The evolution of Nigeria’s Folarin Falana, more popularly known by his stage name Falz TheBahdGuy, from that funny guy who sings, raps and even acts with a faux Yoruba accent to a face for the socially conscious movement is one that should make it to the books, if we studied such things. The artiste is bent on inciting the political consciousness of Nigerians by speaking through music. He even landed a role as co-host of On The Couch — a talk show started in a bid to let viewers get to know presidential candidates and aspirants as Nigeria’s elections draw close.
His progression became more pronounced in 2018 with the release of his controversial audio/visual song “This Is Nigeria”, a cover inspired by American rapper Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”, which addresses societal issues prevalent in Nigeria. Just days after its release, however, the song was banned by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), like Eedris Abdulkareem’s less hopeful ‘Jaga Jaga’ in 2004, and the Muslim Rights Concern group (MURIC) decided that girls dancing in hijabs, among other reasons, is cause to sue the singer/songwriter.
The new year seems to come with an even deeper resolution: The singer/rapper’s new song Talk has got people talking following its release on January 10. Off the aptly named Moral Instruction, the fourth solo studio album by Falz, scheduled to be released on January 15, the video directed by Iyobosa Rehoboth (Prodigeezy) and produced by Wande Thomas sees a young boy in front of a video game while the rapper sits close by. With the name “Sega” written on the player—a nod to Segun Awosanya who was listed on TheNerve Africa’s Yellow Wall for his work in combating SARS brutality—one already has a sense of what is to come. The game begins with three options: a patriotic “Save Nigeria”, the dream “Relocate to Yankee” and “Join Gang”—Falz’s tribute to his 2016 feature Bad Gang (the average Nigerian may be left wondering where the option to “Just Survive” is). The boy chooses to Save Nigeria, a lofty aspiration for one embodied by Falz’s character, over the sound of the gamified version of the country’s national anthem.
Falz raps and his boys drive around while singing to the refrain of the song which takes on the popular nursery school rhyme, “Old Roger is dead”; those children who are now adults would remember it as “Old Soldier is dead and gone to his grave.” He lists out the various failings of the country’s political and religious leaders: a poke to the current president’s penchant for long vacations for medical reasons, “Four year tenure/Three year holiday”; a jibe to the MURIC after the body dropped their planned court action against the artiste, “Brother MURI shout finish/we no see am for court”; the ridiculous allowance given to participants of the country’s compulsory NYSC scheme, “In 2019/19,800 allawee”; an admonishment about the practice of jungle justice; all while being a voice of reason as the country’s elections peek on the horizon, “Election don dey come/Dem go need your support.”
A view of the front cover of a magazine—also named “Talk”—even shows an ad that puts up the country for sale with a promo: Buy Nigeria and get 2k free airtime, alongside a message that reads: “The level of insensitivity shown by our government is rather disturbing. People are continuously being massacre every day. It is actually getting out of hand!” However, yet again, Falz’s obsession with women who exchange sex for money/favours finds an awkward place among complaints of a country robbing its citizens of a future. His dislike for the autonomy of women in this regard is well documented: In Child of the World, he manages to make a case of rape and mental health about sex work, and his collaboration with Ajebutter22 on Bad Gang is full of reproach for the number of people a person sleeps with and personal decisions like choosing to loc one’s hair. Instead make you work/You dey find Alhaji, he sings, but the only comment for the Alhaji would probably be in Regards to Your Mumsi, a 2016 single which showcases, without admonishment, the creepy remarks of “uncles” to mostly teenage and adult women. Already, comparisons to Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti have run amok as social media users allude to the idea that whereby artistes Burnaboy and Wizkid took after his love for marijuana, Falz is the only one picking up the microphone. He ends his 3 minute piece with “Na me talk am”, a phrase commonly used as a dare: I said what I said, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The lawyer turned rapper seems to have a solid stance on his decision to call out bad political leaders and Uganda’s Bobi Wine (Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu) has shown that it is indeed possible to make the leap from music to politics and not become irrelevant as some have ended up. The musician, who was also on TheNerve Africa’s Yellow Wall, earned the moniker “Ghetto President” for persistently speaking out, singing about the struggles of the Ugandan lower classes, and calling for Yoweri Museveni, the 74-year-old who has ruled the country since 1986 to retire at the next elections in 2021. “What was meant to be a fundamental change has become no change,” he sings of Museveni’s reign in his 2017 hit Freedom. But despite garnering a large number of followers, the change sought has not been without consequences: he was charged and jailed for treason, his driver shot dead, and he had to seek medical treatment in the US under close watch after an incident left him injured. These are repercussions that Fela himself encountered on a daily basis against corrupt military dictatorships, and for which “African Queen” crooner Tubaba (Tuface Idibia) was unprepared for, backing down after a protest was to be organised in February 2017 against Nigeria’s government.
But Falz already has a mission. Of the Moral Instructions album soon to be released, he said, “There is a pressing need for re-education and re-orientation of the people, for this is the only way we can restore sanity.” He is right. So far, despite the approval of the Not Too Young To Run bill which cut down the age required to contest for public office in May 2018, and the numerous parties with their candidates, the country’s citizens continue to be stuck in the loop that only recognises the two stronghold parties, none of which can truly absolve themselves of blame for the current conditions which Falz rallies against. Yet, even after putting his lyrics and person on the line, the greatest challenge for the artiste lies in transforming sentiments and already-known news to positive action. After all, Fela’s Beasts of No Nation should have been enough to warn its listeners to proceed with caution during the last elections. The legend himself had become jaded by his inability to effect any real change in the system and Falz may soon come to realise, like Seun and Femi Kuti whose songs are also charged with political awareness probably still do, the difficulty in grappling with the condition described in the former’s 1986 song, Look and Laugh.
At the end of the song whose beat will definitely guarantee a spot on dancefloors regardless of the somber message it carries, a new level is unlocked with a highscore of 419000. If the rapper is intent on moving beyond beautifully depicted visuals and recounts of the country’s political game—maybe even deciding to run for President like Fela did and Bobi Wine may be considering—hopefully, he strikes a chord and does not end up “playing 419”.