It is not unlikely that you visit the streets of Nairobi, and in the middle of the night hear a voice shout from the darkness, ‘Wamlambez!’and another voice reply, ‘Wamnyonyez!’ It is not a call to war, and neither is it a call a for revolution. Wamlambez, Wamnyonyez which translates to lick them, suck them, while as risqué as it sounds poses no threat to the government’s ears. The term revolution got the Kenyan government scared when activist Boniface Mwangi said there was going to be a revolution.
In Lagos, Nigeria, there is no call or response, but there is a dance, Soapy, which according to music critique Dami Ajayi “becomes a noun, characterising an action that used to be known in the biblical days of yore as onanism. These days, masturbation will suffice.” The dance has been characterized as immoral by some. But just like Kenya, Nigerians equally took to the song after enough public opinion about the level of morality of the song had been debated to an effective harmlessness.
The Wamlambez Wamnyonyez anthem sang by Sailors, a group of five young Kenyans in their early twenties, at a time when political repression is stifled not just in Kenya but also on the continent, makes one think on what kind of expression is permissible on the continent.
Azeez Fashola also known as Naira Marley, the singer of Soapy, 25 years old, has faced controversy for his song which is “a worthy and necessary contribution to musical prison narratives within the Nigerian context.”
Singing risqué songs, while entertaining, poses no threat to the governments of both Kenya and Nigeria which are in a competition to outdo themselves with mediocrity and ridiculousness. One can classify this form of expression as being safe. But, what happens to the freedom expression that involves political demands for a change in society and holding leaders accountable? Perhaps, Uganda’s Bobi Wine is a witness to that in our current generation.
While Fela Kuti’s experiences in prisons were turned to political missiles against the military government and dictatorship, which resulted in more incarcerations and vicious attacks, Naira Marley and the Sailors won’t face any persecution from the government based on what they are expressing.
What is more interesting however is how these different musicians, in different parts of the continent, millennial, and in relatively oppressive governments give an insight on the political apathy found in both countries.
Yele Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters had organized a protest tagged #RevolutionNow which many Nigerians refused to join because of the word revolution. Sowore was arrested by the State Security Service a day before the protest. Most Nigerians on social media, folded their arms and have so far gone about their lives with no care.
The Nigerian and Kenyan states, while claiming to support freedom of expression, are however particular of the kind of expression they support. What is the stake of millennials in all these? In Nigeria, the problems of the country have been reduced to social media banter. In Kenya, jokes and memes abound. In both countries, the beats of Soapy and the shouts of Wamlambez Wamnyonyez goes on as the political space for expression shrinks further.