Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. Abdul Gani-fawehinmi. Anthony Enahoro. Ndubuisi Kanu. One of the realities of being a young Nigerian, especially one clustered within the Generation Z (late ‘90s – early 2000s) is not having the opportunity to meet any of these heroes of democracy. As such, one learns to become a ‘collector of memories.’ From history textbooks to musical recordings, you relive the past by connecting to the stories and sentiments embedded within these historical gems.
Tomorrow, Nigeria commemorates her 23rd anniversary of the longest continuing civilian rule since Independence. The President is expected to gather with other political office holders, as well as global dignitaries, at the Eagles Square, in Abuja, to host this auspicious event. It’s an evergreen spectacle, always lush with pomp and elegance. It is definitely an experience of a lifetime.
However, while the President is busy with speeches, grand salutes and whatnot, a myriad of Nigerians will be enjoying the national holiday with some peace, quiet and intriguing music. If you happen to be among this category, you might want to feed your patriotism by exploring some of the classic contemporary records that have influenced, radicalised, or challenged the socio-political realities of Nigeria.
Undoubtedly, so many voices (even many more not on this list) have contributed to the stability of democracy in Nigeria, including advocating for accountability from the country’s ruling class.
On this week’s Guardian Music special, here are 12 records chaperoned by some of the best voices in the country, which have confidently reflected our collective realities, aspirations and hope, and have become pillars for a united and democratic Nigeria. And, if you are anything like this writer, these records are definitely gems that will help adorn your treasure trove of memories.
Onyeka Onwenu: One Love
FOR over three decades, Onyeka Onwenu’s evergreen bop, One Love, continues to stand out as one of the greatest records on unity. Recorded in her late 30s, Onwenu’s memory was already replete from a myriad of negative socio-political realities in Nigeria.
She had witnessed one of the most nefarious civil wars, and she was experiencing the biting realities of military rule, like many other Nigerians. It came at a time where inter tribal feud was rife.
“Somebody tell me; Oh why do we fight it/ One love can set us free; if we just let it be/ Take heart in a brand new day/ When love is all we need; To chase the past away/ You never need worry; If you just let it be./ One love keep us together/ Living in a world it’s a struggle to staying alive/ One love keep us together/ Living in a world it’s a struggle to staying alive,” Onwenu’s sonorous voice peaks on the mid-tempo disco funk rhythm.
Interestingly, the song was written by the British hitmaker, Jean-Paul Maunick. Nonetheless, Onwenu’s voice gave it the life it needed to soar as one of the most impactful songs that ever surfaced in the country.
Onwenu’s musicianship continued to be a marvel during her prime, as she easily welded other evergreen songs, such as Peace Song, etc., over the contemporary funk and highlife sounds that chaired those eras.
Falz: Moral Instruction
WHILE an apple doesn’t fall far away from the tree, some actually evolve into better versions that are novel to their species. Like his father, Femi Falana, Falz, real name Folarin Falana, is a trained lawyer. Yet, his litigations exist within his timeless discography, with the studio booths as his law court, and his audience as the grand jury.
While his earlier records such as Ello Bae, Marry Me, among others, convinced the Nigerian audience that his music was another staple for feel-good moments and social circles, essentially, his 2019 studio album, Moral Instruction, came as a positive shocker to his fans. With songs like Follow Follow, E No Finish, Talk, and Hypocrite, Falz takes a sharp swipe at the political ruling class and administrative institutions.
He condemns frequent realities such as police brutality, corruption, nepotism, religious intolerance and other plagues bedevilling the country. While the album thrives for its didacticism, its multifaceted melodiousness makes it both a record for introspection, and a groove for social festivities.
Fela Kuti: Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense
ARGUED to be one of Nigeria’s most influential musicians, Fela Kuti was a radical in every sense of the word. With his own unique style called, Afrobeat (a melange of Jazz, Highlife, funk, and other native rhythms), Fela used his music as a tool for socio-political revolution.
With memories of his frequent arrests and demonstrations littered across photographs, publications and footage on the internet, one can get a sense of what sort of activist Fela Kuti was. His 1980 record, Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, is like Nigerian Jollof Rice; everybody likes it, but not everyone can stand its peppery sting.
While Nigerians gyrated to the fast-paced percussions in the song, many within the ruling class, as at then, were upset with Fela’s outright condemnation of corrupt leadership. “Na all the problems of this world/ we dey carry, for Afrika Problems of inflation (Which one?)/ Problems of corruption (Which one?)/ Of mismanagement (Which one?)…/Demo-crazy (Demo-crazy)/ Crazy demo (Demo-crazy)/ Demonstration of craze (Demo-crazy)/ Crazy demonstration (Demo-crazy)/ If it no be craze (Demo-crazy)/ Why for Afrika? (Demo-crazy)/ As time dey go (Demo-crazy)/ Things just dey bad (Demo-crazy)/ Dey bad more and more (Demo-crazy)/ Poor man dey cry (Demo-crazy),” his explicit lyrics were unnerving at the time.
