This article examines how genres of Nollywood soundtrack, which draw mainly from Nigerian popular music, effectively give Nollywood film genres their unique identification. This music genre–film genre association not only sets Nollywood apart from other cinema traditions, but also confers a marginal genre identity on its film music. The approach of this study is primarily ethnographic: pooling and teasing out inferences from the local discourse on film music practice, which the experiential evidence from forty classic Nollywood film samples support. The outcome shows that popular music is and can be a critical tool for distinguishing among film genres.

INTRODUCTION

Nigeria is home to several film industries whose themes and dialogues are primarily expressed through various ethnicities and local dialects. For this reason, “the Nigerian film industry is not synonymous with Nollywood.1 [Nigerian film industry]. In terms of history and era, mainstream Nollywood here refers to the period of independent soundtrack producers and freelance musicians and composers (1994–2016). It also refers to a segment of the Nigerian film industry that is primarily engaged in movie productions expressed largely in the English language and Nigerian Pidgin English. Such productions are usually rendered straight to VCDs/DVDs, which are then retailed at designated outlets, such as the Aba market in Aba, the Iweka market in Onitsha, the Alaba/Idumota markets in Lagos, and the Kurmi market in Kano. Alexander Bud says that these films

are bought by individuals or smaller-scale marketers, who then take the discs to smaller regional markets for downstream trading. The discs purchased at these markets are often duplicated without authorization, and it is variously estimated that as a result, between 58 percent and 80 percent of revenues are earned through unauthorized distribution.2 

In more recent times, however, some of these productions have become available on YouTube, RealNolly TV, and Ibaka TV. Also, the period of consideration in this article spans more than two decades from 1994 (the year of the industry’s first English language-based film) to 2017. As noted elsewhere, mainstream Nollywood has been the bedrock for the conditions, practice, and development of film music in Nigerian cinema.3 It is the forerunner of “New Nollywood,” the parallel and somewhat pro-Hollywood film industry, which emerged around 2012. The distinction between mainstream and New Nollywood have remained blurry and at times contentious. This is so because to the casual observer both mainstream and New Nollywood account for the same practitioners and storylines. The critical differences, however, reside in the size of film budgets, creative and technical quality, and marketing options. Thus, the decision to focus on mainstream Nollywood is based on the urgent need to document and preserve a tradition that is endangered by several influences and challenges, including changing technologies, marketing/distribution preferences, thematic preoccupation, bigger budgets, quality, audience appeal, transnationalism (in the form of international co-productions), new forms of shooting and releasing movies, such as on cinema, pay-TV, and online streaming outlets, such as Iroko TV—all of which the so-called New Nollywood has brought about.

Although the history of mainstream Nollywood has been well established,4 the name itself remains contested because, to some, it overlooks the multiplicity of Nigerian ethnic cultures and their respective film industries by “homogenizing the internal variety of the film industry.” It has also reinforced the notion of “cultural imperialism [arising] from naming a Nigerian product after Hollywood.”5 Conversely, others think the name itself “expresses the powerful aspirations by people in the videofilm industry and by their fans to have a big, glamorous entertainment industry that can take its place on the world scene and appeal to international audiences.”6 This article maintains that both contestations are valid and strongly tied to identity issues, such as language and ethnic affiliations, which I experienced first-hand in my research for this article. One example is the existence of opposing groups and views regarding the Nigerianness of and approaches to Nollywood film and film music genres.

I managed these opposing paradigms by (1) acknowledging and engaging with the local discourse on film music production, (2) considering the nuances in musical preferences (of genre, style, lyrics, and aesthetics), which show significant reliance on Nigerian popular music and, (3) examining the association between mainstream Nollywood film music and its film genres. To be clear, this article is not concerned with the activities of ethnic film industries within Nigeria, including “Yorubawood” of the southwest, “Kanywood” of the north, “Igbowood” of the southeast, and indeed any other “wood” whose existence and productions are firmly marked by sub-cultures and ethnic biases. The arguments and extrapolations of this article also do not apply to “New or neo-Nollywood,” the relatively younger and parallel national film industry to the one discussed here. The reason is that New Nollywood productions broadly constitute aspirations to become more like mainstream Hollywood, which some scholars already have investigated.7 

NOLLYWOOD FILM GENRES

Of the numerous publications on Nollywood, Jonathan Haynes’ Nollywood: The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres is remarkable for its explicit focus on mainstream Nollywood film genres. It details the development and evolution of film genres with critical analyses and comparative study, categorization, labeling, ideology, and, in some instances, offers reasons for the industry’s unused genres. Haynes also notes that mainstream Nollywood productions cut across several film genres that are inextricably linked to the nature and evolution of the industry. So that by following agreed approaches to and descriptions of film narratives and form, the industry establishes a localized concept and meaning of genre. Haynes writes:

