Stories From Around The World

COVID-19 Chronicles

Khalid Abdullahi

October 2021

Nigeria

With COVID-19, we’ve made it to the life raft. Dry land is far away

    Marc Lipsitch

Music has the power to change lives. Music can uplift souls. Music can forge the strongest of bonds between all peoples of the world. Victor Uko, a rising Nigerian artist, understood this from a very tender age.

Music had been a part of Victor ever since he could walk. He sang in the choir long before he thought he would one day pursue a career as an artist.

Victor’s earliest memories were filled with fond images of his mother holding him and slow dancing with him to timeless hits by icons like Marc Anthony and Phil Collins.

It’s been over thirty years since Victor danced with his mother, and in that time, his love and passion for music have only grown to unprecedented heights.

He’s a musician now. And even though he perpetually invests blood and sweat in making his mark on the music industry, Victor is still not where he wants to be-not yet.

His name and achievements can’t be ranked with other African greats like Wizkid, Burna Boy, or Diamond Platnumz. But Victor was a firm believer in his capabilities. He knew it was only a matter of time before he got his moment.

So, the last thing he expected was that a tenacious virus would stain the world and upset plans he worked so hard to put into motion.

When COVID-19 bore through the world, Victor was beset by financial and emotional struggles like almost every rising artist. So what was it like to be an artist in a pandemic?

 

 

  • What Are the Challenges You’ve Faced Because of COVID-19 as an Artist?

“Well, for me, the fear of the virus was more potent than what many others felt. I say this because people were afraid of contracting the virus and what it could do to them, but I already fell victim to it.

I contracted COVID-19, which stopped any tours I planned to go on and compelled me to cancel any gigs I had at clubs or entertainment centers. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

Life wouldn’t have been as bad as now, but I also gave my then-pregnant fiancée the virus, and she lost our unborn child. That happened around March 2021, which was also the month I was supposed to release my EP.

Even though we both survived the virus, we’re not together anymore. My fiancée couldn’t forgive me for what happened, and I respect her decision. I try not to think about it because the family I often saw in my head will now never come to be.

Going back to my EP, despite all the time, effort, money, and resources I exhausted to promote it, the EP couldn’t be released. As an aspiring artist, if you don’t promote, you can’t make your money back or see your investment flourish. I fervently hoped that EP would be my big break, but c’est la vie.”

 

  • What Has Been Your Biggest Setback as a Budding Artist?

“Like the majority of my peers, lack of finance is what keeps holding me back. However, I understand that people are struggling in the COVID-19 era, and artists are no exception.

Before the virus, I did make a steady income from live performances. But social distancing protocols have put an end to that. Many of the clubs I performed in don’t even open, let alone hope they’ll call me to entertain their few patrons.

I do have a day job, and though it doesn’t pay as much as my gigs did before the virus, I’m grateful for it. That’s what I used to take care of myself and my family. But many of my peers were not so fortunate.

Most of them solely relied on music as their livelihood, and now that people have more important things like their health to worry about, there’s no one there to hear them play and pay them.

I don’t have a label, and nor am I signed on to anybody yet. Even before COVID-19, that was one of the biggest challenges for aspiring artists in Nigeria.

But now, with the virus still looming over us, people are more concerned about keeping their jobs and feeding their families and less about signing a rising talent in the music industry.

I’m a solo artist who’s trying to realize his dream, but that also means I have to do everything myself.

In a way, I welcome these challenges because I don’t expect to see success without putting in the effort. To quote the late Vince Lombardi Jr., ‘The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work.’

And yet, if all the hard work will amount to nothing because of COVID-19, is it worth it? I’ve asked myself that question too many times than I care to recall.”

 

  • If You Had the Power to Do One Thing to See Your Career Grow, What Would That Thing Be?

“I don’t think I can say anything here that you’ve not heard of before. Finding a PR team that believes in you is one of the prime goals of any aspiring artist like me.

I hope to meet a group of individuals who’ll help me reach my potential. I want to sit and talk with professionals who’ll invest their time and resources and sponsor me because they foresee great things for everyone involved.

I know these are just dreams. But every unsung artist yearns for these things, and I’m no different. But I do believe I’m different in many ways too. I know I have the talent, drive, passion, and zeal to make it big in this industry, helping whoever I can along the way to realize their dreams too.

If anything, I hope to be a beacon of inspiration for others who are in the same dark place I am now. I just need a group of people to trust what I do and see the good that can come out of it, then help me breathe life into those elusive dreams.

That’s all I ever wanted and all I’ll ever need. There are over 200 notable musicians in Nigeria, and one day, I hope to be ranked in that number too.”

 

 

Victor Uko may not be the only Nigerian artist, or artist of any nationality, to harbor such dreams, but there’s little doubt here that COVID-19 is a bane to his efforts and success.

Rising from an unknown artist with six people attending your shows to a music legend selling out shows is no easy feat; it’s not for the faint-hearted.

And yet, we’ve seen others do it, so it’s well within the realms of possibility. The only difference now is that COVID-19 is a force to reckon with.

It has slowed artists down in their tracks, but one sure fact is this. The virus is temporary; dreams of success are forever.

No artist should despair. This storm will pass, and before them will be a bright and brand new day. New hurdles will rise before them but so will new opportunities. The only thing they need to do is give their all, and fate will handle the rest.

 

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