There is no end to creativity even though a work of art can be limited to a particular place in time and space. One of my passions is photography and I have various thoughts about what photography means to me. These thoughts kind of bounce around in my mind awaiting the moment when they will be given flesh. I am pretty sure I am not the only one in such a space, so here is my little piece of advice to artists, and other creators-in-waiting.
There is a lot of art to create, a massive number of places to photograph, amazing locations and people to paint, and a lot of music and songs to compose or dance to out there on our beautiful earth, but since we cannot be in all places at once and since we cannot really do every aspect of art, we then must be intentional in our creative process within the limited space of our art, in order to capture that which one can call a piece of art for now and for the ages to come. Every opportunity we have to create is an opportunity to paint on the canvas of our universe that which generations to come will refer to in order to gain wisdom and understanding of where they are coming from.
A little observation on the music industry
Over the course of about two or more decades, I have watched the African creative scene, especially the music sector, morph from having deep and heart-molded creativity where music is written with intention and purpose to the present-day state of things where creativity glorifies frivolities and how much money is to be accrued from such creative art. The spiritual depth of art and the purposeful process of creating a deep connection to higher thoughts through art have been compromised and exchanged for money, glory, fame, and social media followership. But since there are consequences for such compromise and loss of creativity, it does not come as a surprise that we now have a fully-grown generation of people who are warped in their minds, unconnected to the deeper things that raise spiritual consciousness and who are mostly chasers of trends, followers of influencers with no real influence in deep things that create a better world. Their only ability appears to be to corrupt the minds of our young people, leading them on the path of self-glory and the destruction of the soul. This older generation loves to jump around motivational statements, but they can’t find, from the inside of themselves, any true inspiration to make changes. Small wonder that the next generation of younger humans is as shallow and lost as it is.
Art is powerful and can be used to change perspectives, narratives, and even global cultures. But what about the wielders of these powers that art brings? How should they use their power in creating art and the power it gives them to influence others? It’s a very thin line here and artists must be careful not to think that whatever they do in their place of art does not have consequences for the outside world. It does, which is why art and the creation of art must be purposeful and also very intentional in its use for social change. It is powerful in its effects, either for good or for bad.
Why am I saying all this? Let’s take a look at the example of Afrobeat from Nigeria.
Using the example of how Afrobeat from Nigeria has taken a very powerful and unique tangent in the global space and how it has become one of, if not the most popular music styles in the world right now; how the young African artists are using it as means of getting massive amounts of wealth to fund lavish lifestyles and all the soul-selling madness going on globally, and then juxtapose that with the original intention of the music legend Fela Kuti had in mind when he created it. Fela Kuti intended for Afrobeat to serve as a deep spiritual oracle for societal change, today’s musicians are using it for personal aggrandizement… so you see how easy it is for art to be used for selfish and glory-seeking purposes.
Please don’t get me wrong or think that I am against creating wealth through art. That’s not what I am saying. What I am saying is that it’s now very easy to create music in the studio without any reference to any form of spiritual background for such music. Music is daily losing depth and reason. It has become even worse with the massive number of music technologies and software available that make producing music so pedestrian as to result in watered-down creations which lack any real musicality. What we have now are mostly some weird-sounding beats, electronic tunes and stuff that really do not point you to anything useful and heart-changing, except maybe to dance and revel till you lose your mind partying.
I was having a conversation the other day with my wife and we were just talking about the gospel music scene globally. Now, this is not me trying to be spiritual or even churchy, but me just trying to say a few things about what I have been noticing.
I may not have clear data or even dates to back this stream of thoughts up, but if my observations serve me right, you may find that you agree with me. I grew up in church and one of the most musical influences I had back then was gospel music from the USA, the genre known as Negro Spiritual music from African Americans. It was massive some time back in Nigeria. In fact, the one and only standard back then was African American music. Churches loved them and connected to them deeply. I believe those days of Negro spiritual songs were steeped in the spirituality that was handed down from “slave ancestors” to their free sons and daughters. So, that music was full of grace and a mighty connection to the Supreme One. They were songs created from places of deep connection to God and real spiritual journeys with Him. They were not shallow and vain-glory seeking but deep and heart-changing.