In naming genres, I have followed common usages of the film industry and fans. . . . These usages are not altogether consistent or systematic. Internet cites selling Nollywood films often dump them into Hollywood’s generic categories, which is usually misleading. The terms I have adopted . . . [not only] indicate how different Nollywood’s genres are from Hollywood’s, but also how profoundly they express the intentions of Nigerian society.8 

That said, some of the genres bear conventional labels, such as Action, Animation, Biopic, Comedy, Crime, Drama, and Horror, while others are definitive creations of Nollywood. Mainstream Nollywood thus offers localized film genres, such as Campus, Christian film, City film, Community, Cultural-epics, Diaspora, Family, Love, Melodrama, Money-ritual, Romance, Royal, Rural (Village) film, Slave film, and Vigilance film. My understanding is that the proliferation and sustenance of these film genres are based on the repetitive thematic preoccupations of Nollywood films. In other words, the definitions of these genres can be gleaned from their labels and, more important, storylines that support their categorization.

Specifically, mainstream Nollywood film genres exist in themes teased out of Nigerian socioeconomic and cultural realities, which the local discourse on class; disease; history; gender and income inequalities; myths; marriage and procreation; religion; regional and national politics; social identity; violence; and voodoo sustains. Following these genre categorizations and labels, Nollywood demonstrates a “triumph of enormous proportions . . . [as] a popular art-form whose perspective must stay close to that of its broad audience of ordinary Nigerians or risk commercial disaster.”9 My communication with established Nollywood film composers, such as Stanley Okorie, Shadrach John, and Austin Erowele, revealed that some of the aforementioned film genres could also be aesthetically identified by and explained through the popular music genres of their respective soundtracks. This fascinating and distinctive Nollywood film music attribute offers the local variation and counter-practice necessary for rethinking the function of music in film, especially given the depth of research carried out to date on its Euro-American counterpart. This article attempts to complement Haynes’ work by advancing the discourse on film genre from both popular music and film music perspectives.

NIGERIAN POPULAR MUSIC AS NOLLYWOOD FILM MUSIC

For this study, I viewed a little over 50 mainstream Nollywood films produced between 1994 and 2016 and analyzed forty. The decision to eliminate ten of the pre-selected films does not adversely affect the integrity of this study because their soundtracks are by the same composers and evocative of a palpable consistency in the choice and application of Nigerian popular music. In essence, the Nigerian popular music culture is a primary resource for mainstream Nollywood film music. Notably, the diversity in Nigerian popular music practice, production, consumption, and appreciation has blossomed since the country became independent in 1960. Andy Frankel notes:

Nigeria is a giant in musical expression. From its hundreds of distinct ethnic groups have come seemingly limitless musical expressions over the course of the last half century. Recordings of everything from pop to traditional music have chronicled the political, cultural and stylistic history of a colonial nation, the struggle for self-determination, an emerging nation and the boom and bust of an African giant. Literally, tens of thousands of recordings have been made by record companies, scholars, amateurs, social clubs, broadcasters, cultural centers and a variety of other organizations.10 

Despite such a remark, however, critical foundations of popular music scholarship in Nigeria remain embryonic and in desperate need of publications to keep pace with the vibrant industry.

As an overview, Nigerian popular music falls into two broad categories. I label the first “glocalized” genres—many of which are Euro-American appropriations that have been deregistered, reframed and therefore domesticated using indigenous musical idioms, instruments and instrumentation, as well as semiotic systems, such as language. Examples include Nigerian hip-hop, Nigerian rhythm and blues, Nigerian rap, Nigerian reggae, and Nigerian pop gospel. The second category comprises “localized” genres: those that are of Nigerian (African) origin, such as Nigerian highlife, afrobeat, and juju. This second category bears genres that are inscribed and distinguished along ethnic and linguistic parameters, as well as sub-culture areas of Nigeria. As is the convention across the world, popular music in contemporary Nigeria employs electronic and digital equipment, forms of popular culture (television, radio, film, videogames) and social media platforms for its dissemination. Nearly all varieties of Nigerian popular music have target audiences, markets, and appreciation both in Nigeria and the diasporas. As a culture influencer, mainstream Nollywood patronizes some of these popular music genres. My investigations reveal that rap, highlife, R&B, and hip hop appear most frequently on mainstream Nollywood soundtracks. At this juncture, a detailed account of all genres of Nigerian popular music would be interesting. For reasons of scope and focus, however, only Nigerian rap and Nigerian highlife genres are discussed here.11 Broadly, these two examples bear tonal and formal attributes that are emblematic of the rest.

