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The New Faces Of Social Consciousness In Nigerian Music

Fela | Image: Leni Sinclair/Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images

When Fela Anikulapo-Kuti died, a part of the Nigerian music scene and indeed, the world nursed a heartache and the death of music, the type that stirs your soul and not just your feet. Fela was not just a harbinger of hope to the average Nigerian living in the military era, he was to a large extent, human rights itself. With zealous determination, each lyric composed by the Afrobeat pioneer was a scourge on the back of the government and those involved in corrupt practices. For Fela, birthed by the great Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, it was a “like mother, like son” situation.


Then Fela died. His genre, Afrobeat, survived. But Nigeria got harder.
Nigerians saw the returns that music promised to bring as well as the international fame, and those who had musical talents sought not to have fun but get hard currency. A few years later, the musicscape changed. Songs such as Olu Maintain’s “Yahooze”, Eldee’s “Big Boy” ushered in a new wave of music in which artist shied away from calling out the government’s shortcomings to singing the praises of the rich, the influentials and the “yahoo boys.”

If The Shoe Fits
Many who desired to be like the legend would rise claiming to be anointed as the new Fela. Even if they didn’t, Nigerians would desperately read meanings to some of their lyrics and claim that Fela has returned. Each one centring their message around “Food e no dey, water no dey and our road e no good, every day for thief, one day for owner.” They didn’t last long. A little threat here, a little criticism there and shaku shaku lyrics would take over or they would stop altogether.

As hunger and poverty ravaged the nation, new artistes knowing the workings of wearing the garment of Fela quickly settled for “fast money, fast cars” lyrics, heavily relying on made-for-dance commercial beats.

Then in 2018, Falz (Folarin Falana) released the scathing, “This Is Nigeria” a cover of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”. A headline read “Fela Drops Mic, Falz Picks It Up”; another less praising of his album ‘Moral Instruction’ is titled, “Moral Instruction: Falz Finds And Fall Short Of Fela.”

While there was a lot of buzz around it, something even more significant was happening. The reception of Nigerians brought to the fore, what their souls had ached for – social conscious music, one that resonates with their everyday travails. While “commercial” music was still accepted, another messiah had come up.

“The primary motivation was to trigger an awakening among the Nigerian people about the numerous political and social ills that we constantly face as a country. And more importantly to spark a reaction in the positive direction,” Falz told CNN.

Nigerian artistes started to navigate through the road less travelled. Just when it looked like the fire was dwindling, along came Burna Boy.

Burna, who had previously made his entrance into the Nigerian music scene as a party boy with “Like to Party” rebirthed himself in 2019 with the release of his critically acclaimed “African Giant”, an album that sought to reawaken the mind of Nigerians and Africans at large.

In one of his songs, “Dangote,” named after Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, a part of the opening scene has a text that reads in part, “Employment and job creation should be priority for any government. The National Bureau of Statistics puts the estimated number of unemployed Nigerians at 25.1 percent.”

As if that reality was not enough rude awakening, he took us to history class with “Another Story,” educating Nigerians on the seemingly unknown fact that Nigeria was sold for 865,000 pounds. (Read more on this on, fuelling further criticisms of the removal of the history curriculum in schools.

Touching sensitive aspects of Nigeria’s history, he further pursued this goal with his latest album, “Twice As Tall” when he chastised the colonial perspective of Africa. He name-called Mungo Park “and the fool that said they found river Niger”, he said on the song, ‘Monsters You Made.’

The spirit of Fela now more than ever might be inspiring a new wave of artistes who are intentionally spreading the gospel of the Afrobeat legend.

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