One of the keys to any successful venture, art or music is to build a core, understand your market and define your craft before loading it with excessive details, but alternative music is moving in a direction different from what the template described.
Outside the new generation of rappers, who are constantly at the receiving end of online criticism, another community that gets the stick of angry Nigerians are the present day alternative artists or ‘alte’, a coined term credited to members of the group, LOS, and I choose not to be bothered by how it is pronounced.
Over the weekend, pictures surfaced on social media of notable faces of the alte movement like Odunsi, Santi, Zamir and others decked in all black outfit in a room lit by candle lights in what on first glance appeared more like an occultic procession rather than a music video, generating varied reaction online.
Then there was the damning definition of the ‘alte’ term circulated on Twitter and this has sparked a large debate on not just who or what the ‘alte movement’ stands for, but on a larger scale, a criticism of the music they create and an attack on one of the genre’s major flagbearer, Odunsi.
First, what really is your problem with the Alte group?
Let’s be clear, the ‘Alte’ community have sometimes been unfairly criticized, from what they wear to how they look and we really need to calm down.
One of its leading lights, Odunsi, who recently released his debut project ”rare.” and had a short deal with top label, Universal Records was scapegoated for his music with many calling it ‘boring.’
I recently reviewed the album and even though I don’t sit on the same table as the Grammy judges, one thing I do know is that album is definitely not a poor album.
Soundwise which is a major criterion in judging projects in this era, ”rare.” is one of the most sonically pleasing and cohesive tapes you will hear from a Nigerian artist this year, although it stumbles a bit in other areas like lyrics and content but that doesn’t make it a poor album in any form.
In our minds, we have also unconsciously identified ‘alternative’ to be elitist and ‘negative’. That music from a clique of rich kids with too much time on their hands, whose stories majority of us don’t seem to identify with, perfect music for the yuppy and unadventurous lot delivered in a strange and avant- garde influenced way.
A lot of listeners don’t seem understand them in terms of their eccentricity and vibe, what they offer is not regular and it just doesn’t sit well with us making them easy preys for criticism, which is a common human trait as aptly stated by the godson, Nas when he rhymed, ”People hate what they don’t understand.”
Alternative music is not for everyone, so it is fine if you can’t relate to it.
To the Alte Guys
From a couple of years back where they only existed on a few online streaming platforms and frowned at the ”SoundCloud artists” tag, a number of them have worked their way from word of mouth to genuine organic rise in rotations and streaming numbers.
There is a tangible movement to the next level propelled by the community through discussion, disruptive aesthetics and whose major strength lies in their close association with each other, the industry is taking notice.
Odunsi, as we stated is associated with one of the biggest labels in the land, Lady Donli rolls with the likes of Mr Eazi and Wavvy, is being called the ‘Shaku Shaku’ queen by Vogue [wrongly though], which means the community is doing something right and this has also been witnessed in their significant impact on concert lineups with a special ‘New Age’ stage created for them at the last edition of GidiFest.
They should also be credited with the recognized existence of a proper subgenre where people who just want to be themselves and make music as they identify with can tap into, especially in a structureless industry where what exists is to simply ‘be one of them.’
However, when alternative music became fully fledged in the US in the 80s referring to a bunch of acts who could not get signed to labels at the point and as such almost could not make mainstream success, its major weapon was in its music, even though it was not popular, it was really good and it resonated with its cult followers, such that in the 90s, it caught the attention of top labels leading to a mainstream boom.
The music is the most important thing, it is what brings the artists and its audience together and the power of good music lies in its instant appeal to its listeners who consumes it in whatever form. Even though at times there are layers or certain veiled details to the lyrics or its storyline that will require multiple listens and attention to unravel.
But all in all, music is made to be enjoyed and in understanding and relatability comes appreciation. So when next the people who consume it criticize it, don’t be quick to dismiss it or insist that they do not get you, everyone gets good music, even if it’s not exactly their taste.
Intentionally choosing to go ‘left’ when the sound that prevails heavily on the ‘right’ side has not even been fully expanded to its creative limits sure makes you different, but not special or more talented than those on the other side.
Aesthetics are important, they are good for the brand, but when it is placed ahead of the music in a bid to create this unrealistic depth and sense of mystery, it begins to lose its plot and the music no longer has form or purpose.
I once read an article on UrbanCentral where Dolapo Amusat of WeTalkSound said, ”I’m not exactly sure if ‘Alternative Music’ remains a genre or it’s just a tag that says: ”Yo, we’re different. Don’t categorize us with these regular mainstream people.”
He then concluded with a statement that I fully agree with, ”I know one thing, though: if it totally becomes a box that’s inaccessible to all but a few, it’s not going to pan out well for the entire ecosystem.”
So there is a novelty to your art and only you seem to understand it, but what next? is it still as fresh and ‘rare’ as when you first started or have we seen it all and it is no longer inventive? who is your music inspiring? are you really providing a true alternative to the mass noise in saturation or are you different in a confusing, unprogressive and undefined way? or is your music just an insipid imitation of disco and funk sound that was abandoned in the 70s?
In closing, these ‘alte sound’ is in its developmental stages, there is plenty of room for it to evolve, adapt and grow, doors should not be shut to criticism either should it be welcomed to every single opinion, but we do need this subgenre, it is healthy for the growth of the industry.