Mainstream Nollywood employs Nigerian rap in part because the genre readily lends itself to the infusion of sounds and dialogues of folk music, text, and popular culture. Fundamentally, the genre supports the indigenous vocal inflection of songs using a typical Nigerian vocabulary. The form of Nigerian rap largely resembles its American variant: it conveys and allows for different layers of vocal-instrumental entry and drop-out, as well as a constantly varying texture within and between verses and chorus. The harmonic vocabulary of the Nigerian rap genre is loosely limited to a continuous alternation between two to three held-out blocked chords, which are often played on a synthesizer and a decayed electric guitar. This attribute works perfectly for mainstream Nollywood as most of its film music employs limited harmonic resources. This observation was validated by Austin Erowele.

Over here, we are very different in [approaches to] producing our own local moods and incidentals [sound effects]. [Film] sounds are not of high quality [and] sometimes the [film] songs play on just one chord. Over there, they [mainstream Hollywood] are very advanced [but] we do not have such [expertise].12 

Nigerian rap further allows for the employment of recognizable melodic samples from folk and popular music. Rhythmically, the genre regularly infuses indigenous beats with the break-beats and speaker-pounding jeep-beats of its American counterpart. In some cases, the bass and drums are mixed low in the track so that they simulate action. Nollywood composers’ perception of rhythm in Nigerian rap is that it guarantees the genre’s stylistic soundtrack currency for use in Nollywood action films. Like many Nigerian popular music genres, the lyrics of Nigerian rap music are often an intelligible combination of local Nigerian languages (Yoruba, Igbo, Ibibio, Hausa, Bini, and so on), the Nigerian Pidgin English, and occasionally Standard English. Here, the advantage of language, which spans a broad linguistic base, ensures that mainstream Nollywood soundtracks are able to “sing the film”— a phrase that implies the use of texted (vocal) music to narrate or foretell Nollywood movie plots.13 Like other genres in the glocalized category, Nigerian rap is a crucial example of the syncretism of much contemporary music with elements of Nigerian identity. Through the appropriation of the globalized genre of rap, Nollywood film composers localize the genre to embody the sounds and discourses of their indigenous musical inventions, which in turn creates the musical expressions for (re-) imagining and revealing Nollywood storylines.

Another popular music genre of interest in mainstream Nollywood is the Nigerian highlife, which Austin Emielu has significantly researched. For example, Emielu indicates that the highlife genre is “rooted in the diversities of traditional [Nigerian] social dance music . . . including Kokoma,Agidibo,Dundun,Akpala, Ekpiri,Swange,Itembe, and Kalangu.”14 Indeed, the highlife music genre is a fusion of indigenous (syncopated) dance rhythms, simple harmonic progressions, and melodies with instrumentation that generally includes African drums, harmonicas, guitars, and accordions. Analytically, the nature of highlife song texts suggests that the ears and minds are now more critically important than the senses of sight, touch, and body-ballroom gestures.15 Invariably, the audience of highlife music is drawn into paying rapt attention to the intertextual and meta-textual messages embedded in the music. The shift of emphasis from seeing and dancing to listening and contemplation supports film scholars’ perception that mainstream Nollywood productions emphasize dialogue, improvisation, and listening over camera movement and motion picture composition.16 Musicologically, this explains the ease with which the Nigerian highlife music consistently makes up the repertoire of Nollywood film music. The genre is a unique soundtrack resource because its dynamism does not only reside in the aesthetics of its form and style but also and more so in its critical song texts, which guarantees its development and hyper-explicative efficacy in Nollywood films.

Other genres of Nigerian popular music used in Nollywood include afrobeat, afropop, and Nigerian reggae. Fundamentally, the industry’s preference for such popular music genres as film music rests on their diversity and, more important, narratological and aesthetical capacity to ensure that the target audience can watch Nollywood films as much with the ears as with the eyes.17Although Nollywood film composers and producers appear to have drawn lines between some Nigerian popular music genres, it is important to note that music genres quite often overlap in attributes and are as fluid as film genres. It is precisely because a few of the Nigerian popular music genres differ in origin and characteristics that they appeal to Nollywood practitioners and confer a potentially Nigerian film music objectivity. Nollywood practitioners are acutely aware of this objectivity, and thus exploit it in ways that have provoked a rethinking of the term “genre.”

RETHINKING GENRE

This article was informed by what appeared as a direct correlation between certain Nigerian popular music genres and genres of mainstream Nollywood films. Subsequently, this remark was both confirmed and explained during interviews with and studio observation sessions of some established Nollywood film composers, including Austin Erowele, Stanley Okorie, and Shadrach John. In other words, this article’s arguments have evolved largely from ethnographic data. In an interview about the genre association, Shadrach John asserted:

