One upon a time, there was an entertainment industry in Port Harcourt… the end. Well maybe not.
Currently treasured for its vast reserves of crude oil and natural gas, Port Harcourt, the capital city of Rivers State was once a nightlife haven and the dream city of socialites. While Lagos state stood as the capital of Nigerian showbiz, PH as it is fondly called retained an inarguable position as a go-to city for unwinding. The city never slept – there was enough excitement to go round – music, delicacies and hangout spots to ensure that your money doesn’t go to waste.
The liveliness of the city allowed for entertainment to thrive. Music was largely consumed by both residents and the unending influx of tourists.
Port Harcourt musicians and entertainment practitioners proved to be up to the task as the likes of Muma Gee, Muna, Frank D Nero, Tha IBz, Dsmart, M Trill, Duncan Mighty, Waconzycontinued to hoist the flag of the city by meting out par records and contents that kept the populace satisfied.
Even though most of these entertainers were resident in the state , their music traveled outside the boundaries of the sate to become both national and global music influences – courtesy of tourism power.
But what has become of the entertainment industry in Port Harcourt? Does the old city of Port Harcourt still boasts of it’s liveliness, cultural abundance and tourism?
‘I am currently saving up to rent an apartment in Lagos. By the grace of God i will be moving to Lagos in January to properly chase my musical career there’ said a certain upcoming Port Harcourt musician who spoke to a NET.
Why do you intend to relocate? ‘We love Port Harcourt but it is no longer conducive for creativity. There is no industry here; all of us [entertainers] are struggling. Any Port Harcourt entertainer that is balling is either from a rich family or runs another business that is not entertainment related’he asserted.
‘There was a viable industry in Port Harcourt that people always go to tap into – a lot of stars used to come into the city sometimes to party and other times to promote their materials’ said Abraham Ibiang.
Abraham Ibiang who is popularly known in Port Harcourt and amongst industry players as ‘Mc AB’ is a one time Mr Nigeria Intl. Africa, Media practitioner and Entertainment entrepreneur who ran an indigenous entertainment show on Silverbird Television Port Harcourt for over three years and has from time to time organized gigs to keep the city abreast.
He explained that the peak of the ‘mini entertainment industry’ [in Port Harcourt] as he prefers to describe it had a time frame of about six years and began to experience a decline from 2014 as a result of insecurity and political activities.
Port Harcourt based singer Bukwild Da Ikwerrian who is adorned as the cities A-lister recounts the story of how the state of insecurity in the state deprived him of a gig that was already finalized upon.
He narrates; ‘I remember Brand Optima, an event company in Lagos was about to have a show in Port Harcourt. They contacted me and we finalized on the price and everything on my fees and even sent me a signed MOU. Then they came to Port Harcourt for investigations on venue and security. Two weeks before the event, they sent me an email saying we can’t hold this event anymore as a result of security issues in Port Harcourt’.
Some residents of the state alleged that state of insecurity in Rivers state were perpetrated by political leaders and office aspirants who armed certain youths during the elections – ‘some of the wicked politicians gave guns to reckless youths. They used these guns and ammunitions to fight their political opponents. After the elections, the politicians couldn’t retrieve the guns from these boys. Imagine a cultist and drug addict now has guns, what do you expect? they will definitely commit crime and terrorize the entire state’.
The state of insecurity in the state has affected various sectors and the entertainment industry a great deal and the state Government is reportedly doing everything possible to curb insecurity.
Another factor that has aided the decline of tourism and entertainment in the state is the fact that the Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike seemingly doesn’t have a nack for entertainment as he has halted the production of the states annual carnival.
Rivers State had hosted a long running annual carnival dubbed Carniriv. The Carnival starts few weeks before Christmas, and lasts for seven days. During this time several ceremonial events are held, most of which hold some cultural significance and thousands of people even outside the continent would fly in to witness these cultural displays.
Previous administrations recognized Carniriv as the states biggest tourism export.
The carnival would kick off with various cultural exhibitions which included a road show where natives from the various local Government areas in the state would parade the streets of Port Harcourt embellished in colourful costumes.
The Carnival is usually wrapped up with a massive concert that allows for rising musicians within the state to perform their songs to the attendants who usually show up in their thousands.
‘Carniriv was a big platform, you see up and coming artistes who have not had the opportunity to peform before a large audience are given the chance to face a large crowd. It is the biggest platform that i have performed. Thousands of people were replying and responding as i performed my songs. We not having Carniriv is not good for the entertainment industry’. explained Bukwild.
Abraham Ibiang also added; ‘We have a working Governor who is not interested in entertainment because the first means to prove that you have an interest in entertainment is to develop an industry within your environment. I don’t remember celebrities go to the Government house in Rivers state any more. There were a lot of events like the BON awards that used to hold at the Government House years ago before his administration. But i don’t know of any event lately that holds in the Government House’.
In the past decade, we have seen many talented PH breeds abscond the city to chase their dreams in Lagos – Timaya, Burna boy, Leriq, Mr 2kay, the list is endless. Why is the city seemingly in-conducive for creativity to thrive?
Bukwild explained that ‘there is no structure in the Port Harcourt entertainment industry -‘We have only one record label in the entire Port Harcourt and that is Grafton records.
‘We are all doing our thing independently – there is no funding’ he added.
Some upcoming musicians from Port Harcourt have also lamented the poor coverage of the media as a factor that has led to the decline of showbiz in the state. More of them explained that they use their personal social media accounts to push their music as much as they can and sometimes they get favoured by some big Nigerian blogs.
Abraham Ibiang also cited that the radio stations in Port Harcourt do so little to support the industry in state as most of them usually run on the programs of their head offices in Lagos.
‘People would respond if the media responds. There’s Beat FM in Port harcourt but the Beat FM in Port harcourt is relying on the Beat FM in Lagos. Everything is operated from Lagos. No matter how big you try to put up a show in Port Harcourt, the media will not make it look big because they rely on the beyond Port Harcourt content. If AY is doing an AY Live in Lagos, you will hear the adverts more often in Port Harcourt than you would hear adverts of a show that is holding in Port harcourt’.
Some entertainment practitioners within the state are however making efforts to bridge the gap that exists between content creators in the state and the media.
‘We had a bond with the people in the media. We talked about the way forward and now they are really supporting the industry. Cool FM PH now has a program where every presenter picks their song of the week and it has to be a Port Harcourt song’ Bukwild disclosed.
The entertainment industry in Port Harcourt might have been crippled, but a few people are dedicating their time to ensuring that the industry is resuscitated.
‘We have started a new campaign dubbed #PortHarcourtSabiTheThing. We are using it to provide platforms for talented individuals in the state. All you have to do is promote your contents and announce your brand on social media using the hash tag and other Port Harcourt people would be able to connect with you. ‘Port Harcourt Sabi The Thing’ is not the solution to our problems, it is just a stepping stone. We are also looking to organize a concerts and festivals by ourselves and for ourselves. Even though the Government doesn’t support us, we will push ourselves and slowly revive the industry’explained Buckwild.
What is the solution to this impediment? Bukwild -who is still resident in Port Harcourt is credited to have the biggest song out of the city in recent times, ‘Show Me How To Fish’– explained that the state is not as unsafe as people perceive it to be – ‘we are living here, no one is dying so investors should please come and put their money here because the talents you would find in Port Harcourt is unimaginable’.