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Seeing Tu Face and Company at the Chicago House of Blues

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No where in the world do you pay 50 dollars for a concert that lasts two hours. On Friday the 10th, I attended the United Sounds of Africa concert at the Chicago House of Blues and left the show feeling ripped off and a tad sad that these so-called big boys of the Nigerian music industry may not be worth all the hype after all. First thing. Why call it United Sounds of Africa if it’s going to be an all-nigerian cast? That’s just tacky marketing. Second. If MI, Timi Dakolo, and Iyanya are not going to make it to the show, you need to say something. It’s dishonest, cheap, and disrespectful to your fans to have them pay all this money and get half the show they are expecting to see.

I got to House of Blues at 9pm. Dj Dee Money, one of Chicago’s finest Naija Djs, had been spinning since 8pm.  I wasn’t bothered that they were running a little late. And I certainly wasn’t worried when the guy in front of me on the ticket line stepped up to ask for a refund. I had come to see some of my favorite musicians and to support their hustle. I wasn’t going to let some random dude make me second-guess myself. So I paid my 50 dollars. There weren’t that much people around. 400 at most. Pretty scanty for an all-star concert at one of the most popular venues in Chicago. Not their fault though. You can’t hold an artist responsible for bad promotion. Low turnout or not, I was bent on having a great time. At about 9:30 pm, Choc City’s Dj Caise took over from Dee Money and the show started.

An unknown artist came on stage. Did two songs and left.  Sam Klef came on next. His presence on stage was so lifeless. He pranced around the stage and after two songs, he too left, not having connected with the crowd and much to my relief. Jesse Jagz came on. His was the first okay performance of the night. Ending his performance of “Murder Dem” with the popular hymn, “Amen, amen, blessings and glory…” was pretty cool. The crowd loved it. I loved it. Nothing wrong with going to the club and getting a little bit of church in the mix.

Ice Prince was the next act. His command of the stage was definitely better than what we had seen so far. At some point in the performance, he tells DJ Caise to stop the music. Then he says something like: “Look, there’s this girl here who I can’t stop looking at. She’s got me. I can’t sing. I can’t stop thinking about her. I need her right here with me on stage.” The girl comes on stage. She’s a pretty Kenyan-Nigerian girl. Ice Prince has her sit on a high stool and sings his hit collabo with Gyptian while the girl smiled. To be honest, it was more cheesy than cute. Even before this cliched stage gimmick, Ice Prince was performing a song and the track skipped. It was a little embarrassing. Ice Prince played it cool with some Naija-factor type joke. But still. Why is a track skipping on Dj Caise’s watch? One thing Ice Prince did right was inviting this Tanzanian rapper on stage. With just one track, the guy got the audience freaking out of their minds.

J Martins was just okay. I’ve still not figured out why J Martins decided to perform nearly all of his five or so songs off stage while mingling with the crowd. Some people thought it was cool. I think it’s silly. It was distracting. It was such a drag listening to him sing while trying to keep track of him on the dark dance floor.

By the time Tu Face showed up, it was about 11pm. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to see him on stage, but I was also worried about the concert ending so soon. I hadn’t yet realized that Iyanya, Timi Dakolo, and MI were going to be no-shows. So I’m thinking to myself: Tu Face is clearly the head lining act. How come is he on stage so early? Where is Timi Dakolo and MI? Isn’t the night still too young? Is this all my 50 dollars is worth? Tu Face would not let me dwell on those negative thoughts though. His charm, his maturity, his simplicity, self-confidence, and his voice completely got me. His rendition of “Only Me” was not that great. It’s a difficult song to sing live. But “True Love” was pretty on point. He ended the night with the monster hit, “African Queen.”

All through the course of his performance, Tu Face kept saying over and over again–at least ten times: “Thanks to everyone single person here for buying a ticket.” That was clearly his way of saying “sorry you guys paid all this money to see a dead show.” In general, for an all-star concert, the United Sounds of Africa concert in Chicago was not worth the hype. I give it a 3/10.  Are they planning on using dead shows like these to conquer the international market?

Half the audience was on the dance floor while the rest was just milling about the bar and environs. People looked bored. They shouted when a song they knew or loved was about to be performed, but after the artist performed for a minute or so, they lost interest.  It was clear that the crowd knew these musicians and loved their work. No doubt about that. We could all sing every word of every song. But somehow the artists could not really connect with us in any real way. It’s like we loved the songs more than we cared for the singers performing it. The bareness of the stage was also weird. There were no hype men. Tu Face was the only one with a back up singer. The skipping track, the bad lighting, the clichéd stage antics all added up to give the concert a home-made, low-budget feel. Everyone, except Tu Face, came on stage and did some version of the clichéd stage banter: “When I say…You say…” Seriously? Do these guys think they are in high school?

Clearly, the next frontier we need to conquer in the Nigerian music industry is live performance. How do we hope to compete in international music markets? It’s not just about landing international record contracts. It’s about being able to render solid deliveries both in the studio and on stage.

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Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

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