Genre refers to a particular kind of music: you have rhythm and blues, reggae, highlife and the rest of them. In the Nollywood world, so to say, all these come in to play. It depends on the kind of story and the kind of movie. I happen to have done [soundtrack] for a romantic movie [genre]. There is a particular [music] genre [and] style that you use for that one, which is pop R&B. Then you have the Comedy genre, and that basically requires highlife . . . dramatic style, because you are going to talk about the story; you know it has to be funny. You have to bring in the comical part of it. So, based on that I think a link [between film music and film genre] has now been created and developed. So, if you give me a comedy movie for instance, with a certain theme, I ordinarily just use highlife music or style to interpret it; likewise, other genres. Then you have the Crime [genre], the action movie . . . that has to do with either [Nigerian] reggae or rap music. Then you have the indigenous stories—we call them the [Cultural] epic stories. It has to do with culture . . . so sometimes we incorporate our cultural [Folk] beats.18 

This is an astounding revelation that suggests how processes of localization have given rise to a Nollywood pedagogic approach to film and film music categorization. To make sure, I investigated Shadrach John’s statement using 40 films of varying popular music genres and soundtracks by different composers within the last twenty years (table 1). The outcome confirms what has become a template for deciding the choice of musical genre for the soundtracks of some mainstream Nollywood film genres.

TABLE 1.

Some Nollywood film genres and their prescribed film/pop music genres

S/No.Title of film & Year of releaseGenre of filmGenre of soundtrackFilm composer
1. The Master (2005) Comedy Highlife Stanley Okorie 
2. Ada Mbano Reloaded (2014) Comedy Highlife Chimere Emejuobi 
3. Family Man (2014) Comedy Highlife Austin Erowele 
4. Spanner (2003) Comedy Highlife Stanley Okorie 
5. Matters Arising (2013) Comedy Highlife Austin Erowele 
6. Native Fowl (2014) Comedy Highlife Shadrach John 
7. Ibu in Campus (2011) Comedy Highlife Chimex Alex 
8. Double Mama (2013) Comedy Highlife Stanley Okorie 
9. Okon Lagos (2011) Comedy Highlife George Nathaniel 
10. Fifa Agent (2010) Comedy Highlife Stanley Okorie 
11. Return of White Hunters (2010) Drama Hip hop Shadrach John 
12. Ekaette Goes to School (2014) Drama/comedy/ Traditional R&B/highlife Maxwell Leonard Chidiebere 
13. Birthmark (2015) Drama Hip hop/R&B Kayode Dada 
14. Save My Soul (2014) Drama Hip hop Chimere Emejuobi 
15. Holding Hope (2012) Drama Hip hop/R&B Austin Erowele 
16. Unforgiveable (2013) Drama Hip hop Izuchukwu Vincent 
17. Knocking on Heaven’s Door (2014) Drama Hip hop/R&B George Nathaniel 
18. Lagos Cougars (2014) Drama Hip hop/R&B George Nathaniel 
19. A Place Called Happy (2015) Drama Hip hop/R&B MOSA 
20. Behind the Melody (2012) Drama Hip hop/rap Michael Oyong 
21. Darkness of Sorrow (2008) Drama R&B Austin Erowele 
22. The Return of X-Gang (2005) Action Rap/reggae Shadrach John 
23. Escort Service (2011) Action Rap Austin Erowele 
24. Four Crooks and a Rookie (2012) Action Rap Chisorom Ukomadu 
25. Pleasure Booster (2011) Action Rap Austin Erowele 
26. Professional Lady (2012) Crime Rap Seigha Abide 
27. Final War Game (2006) Crime Rap Shadrach John 
28. Dirty Secret (2010) Crime Rap/hip hop Austin Erowele 
29. The Faculty (2007) Crime Rap Shadrach John 
30. Queen of the Jungle (2009) Crime Rap Shadrach John 
31. Return of Destiny Call (2009) Cultural-epic (or Traditional) Pop synthesized folk music Chimere Emejuobi 
32. Beyond Conspiracy (2009) Cultural-epic Pop synthesized folk music Maxwell Leonard Chidiebere 
33. The Return of Odo (2010) Cultural-epic Pop synthesized folk music Stanley Okorie 
34. Diamond Kingdom (2013) Cultural-epic Pop synthesized folk music Shadrach John 
35. The Twin Sword (2014) Cultural-epic Pop synthesized folk music Austin (‘Dr. Browne) Ogbu 
36. The Unkind (2014) Thriller Afro-pop/rap Beat Sleenga 
37. Behind the Curtains (2015) Thriller Afro-pop/hip-hop Isaac Igbana 
38. Doll House (2015) Thriller Afro-pop/hip-hop Jah Baby 
39. Thy Will Be Done (2015) Thriller Afro-pop/hip-hop Luke Corradine 
40. The Department (2015) Thriller Afro-pop/rap Bez 
S/No.Title of film & Year of releaseGenre of filmGenre of soundtrackFilm composer
1. The Master (2005) Comedy Highlife Stanley Okorie 
2. Ada Mbano Reloaded (2014) Comedy Highlife Chimere Emejuobi 
3. Family Man (2014) Comedy Highlife Austin Erowele 
4. Spanner (2003) Comedy Highlife Stanley Okorie 
5. Matters Arising (2013) Comedy Highlife Austin Erowele 
6. Native Fowl (2014) Comedy Highlife Shadrach John 
7. Ibu in Campus (2011) Comedy Highlife Chimex Alex 
8. Double Mama (2013) Comedy Highlife Stanley Okorie 
9. Okon Lagos (2011) Comedy Highlife George Nathaniel 
10. Fifa Agent (2010) Comedy Highlife Stanley Okorie 
11. Return of White Hunters (2010) Drama Hip hop Shadrach John 
12. Ekaette Goes to School (2014) Drama/comedy/ Traditional R&B/highlife Maxwell Leonard Chidiebere 
13. Birthmark (2015) Drama Hip hop/R&B Kayode Dada 
14. Save My Soul (2014) Drama Hip hop Chimere Emejuobi 
15. Holding Hope (2012) Drama Hip hop/R&B Austin Erowele 
16. Unforgiveable (2013) Drama Hip hop Izuchukwu Vincent 
17. Knocking on Heaven’s Door (2014) Drama Hip hop/R&B George Nathaniel 
18. Lagos Cougars (2014) Drama Hip hop/R&B George Nathaniel 
19. A Place Called Happy (2015) Drama Hip hop/R&B MOSA 
20. Behind the Melody (2012) Drama Hip hop/rap Michael Oyong 
21. Darkness of Sorrow (2008) Drama R&B Austin Erowele 
22. The Return of X-Gang (2005) Action Rap/reggae Shadrach John 
23. Escort Service (2011) Action Rap Austin Erowele 
24. Four Crooks and a Rookie (2012) Action Rap Chisorom Ukomadu 
25. Pleasure Booster (2011) Action Rap Austin Erowele 
26. Professional Lady (2012) Crime Rap Seigha Abide 
27. Final War Game (2006) Crime Rap Shadrach John 
28. Dirty Secret (2010) Crime Rap/hip hop Austin Erowele 
29. The Faculty (2007) Crime Rap Shadrach John 
30. Queen of the Jungle (2009) Crime Rap Shadrach John 
31. Return of Destiny Call (2009) Cultural-epic (or Traditional) Pop synthesized folk music Chimere Emejuobi 
32. Beyond Conspiracy (2009) Cultural-epic Pop synthesized folk music Maxwell Leonard Chidiebere 
33. The Return of Odo (2010) Cultural-epic Pop synthesized folk music Stanley Okorie 
34. Diamond Kingdom (2013) Cultural-epic Pop synthesized folk music Shadrach John 
35. The Twin Sword (2014) Cultural-epic Pop synthesized folk music Austin (‘Dr. Browne) Ogbu 
36. The Unkind (2014) Thriller Afro-pop/rap Beat Sleenga 
37. Behind the Curtains (2015) Thriller Afro-pop/hip-hop Isaac Igbana 
38. Doll House (2015) Thriller Afro-pop/hip-hop Jah Baby 
39. Thy Will Be Done (2015) Thriller Afro-pop/hip-hop Luke Corradine 
40. The Department (2015) Thriller Afro-pop/rap Bez 

