Last December, fans of the award-winning singer and songwriter, Simisola Ogunleye, also known as Simi, were left disappointed as they waited hours for their fave to perform. Simi, whose appearance at the Federal Palace hotel in Lagos was scheduled for 6 pm, turned up at 11 pm.
Fans initially eager to hear the Joromi crooner perform took to social media and blogs to express their disapproval. “I am so disappointed in Simi. My twin sister and I bought the tickets as birthday gifts to each other, but they kept us waiting outside for two hours. In the end, we had to leave without seeing her because it was almost 10 pm and they had still not started,” Simioluwa Oni tweeted. Simi’s namesake was one of many disgruntled fans. Simi later apologised for keeping people waiting, blaming logistic issues for the delay.
If you’ve been to a Nigerian concert in the last ten years, chances are you have heard similar excuses. It’s so common that even artistes joke about it.
On December 26th 2018, Afrofusion singer, Damini Ogulu, better known as Burna Boy, arrived seven hours late to his concert at the Eko Convention Centre in Lagos, leaving fans angry. Ayo Balogun, Nigeria’s starboy, also began his Made in Lagos concert seven hours after it was scheduled to start.
So, why are concerts always late?
Not enough infrastructure
Fans’ first retort would be that artists don’t care about them, but there is no need to attribute to malice what we can easily explain with incompetence. And like many things in Nigeria, incompetence begins with infrastructure, or the lack thereof.
“Nigeria does not have the proper infrastructure for concerts. We don’t have concert venues so we use banquet halls instead,” Oriteme Banigo tells me. He is a co-founder of the Lagos Gidifest music festival, a popular outdoor concert that showcases African acts. The pop culture entrepreneur argues that a big reason many concerts are late is that many of them are organised at centres unsuitable for music-related events.
Proper concert venues have infrastructure and equipment—lights, stage props, etc.—that are optimised for music events. Few of these exist in Nigeria, with the Terra Kulture Event Center which mainly hosts musicals and stage plays. In the absence of proper venues, concerts are held at banquet halls in popular hotels and event centres, places designed for weddings, conferences, and similar events.
Banigo points to the fact that many of these venues don’t even have stages, so organisers have to bring the stage materials to the venue and assemble it there. Given that few other things can be set up until the stage is fixed, this has a natural domino effect of slowing down the process.
Another element usually missing is lighting. Depending on the genre and platform, concert venues have a ton of lighting options for different purposes. Spotlights, for instance, offer small amounts of highly focused coverage used to follow the performer. Coloured lights, on the other hand, are usually used for visual effects and as part of performance gimmicks.
Again, few venues in Nigeria come equipped with these facilities. “There’s always a team working on the light, sound or something ahead of the concert. If it was the right structure for music, it would have all the required settings and won’t need as much effort or time setting up,” Banigo explains.
But why can’t organisers sort out all the infrastructure before the allotted concert time? Well, there usually isn’t enough time.
Concert season is intense in Nigeria, with December a particularly hot period as festivals happen back to back. Last December, venues were booked out for shows for performers ranging from Maleek Berry to Davido. With many of them happening from mid to late-December, there is little room for elaborate set-up. At the same time, December is also peak wedding season, and the schedule for a prominent centre could read wedding-concert-wedding-wedding-concert on Christmas week.
“The venues are not rented for that long so organisers can’t test and coordinate everything they need to get the concert ready. Since there is no time for checks, a lot of things can go round,” Banigo adds. Organisers may first get access to the venue at 12pm—for a show slated to start at 7 pm. Given the cost and the schedule, no one bothers to book multiple days.
Tinya Alonge, a pop culture writer who manages PrettyboyDO, tells me that Simi's concert started late in December for this same reason: not enough time to set up.
“You know what? Simi was at the venue hours before it started. The Hennessy Artistry concert happened at the same venue the day before, so it took forever to clear the place out. She didn't even have time to do the regular checks before getting on stage,” Alonge explains.
Faced with this situation, the Gidifest team have opted to host their flagship concert in the middle of the year, and this gives them as much as four days to set up. “We do this so we have a lot of time to set up, we don't want things going wrong,” Banigo says.
Looking closely at the situation, the lack of institutional memory is bemusing; inadequate infrastructure and tight set-up times can explain why a single concert is late, but it is difficult to see why organisers don't learn from the process, and find themselves in the same situation every year. Clearly, other factors are at play.
What about African time?
It is easy to forget that nearly everyone and everything is late in Nigeria. From local flights to presidential elections, the start time is suggestive, never binding in Nigeria.
