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When Fela Anikulapo Kuti died, so too did the flavour of Nigeria’s music scene.
At the time, music in Nigeria was more than a lyrical lush, it was also about people power and activism. Fela’s Afrobeat from the 1970s to 90s helped those to flourish.
There was always entertainment though, but far more vitality went into social commentary and the promotion of human rights.
The music of those days was a reaction to reality. The military that ruled Nigeria for a better part of its 58 years’ independence had created so many problems. The urge to fight back was there, but always suppressed. Fela stood out because he stepped in aggressively with his music.
Music academics say Fela’s death in 1997 was far costlier than the country would later realise. He had kept the government restless, he was a driving voice against military dictators – all done with music that dispelled larger frustrations bottled up against corrupt politicians and military hardliners, with a rich mix of instruments, dance steps and styles to even-up boredom.
Yet, there is not much change between the era of the military and the return of civilian democracy in 1999.
There have been rampant allegations of corrupt practices by top politicians. Hunger and poverty have also worsened. But unlike the past, where musicians stepped in, this time the response has been muted. Or rather, few have had as much effect as those of the past.
That was until Nigerian Folarin Falani, stage-named Falz, entered the scene in the 2000s. He was only seven when Fela died.
Understandably, there was a content shift after Fela’s death – noticeably marking a huge departure from the expectations of local music lovers.
“There is a total deviation from the moral and social relevance of Nigeria music. We left music that tackled problems,” Professor Onyeji Christian of the Music Department, University of Nigeria, said of the era.
Still, the line between that era of socially and politically conscious music seem to intersect with Falz, a young Nigerian lawyer-turned-rapper, who reminded millions of Nigerians of the legendary figure.
Far more, however, this nostalgia comes with the optimism that beyond filling the fame of Fela, Falz can recast the Nigerian music industry – bringing back a far-fading tradition with a sprinkle of modernity.
“They are very different artists operating at separate levels with perhaps the thread of sociopolitical resistance binding them. I prefer to think of Falz as the inevitable evolution of Fela’s activism,” says Nigerian-based music journalist Wilfred Okiche.
This is Nigeria
It started when in 2018 Falz released a controversial song This Is Nigeria, a cover version of American rapper Childish Gambino’s This Is America.