Yet, decades later, his words still resonate with many individuals. They have become tools for contemplation, and they continue to guide our collective moralities.
Nneka Egbuna: No Longer At Ease
ONE of the gems of the 2010s was the voice of Nneka Egbuna, a Nigerian-German chanteuse whose music charged the consciousness of Nigerians, just before the sweeping wave of popular music submerged the industry. Her 2015 classic, No Longer At Ease, is a compendium of politically charged songs that ranked in depth to the ‘revolution music’ of the Kuti family (Femi and Seun Kuti), and other musical activists, at that time.
“And now the world is asleep/ How will you ever wake her up when she is deep in her dreams wishing yet so many die/ And still we think that it is all about us/ It’s all about you/ You sold your soul to the evil and the lust/ And the passion and the money and you/ Innocent ones die people hunger for decades/ Suffer under civilised armed robbers modern slaveholders,” Egbuna’s voice seeps across the hybrid of reggae and rock-adjacent percussions in Heartbeat, a song off No Longer At Ease.
The groovy record mirrors the solemnity of the entire album, which is aptly titled after Chinua Achebe’s 1960 literary classic. Egbuna’s music, like many others in this list, is not just a recipe for meditation; it is also a groove for social mixers.
Lagbaja: Suuru Lere
BISADE Ologunde, professionally known as Lagbaja, is one of most profound satirists within Nigeria’s music industry. His fame continues to soar underneath the wings of his mysticism, as his mask-wearing identity has made him unidentifiable by the average Nigerian. Still, his gritty voice and folk melodies are easily recognisable among his cache of classics, which dominated the late 90s and early 2000s.
His popular record, Suuru Lere, off his millenia studio album, WE, is one of the most iconic musical gems that shape Nigeria’s socio-political history. Within the song, Lagbaja accosts both the ruling class and the electorate on the need for a confluence of efforts in fixing the country.
At that time, Nigeria had just come out of another military regime and the fear of another coup-d’etat was very rife among Nigerians. “After many many years of waka for bush/ Eventually we enter democracy/ But instead to progress/ Na fighting we dey fight/ If democracy go work/ We must get patience small/ To destroy very easily/But to build nko?” Lagbaja’s lyrics continues to admonish listeners across generations.
While the idea of democracy continues to be threatened by inter-tribal feud, sporadic and wicked killings, among others, one can find solace on a calm and significant weekend like this in the euphoric groove of Lagbaja’s music.
Eedris Abdulkareem: Jaga Jaga
IN the early 2000s, conscious music was the main staple within the Nigerian music industry, and rappers like Eedris Abdulkareem continued to fuel that supply. His 2004 classic, Jaga Jaga, is such a powerful record that it still resonates with the realities of the average Nigerian, two decades later.
While many people felt constipated by the seeming pessimism that soaked Eedris’ music, at the time, it is sad that his music continues to reflect our current realities. Although it is hoped that, in time, Nigeria would prove Eedris wrong, one can continue to enjoy the minimalist percussions in Jaga Jaga, and Eedris’ witty bars and sleek flows.
Bantu: Everybody Get Agenda
“PLENTY plenty body for open sea; Mediterranean na cemetery. Africa future dey die o,” the voice laments from Water Cemetery, the opening song of Bantu’s 2020 classic, Everybody Get Agenda. While it feels like everyone in this list is trying to ‘raise’ Nigeria by removing it from the shackles of corruption, Bantu does the same thing but with an increased sense of hope.
In 2020, the 13-man band told Guardian Music that it believes that “the average Nigerian is open to change and want to see things improve. The problem is our leadership, the looting class and their allies who continue to mock our suffering and laugh at our pain.”
Everybody Get Agenda packs other classics such Disrupt The Programme, Me, Myself and I, and Jagun Jagun, which shine within the halo of the vintage Afrobeat genre. While it is thematically pensive, it still spins with the typical danceable Afrobeat groove.
Made Kuti: For(e)ward
THE Afrobeat royalty, Made Kuti, is another contemporary voice that raises the ante of advocacy in Nigerian music. Like his father, uncle and grandfather, Made Kuti stepped out with a very didactic album, in 2021, to also document the pitiable realities of his country-people, as well as inspire the average individual.
