The untimely demise of Mohbad has tragically reignited a pervasive issue that casts a long, dark shadow over the music industry – the exploitative and often predatory nature of record labels. This issue has plagued the music arena for years and yet gone without much mention. It is a situation that cries out for our collective concern and action, for it ensnares not only the inexperienced and impressionable but also those who have ascended to industry elite status.
There can be no good in the young man's death, but his family, friends, and fans, even upcoming artists, can take some comfort in knowing that Mohbad did not just pull the strings of our hearts with his music but has become a martyr whose regretful death may yet force a much-needed revolution in the music industry.
For far too long, the Nigerian Music scene has been run on the merciless whims of predatory music executives and labels who prey on the innocence and naivety of young artists who realise sometime a little too late that they have signed away their very life under slavish terms. These record labels craft contracts that, far from being opportunities for artistic growth and flourishing, more closely resemble inescapable death traps. They entice budding artists with promises of stardom and success, only to squeeze every ounce of their creative vitality and leave them with scarcely any room to breathe. In the darkest twist of all, when these artists summon the courage to seek an exit from their oppressive contracts, the labels often resort to malevolent tactics to strangle their careers, rather than granting them the freedom they deserve.
The few who force their way out are never without their scars, nor ever truly free of the snare of their ex-labels. Many suffer from ‘cancel culture’ in the industry, with hitherto open doors being shut in their faces at the instigation of vengeful former bosses. The entire operation is Mafian and run like a cult. Strict, inhumane, and impersonal.
As sad and regrettable as it is, the predicament faced by Mohbad is not unique; it does, however, serve as a harrowing testament to an industry where creative spirits are drained and artistic freedoms are stifled. These labels, rather than nurture and guide the careers of their artists, instead extract every drop of creative vitality, leaving them with few avenues for escape. In fact, they often resort to malevolent tactics to strangle an artist's career when they attempt to break free. The examples abound but have never really received the attention they deserve. Until now.
The distressing pattern that emerge from the revelations that have trailed Mohbad’s death, however, shows that such matters are not isolated incidents; they are systemic issues that demand immediate attention.
It is, therefore, high time for music industry executives to host a symposium and have an honest engagement to formulate policies and regulations that unequivocally safeguard artistic integrity and moderate excesses in the industry irrespective of genre or beliefs. I believe the time has come for a confab of sorts, or a conference for movers, shakers, and partakers in the industry to have an honest conversation with themselves and redefine their motives and actions to create a more enabling environment for the creative industry to thrive in. I say this mindful that the endgame is profit-making but at what cost? There should be a regulatory body that must be interested in issues like this, and I simply don’t know what PMAN is doing because it seems to have failed its very purpose. Something clearly has to give, and fast too.
Indeed, the time has come to usher in an era where record labels cease to prey on the dreams and talents of artists. Instead, they should become the nurturing gardens where creativity blossoms, careers flourish, and artists thrive. Only then can we truly celebrate the beauty of music and the artists who create it, free from the suffocating grip of predatory contracts and the executives who perpetuate them.
Nigerians remain saddened by Mohbad’s death, made all the more painful that his cry for help was drowned, and the noise is only being made after the fact of his death. He was a brave young man who challenged the status quo and defied the odds bravely till the end. It is my hope that he lights the path to freedom for other young artists even from the great beyond and that his family finds closure from the outpouring of public affections and demands for justice over his death. His is one death too many.
There are many more Mohbads out there even now being strangled by the demonic hegemony of label executives, as we speak. It is my hope that they get all the support they need and find redemption. The time to act was years ago, but the next best time is now.
Pelumi OLAJENGBESI Esq. is a Legal Practitioner and Managing Partner at Law Corridor, Abuja.