Music Is (Still) The Weapon (For Revolution)
“So I think as Africa is concerned, music can not be for enjoyment, music has to be for revolution where you walk with the people, like the people and doing your duty as a citizen, play music and act, do something about it, if you feel bad about it, do something about it.” - Fela Anikulapo-Kuti; Music Is The Weapon, 1982.
Something snapped in Nigeria these past weeks. This generation got tired of the perennial government bullshit and stood up to the geriatric establishment. #EndSARS started on Twitter and morphed into a decentralized protest all across the country, with the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos becoming the unofficial headquarters of the resistance. On October 20, unknown soldiers (word to Fela) opened fire on the protesters. They were completely unarmed, unthreatening and most importantly, unthreatened. In President Buhari’s belated televised address, there was no acknowledgement- let alone sympathy - for the casualties. Nevertheless, something had broken: the mass of young people who are the most affected by the SARS unit and bad governance are no longer afraid or timid to not only demand change but also show up and force the government to listen and act. We pin.
As the protests started, rapper Falz was one of the most recognizable faces- as well as comedian Mr Macaroni. And then Runtown, Davido, Simi, Wizkid, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Seyi Shay etc. But one of the striking things, from a music perspective, was the dearth of protest songs among our artistes. Oris and Ayomide noticed and tweeted it.
Now I’m one of the first people that would defend artistes’ choice of music and style- if Rema wants to Asampeteprokotomakule, by all means, go ahead. But as we’ve seen, there are circumstances that will make Falz revert to Folarin- first and foremost a citizen who happens to be a legal practitioner and then lend his voice for things more important than vibes. And then there’ll invariably be a Naira Marley who’s all Instagram talk and no meaningful action- he’d talked a good game and offered to lead a protest, only for him to cancel it out of “concern for protesters’ safety.”
Granted, not everybody can be Fela whose entire life was dedicated to fighting the government and ultimately paid a heavy price for it. However, he’s correct (when has Fela never been correct?) when he says in the above-quoted documentary Music Is The Weapon, “If you are an English man, music can be an instrument of enjoyment and you can sing about love or when you are going to bed next but in my own environment, my society is under development (sic).”
Artistes are not insulated from the underdevelopment of the country, nor is anybody for that matter. The wanton destruction of different parts of Lagos has shown that nobody is actually safe from armed robbery and arson. Therefore, it is essential that musicians use their art to drive change. Fela was Fela: abrasive and unrelenting; on the other hand, you had Sunny Okosun who wasn’t as fiery but still released songs like Which Way Nigeria?, Revolution, Papa’s Land, Power to the People and so on. Don’t be fooled by the title Likkle Sugar, the song was an excoriation of the Babaginda’s regime by Ras Kimono.
That’s not to say this our modern era hasn’t tried, but that is the problem: trying is simply not enough. At the #EndSARS protests, DJ’s had to dig their (virtual) crates to play songs like Jaga Jaga by Eedris Abdulkareem (2004), Mr President by African China (2005) and Timaya’s Dem Mama from 2007. For long stretches, the unofficial soundtrack of the protest was Davido’s FEM- hardly revolutionary stuff.
In Burna Boy’s badly timed feature in Time that was released smack in the middle of the protests, he was asked what role he can play in this revolution. For someone who has made so much noise about Nigerians being cowardly, his tepid “I’m just a singer” reply was a letdown. His lack of awareness of the power he wields as a singer is disappointing (which to me, underscores the need for him to educate himself more and not just rely solely on bombast). He’s not just a singer; he’s the voice of a generation.
Sidebar: he has since redeemed himself somewhat, by paying for billboards to support the protests, raising funds to support protesters, tweeting the hashtag heavily and joining one of the London protests. He also revealed that he couldn’t join earlier as his mother had a serious surgery at the beginning of the protests. Get well soon, Mama Burna.
Now he might say he didn’t ask to be one but history is filled with people who didn’t necessarily choose to be leaders- they had it thrust upon them. That, for me, I think is the next route for our musicians, not just Burna, to take. We already know our music can sell out the various O2 arenas. We already know that “Naija to the World” is valuable currency. We already know politicians need musicians to reach the electorate. It is time for musicians to now embrace that “protester “role and further amplify the message. If the events of the past three weeks are anything to go by, we appear to be on the cusp of a revolution. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States produced some of the most enduring anthems of that period: A Change’s Gonna Come by Sam Cooke, Mississippi Goddam by Nina Simone and Say It Loud, I’m Black And Proud by James Brown are only three examples. This movement of ours needs to be similarly properly soundtracked.
May the souls of the countless of Nigerians killed by police and other security forces before, during and after the protests rest in peace; and may their sacrifice not be in vain.
Quick update about History Made the book: I’m excited to inform you that it will be available for pre-order next week. The link and book cover will be shared with you next time you receive this newsletter. Thank you for all the support.