the sound-off by half an hour or so, but when the show began, an endless slew of artistes maintained the energy till Olamide’s grand entry.
Where artistes had their bands or dancers, the transition was near seamless. Throughout the arena, divisions were clearly established and maintained.
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The backstage area remained orderly for most of the event. In front of the stage, members of the media went about their business with none of the fights that we have become accustomed to seeing.
Olamide’s decision to hand over the logistics to a single company proved masterful; many things went wrong during the show but no one could complain about the sense that, at every point, all the officials worked with a singular sense of purpose.
There are lessons here. Big stadium events can often seem overwhelming but as Badoo showed, the answer lies in keeping things as simple as possible, streamlining processes and creating a simple chain of command and responsibility.
If nothing else, the success of Badoo’s show is all the reason that we need to sacrifice the safer option and build our concert culture around arenas and stadiums.
In a city of 20 million persons like Lagos, sticking with the same venues and creating these unintentionally exclusive events leaves out large swathes of the audience that do not live on the Island or cannot afford to pay for the shows.
Hosting large concerts opens up the experience to a larger demographic, to those who will come for the music, those who will come for the vibe and those who will be there just to be a part of the experience.
The financials also make more sense. The basic economies of scale mean the bigger the venue, the greater the chances of making more money for the artiste and the investors who put their money on these momentous gigs.
In a larger sense of things, it also portrays a culture that matches the place that Nigerian music should be in.
In the last decade, our pop stars have become African heavyweights, our hit songs have become anthems on different continents.
What’s left is a culture of concerts that reflects the spirit and spread of the people behind the streaming and download numbers.