The table above shows how different film music composers have approached similar film genres with “agreed” popular music genres. This finding is fascinating, especially when contrasted with, say, its Chinese counterpart. In writing about Chinese “reflexive” film tradition, Sue Tuohy claims that individual films “delineate only two or three musical choices, such as whether to compose revolutionary music . . . or decadent ‘yellow’ music.”19 As observed, mainstream Nollywood offers something similar. In Nollywood, certain musical genres are completely tied to certain film genres. Whereas Chinese films offer a narrow ambit of choice of “style of composition,” Nollywood’s equally narrow compass resides within “genre categorization and ideology.” In essence, Nollywood film genres can be identified using certain Nigerian popular music genres. It is therefore my theory that the strict association of film genres with established preferences of Nigerian popular music produces both a “rule” and what I call a “marginal-genre” identity of Nollywood film music. But this industry practice is also the basis for problematizing genre.

PROBLEMATIZING GENRE

The categorization by genre is both helpful and unhelpful. Whereas it might be argued that this Nollywood genre categorization and ideology limits creative/musical flexibility, it effectively inspires a rethinking of the conventional ways of defining and distinguishing film genres. In other words, music is and can be a critical part of the distinguishing characteristics of film genres, particularly as constructed in mainstream Nollywood. This notion constitutes one of the “rules of Nollywood” and is therefore an important identity marker that is sustained in part because film producers and marketers also demand its adherence:

Maybe [a] kind of movie has been done in the past with a type [genre] of music, let’s say, highlife, which is for [the] comedy [film genre]. The executive producer of the movie might actually say to you: “So and so movie was done in time with this genre or style of music, could you please do the same thing, or something similar?”20 

As a shorthand description, the Nollywood film–film music categorization provides simplicity and analytical clarity. Cultural texts such as film and film music, however, seldom fall neatly into discrete compartmentalization. As such, Nollywood’s application of specific music genres to its films is also problematic. By the prevailing film–film music classification, one might ask: what is the influence of Nollywood film genres on its film music? How, for instance, do Nollywood “hybrid” film genres (those with multiple generic attributes that transcend conventional boundaries of definition) speak back to its film music? Are the soundtrack genres “revised” in such instances?