Along the way, African American gospel music started compromising spirituality selling out in favor of musical technicalities and before you knew it, gospel music ministers were suddenly being rated in the Grammy’s and other award shows, not for the life-changing power and spirit that their songs and music should bring, but by their musical technicalities, skills and how much global promotion they give their music through the various music distribution platforms. And because this paparazzi show creates the illusion of “we are reaching the world” with the message of our music ministry, attention has been taken away from the true spiritual meaning of gospel music and centered on award shows and reality shows that have nothing to do with real spirituality.
Fast forward to about ten or fifteen years ago, the massive gospel music ministry started to shift from America to other parts of the world. The shift landed in Australia for a moment and then moved again. It landed in Africa, which at the time had not been corrupted with the “let’s make ‘good music’ and get good money doing it” syndrome like it had hit American gospel music. Collaborations between American gospel artists and African gospel artists, especially from Nigeria, started to happen. Even in the secular music genre, one witnessed the same massive collaboration. It became like a wildfire over the past decade. Right now, I don’t think there is any popular American gospel music artist that has not featured or collaborated with one African gospel music artist, and again, especially from Nigeria. You can go and verify this claim. Why do I keep mentioning Nigeria? You may ask. It’s because I grew up in Nigeria and could tell clearly from my observations of the changing trends I have seen over the years. But why Nigerian gospel music artists? I really do not know, but if taken from the spiritual side of things, I think Nigerian gospel music artists still manage to somehow create depth and purpose in their music and songs, and I do not excuse those who have already compromised their spiritual stands. Also, outside of South Africa, no other country in Africa can boast the depth of musical skills and technicalities that Nigerian artists have developed over the years. You can also verify this for yourself. But I am afraid that once again, gospel music from Nigeria has also started to shift from its spiritual depth and purpose to skills, musical technicalities, fame, and award shows to the point that it’s now difficult to know who is doing what gospel music is supposed to be doing. And because music generally has become a money-making machine globally, doing music in Nigeria now is so expensive, not to even speak of shooting music videos, to the point of asking if we really are still doing art or a casino money exchange. But what does that really show you? It’s a gradual shift from purpose to wealth creation while compromising the very reason why art was given in the first place.
As I wrote this article, news broke on social media about the death of one of Nigeria’s popular gospel music ministers, Sammie Okposo. As of the time of writing this article, much information has not been shared about the cause of his death. He was 51 years old. May he rest in eternal peace.
Sammy Okposo as a gospel music minister was one of the pioneers of this shift that I am talking about that happened in Nigeria. Could his sudden death actually be a prophetic insight into what I am saying that a shift is coming in Nigeria? We can only watch and see.
Art, creativity and the deeper meaning of life
There is much attached to life and living but we have somehow created a world that is so neck-deep in the vain pursuit of things that make no sense. Art is definitely suffering from our neglect of truth and purpose and we need to do something about it before it’s too late. Otherwise, we will raise the next generation of people who think that art is about them and their warped insatiable quest for power, control, money, sex, and vain glory.
I define ART as the Ability to Recreate Thoughts, but what happens when a massive delusion has hit the thought process of many in our world? Art suffers and the next generation is left unguarded and unwise for the age that we have stepped into. We must go back to purpose and the spirituality behind ART, just maybe we can still salvage the little sanity that is remaining.
So, keep your curiosity sharp, but create with purpose.
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Samuel Phillips is a writer, graphic designer, photographer, songwriter, singer and a lover of God. As an Afrikan content creator, he is passionate about creating a better image and positive narrative about Afrika and Afrikans. He is a true Afrikan who believes that the true potential of Afrika and Afrikans can manifest through God and accurate collaborations between Afrikans. Afrika is the land of kings, emperors, original wisdom, ancient civilizations, great men and women and not some road-side-aid-begging poor third world continent that the world finds joy in undermining.