Broke and with time on his hands, Naziru Hausawa, an unemployed biology graduate, decided to introduce his own blend of rap and hip hop to the most conservative city in Nigeria s Muslim north, Kano, where authorities wage war against immoral western culture.
That was six years ago. Now Hausawa, 28, is the proud owner of the Golden Goose recording studio, thus named because of the amount of money it brings in.
Some 60 studios, recording home-made rap and hip hop, have sprung up since 2002 in Kano, Nigeria s northern commercial capital, and have turned out 50 albums and hundreds of singles.
Young people the world over are attracted to western music on the Internet, but here, because of unemployment they decided to record their own music and use it to make a living, said Abdallah Uba Adamu, an anthropology professor at Kano s Bayero University who does research on local rap and hip hop.
But in this conservative Muslim city, the sex and drugs that predominate in the lyrics of much imported rap music have given way to social issues such as poverty and corruption.
We make songs to make money and we have to respect the sensibilities and sensitivities of our fans who frown at drugs, violence, sex and anything vulgar, local musician Ibrahim Bello, alias Billy-O, told AFP as a muezzin s call to prayer rang out from a mosque behind his studio.
Some of the musicians are attired in traditional style in loose cotton trousers and matching tunics; others have adopted western styles.
Hausawa said employment is getting ever harder to find in Kano. Out of the 500 factories in the city 15 years ago, some 400 have now closed, mainly due to power shortages.
It is unemployment that has pushed young men with talent to domesticate rap and hip hop as a way of being productive and as a means to financial independence, Hausawa told AFP in his studio.
Recent official figures show that more than half of youths in Kano are unemployed – a statistic Bello bemoans in his track entitled “Bamayi.
We have finished school, we have no jobs while the son of a big man drives past us in big cars looking down upon us with disdain, while we can t have even three square meals and our parents look at us hopelessly, therefore we rebel, he sings in the local Hausa.
Although Kano is the home of the music industry, the songs are popular throughout the north. And the Kano state authorities are determined that no elements of the global rap culture of drugs and violence should contaminate music in northern Nigeria.
We fear musicians will copy American rap
We fear the musicians will copy the lyrics of American rap musicians and imbibe the rap culture of violence and drugs, said Bala Muhammad, head of the Social Reorientation Directorate, a state government agency tasked with improving morals.
Muhammad concedes that it has not happened so far.
But moral corruption sets in gradually and if things get out of hand society will be the worse for it, he warned.
The government wants us to be didactic, singing religious songs and not songs on love and romance which they feel is western and a manifestation of waywardness and moral bankruptcy, but I see their attitude as fanaticism, complained Hausawa as he fiddled with a keyboard.
With a permanent population of nine million and another one million traders who flood into the city everyday from neighbouring towns and countries, Kano is the ideal market for this new music industry. CDs recorded here are found on every street corner and in every traffic jam as young hawkers weave their way among cars.
Yet however worthy their lyrics, the musicians of Kano remain under constant threat of a clampdown from the government and from radical Muslim clerics.
If the situation degenerates, we will use the same rules we used in sanitizing the film industry, warns Bala Muhammad or the Reorientation Directorate.
In 2007 the Kano government clamped down on the local movie industry, saying it led to immorality. Authorities slapped a six-month ban on film production in so-called Kannywood after a sex video shot by a cellphone, but involving a popular local actress, made the rounds in the state.
Around the same time – proof that its threats against the music industry were not idle – it jailed hip hop musician Adam Zango for three months for producing a video musical album it considered obscene.
The video showed females in skimpy skirts and jeans shorts dancing seductively in a way considered obscene by Kano standards.
Kabiru Shariff, a musician better known as Shaba after the American rap star Shaba Ranks, defends his ranks, saying they should be commended for enticing fans to their harmless type of music.
And Professor Adamu feels the government is overreacting.
Reading crime novels doesn t make one a criminal and in the same way one is not tempted to commit murder by merely holding a knife except if one already intends to, Adamu said.
Hausawa, meanwhile, said the music industry rakes in roughly 100 million nairas ($700,000) yearly.
If the government bans the industry, he warned, young musicians could turn to robberies and violence, thus worsening the already appallingly high crime rate in the city.