As indicated in Jonathan Haynes’s work on genre, mainstream Nollywood has developed a few culture-specific genres such as Family, City film, and Traditional (also called Cultural-epic). The Traditional, for example, is a Nollywood film genre that is primarily characterized by rural storylines (exx. 31−34 in table 1). The narratives cover issues from land and farm disputes to conflicts within and between rural communities, rural development and governance, inter- and intra-ethnic marriages and trade, and myths. Family, on the other hand, is the queen of Nollywood genres with storylines that are mainly about the need for education, civic and family responsibilities, the consequences of deviancy and evil in society, parenting and parenthood, and sometimes faith-based/traditional African beliefs/vocations.21 A few examples in this category are Shame (1996), The Maid (2004), and Sorrowful Child (2014).

Critically, the narrative constituents of other genres can be, and normally are, at work within any single Nollywood film. This means that Nollywood film genres are not wholly independent of one another. Instead, the film genres are in constant tension with and relation to one another. Whether this is deliberate has yet to be fully established in publications about Nollywood films. As may be found in mainstream Hollywood, some Nollywood films are inherently hybrid in nature, such as Apostles of Lucifer, 2004. This hybridity exists independently of any genre’s dominant attributes or recognizable film music genre. Thus, it is common to find Action movies that incorporate attributes from Traditional; Family movies that feature aspects of Comedy; and Drama/Romantic films that contain elements from Horror. Here lies the problem with Nollywood’s established static film–film music compartmentalization.

What I propose here calls for an analysis that shows how film genres influence film music, which, in turn, invites arguments regarding film genre theory. Yet embarking on an argument about film genre theory would likely commandeer this article. Therefore, I propose at the outset that the existence of film genres is taken for granted, and that they can indeed be defined thus:

[Genres are] groupings of films which become recognized by creators, critics and audiences over the course of time and which are seen in terms of complex structures of conventions, consisting of things like recurrent plots, stereotyped characters, accepted ideas, commonly-known metaphors and other linguistic and narrative devices.22 

Cawelti’s definition does not account for hybridity, perhaps because the concept is essentially an outlier of his fixed genre supposition. Even though hybridity is not the main focus of this article, problematizing genre here requires that we briefly transition away from Cawelti’s definition if only to offer a semblance of balance of criticism—one that merits full investigation later. Mainstream Nollywood offers hybrid film genres that show inter-generic or trans-generic attributes. Hence, it is only logical that the music of/for such hybrid genres “shifts” or changes as the narratives shift. For instance, if, within the Nollywood context, there were a love scene (a generally accepted feature of the Drama/Romantic genre) in a Crime genre, it would make sense for the background music to be of the R&B genre. Thus, the composer temporarily shifts his choice of popular music genre from Nigerian rap to R&B. The soundtrack should understandably return to its “prescribed” (rap) genre as soon as the narrative pivots back to the features of Crime. Put simply, when components from other genres permeate a certain film, the accompanying music should shift somewhat away from the generic archetype to accommodate the hybrid attributes. Of course, this shift in music would likely blur the more static reading of Nollywood genre categorization. As suggested, these assumptions will require further research as it is not immediately clear how hybridity influences the current genre categorization, and neither do we know how it challenges the Nollywood film composer.

THEORIZING POPULAR/FILM MUSIC GENRE

To start with, the literature on Hollywood and European film music offers little or nothing on genres.23 Claudia Gorbman, for instance, comes very close by showing “how music works in film genres such as animation, documentary,and experimental film.”24 But she does not quite critique the relationship between genres of film music and film. Her assumptions imply that music in mainstream narrative cinema is more homogenous than it actually is. On the one hand, she seems correct: film music does operate in broadly similar ways from one film genre to another—“screening”and “reinforcing” meaning, and amplifying mood. But this article’s interest is not in “how” music operates within film. Rather it asks which genre of (popular) music is in operation within a given film. The premise for this argument is that all popular music is not the same. Accordingly, all film music is not the same, at least as shown in mainstream Nollywood taxonomy. This observation alone begs for a wider debate about genre in film music.

