The Only Two Songs That Should Be On Your Contemporary Nigeria/Election/Independence playlists

Beg your artistes so that we can stop bringing back the past.

On Independence day, the feeling of nostalgia for the Nigeria that the majority of its population did not experience chokes the air. Even with the dwindling green-white-greens of miniature flags, face caps, and painted faces joining the celebrations, the radio houses and TV stations take an out-rightly mournful outlook while popular blogs flood the timeline with songs they think citizens should listen to, probably to foster a sense of nationality or something. Whatever it is, it is usually gone by the next day or the day after. And it’s not just because there’s enough mind numbing work to take one’s mind of things.

It is well known that contemporary musical artists don’t like to sing about the state of affairs in Nigeria. In the event that they do, it is laden with a compression of all the problems that never finish. For fear of criticism, loss and threat to life such as that experienced by African Queen crooner Tubaba on the organisation of a protest against the government, many would have good reason not to — the search beam for “the new Fela” landed recently in Falz TheBahdguy’s compound for his outspokenness, which was amplified by this silence, in his latest album. But my search to curate, for the Nigerian elections scheduled to take place tomorrow, the perfect, contemporary playlist topped off with rational optimism, and a call to action that could be envisioned, revealed something more: Patriotism, if it ever existed, has died a slow, painful death.

The songs of the 80s had the most to say about hope in a Nigeria well into independence, marinating in the military regime, and sauntering off into established neo-colonialism. It is where Funmi Adams, in Nigeria My Beloved Country released twenty eight years ago, passed a message — praising the knowledge of one’s country out of care — which would probably be hard to cough out in this age.

Onyeka Onwenu, whom my mother fondly recalls on such days, and whose record includes many Nigeria-themed songs, released her Golden song “One Love” in 1986 — a classic, perfect song that really delivers its powerful message: love and unity amongst Nigerians.

Watching Sunny Ade sing about a country which shares the same name but none of the hopeful characteristics in his fuji-inspired Lift Up Nigeria made this disconnect and lack of identity in one’s nation even more clear. His admonishment to help Nigeria “make e no pafuka” is wasted where many already consider the state of affairs “pafuka’ed”. Sunny Okosun was apparently as confused as many of those in his generation in 1984 when he released Which way Nigeria which also noted Nigerians’ penchant for blame and lack of responsibility and, just like his namesake, called to save Nigeria so that “Nigeria won’t fall”. But King Sunny Ade had already moved on, attempting to answer this question echoed on the lips of many Nigerians, dead and alive, in 1993 when he brought together many Nigerian artistes to sing The Way Forward in Yoruba, English, Igbo, Hausa, and Pidgin English, after the annulment of the June 12 elections. The song was later re-composed in 2003, calling again for collaborative effort of every Nigerian to make the nation great.

It is a real fear of mine that twenty years from now, radio stations will still be playing Veno Marioghae’s Nigeria Go Survive on dry, hazy, first October mornings. Perhaps the first known version of the now commonly used phrase, “Las Las we go dey alright,” Veno’s lyrics have stood by as an anthem for many even in the face of dire conditions.

While these are great — with their obsessions and admonishments to Andrew, a monicker gotten from a TV commercial for those who opt to leave, only to return occasionaly for funerals — and regardless of how pertinent their messages still seem, they have approached the stage where they are to be used more in reference to a history and not as a representation or reflection of the problems and nuances of the 21st century Nigerian. Just as Onyeka Onwenu’s message in Wait For Me may be sung differently with the availability of contraceptives and the legality of abortions, not many ask “Which way Nigeria.” Instead we say, Na Nigeria we dey. Onwenu’s prayer that there be peace in our hearts is obviously not working, and many cannot relate, like these giants of their time did, with feeling and identity of what a Nigeria, which seemed less tribalistic than it is today, held for them, and the idea that there was an idea of a country that held space for its citizens.

Probably the earliest comment unhinged from the idea of the past by contemporary musicians of their time was in the early 2000s when Kush, a Gospel and R&B music group released Let’s Live Together. The song which became a household anthem after its release would reverberate in the minds of many 90’s kids in a different way compared to all others before. The song recognised the waning or lack of national identity compared to the overpowering pride in tribal identity present in subsequent times and since then, contemporary commentary encouraging nation building has been few and far between.

The likes of Onyeka Onwenu continue to sing but only retain impact with audiences carried over to the present. This Land, her discordant record which passed off as a centenary anthem celebrating “100 years of unity” of Nigeria, featuring the likes of Zaaki Assay, Tosin Martins, and Omawumi Megbele, and celebrating the Nigerians “standing tall through adversity” in 2014, came off as dishonest by those like me, not privy to the record of Nigerian life from hundred years ago, but born in circumstances which did not deviate from a past glory. Who could forget Femi Kuti, who unlike his father Fela Anikulapo Kuti, embodies the Nigerian condition perfectly, swinging from depressive frustration to daring hope and back more times than anyone could count? And then: a very strange occurrence in 2017 when a “Song of unity” was released by some of Nigeria’s leaders holding papers spiral-bound with blue soft covers that many would recall not too fondly from their final year in the university. The irony of the “unity” belted out by old faltering voices belonging to bodies, some barely able to stand, which have remained rooted to seats of power like a continuous history lesson was only parallelled by the invocation of a God who, by now, had retained a permanent seat from which he remains unavoidably absent in Nigeria’s affairs, an act reminiscent of Ty Bello’s Greenland in which she evokes the sweet evasive optimism that many have inculcated to survive. The song continues to feature on blogs and websites as a “song about Nigeria” — it was really just a gospel song — because it has the words “green” and “land” in it.

It was Ty Bello’s The Future released in 2011 that noted that there was really nothing to look back to the past for, except for pointers to remove the obstacles and challenges which were now roadblocks in the lives of many. “The Future is Here,” she repeated, her hand gestures emphasising each of the words in visuals way ahead of the mainstream meme and gif culture. It is this, and Timi Dakolo’s Great Nation which was played after the 2019 live presidential debate — and the hoopla that occurred prior — which were, finally, the only two songs remaining on the list of songs to listen to on election day. Released in 2012, it is the only song in the last decade — exempting songs that portray the unity of the nation during sports events — to combine strong vocals and visuals on a melodious beat with the hope, reality, positivity, and togetherness which is drastically needed in the forthcoming years to “build a land where there’s hope for us all.” The song just clocked seven years this February.



Digital product designer and amateur cyclist living in Abuja, Nigeria.

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Adaku Nwakanma

Digital product designer and amateur cyclist living in Abuja, Nigeria.