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Nigeria: Is protest music dead?

Fela Kuti’s music has always been mentioned as a source of inspiration by many Nigerian musicians, but they hardly produce ‘conscious’ music or ‘political’ music that speaks against the state of the country and other social ills. From Fela’s ‘Zombie’ to ‘V.I.P Vagabonds In Power’ Fela’s music has always addressed the ills of society. We ask why Nigerian musicians have not followed in the path of activists such as Fela’s whose music was a vehicle for protest and change.

Contemporary Nigerian musicians many times claim to be inspired by the music of Fela Kuti, not necessarily the often talked about controversial lifestyle. However, its quite surprising that Nigerian musicians even when they claim to draw inspiration from Fela hardly sing about the pertinent social and political issues Fela sang about. Perhaps they feel Fela has done enough of that. But again, music is the reflection of times, and should speak to the prevailing issues in society.

For Nigerians, the time has changed but the challenges faced in the past still confront the country. It has reached a point where the state of affairs as they are, even when there is need for urgent interventions, are looked at through the lens of normalcy. As it has been, so it is. Change becomes an elusive word.

Nigerian musicians who choose to sing of the challenges, corruption, suffering and  bleak state of the country are most likely inviting doom to their career. It seems Nigerians are tired of hearing about their problems, they want to forget their suffering and Nigerian musicians are good at creating entertaining music that talks about money, bling bling, celebrity life seen as worthy aspiring to, women and enjoyment of life, all the while hinging their success on God. It’s almost unthinkable for an artist such as the legendary Fela to have sang on these issues.

Read: Lagos celebrates with a Fela-inspired comedy of ironies


Early this year, Nigerian musician Tuface Idibia was to participate in a protest against the Muhammadu Buhari government. Tuface’s anticipated presence in the protest ignited a lot of buzz and conversations online. Many youths were ready to come and join in the protest but at the last minute, Tuface pulled out, an action many taunted. There was a heated debate around Nigerian musicians and how they tend to distance themselves from any sort of activism going on in the country. Many labelled Tuface a coward and compared his actions to the bold actions of Fela Kuti who constantly challenged the government.

The issue of good governance remains a pertinent issue in Nigeria, a country with a long history of political instability.  Religion or music has become an important solace for many Nigerians who feel marginalised by the political establishment. In religion, prosperity gospel thrives, in music; there must be a type of message that captures the imagination of the listeners, and music capable of making people forget about the gloom around.

Some would argue that everything Fela sang about is still visible, why sing about it again, nothing changes anyway? Besides no one could probably have sang about the state of Nigeria the manner in which Fela did, but change can only come about by having frank and honest discussions about the things that affect us, even within the music, arts and culture industries.

Read: Remembering Fela Kuti: 10 quotes


But Nigeria has been a nation in constant conversation with itself, from independence till now and yet things don’t seem to change. There also seems to be a sense of selfishness. Nigerians are not ready to stand up and if need be, die for the noble values they believe in. What Fela confronted was a more sinister military regime where he also had to be militant. In a period where social media appears to be a major platform for political discussions, it is obvious that there is a lacuna in the music scene where the state of the country, corruption has become secondary.

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