Mainstream Nollywood film–film music genre categorization raises a few more interesting theoretical concerns. One is the emergence of stereotypes as the industry inevitably ties certain film and film music genres to certain composers. For example, the name Stanley Okorie is roundly associated with both Comedy and Traditional (epic) film genres. Composer Shadrach John confirms the existence of stereotypes:

[The executive producers/marketers] decide most of these things. They meet regularly in Onitsha [southeast Nigeria]. Like, before I get jobs, they must have sat to talk about it, and say, “OK, Shadrach did that job and he was fantastic; why don’t we give this to him, he can do it?” Let me shock you. There was a time when, after [the release of] Akinukwa—the Comedy movie, I became a “Comedy [film] soundtrack producer” for about two years. [So,] somebody will make an Urban [City] movie and say, “Let me give it to Shadrach,” and they [the marketers] will say, “No, no, no, Shadrach is a Comedy soundtrack person.” That was how . . . I’m telling you, I just kept getting it [Comedy soundtrack requests] because of Akinukwa. Until one or two guys said, “But Shadrach started with “Urban” thing [soundtracks], so he can also do [compose for] it.”25 

I have noted in previous publications that the ability to make this kind of demand on the composer reifies the powers that executive (film) producers/marketers command.26 

The other theoretical issue that the current genre association raises is one of identity. Earlier, I suggested that this taxonomy confers a marginal-genre identity on Nollywood film music. This means that some Nigerian popular music genres, such as Highlife, Nigerian reggae, Afro-pop, and Nigerian rap, can and do discretely stand as film music genres in Nollywood (table 2). For example, Nigerian Highlife is both a popular music genre and a Comedy film music genre. This finding inspires us to rethink the conventional ways of defining and designating popular music. But more so, it invites academic scrutiny on and around the parameters for distinguishing and/or associating film and film music genres, especially as currently perceived and conceived in the Global North.

TABLE 2.

Some Nigerian popular music genres and their respective film music designation

S/No.Popular music genreFilm music genre designation
1. Highlife Comedy/Family film music genre 
2. Rap Action film music genre 
3. Reggae City film music genre 
4. Hip-hop Drama film music genre 
5. Rhythm and Blues Romance film music genre 
6. Afro-pop Thriller film music genre 
7. Pop synthesized folk Traditional or Cultural-epic film music genre 
S/No.Popular music genreFilm music genre designation
1. Highlife Comedy/Family film music genre 
2. Rap Action film music genre 
3. Reggae City film music genre 
4. Hip-hop Drama film music genre 
5. Rhythm and Blues Romance film music genre 
6. Afro-pop Thriller film music genre 
7. Pop synthesized folk Traditional or Cultural-epic film music genre 

In summary, Nollywood’s genre ideology and categorization enable us to know which genre of popular music is in operation within a film. By this approach, we find that each Nollywood film genre possesses its own musical paradigm/identity that is equally evocative of its own film world. Clearly, the marginal-genre identity invests mainstream Nollywood film music with a sense of self, especially when compared with other cinema traditions, such as mainstream Hollywood. This identity offers a framework for notions of sameness as well as difference, and is constituted in discourse, process, and performance. This marginal-genre identity not only reveals simplicity but also results from popular music’s key role in the articulation and negotiation of film genres. This argument should provoke an academic debate on the conventions of both popular music and film music as highly genre-specific issues within film.

CONCLUSION

This article set out to do three things: to know what genres of Nigerian popular music regularly constitute the repertoire of Nollywood soundtracks; to know how mainstream Nollywood film music genres work to identify Nollywood movie genres; and what possible issues and inferences the resultant genre categorization affords film and film music scholarship. Consequently, the article has established that mainstream Nollywood relies heavily on Nigerian popular music as a soundtrack resource. With a few examples, the article has also shown what musical attributes differentiate the popular music genres and why Nollywood composers prefer them. Citing the analysis of about forty films, I have presented Nollywood’s film–film music genre association, as well as the “new” designations of the Nigerian popular music genres that constitute the bulk of Nollywood film music repertoire. Through the analyses and arguments, I have established that mainstream Nollywood film music possesses a marginal-genre identity. To balance the scrutiny, I have also challenged this outcome by situating the subject matter within notions of hybridity, precisely to provoke a rethink within the industry and in relation to creative preferences, aesthetics, and stereotyping. But whether or not this effort yields, the article has encouraged future research and also challenged existing theoretical film music assumptions that focus on popular music. In all, this article demonstrates how popular music is negotiated and re-designated in film. The fluidity of film music implicates popular music in ways that suggest a mix of the local and global. For mainstream Nollywood, it is a matter of the extent of the local referents and their worth as (national) cultural/identity signifiers.

