The Experience has consistently excelled in many areas, serving as inspiration for what a proper music concert or festival should look like, and should be emulated.
By Emmanuel Okoro
December in Nigeria is usually an explosion of activities, events, and concerts, featuring the biggest names in the music industry. At the start of this sonic boom is The Experience, a gospel music concert that annually takes place at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), Lagos, on the first Friday of the month.
An all-night event, The Experience brings together some of the biggest names in the gospel music industry from around the world for a musical performance. The star-studded line-up reads like a gospel music hall of fame, seamlessly blending international luminaries like Kirk Franklin, Don Moen, Micah Stampley, Fred Hammond, Kurt Carr, Donnie McClurkin, William McDowell, Travis Greene, to local heavyweights such as Mercy Chinwo, Sinach, Tim Godfrey, Nathaniel Bassey, Dunsin Oyekan, and Tope Alabi, amongst others.
With the metropolitan pastor, Pastor Paul Adefarasin of House On The Rock (HOTR) Churches as its convener, The Experience has rightfully earned its reputation as one of the largest gospel concerts, not only in Nigeria but on a global scale, with its average attendance surpassing 500,000. Interestingly, Adefarasin convenes other music-themed events, too, such as The African Praise Experience (TAPE), a yearly music concert at The Rock Cathedral, and The Experience Overflow, an indoor concert on the Sunday following The Experience. Indisputably, this event takes the crown as the highlight event of December. For the lack of better words, it is the “detty December” for Christians across Nigeria and beyond.
Beyond its star-studded line-up, this free concert has maintained a high level of exceptionality since its inception in 2006. Its stage setup, lighting and visual props mirror what can be obtainable at prominent concert venues. The acoustics are finely tuned, ensuring that every note and lyric is a visceral experience to the audiences present, and for thousands more who tune in virtually. The protocol has become encoded into the event, as there’s a seamless transition between performances. With security, there is a collaboration with governmental security agencies, including the Nigerian Police Force, Rapid Response Squad, Anti-Bomb Squad, and private security companies to ensure comprehensive security measures are implemented at the venue.
But this is not so much the case with other mainstream and secular events in Nigeria, which have been rife with inconsistencies in terms of quality of production. For one, most music concerts in Lagos take place at the Eko Convention Centre or Landmark Event Centre, both of which are banquet halls that do not necessarily have the infrastructure to deliver excellence. The infrastructure here being concert venues ramped with proper lighting, sound systems, stage props, and visual elements that international venues such as the O2 Arena and Madison Square Garden are known for.
This sentiment resonates with artiste, Mr Eazi, whom I had the opportunity to interview after The Trace Awards at the BK Arena in Kigali, Rwanda, a couple of months ago. In his words, “Unfortunately, in Lagos, we don’t have such infrastructure in place to host an event of such magnitude. We need to have more [music concert] venues”. Similarly, Afro-Pop sensation, Fireboy DML, in a recent interview with Cool FM Lagos said, “Everyone is saying ‘Afrobeats to the world.’ The music is perfect. But there is no structure. The [foreign] fans are listening [to our music] but when are they going to come to Lagos and watch us perform? When are we going to have arenas in Lagos where we can bring people from all around the world? You know, it [concert venues] will make everything just easier.” Some of these concerts and events have had to be cancelled or hosted elsewhere. For instance, The Headies Awards – Nigeria’s foremost music award show – has been consistently marred by scrappy production, even after relocating its venue to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta, US. Similarly, Afro Nation, which is celebrated for spotlighting Afrobeats stars at festivals in Portugal, Ghana, Puerto Rico, Miami, and Detroit, US, cancelled its headline show in Nigeria, stating in their press release, “As event organisers, we hold ourselves to extremely high standards, and it has become clear to us that it is currently not possible to deliver a show that is of the quality that Nigeria deserves in December 2023”, underscoring the apparent lack of infrastructure in Nigeria to host an event of such scale.