In For(e)ward, Made Kuti’s mellowed-yet-ferocious sound-piece radiates with a vivid awakening. It examines institutions from the educational system, to law enforcement, and even the ruling class itself. One of the songs Blood directly reacts to the lingering calls for secession, pontificating against the pockets of violent rebellions that surface across the country. The entire album is very nationalistic in outlook; it’s even pan-African, on a deeper delve. Like any Afrobeat project, it also gyrates with its own groove.
Sound Sultan: Mathematics
WHEN Sound Sultan was buried, exactly 11 months ago, one thing refused to follow him to the grave. His influence. His millenia-opening record, Mathematics, is one of the most infectious melodies that have ever surfaced in Nigeria.
“Everybody. Oya o/ Join Jagbajantis, solve mathematics, Wey dey dabaru our continent/ So, oh oh, Oyinbo say, Na BODMAS we go use take, solve mathematics/ B for brotherhood (Love your neighbour as yourself, otan oh.)/ O for objectivity, (Be objective gentlemen and ladies)/ D for democracy, Democracy
(No matter how bad it is, e better military)/ M for modification, (Of our behaviour, let’s turn to our saviour)/ A – Accountability, (If you been dey chop money, abegi take am easy), S for solidarity, (United we stand. Divided, omase oh),” the chorus of this record is self-explanatory already.
Sound Sultan stood as a symbol of progressive unity, peace and stability. His appointment as a United Nations Ambassador for Peace also reflects his impact as an advocate for a global society that works.
Majek Fashek: Africa Unite
“WHEN will the African people unite? When, when, when will the, black people unite? When will the christians and the muslims come together?” Majek Fashek asks salient questions in his 1997 classic, Africa Unite.
The late reggae star is one of the musical heroes of democracy in Nigeria. He fought valiantly with his arsenal of melodies and lyricism against the systemic oppression and disunity that sickened the country. His prominent records such as Prisoner of Conscience, Rainmaker, among others, piloted Fashek to the pinnacle of success in the industry. His charismatic cadence, as well as his hybrid of reggae and Juju music is as soothing and exciting as it is introspective.
In Africa Unite, Fashek brings more than just his enigma; he brings a message of hope for all generations.
Show Dem Camp: These Buhari Times
ONE of Nigeria’s surviving rap duos, Show Dem Camp, composed of Wale Davies, aka, Tec, and Olumide Ayeni, aka Ghost, are among the contemporary musical juggernauts that use their music for socio-political revolution. Their 2019 studio album, These Buhari Times, off their Clone Wars, is one of the evergreen records that criticise the pitiable socio-political happenings.
In songs like 4th Republic, Show Dem Camp cleverly mirrors the realities of the average Nigerian.
“Check, in our city we work minimum wage/ People work in our homes working like slaves/ So how we living the life we live in danger/ Cause I was born in the life not in a manger/ Like how we live in the capital with no capital/ No water in my tank but oil money in the ban,” Dap The Contract’s bars sift over the low-tempo percussions.
The entire album offers checks and balances to the ruling class, demanding for better governance, protection of rights, better security and social welfare, among other dividends of democracy.
Asa: Fire On The Mountain
TO end this list without including the Soul Queen, Asa, would be scandalous. When Asa’s self-titled debut studio album hit the airwaves, in 2007, everyone went agog with the hit song, Fire On The Mountain.
Over two decades later, the classic still remains as relevant as it was the day it was first recorded.
“I wake up in the mornin’/ Tell you what I see on my TV screen/ I see the blood of an innocent child/ And everybody’s watchin’/ There is fire on the mountain/ And nobody seems to be on the run/ Oh, there is fire on the mountaintop/ And no one is a-runnin’,’’ Asa’s lithe vocals over the gentle guitar riffs and percussions is poised to serenade you into a gentle groove.
It is a perfect crescendo of the heated raps, and charged melodies of the other legends on this list. While its lyricism might seem to scare you, thinking that barely a week ago, we saw them happen exactly as she described, one can still enjoy the euphoria that skeletons the song itself.
Other honourable mentions on this list would be Burna Boy, whose records like the Grammy-nominated African Giant, as well as Twice as Tall, x-ray the socio-political realities of the black man. However, his music is more anti-colonialist and pan-Africanist in nature than others mentioned here.
Another artiste like Pretty Boy D-O makes a solid case for the crop of alternative musicians in the country (a confraternity of artists who deviate from the stylistics of traditional art forms) with his politically charged discography, especially in records like Love Is War, and Wildfire.
Music continues to be a tool for advocacy and it will continue to preserve memories of our current realities. But while you enjoy the melodies, it is very important that you pay attention to the message, and be influenced to be a better individual.