young Nigerian musicians singing against social injustice Global Voices

Drummers entertain #EndSARS protesters. Picture by Salako Ayoola, CC0 via Wikimedia Commons, October 2020.

Read the first part of this series here.

Nigeria has a long history of protest music, and the fire to sing about Nigeria’s ills didn’t stop in the 1970s.

Trailing the path of older musicians before them – who sang against the military dictatorship and demanded the release of Nelson Mandela from South Africa’s apartheid government – ​​young Nigerian singers have continued in this revered tradition of singing against injustice. social.

Despite some criticism that Nigerian protest music had died out, from the 1990s through the 2000s, Nigerian singers continued to speak out against police brutality and other social issues. Then came the #EndSARS protests, a youth movement that reignited the Nigerian music scene for social justice.

Before the #EndSARS protest

Aṣa album cover portrait

Bukola Elemide, professionally known as Like a, a Franco-Nigerian singer, songwriter and recording artist, is one of Africa’s top young voices for protest music. ” from AṣaGaolerreleased in 2007, speaks of the complicated mess of police brutality in Nigeria: “so you treat me like a modern slave, Mr. Jailer.

His song, “There is the fire of the Mountainwhich was released the same year, talks about the impending doom that will get worse if nothing is done about police brutality: “I wake up in the morning/I tell you what I see on my TV screen/I see the blood of an innocent child / And everyone is watching. Both tracks could well have been a prophecy about the #EndSARS protests.

Aṣa’s music is an amalgamation of “a bit of Bob Marley, a piece of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, add some pre-mixed India Arie with Miriam Makeba and Angélique Kidjo and finish with Yoruba classics”. affirms Marc Amigone, journalist at the Huffington Post.

On August 9, 2018, “This is Nigeria”, a song by fellow singer Folarin Falana better known by the stage name Falz, was judge “unsuitable for radio”. The public broadcasting regulatory agency, the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) was apparently unhappy with the lyrics of Falz’s song: “This is Nigeria, look how we live now, everybody be criminal”, that they describe as “vulgar” and therefore prohibited from public distribution. Authorities have warned that any station found to violate the ban will be fined NGN100,000 (US$276).


Falz’s “This Is Nigeria”, released on May 25, 2018, imitates “the” by American musician Childish GambinoThis is America (song).“The song was a satirical portrayal of official corruption, police brutality and extrajudicial executions, email scams, drug addiction and religious fundamentalism. The song begins with the voice of lawyer and human rights activist Femi Falana, Falz’s father.

#EndSARS protest music

In October 2020, Nigerian youth spearheaded widespread national and global #EndSARS protests, demanding an end to police brutality. The demonstration was brutally crushed on the night of October 20, 2020, with “48 victims, including 11 people killed and four people missing”, according to an official commission of inquiry. describe such as the Lekki “massacre”, named after the toll where it took place.

The #EndSARS protest was a backlash against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a Nigerian police unit known for arresting, intimidating and killing citizens outside the bounds of the law. Between January 2017 and May 2018, Amnesty International documented 82 cases of torture and extrajudicial execution by SARS.

During the #EndSARS protest, “Mister President,” the 2006 song by Chinagorom Onuoha, better known by his stage name african china became an instant hit:

My God, policeman go see white / E go tell you, I say that thing na red / Tell me something that I don’t know

My God, the policeman will see white / He’ll say it’s red / Tell me something I don’t know

Similarly, Timaya’s 2007 song “dem momfigured prominently during the protests, as they all highlighted the brutality of Nigerian security agencies against citizens.

Burna Boy performing in Ghana. Picture by Ameyaw Debrah via Wikimedia CommonsAugust 18, 2014, (CC BY-SA 3.0).

However, one of the most amazing songs about the #EndSARS protests was “20.10.20by Nigerian rapper and singer Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, better known by his stage name, Burna Boy. The moving lyrics, which end with the sound of young protesters as the shooting was in progress at the Lekki toll, are heartbreaking: “October 20, 2020/ You carry the army, go kill a lot of young people for Lekki / Na so water o, water runaway my eye/ Nothing you gon’ say, we gon’ vindicate their murder case [….]. October 20, 2020/ You carry the army, go kill a lot of young people for Lekki / Na so water o, water runaway my eye/ Nothing you’re going to say, we’re going to substantiate the case of their murder.

Has protest music dried up in Nigeria?

Some have expressed the view that young contemporary protest music dried up after the death of Fẹlá Aníkúlápò Kútì in 1997.

Florence Nweke, musicologist at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, argues that “there has been a void in the Nigerian protest music scene” since Fẹlá joined the ancestors. Nweke claims the reason is due to “increased liquidity in the industry”. Thus, young Nigerian musicians “are hesitant to air their grievances about the possibility of political infiltration by musicians who receive state patronage,” notes Nweke.

But another way to look at this is that protest music did not dry up, but only evolved with Nigerian society.

Art always plays “an essential role in the conduct of socio-political struggles”, states Nigerian journalist Adekunle Falade. Nigerian protest music has always captured and expressed the mood of the people, a charge that young Nigerian musicians seem to have inherited from their ancestors.

Anyway, since the #EndSARS protests, there has been a spike of more popular young Nigerian singers protesting bad governance. More importantly, their songs have ensured the non-erasing of the memory of the young people who died during this demonstration.

Find Global Voice’s Spotify playlist highlighting these songs and others banned from around the world here. For more information on banned music, check out our special coverage, Hitting the bad notes.

A playlist of protest music by young Nigerian musicians:

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