06 Feb Top 10 Politicised Songs by Nigerian Artists
Recent events in the world have seen political issues come heavily to the fore, and we have seen more and more celebrities voice out their views in a way that has never been seen before. Over in Hollywood, a culture war has been ignited with Donald Trump, and across the seas in England celebrities are not keeping mute either. Nigeria might be home to Fela, one of the most politically conscious entertainers of all time, but it wouldn’t be wrong to say that majority of our entertainers have largely been mute on political issues. As such when news surface of Tuface leading a protest against the issues facing Nigeria it gathered interest quickly. Due to unfortunate factors, Tuface was not able to see through his participation in the protest, but his early participation opened up conversations on the role of Nigerian entertainers in helping keep the Nigerian government in check. Here’s a pick of 10 of our favourite politicised songs released by Nigerian artists since the 2000s:
‘Mr. President’ – African China (2006)
Although he has largely faded into obscurity African China produced a classic with ‘Mr. President’, providing a song which’s chorus: ‘Mr. President lead us well/if you be Governor- govern us well/ if you be Senator – senate am well/ if you be police-police well well/ no dey take bribe’- served as an anthem for the peoples’ pleas against the government. On ‘Mr. President’ he tackles the issues of leadership, corruption, inequality and injustice in Nigeria, echoing general frustration of Nigerian people brilliantly. With cutting lyrics, China pulls no punches in highlighting the problems of Nigeria, with the line, “poor man wey thief maggi, omo dem go show him face for crime fighter/ richman wey thief money, omo we no dey see their face for crime fighter” particularly standing out for me. Lamentably 11 years after the release of his song we are still waiting for our leaders to lead us well.
‘Jaga Jaga’ – Idris Abdul Kareem (2004)
‘Nigeria jaga jaga’ is a statement all Nigerians have all at one point said out loud in frustration, and we have Eedris Abdulkareem to thank for coining this phrase on his hit song ‘Jaga Jaga’. With this track Eedris laments on the state of Nigeria, highlighting the issues of corruption and suffering in the country. Similarly, to Tuface who faced backlash talking up against the government, Eedris came to head with the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who banned the song from radio play due to the supposedly ‘abusive’ language used in the song. Despite the attempts of the government to put down his song, ‘Jaga Jaga’ became a nationwide hit. Fast forwards 13 years and Obasanjo is still critical about the song, and Nigeria is still largely ‘jaga jaga’.
‘Only Me’ – 2face (2011)
Recent events may have brought 2face and his political views to the forefront of Nigerian news cycle but this is not his first time being vocal about the need for change in Nigeria. ‘Only Me’ sees 2face bears his frustration at the corruption and greediness stifling Nigeria, as well his hope that through unity and selflessness Nigeria can finally prosper. With ‘Only Me’ we see a man who is disheartened at the situation his country is in but still loves it and believes in the people in it. To all those complaining that his decisions in his personal life make him unfit to lead a protest this song provides an answer to your query- “I don’t want to be talking like a preacher at all/ I don’t want to dey do like say I sabi pass all/I know say no be everybody sabi play ball/But arise o compatriots if Nigeria call.”
‘How Far’ – Falz feat. Sir Dauda (2014)
Off his vastly underrated debut album, Falz comes up with a song that perfectly sums up the frustrations of young Nigerians at the leaders in power. Rapping with a more serious cap on, Falz laments the problems facing Nigeria – corruption, broken promises, terrorism, frustration – the emotional performance from Sir Dauda adds to the poignancy of the song. Falz’s words capture the problem of Nigerian leaders in full: “When we dey primary 1 they say make we lead and not to follow/ Say when we grow up we go be leaders of tomorrow / Shey tomorrow go come? / Shey they go leave us when? / Cause the same set of people wey dey lead us then /Are still same damn people wey dey lead us mehn / They say we go write the future they no give us pen / Give it up for VIPs they be our problem / Vagabonds in power as Fela call them.” It is remarkable that this song came out in 2014, a year before we elected another member of the class of 70’ into power. Rumour has it that Atiku Abubakar wants to run in 2019. When they go give us pen?
‘Talk About It’ – M.I feat Leony (2008)
As well as re-energising the Nigerian rap scene with his album Talk About It, M.I delivers a brilliant take on the issues plaguing Nigeria in the album name title track of the album. With sharp lyrics, M.I holds nothing back in his appraisal of the Nigerian government, calling them out for their corruption, lack of transparency, selfishness and attempts to hide the truth from its people, giving us a brilliant song in the process. Surprised at the Nigerian government treatment of 2face? M.I seems to calls it out ahead of time: “A senator buy car, opened up a store./But don’t say nothing, just shut your trap jo./Remember what happened to that news editor./But me I’m a gossip, I’m a true amebo./I won’t sit still through the government galore./I say it loud on CD, on stage and on tour./My mouth doesn’t just sleep people it pours./Why are we poor, governor don’t lie./Where is our money, what is your alibi?/They say keep your mouth shut Jude or you’ll die./Then my street, people say we dey feel you guy!”