1.
Jonathan Haynes, Nollywood: The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2016), xxiii.
2.
Alexander Bud, “The End of Nollywood’s Guilded Age? Marketers, the State and the Struggle for Distribution,” Critical African Studies 6, no. 1 (2014): 92.
3.
Emaeyak P. Sylvanus and Obiocha P. Eze-Emaeyak, “The Business of Film Music in Mainstream Nollywood: Competing without Advantage,” Journal of Cultural Economy 11, no. 2 (2018): 142.
4.
Jonathan Haynes, ‘“New Nollywood”: Kunle Afolayan,” Black Camera, 5 (2014); Alessandro Jedlowski, “Videos in Motion: Processes of Transnationalisation in the Southern Nigerian Video Industry: Networks, Discourses, Aesthetics” (Ph.D. diss., University of Naples, 2011); Uchenna Onuzulike, “Nollywood: Nigerian Videofilms as a Cultural and Technological Hybridity,” Journal of Intercultural Communications Studies 18, no.1 (2009); Onookome Okome, “Onome: Ethnicity, Class, Gender,” in Nigerian Videofilms, ed. J. Haynes (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000).
5.
Carmen Onuzulike, “Nollywood and its Others: Questioning English Language Hegemony in Nollywood Studies,” The Global South 7, no. 1 (2013): 31.
6.
Jonathan Haynes, “Nollywood: What’s in a name?” (2005): 106, http://www.nollywood.net/Essays/
7.
Akin Adesokan “Close-Up: Nollywood–A Worldly Creative Practice: Nollywood: Outline of a Trans-ethnic Practice,” Black Camera 5, no. 2 (2014); Connor Ryan “Nollywood and the Limits of Informality: A Conversation with Tunde Kelani, Bond Emeruwa, and Emem Isong,” Black Camera 5, no. 2 (2014).
8.
Haynes, Nollywood, xxv.
9.
Haynes, xiv–xxv.
10.
Andy Frankel, “Once Upon a Luster,” Glendora Review 3 (2004): 3.
11.
For specific information about the other genres, see Afolabi Alaja-Browne, “A Diachronic Study of Change in Juju Music,” Popular Music 8, no. 3 (1989); Austin Emielu, “Ethnic and Regional Identities in Nigerian Popular Music: A Special Focus on the Edo,” Journal of International Library of African Music 9, no. 3 (2013); Ayodele P. Onanuga, “Of Commodities and Objects: Women and their Representations in Nigerian Hip-Hop,” Muziki 14, no. 2 (2017); Ikenna E. Onwuegbuna, “Operational Arrangement of Rhythm in Nigerian Reggae Songs,” Nsukka Journal of the Humanities 24, no. 2 (2016); Christopher A. Waterman, “Our Tradition is a very Modern Tradition: Popular Music and the Construction of Pan-Yoruba Identity,” Ethnomusicology 34, no. 3 (1990).
12.
Austin Erowele (veteran Nollywood film music composer), in a studio observation and conversation with the author, Lagos, August 2015.
13.
Emaeyak P. Sylvanus, “Performing Ethnicity in Nollywood Film Music: The Power of Texted Music,” Journal of the Musical Arts in Africa 15, no. 1 (2018) [Forthcoming].
14.
Austin Emielu, “Some Theoretical Perspectives on African Popular Music,” Popular Music 30, no. 3 (2011): 377.
15.
Sonny Oti, Highlife Music in West Africa (Lagos: Malthouse Press, 2009).
16.
Babson Ajibade, “Nigerian Videos and their Imagined Western Audiences: The Limits of Nollywood’s Transnationality,” in Global Nollywood: The Transnational Dimensions of an African Videofilm Industry, ed. M. Krings and O. Okome (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013).
17.
Discussed in Emaeyak P. Sylvanus, “Prefiguring as an Indigenous Narrative Tool in Nigerian Cinema: An Ethnomusicological Reading,” Ethnomusicology 63, no. 2 (2019). [Forthcoming]
18.
Shadrach John (veteran Nollywood film music composer), in discussion with the author, Lagos, August 2015.
19.
Sue Tuohy, “Reflexive Cinema: Reflecting on and Representing the Worlds of Chinese Film and Music,” in Global Soundtracks: Worlds of Film Music, ed.M. Slobin (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2008), 185.
20.
Shadrach John, in discussion with the author, Lagos, August 2015.
21.
Haynes, Nollywood, 77.
22.
John G. Cawelti, The Six-gun Mystique Sequel (Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999), 14.
23.
Kathryn Kalinak, Settling the Score: Music and the Classical Hollywood Film (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992); Annahid Kassabian, “The Sound of a New Film Form,” in Popular Music and Film, ed. I. Inglis, (London: Wallflower Press, 2003); Miguel Mera and David Burnand, European Film Music (Hampshire & Burlington: Ashgate, 2006); Jeff Smith, The Sounds of Commerce: Making Popular Film Music (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998); Richard Abel and Rick Altman, The Sounds of Early Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001).
24.
Claudia Gorbman, “Film Music,” in The Oxford Guide to Film Studies, ed.J. Hill and P. C. Gibson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 43.
25.
John, in discussion with the author, Lagos, August 2015.
26.
Emaeyak P. Sylvanus, “Scoring without Scorsese: Nollywood’s Divergent Creative Process,” Musicology Research 2 (2017): 118.

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