Nigeria’s Falz takes on rape and mental health in ‘Child of the World’

Nearly two months after shutting down the internet with ‘This Is Nigeria’, an adaptation of Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’, rapper, actor and lawyer Folarin Falana, popularly known as Falz the Bahdguy, has released a new music video for ‘Child of the World’, which is off his third studio album 27. The Kemi Adetiba–directed video fades in on a sweet, soulful, melancholic beat. And Falz, in his trademark large spectacles sans glasses, and traditional Yoruba garb, is surrounded by a band as he raps in a mix of Yoruba, pidgin and English. The video is shot in earthy colours that depict the narrative the director is trying to interpret from the song. As a whole, the video is brilliant, yet Falz doesn’t quite succeed in his bid to shine a light on the challenges of sexual assault, HIV/AIDS and suicide.

The video starts by introducing a promising young woman (played by former Big Brother Naija housemate Bamike ‘BamBam’ Olawunmi) violated by her uncle. There is no mention of the uncle again, except when he’s called an Agbaya (old for nothing). He is at large, not made accountable for his actions, and probably still functioning as a well-meaning relative in the family while the rape victim is shown resorting into sex-work in reaction to her assault.

“Am I a fool, shey I don go astray, Am I a victim of my circumstance”, Falz raps as the visual story interprets the message it tries to pass across. But the song doesn’t go so far in tackling the issue before it deteriorates into a prop for Falz’s morally righteous message.  The character’s actions—sex work—are portrayed as a crash of her promising future, which finally halts—after many abortions—when she is inflicted with the HIV virus. It is only after this that she is shown contemplating the reality inflicted on her by the sexual assault.

“She used to be a good girl, but now she’s gone bad” is a sentiment that recurs in conversations where the “bad girl” is derided for her sexual exploits. It reinforces the narrative that sexual acts are the devil that women become possessed with when their lives are falling apart from the prototype of the virgin girl—the one men are expected to marry, but are not ready to date.

She don dey look for that thing she dey resist before
She never had a Daddy figure so she need the luck
Uncle Peter don create beast, he can’t tame the stuff”

 The backstory of the rape is designed to evoke disgust at such an awful thing in the minds of the audience, but still tempered so that responsibility and accountability lies with the victim alone. The story climaxes in the young woman’s suicide attempt on the now iconic Ikoyi-Lekki bridge of Lagos, Nigeria, where Falz intervenes as the voice of reason. He goes into a monologue saying, “no be you get the blame” but moves on without a thought when the beat comes back on. “She promise not to disappoint/I guess she broke her vow/She let herself go/She let Mummy down.”

The victim’s return to her mother (Toyin Abraham), who has been on her knees praying all this while is poignant because of the society Falz sings about. The emotional negligence of the average Nigerian parent is displayed for all to see amidst resounding applause as her mother acts offended about the disappointment her daughter brought to her. It is not certain that there were revelations, to the mother, of the cause of the victim’s decline. The uncle is still nowhere to be found, and no mention is made of him as the character picks up HIV awareness fliers to paint the picture of a repentant church girl dealing with the consequences of her actions. 

Attempts at social commentary by Falz have been praised, especially when compared with its absence in the music of his contemporaries. Nigerians, including the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), have also lauded the singer for addressing sexual violence in this latest music video. But if Nigeria is going to evolve from uttering out ready-made thoughts to actual commentary, we have to admit that the rapper did little beyond stating the obvious and evoking tired narratives in typical Nollywood fashion.

Falz’s ‘Child of the world’ doesn’t show an awareness of what actual victims go through. If there was any such thing he would have dropped his obsession with “runs girls”, because the sequence of events for victims of sexual assaults aren’t that linear. One can feel suicidal immediately after, another may go through life dreading any man’s touch and yet another like a pawn in a power play such as that described by the poet Wana Udobang in ‘This is not a feminist poem’. And there is surely no additional need for a play on a woman having sex and then contracting HIV for people to finally sympathise with a victim. It is tasteless that someone who is supposedly aware is still perpetuating these stereotypes.

The compelling video, however, perfectly depicts the reality in our society. The focus on the victim rather than perpetrators and the general apathy of parents and older individuals to the gory details of the event are all real reactions to sexual assault. The inherent hatred towards any woman exchanging sex for money and the absence of healthcare and sex education is evident throughout the five-minute video.

Falz’ incompletely formed takes are a pathway to the cultural prestige he desires, but they make little effort to effectively address the society that enables the ills he mentions. But if there was an award for Best Socio-Political Commentary, Falz would win hands down, only because there seems to be no competition. While dancing to talking drums and a gong, the rapper rolls out sexual assault and suicide hotlines. And in the text, he finally passes across the message he intends but could not achieve in song.