‘2010’ – Sound Sultan feat. M.I (2010)
The notion of the Nigerian government trampling the efforts of those trying to spark change is nothing new, and on his song ‘2010’, Sound Sultan wonderfully speaks on how this fear can cripple those that want to spark change. Singing with blend of sadness, anger and doubt, Sultan brilliantly treads the line between wanting to spark change on one hand, and the fear of the backlash from government on the other, singing: “I want to be like Moses/ Show my people dem to the promise land/ But then I notice something / People wey try am done dey underground / I see them I ja/ Look them from far / Me I fear this government people.” Hearing his lyrics, you would think Sound Sultan released after Tuface released his video withdrawing his support from the protest. Sultan ultimately calls for unity to fight the government: “Rise up Naija/ Shey só wa pa? / Tell them you are tired of the evil.” M.I lends his help on this track and again brings his sharp lyricism calling for collective responsibility to fight the Nigerian government: “It’s about that time that I spit that rhyme that can touch that mind / Who can tell that friend who can take that stand / We can reach that end / Put your lighters up they can’t fight us down.” It’s 2017 and we are still fighting the Nigerian governments for our rights, filled with anger and fear.
‘Suuru Lere’ – Lagbaja (2004)
Reading this list, a recurring theme amongst the songs is a sense of frustration and despondency at the situation Nigeria is in, ‘Suru Lere’ by Lagbaja, however, contains in it more positive emotions, as Lagbaja sings with a sense of hope at the future of Nigeria. Singing largely in Yoruba, Lagbaja urges the people of Nigeria to look at the sins of the past military government, and be patient with the newly democratic government, singing: “After many many years of waka for bush/ Eventually we enter democracy/ But instead to progress/ Na fighting we dey fight/ If democracy go work/ We must get patience small/ To destroy very easily/ But to build nko/ Eh Wahala ni o/ Afi ka ni suuru/ Suuru to lojo/ Suuru lere o/ E ma je a f’ayo fo o.” Listening to Lagbaja sing it is clear he believes that with time and patience things will improve, and that makes it all the more disheartening when one looks at where Nigeria is now.
‘Down’ – Brymo (2013)
From one of the most underrated artists and albums in Nigeria comes a brilliant song, that wonderfully summarises the corruption that has eroded Nigeria and its government. With his impassioned voice, Brymo tackles the issue of corruption and how it has manifested itself all over Nigeria and is connected to all of us: “Them say the chief he dey sleep with the thief’s wife/ Aboki for corner he dey sleep with the chief’s wife/ The neighbour’s daughter carries bele for the thief’s child/ …They say the priest he dey pray for the thief.” Brymo pulls no punches calls out the whole of Nigerian citizens and our links to corruption, whether directly or indirectly. His final words sum where Nigeria is at the moment: “Something dey go round town/ People dey slam head for ground/ Dem say garri still cost for town/ Few people dey smile more they frown.”
‘Economy’ – 9ice (2016)
‘Economy will not kill me’ are words that left the mouth of most, if not all Nigerians one time or another in 2016, as the Nigerian government drove the economy into a crisis worse than any we have ever witnessed. On his song, ‘Economy’, 9ice sings wonderfully about this crisis. 9ice had a short stint in politics and it would hardly be wrong to say that he does more on this song than he ever did as a ‘politician’. His lyrics perfectly reflect the recession that has engulfed Nigeria: “Economy bad tomato na gold/ Ma people dey worry oh/ Worry oh/ Ko s’ina, ko s’omi / Economy yi ti fe so mi di were/ Ah ah ah ah ahh won fe so mi di were/ Ko s’epo, ko s’owo Economy yi ti fe so mi di were, ye eh/ Ah ah ah ah ahh won fe so mi di were/ Sugbon, emi o ni je k’Economy kee mi oh/ Ma jo o, ma yo o/ Economy no go give me heart attack oh/ Ma jo o, ma yo o/ Economy no go give me high blood pressure oh/ Economy bad tomato na gold/ Ma people dey worry oh/ Worry oh.” The Buhari regime has so far been one of the most, of the most frustrating regime of a democratically elected government in power ever seen in Nigeria, and if you’re looking for a crash course and what it has been like look no further than 9ice’s song.
‘Soke’ – Burna Boy (2015)
Burna Boy has always made clear his love for Fela, never missing out an opportunity to hail the Nigerian legend, and on ‘Soke’ he does his best Fela impression, producing a song that the legend would have been proud to hear. Singing with a laid-back feel, Burna Boy comes across as a person who is tired of voicing his complaints of the Nigerian government, asking us whether he should shout loud ‘Se kin kigbe soke o’ or demonstrate faster, ‘se kin demo Faster’. Similar to M.I on ‘Talk About It’ and Sound Sultan on ‘2010’, Burna Boy seems to capture the Tuface issue ahead of time: “They ask me o/ They want to know/ As things dey go / For my country o/ E don kolo/ People don kolo, eji soro/ E no easy/ No money o, /No light e o, water nko? / E no dey flow/ If e vex e o, dem go call mopol, / Dem go come o/ Carry you go.” Looking at the face of Tuface in the video he released calling off the strike, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched a theory to believe that ‘Mopol’ and threats were involved. Will things ever change?
Undoubtedly Tuface’s backing out of the protest felt like a letdown, but it is important not to forget that he took a very important step by lending his voice to the protest in the first place – started a conversation and got people inspired – that should not be diminished in the slightest. If we want to change Nigeria we all have to play our part in exacting that change, and to that end I leave the words of M.I:
It’s about that time that I spit that rhyme that can touch that mind , who can tell that friend , who can take that stand. We can reach that end. Put your lighters up, they can’t fight us down.