When Childish Gambino’s music video for This is America was released several weeks ago, it created a platform for global analysis and commentary. As a part of the commentary, entertainers took to YouTube with imitations and parodies that fit their locales.
While many of the imitations failed to capture the political nuances that speak to their environments in the same way the American artist did, Nigerian actor, rapper and songwriter Falz (real name Folarin Falana) stood out from the crowd when he released the music video for This is Nigeria, this past weekend.
As the son of a Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist Femi Falana, and a graduate of the University of Reading, Falz has a reputation for making music that is best described as a send-up of American hip-hop. He describes himself as making “Wahzup” music, which is hip-hop delivered in a Yoruba accent mangled by a faux American inflection. The style is a nod to his 2011 single Waz Up Guy. But none of his previous work has received as much global attention as This is Nigeria.
Falz walks the viewer through Nigeria’s problems, many of which are directly or indirectly attributed to the lax governance of President Muhammadu Buhari.
In a hangar setting similar to the one used by Childish Gambino, a shirtless Falz delivers closer-to-home critiques of political corruption: “Yahoo boys”, profit-hungry pastors, the country’s ongoing battle with Boko Haram and the country’s strained civil relations.
A group of teenage girls dressed in religious garb, paying homage to the missing Chibok girls, accompany Falz through a buzzing scene of okadas going from point A to B, pastors perversely praying demons out of young girls, corrupt politicians encouraging citizens to vote and armed men provoking innocent bystanders.
While This is Nigeria draws from This is America, there are several differences between the two. The first is that, unlike Childish Gambino, the character played by Falz is not protected from, or complicit in, the violence. The ills that take place in the environment do not happen in the far background while Falz narrates in the foreground.
“This is Nigeria / Praise and worship, we singing now / Pastor put hand on the breast of his member, he’s pulling the demon out / This is Nigeria / No electricity daily, o / Your people are still working multiple jobs and they talk say we lazy, o.” The Prodigeezy-directed video ends with a re-enactment of the viral clip of Nigeria’s Inspector General Ibrahim Idris awkwardly stumbling through a speech.
Other lyrics touch on array of issues that shape the world’s view of Nigeria, such as internet fraud, witchcraft, government corruption and police brutality.
Though some Nigerians at home and abroad have been quick to dismiss This is Nigeria as nothing more than a cover, its core message is loud and clear: Nigeria has more than its share of problems and people bear the brunt of poor governance.
This musical commentary is a welcome departure and counter-narrative to the superficial landscape that Afrobeats music seemingly exists in. As Nina Simone once said: “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” Art should not only provide comic relief and a temporary escape. It should capture painful realities too.