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In early May 2018, Childish Gambino, the American actor, comedian, writer, rapper and musician, released a music video depicting life in America, which immediately went viral and spurred both parodies and covers from creatives and artists globally.
In Nigeria, the Afrobeat rapper and actor Folarin Falana, known by his stage name Falz, made his own rendition of the song, “This is Nigeria”. Just like Gambino’s original video, Falz’s depiction of the state of affairs in his home country has also gone viral. Here’s our guide to understanding nine of the most notable elements in his video.
In Childish Gambino’s original video, it starts off with a man strumming a guitar while seated on a chair in what seems to be an abandoned parking lot. Falz’s video illustrates something similar. However, in his video, the unidentified man is replaced by a Fulani herdsman strumming a local stringed instrument, who later goes on to kill another man with a cutlass.
The Fulani are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa. In Nigeria, they can be mostly found living in the northernmost part of the country. The Fulani herdsmen are nomadic herders whose primary occupation is raising livestock. Their movement has often led to clashes with farmers when their cattle graze on land that belongs to others, and in 2017 alone about 73 people lost their lives in Benue state as a result of these conflicts.
In the viral video, four young girls with their hair covered step to the popular “shaku shaku” dance style behind Falz. These young girls could be said to represent the Chibok schoolgirls who were abducted from a boarding school in Borno State, Nigeria in April 2014.
News of the abduction by the terrorist group Boko Haram travelled worldwide after the then American First Lady, Michelle Obama took to social media to stand in support of the rescue mission to find the missing girls.
In Falz’s video, a young man can be seen taking multiple pictures of the violent scene around him. This could be a way the artist depicts how the thrill of social media and capturing every moment desensitizes people from taking action in relation to the situation in front of them. Instead they whip out their phones to record the event.
Also in the video, Falz steps over a dead body carrying on and not flinching. This can be said to demonstrate how low the value of life is being placed.
In the video, a woman is seen picking up paper notes beside a calabash (a dried, hollowed-out shell used as a container) crawling with a snake. This is a creative depiction of true affairs where a female sales clerk for the national exams board, Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) said the 36 million naira (around US$100,000) received from exam fees went missing because it was swallowed by a snake.
Falz raps about the sexual misconduct occurring in some churches during the praise and worship, and prayer segments. He sings, “praise and worship we’re singing out. Pastor puts his hand on the breast of his member, he’s pulling the demons out,” while a group of “prayer warriors” are depicted to be praying over a female church member.
Two young men can be seen pulling the handle on generators which powers electricity to homes and businesses whenever there is a power outage. Falz laments that there is no electricity daily and that young people are having to work multiple jobs, yet they’re criticized as being lazy. This criticism came from the president, Muhammadu Buhari, while at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Westminster on 18 April, 2018, where he said in an interview on an unrelated topic, that a lot of Nigerian youths expect to be given everything for free (including education and healthcare) because the country is an oil-producing nation.
Internet frauds, popularly referred to as “yahoo boys”, are another group of people criticized by Falz in his viral video. In the song, he is clearly alarmed that their notoriety remains present and furthermore is now seen as “cool”.
Falz criticizes the misconduct of this security body which was formed to protect, but can be seen as intimidating and unjustly harasses citizens and is known to often demand money as a bribe to avoid being sent to prison.
At the end of this viral cover video, a police chief is seen on the stage of a press forum unable to read from the notes in front of him. Again, this depiction can be said to be inspired by true events where the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, struggled to read from a prepared speech at Kano state in May 2018.
Although Flaz’s “This is Nigeria” has been well received and internationally recognized by the likes of P. Diddy, the video, which focuses on political and social awareness in Nigeria, has been met with some controversy in his home country.
The Muslims Rights Concern (MURIC) has criticized Falz over the negative portrayal of the Fulani tribe and Hijab-wearing women, warning that the depictions were capable of causing religious tensions. The executive director of MURIC, Prof. Ishaq Akintola said the music video was a hate-induced production and demanded its withdrawal within seven days and an apology to Nigerian Muslims.
As a genre, Afrobeat was birthed as a blend of highlife, traditional Yoruba music, jazz and funk by the great Fela Kuti. Kuti’s songs were usually a means to address societal ills and bring about awareness in post-colonial Nigeria. It is therefore exciting to see that perhaps Falz’s “This is Nigeria” is a resurgence of this influential artform that inspired past generations to speak on the injustices in the system and fight for better governance.