Sunday, June 13

How music is intertwined with social justice in Nigeria

In an essay published in October on The Conversation, Florence Nweke – a researcher and music lecturer at the University of Lagos – posits that protest music and the involvement of musicians in social justice protests in Nigeria has waned. For the music scholar, “The failure of Nigeria’s current pop stars to identify with the country’s oppressed has inspired feelings of nostalgia about the late Afrobeat pioneer, Fela Kuti”. This claim does a disservice to the role of Nigerian musicians like Don Jazzy, Asa, Falz, Tiwa Savage, Tems, Burna Boy, Lady Donli, Innocent Idibia (TuFace), MI Abaga, Flavour, and Phyno, who have used their social media and art to amplify the reach of the #EndSARS protests within and outside Nigeria and were also present on protest grounds. End Sars by Fikky, which started as a sample that went viral on Twitter, was adopted as the unofficial anthem of the protests. Musician and activist Eromosele Adene (EromZ) was also arrested by the police.

The #EndSARS protests might not have adopted a musician (or celebrity) as its face because in the past, the Nigerian government has been perceived as scapegoating musicians whose songs offered social commentary by banning or censoring their music. As Nweke acknowledged, under military rule, “Most of Fela’s songs didn’t receive mass media rotation. Peter-side Ottong’s music was banned. Ras Kimono’s songs were blacklisted or ‘not to be played on air’ by state-owned radio stations.” And Falz – who is both a rapper and a lawyer, with 7.4m followers on Instagram – spoke out recently about the #EndSARS protests. He described the beginning of the protests to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: “On 8 October, myself and another artist named Runtown, we had shared on our Twitter and Instagram pages that we were going to do a walk, just a march – a peaceful protest against all forms of police brutality… We did that with the hashtag #EndSARS. The hashtag was already in existence. This was something that was already a big thing on social media, but no one had actually gone ahead to do a physical protest, so we decided to take that extra step.” Whatever happens next, in whatever way Nigerians choose to stand up to systematic oppression and violence, there will always be music; in the words of Dolly Parton, “as long as there’s a story to be told”.

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