This is Nigeria: A Political Songbook

Falz, one of Nigeria’s leading artists of the moment, with an insouciant manner and a swift delivery of his raps has released a take on Childish Gambino’s This is America, with its raw exposition of America’s relationship to blackness. Like Gambino’s video, Falz’s video and song is also in a long tradition of music and musicians laying bare the iniquities of their country’s social system; so to mark the occasion we’ve put together this list of some of the best political songs by Nigerian artists.

  1. Dem Mama – By Timaya

Released by Timaya, this song is both a lament and accusation commenting on the brutal military attack on the town of Odi in 1999 ordered by then president Olusegun Obasanjo in retaliation for a previous assault on some soldiers. In his trilling, reggae influence voice, Timaya gives the country an enduring lament bearing witness to the brutalities of the Nigerian military state.

2. There is Fire on the Mountain – Asa

Delivered in her sultry tones and apparently inspired by a children”s game, Asa’s now classic song is a general anthem of protest against a world of violence and indifference; with lyrics that touch on issues often buried in Nigerian and global society, such as child abuse – this is one of the most powerful protest songs by a Nigerian artists, all the more powerful for its breeziness.

3. Suuru Lere – Lagbaja

Released by the masked muscian and social commentator who came to prominence following Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, this song is firmly in the tradition of the cautionary Yoruba song; it describes Nigeria’s long existence in military dictatorship as a time in the wilderness, and cautions patience to the key groups battling to run the country, emphasising that the purpose of politics after all is to ensure the good life for all.

4. Zombie – Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

The most forceful and at once the funniest protest song, Zombie is perhaps Fela’s best known political song, in which he describes both the senselessness of Nigerian soldier’s violence and the thoughtlessness with which they follow orders. Implicitly contrasting soldiers with civilians, as the living dead, it played into a widely held sentiment that only the less than intellectually capable went into the military. A stinging rebuke indeed from a scion of one of Nigeria’s most prominent political families.

5. No Agreement – Fela Anikulapo-Kuti 

With an irresistible driving beat, No Agreement will perhaps be Fela’s most enduring protest song, offering as it does an eternal statement of resistance against illegitimate or dictatorial authority.

Jebujene

Posts marked Jebujene are by the editorial team of Jebujene, a magazine from The Black Atlantic, focused on Creative Economy, Historical Memory and Popular Culture.