By Kingsley Mark Akpan
This piece by Kingsley Mark Akpan beams the spotlight on Uyo, a city in southern Nigeria and a microcosm of Africa's blossoming creative industry, and how its teeming creatives have been thriving in the new reality that is the world fighting for its very survival.
A sneeze or smile from a loved one making the world pause/stop has been a phrase replete in many hit love songs over the decades. But at no time in recent history has the world literally been paused by a ‘sneeze’ than the Coronavirus pandemic which has over the months altered life as we knew it. Away from the movies and all we thought we knew, the heroes saving the world are decked in gowns, scrubs and masks while the rest of us just, you know, hang in there waiting to be saved. While we wait with bated breathes, what’s there to fill in the time? Especially in a place like Africa?
The Covid19-induced lockdown in Africa has further limited socioeconomic viability in many countries but how are its young people coping? How are youths in Nigeria nay Africa channeling their creativity during the lockdown even with the widely enforced social distancing? The key to knowing all of that lies in the direct interactions with the continent’s creative youths themselves.
In recent years, entertainment has become Nigeria’s most recognizable exports. From famous, award-winning Afrobeats trendsetters like Wizkid and Burna Boy to Alternative music artistes like Johnny Drille taking the music scene by storm, music has become the new oil. Not to mention its film industry too. A few years ago, to have any chance of making it as an artiste, the country’s economic and entertainment capital, Lagos, seemed the only place of having a shot but with the increased internet penetration and social media use, that is changing. Cities all over the country are buzzing as entertainment hotspots themselves, including the Southern, near-coastal city of Uyo.
With the possibilities of the growth spurt seeming endless, the lockdown with no scheduled end in sight hits with a bang. L.J Saaaviour, a rapper who doubles as a songwriter, puts a spin on it when asked about what the lockdown meant to his craft and how he’s been drawing inspiration. “Well, I can’t attend shows and make appearances this period; and as a fulltime artiste, it means my source of income is on hold. I can’t record new songs too ‘cause movement is restricted and funding recording sessions right now is even a problem.”
For Ken Brown, having to stay indoors has afforded him time to dig deeper and use the isolation to his advantage. He’s been reengineering his music promotion outfit, writing songs from a whole different perspective and learning effectively how to take care business from remote locations. Sort of like what Tory Lanez is doing which has been all the rage on social media during the lockdown.
With all of that stated, acting like the realities for most persons have been that easy would be doing exactly that: acting - playing make-believe. The realities being inferred to are the same as those which have been awash in the news - massive job losses, stinging pay cuts, dwindling basic supplies, and worse even, the uncertainty of it all. No one expert or organization has been able to even predict with any reassuring certainty when this would end; if this is a phase or something we'd all have to adapt to. Everyone is worried, this demography of creative youths inclusive. Pretty hard to concentrate when CNN is by the minute giving Coronavirus death updates with each death toll pushing you to the brink of paranoia.
For a creative person, it almost becomes an existential crisis of some sort: Should I write down new lyrics or focus on taking stock of the food supplies at home and what I need to buy? Should I be promoting new materials on Facebook or watching DIY videos on YouTube just to survive this period? There's no charted course for this really. If only we could call Houdini on the phone for advice on how to keep motivated like he did during the Spanish flu, wouldn't it be awesome? But, somehow, you've got to stay creative and for several reasons too. At least it'd help you keep your sanity. There have been worries by health experts about what the whole of this is doing to the mental health of the world. At least, you could help not increase the statistics. The world needs you fully functional now more than ever before.
Anthonia, a fledgling creative writer, sees it that way. Making lemonades out of lemons is what I'd term it. How she sums it hits you right away – ‘This lockdown is basically every writer’s dream.” Now your left eyebrow is arched. Not so much for me ‘cause I could connect. “The inspiration is there but the motivation to actually get creative is what is sometimes lacking though”, she begrudgingly added. Did you say,”Go girl?!” Therein lies the crux of the matter – how does one stay motivated enough to continue being creative during the lockdown and even beyond?
The only way to stay motivated is set goals with timelines. Now that seems like a cliché reply right out the written speeches by the many arm chair motivational speakers who abound on the internet. That may be true but the thing is, - wait for it – it is actually true. Repeating the truth a gazillion till it risks becoming a cliché doesn’t make it less of a truth. Like Ken Brown, your deadline could be becoming the most recognized music promoter in your city before the first half of the year draws to an end. Now that’s one motivation enough to keep you seated on the armchair thinking up new ideas instead of in bed beneath covers snoozing. With ambition comes the unique ability to spot opportunities which would enhance your creativity.
As Anthonia puts it, “Most of us creative persons live in our heads. There’s no lockdown there.” True. I suppose realizing this helps you put it perspective that you are the creative entity and whether in a secluded condo in Brighton or perching on a balcony staring across a tree-lined inner city road in Uyo, motivation is adaptively varying, ambition is a wide spectrum but creativity? Creativity is universal and don’t let the lockdown dim that light. …Or any circumstance for that matter.
Kingley Mark Akpan (Writer)
LJ Saaavior (Artist)
Ken Brown (Artist / Blogger)
Anthonia Umor (OAP)
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