Nigeria@63: New Voices Soundtracking Change
It’s the 63rd anniversary of Nigeria’s independence from colonial rule and ears are perked up for music – both old and new – that reflect the current state of life in the beloved motherland. As the Nigerian music industry keeps expanding its global fan base, our eclectic discographies have become increasingly under scrutiny for their ‘substance’.
Just recently, Burna Boy who ranks as one of the country’s best selling musicians, critiqued the Afrobeats community for lacking the said ‘substance’, which mostly refers to conscious and relatable lyricism that speak to our socioeconomic realities. However, Nigeria’s creative scene has consistently dished out didactic music catalogues, for generations till date.
From the era of Vena Mariaghae’s 1985 folk-laden classic, ‘Nigeria Go Survive’, to African China’s 2006 konto-driven hit, ‘Mr President’, to present-day Afrobeats jams, Nigerian music has always had a strong appetite for conscious music. Sadly, due to the trend of ‘pay-your-way-to-the-top’, almost any song can get countrywide fame with the right budget and push, leaving a lot of these ‘conscious’ catalogues to suffer underwhelming receptions or limited shelf-lives.
In today’s Guardian Music special, we highlight a selection of contemporary Nigerian evergreen songs that reflect the country’s current socioeconomic realities, while also retaining a mainstream appeal that’s usually unanticipated with conscious music, and have actually had an impact in positively stimulating the public.
Burna Boy: Monsters You Made
SINCE he bagged his first Grammy nomination for his fourth album, African Giant, Burna Boy has taken it as a duty to be a megaphone for Africa’s woes in the face of global acclaim. His 2021 hit, ‘Monsters You Made’, off the riveting Twice As Tall album, featured the American RnB superstar Chris Martin. It takes off on a very pensive note, with its every note pointing blaming fingers at the erstwhile colonial and even current political leaders for sowing the seeds of corruption in the country. A strong talking-point on the song is the interpolation of spoken word poetry from two African activists, Nigeria’s Fela Kuti and Ghana’s Ama Ata Aidoo. Burna Boy personalizes generational nationwide traumas in his verses on the song, giving it a familiar feeling that helps local listeners better absorb his messages. “You know we come from a place/ Where people smile, but it’s fake/ Put them in shackles and chains / Because of what they became / We are the monsters you made.”
Obongjayar: Message In A Hammer
His raspy alto floats over thumpy percussion in his 2021 opus, ‘Message in a Hammer’. His throaty voice and aggressive alto in the song greatly resembles the energy on Fela Kuti’s records. A disciple of Fela Kuti, as well, Steven Umoh, professionally known as Obongjayar, is an Afro fusion maverick with a treasure trove of conscious music in Nigeria.
Like Fela Kuti, he keeps his lyricism naked, adrenaline-charged and daredevil. In ‘Message In A Hammer’. He protests furiously on the song against state-mediated corruption, especially following the aftermath of the #EndSARS tragedy that rocked the country during the pandemic. He name-calls public officials including the President, Governors and Senators, accusing them of being thieves. He also laments the colonial era, blaming it for the ripple effects of underdevelopment and corruption in Nigeria. “Born in troubled water/ every stroke is war/ They drowned the ones before us/ But we’ll make it to shore.”
Tekno: Better (Hope For Africa)
With the Afro-pop soundsmith, Augustine Okechukwu, professionally known as Tekno, it is quite easy to see his train of thought on songs. And since his 2017 major breakout moment, with hits like ‘Pana’, ‘Yawa’, among others, the producer, singer and songwriter has ridden on a wave that keeps him closer to the top of the fame-driven food chain in Afrobeats. His 2020 collaboration with Kizz Daniel on ‘Buga’ was a fine reminder of his impeccable sonic direction.
On the prelude to his most recent album dubbed, The More The Better, he borrows a note from the playbook of great conscious minds as he uses a song dubbed ‘Better (Hope For Africa)’ to subtly remind the government of its horrid failures, while offering a sense of hope to the average person on the street. “And I pray one day, make e better pass like this/ Light go dey/ Plenty fuel like lager/ Naira equal to dollar/ For national security (we dey pray)/ Make we no see calamity,” his voice echoes the messages of hope on the song.
UNARGUABLY Nigeria’s youngest prince of pop, Divine Ikubor, professionally known as Rema, is a voice that shines its light on everything that it can relate to. From traumatic childhood struggles with poverty, to early adolescent infatuations, down to gory corruption in his country, Rema speaks freely and without fear.
Dubbed ‘Hov’, tributing the American rap veteran Jay-Z, Rema takes a swipe at Nigeria’s elite ruling class with lines like, ‘My neck don dey fold like Dino/ I no be politician but I don dey see their kind of money/ Any legal money was once upon a time illegal money.’ He charms his way through the song with impeccable falsetto and cadences that help him serve his perspectives with the right pop appeal.