That said, one of the reasons The Experience works so seamlessly is preparedness, as they plan earnestly for the show from January. This early start sets the stage for a thorough and detailed approach, ensuring that every aspect of the event aligns seamlessly with Pastor Adefarasin’s vision for excellence. The Experience has found its home at TBS since its inception, with a few changes particularly in 2020 and 2021, when the entire concert transitioned to online platforms like YouTube and other designated channels on satellite television, to adhere to COVID-19 social distancing protocols.
Another reason why The Experience is easier to pull off is that it is mostly centralised. In my conversation with a member of the media team who requested anonymity, planning and preparations for this event come directly from the convener. In her own words, “Pastor Paul delegates different tasks to different units and supervises every detail. No single stone is left unturned.” This is particularly different from mainstream music events where there are several players involved, including the show promoters, record labels, managers, and artistes – all of which may have conflicts of interest for how a headlining show will be planned.
The performances at The Experience always spur conversations on social media, mostly in praise of how excellently the artistes deliver. This is not so much the case in secular events, as with some artistes either fond of showing up late or not at all. In fact, “African time”, a term used to describe showing up late, is often ascribed to mainstream shows. There are several instances of this phenomenon to pick from; whether it is Burna Boy in 2018, arriving seven hours late to his concert at the Eko Convention Centre, and again this year, where he arrived hours late for his Love, Damini show in Wonderland, or singer, songwriter, and producer, Simi, in 2021, showing up four hours late for her headline Can You Simi Now concert, or Davido, who this year was accused of reneging on his contract to perform live at the Warri Again Concert, opting to perform in Melbourne, Australia on the same day. Some of this unprofessional behaviour extends beyond the shores of Nigeria. Last year, the Tanzanian police arrested Kizz Daniel for failing to perform for a show for which he had been paid. Similarly, fans in Ghana were left angry and frustrated when Wizkid failed to perform at his Wizkid Live concert in the country last year.
The show promoters often take the blame for this lacklustre follow-up and artistes who constantly display a disregard for their fans. By contrast, The Experience ensures that artistes and comedians billed to perform are present at TBS. In fact, most, if not all the artistes, attend a press conference before the event to discuss what audiences can expect from the upcoming show.
Nigerian music concerts are also notorious for attracting all sorts of people with different intentions. Thus, there is a general issue of safety in music concerts. Asake’s O2 Academy Brixton concert last year was cancelled midway, where four persons were critically injured, with one fatal loss. This year, Davido was attacked by a man while performing at his Timeless concert in Lagos.
Undeniably, hosting a proper music concert in Nigeria is expensive to pull off. Event promoters often find themselves in need of substantial funding from sponsors to execute such events successfully. The primary sources of sponsorship typically come from the corporate and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector, which, interestingly, is engaged in hosting its year-end events, featuring many of the same mainstream artistes. This in itself is a dilemma, as these brands may be hesitant to sponsor a mainstream concert, having invested resources in securing these artistes for their events. However, these brands may be more amenable to sponsoring events like The Experience, as it is a concert that features musicians who are not on their roster for their year-end events.
While certain challenges in hosting a robust mainstream music concert in Nigeria can be attributed to poor infrastructure, it doesn’t quite paint the complete picture. Artiste lateness, insufficient security, and inadequate medical preparedness fall squarely within the control of mainstream event organisers, with excesses that can be controlled with proper planning. Notably, Blaqbonez’s two editions of Breaking the Yoke of Love Crusade at Muri Okunola Park were a huge success, and perhaps that could be attributed to its capacity of 3,500 which meant that less technical setup was required. Similarly, Johnny Drille’s Based on Believe concert at Terra Kulture Event Centre this year was also amazing, as the hall – a 450-seater capacity – was pre-designed to host musicals and stage plays. The Experience has consistently excelled throughout 18 editions, serving as a beacon of inspiration for what a proper music concert or festival should look like, and should be emulated.
Emmanuel ‘Waziri’ Okoro is a content writer and journo with an insatiable knack for music and pop culture. When he’s not writing, you will find him arguing why Arsenal FC is the best football club in the multiverse. Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads: @BughiLorde