Independence Day; How Nigerian Artists Use Music as a Tool For Political Activism

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Nigeria is well known to be the home of soulful music, and as much as our music is endowed for pure entertainment purposes, we are also often inclined to make music that pass across, a very strong message – the kind of music where our lyrics are a propagating tool of calling out the numerous bullshits of the Nigerian government. 

It’s been sixty-three years of bitter-sweet experience being a Nigerian and the one thing we are proud about being blessed wit, is music that gladdens our heart, the rawness of our immense musical talent and how well afrobeats gospel is spreading its tentacles beyond the Nigerian landscape, Fela must be very proud! The one thing we are sure to be most proud of, in the midst of the economic and political chaos in the country, is the Nigerian music. 

It did not start now, the ability to address the weakness and lapses of the Nigerian government through music, when artists have tongue lashed the government through instrumentals and rich melodies. It’s the creativity for us, how we are able to dance and yet, understand how these artists address the plights of the common Nigerian. 

For newbies in the activism game, one might think activism through music began with Falz or perhaps Burna Boy whose political ginger is apparently ‘audio’, but artists have always addressed the actions and inactions of the government since as far back as 1970s. Fela, the afrobeat pace setter was one of the core lords in this very journey, as he dedicated perhaps, a large amount of his music career calling out the government. Did he have a peaceful life with his audacious move, particularly during military rule? You can imagine just exactly what the ideal response would be. 

It’s very ideal to think of Nigeria and recall the ever-popular lyrical phrase, “Nigeria jaga jaga”, how for the longest time, we have evolved backwardly, if at all, that is a concept. We have advanced with time, but are still akin to the operational days of old, bad governance and bad corrupt leadership. The top priority of every leader in power, is the chunk of ‘national moi moi’ they stand to gain. 

Despite it all, Nigerian artists have given us a reason to be happy and a reason to forget for a moment, the woes of the country. Creatively criticizing the country, these artists have made music that rightfully sums up the ills of the society, and the nonchalance of the government in power. 

It’s Independence Day and there’s nothing ecstatic to be glad about as a Nigerian living in Nigeria. What better way to remind us of the brutality of the country and her leaders than using the very streak of hope we have to remind us all, of not one, not two, but the many flaws Nigeria has as a country. Here are some of Nigerian artists who at one point in time, dedicated a time of their music career to blatantly tell the government “You ain’t shit!

  • Fela Kuti

Frankly speaking, nobody does the political activism and bluntly calling out the government like the afrobeat propeller, Fela Kuti, does. Without mincing words, Fela delves into outrightly going anti-governmental in his music, and it is well known that most of his discography follows this route. In the 1970s, Fela’s supposed political notoriety was what stemmed his “Zombie” song, where he mocked the military regime, speaking on the blind followership of the Nigerian soldiers and their inhuman obedience to their superior’s orders. 

Fela’s in-and-out habit of prisons did not deter him from making music that still, bit hard on the asses of the Nigerian government. His anti-government motive led to the well-known Kalakuta Republic, a communal compound that housed his family and music crew. 

  • African China

African China’s popular lyrics says “Mr President feed us well, govern us well, police well well, no dey take bribe” from his 2006 “Mr President track”. What Fela chose to make mockery of and outrightly address, was what African China took a plea on. the artist dedicated the track to making a plea to the president and every political post holder to rightfully carry out their duties, which after eighteen years, fell on deaf ears; as we can see the cruelty of those in power and the suffering on the Nigerian masses. 

  • Eedris Abdulkareem 

Asides singing about a certain Ms. Bimbo Owoyemi, Eedris Abdulkareem did not bother addressing the government or making an attempt to plead in his politically radical song, “Jaga Jaga”. The singer outrightly stated that Nigeria was, and still is, in shambles. His popular hit song cites the excess assassinations, increase in cost of living, fuel scarcity and the rough state of the country, expressing and believing in no hope for the nation. Can you blame him? The country is even in a worst state at the moment. 

The then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, made power moves to ban the song but one can’t stop greatness—the song bares the truth and with its melodious swagger, is an even more pleasurable tune. 

  • Falz

Best in recent time activism goes to this blessed young man! His music vividly captures the many facets of the broken system and yet, contains the sauce of a highly pleasurable track. In March 30, earlier this year, the singer/rapper teamed up with Vector on the diss track, “Mr Yakubu”—a song with the sole aim of targeting Mahmoud Yakubu, the INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) chairman over the manipulation of the 2023 electoral results. 

The artist has equally made song that has spanned from the sullen state of the country on “This Is Nigeria”, to his album, “Moral Instruction”, that speaks on corruption, police brutality, injustice and the never-ending cycle of internet fraud. Falz’ socio-political consciousness is what Nigerians have embraced, as he not only speaks of Nigeria’s ills, but also walks on what he speals on. His music, sometimes stem from his personal experience as a partaker of the rotten system.

  • Burna Boy

The self-acclaimed “African Giant” might not be the best politically conscious artist, given how it might seem that his activist music is a reap off the Nigerian dilapidated state as a fat cash cow for the artist. But it doesn’t take away how he has dedicated his music to the good cause of the country. 

Largely sampling his music from Fela’s discography, the artist’s songs such as “Collateral Damage”, “Monsters You Made”, “Soke”, “20.10.20”, understands the plight of Nigeria’s dysfunction, where these songs encapsulate Nigeria’s problems such as the gross corruption, police brutality, instability of being consistent with something as vital as power supply and the very recent tragic demise of fallen heroes during the peaceful protest against harsh police brutality on youths. 

The list doesn’t stop here however, there’s the like of Asa with her “Fire On The Mountain” and “Jailer” track, where she smoothly mellows down the dysfunction of the Nigerian system, or Daddy Showkey’s “Fire Fire”. There’s also Timaya’s mind-blowing “Dem Mama” addressing the 1990 massacre killing in Odi, Bayelsa state, not to mention, many others. 

While there are songs that plagues the situation of the Nigerian society, there are songs that also appraise the country. It’s yours to pick, yours to drown into! You’re either for the mood of Veno Marioghae’s “Nigeria Go Survive” or Fela’s “Sorrow, Tears and Blood”.  

Happy Independence Day!!

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