Unsurprisingly, this Nigerian Time culture is amplified with concerts. Sometimes, the people involved in putting concerts together—DJs, supporting bands, sound engineers, etc.—turn up late. With less than half a day to set up, this inevitably leads to the whole event being pushed back.
Oma Mahmud, a Lagos-based producer and musician, tells me that during one of his shows in December 2018, the band he was to perform with did not show up on time. The event started late because all the performers had to wait for the band.
And if it’s not the band, then it’s the DJ or an opening act. “Before the headliner comes out there are a few opening acts. Some of them come in late. If they come late it will trickle down to the timing of the concert because the main artist has to wait for them,” says Alonge.
Essentially, the logistics of major concerts in Nigeria have such a fine margin for error that any slight delay will have a more significant impact on timing. To see this, imagine those extra fifteen minutes you snooze your alarm for that eventually cause you to be almost an hour late for work.
At the same time, performers are not the only ones subject to Nigerian Time; Tinya Alonge believes a lot of Nigerians deliberately turn up late to concerts. “Concert-goers get to the venue on time but decide to stay outside and chat instead. At Burna Boy's concert, Eko hotel was packed but the hall was empty because people were just outside chilling,” he mentions. Alonge believes that this behaviour discourages artistes from starting on time as nobody wants to perform in front of an empty hall.
Speak to a few concert-goers and it is clear that Alonge’s claims are not out of touch. Ebuka Ufere, a 24-year-old concertgoer who attended the Burna Boy and PrettyboyDO concerts in December, agrees with Alonge. “Last December, I arrived at Burna Boy’s concert at 1 am on purpose because I anticipated that he would be late. Guess what? Even though I was six hours late, Burna Boy hadn’t taken the stage yet,” he laughs.
Ebuka stresses that there is no incentive to show up early because the concerts always start late. “I attend at least three concerts every year, and none of them has ever been early,” he says, alluding to a chicken-and-egg scenario that paralyses the concert industry. Concertgoers are tired of waiting hours for concerts to start so are rebelling by turning up late, but that is merely making concerts start even later.
It would be interesting to see which group budges first: artist or fan. Although Nigerians don’t need a second invitation to turn up late, you would think that the current equilibrium is unsustainable, at least if the social media outrage is anything to go by.
- Insight: Running on African time
Lack of communication
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the culture is how surprised concertgoers tend to be every time a concert is late. But right below that is how much they are left in the dark about everything. If an artist has a reasonable excuse for the tardiness of his concert, why doesn’t he just tell his fans?
Alonge rebuffs the idea. “If you're going to explain one or two things to your audience, you may be throwing people under the bus and that’s bad for business,” he says. It turns out that revealing the details of why a concert is delayed can mean stepping on the toes of a sponsor or partner at fault.
“You cannot be too specific when communicating to fans. The person in charge of sound at your concert might be one of the big show organisers. If you go out with information that they’re the cause of the delay when it’s time to be part of their show or to receive a possible deal from them, they’ll strike you out,” he expands.
But Oriteme Banigo of Gidifest maintains that it is important to be open with fans so they have a better understanding of why things are the way they are. “You have to build trust with your audience, and the only way to do that is by communicating if things get out of hand,” he says.
I ask the co-founder of Culture Custodian, a multi-channel media company focused on anything culture, and regular concertgoer Mayowa Idowu if it's easy for the crowd to figure out what’s happening when there is no communication from organisers. “You can hardly tell. Everything looks smooth on the outside,” he tells me. On whether artists should tell the audience, Idowu believes it may not change much but would at least give the waiting fans some clarity.
Oma Mahmud is unhappy with the culture of concerts starting late and believes the lack of communication can chase fans away. “Some people won’t show up for their favourites because they know that the concert will start late,” he says. Moreover, the late timing excludes people who can’t stay out as late, such as those that have work the next day, or students with curfews. It can also eat into the time that concertgoers would have spent clubbing, which naturally irks club managers.
And Banigo points out something more important: the way concerts are run in Nigeria could dissuade international investors or festival planners looking to set up events in Nigeria. Few people would be willing to put money into an industry characterised by disorganisation and tardiness.
Despite all these, concerts remain popular in Nigeria. When Burna Boy eventually turned up, he treated fans to what some called the performance of the year. Similarly, many Simi fans forgot when the concert started when she was done serenading them with cries of “soldier go soldier come… soldier do wetin you want…” Better late than never, it seems.
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