Since his 2019 ‘Dumebi’-era debut, Rema has chosen to distinguish himself as a conscious lyricist, colouring his discography with verses or certain lyrics that one can relate to as a young Nigerian.
Bloody Civilian: Come From
From the grassy plains of Taraba to the chilly streets of New York, talented chanteuse Bloody Civilian, born Emoseh Khamofu, is rebelling against every convention known to femme-folk in music. She’s worry-free about picking difficult topics to make her music about. And the producer-singer weaves rare melodies to accompany her most radical of ideas, like the song ‘Come From.’
Her earlier records including the Rema-assisted Black Panther OST item, ‘Wake Up’, and her debut opus ‘How To Kill A Man’ have unlocked a notoriety for censor-free expression that’s unsurprising on songs like ‘Come From.’
“I come from a place where they/ Used to chill/ Under the stars it was/ Quite the thing/ But everybody locked up/ Because they heard the gunshot/ Everybody just run/Nobody wants to go down/But I can see/It’s chasing me:And the politics discouraging,” the 25-year-old’s voice rings clear on the song.
Falz: Moral Instruction
WHILE an apple doesn’t fall far away from the tree, some actually evolve into better versions that are novel to their species. Like his father, Femi Falana, Falz, real name Folarin Falana, is a trained lawyer. Yet, his litigations exist within his timeless discography, with the studio booths as his law court, and his audience as the grand jury. While his earlier records such as ‘Ello Bae,’ ‘Marry Me,’ among others, convinced the Nigerian audience that his music was another staple for feel-good moments and social circles, essentially, his 2019 studio album, Moral Instruction, came as a positive shocker to his fans. With songs like ‘Follow Follow,’ ‘E No Finish’ ‘Talk’, and ‘Hypocrite,’ Falz takes a sharp swipe at the political ruling class and administrative institutions. He condemns frequent realities such as police brutality, corruption, nepotism, religious intolerance and other plagues bedevilling the country. While the album thrives for its didacticism, its multifaceted melodiousness makes it both a record for introspection, and a groove for social festivities.
Odumodublvck: Na Now
AWARD-winning rapper, Tochukwu Ojogwu, professionally known as Odumodublvck (Odumodublack), has become a known critique of the present political administration in Nigeria. And, while some of his songs controversially adulate some political figures like his recent ‘MC Oluomo’ bop, a chunk of his music are melodic diatribes against the current ruling class. His 2022 hit, ‘Na Now’, featuring his rap collective mate, Reeplay, strongly reflects the gory realities with police brutality and corruption in the country.
“For your information/ we dey innocent/ na allegation/ my lawyers dey permutate am/ my exoneration,” his raspy flows reminisce on a true life situation he had faced with law enforcement agents in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja.
MI Abaga: Plan B
For the past two decades and counting, nothing has ever brought Jude Abaga’s musical wit to question. Professionally known as MI Abaga, the self-acclaimed African Rapper Number One and record label boss shot up to fame during his early 2000s stint with Chocolate City record label, which has tarried till date albeit in different structures. One thing that has stood out in his discography is his poetic commentary on social issues. His recent song, ‘Plan B’ is a heartfelt address on the travails of the common citizen in Nigeria, drawing attention to the lingering brain drain in the country. “Go market everything cost/ on top your degree you no go find job/ government sef no respect us/ This Naija e no be by force,” his anger and pain seep through the mid-tempo bars. As his first song release for this year, ‘Plan B’ defly documents the sentiments of many young people following a widely controversial presidential election result in April.
Alpha Ojini: Efemiele
ONE might think, at this point, that Nigerian rappers are the only advocates for change or the only ones speaking about common realities. While that is obviously inaccurate, it’s also a beacon that indicates Hip Hop’s commitment to being the most relatable genre to common folk, globally.
Born out of a need to reflect the realities of blacks in post-colonial America, Hip Hop continues to wield this baton, placing it firmly in the hands of forerunners like Alpha Ojini, born Ebuka Ojini-Ntamere. His recent song release dubbed, ‘Efiemele’, satirises the harsh implications of the CBN’s recent change of the naira notes during the election season. “If Efieleme no k’owo b’ota/ tomorrow we go spend money,” a popular audio clip sampled in the song echoes.
Made Kuti: No More Wars
Over the years, Made Kuti, grandson of Fela Kuti, who graduated from London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, has stamped his musical prowess in the music scene, stretching the legacies of the Kuti family. He started his own band dubbed, The Movement, with whom he continues to make music. On ‘No More Wars’, Made Kuti tows his typical pattern of melding an eclectic mash of musical elements. He blends horns, piano chords and his soothing vocals to create a powerful narrative that should be a ringtone for players in global politics.
“No More Wars is entirely about temper, control, and focus. It’s about experiences I have had that taught me to reflect intentionally before I react. The lyrics are inspired by my father’s consistency in following his path despite dealing with an overwhelming amount of harsh, untrue, and deliberately cruel people inside and outside of his circle,” he told Guardian Music last year.
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