On MTN Project Fame: Why everyone wants to sing

By Hymar David

Once a year, for the past seven years, The MTN Project Fame: West Africa calls for auditions to get into the Academy. This stage of the competition is the fun part. The auditions throw light on the desperation that is the Nigerian youth. Thousands and thousands congregate audition venues, some arriving a day or two before to beat the long queues.

Iyanya won the first edition of Project Fame
Iyanya won the first edition of Project Fame

Who are they? Better still, what are they?

Many are simple-minded individuals with about-enough education, petty dreams and unremarkable lives. They are people who, in fair times, wouldn't even give the Project Fame Academy more than a passing thought. Who have no business with even shower opera.

But these are not fair times. These are times where everyone in Nigeria has something they want to escape from. Enter music to the rescue.

Except this isn't the listen-and-be-inspired escape mode we know. It is the I-too-can-sing, I-too-am-an-artist sort of escape. The kind that sees bus conductors, tone-deaf auto-mechanics and even security guards with voices better suited for screaming 'pass!pass!' In football games.

These people come on live TV and we laugh at them. We find them ridiculous. We find them everything and anything but sad. We forget to relate.

We forget it is our lyrically-pitiful, beat-based music scene that gives them hope. Who wouldn't believe he can prance about for a few minutes repeating 'Take banana!' over and over into the mic? How hard is it to dream up nonsense like Iyanya's ‘Oreo’, get a competent producer to make it dance-worthy and soon you’re on the way to massive airplay.

Sample lines from ‘Oreo’:

The man is sweet like a Oreo Oreo (oreo) Oreo/To the matter, to the matter I wanna love you now/To the matter, to the matter I wanna love you down/To the matter, to the matter I get you take it down/I'll take you round the world I'll take you to my town/To the matter, to the matter I wanna love you now/To the matter, to the matter I wanna love you down/To the matter, to the matter I get you take it down.

The problem is MTN Project fame is not a reflection of what the Nigerian music scene is about. MTN Project Fame is the Nigerian music scene playing dress-up—that's why these dreamers never get in. Because Project Fame is a long, winding throw from what they think they know.

The irony here is some of those who get in (and can really sing), once they get out, it is adapt or perish. Ask Iyanya who won the show’s first edition but now drops cringe-making lines and gets away on the strength of hot beats and catchy hooks.

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