“This Is Nigeria”

At the eve of Nigeria ‘s Democracy Day – formerly held annually on May 29th in order to commemorate the country’s gaining of independence from military rule – artist Falz releases a controversially discussed music video to his single entitled „This Is Nigeria“.

A song of political protest, the choice to set the date of release on May 25th of 2018 was not an arbitrary one, since it aimed at serving as a reminder to the countries’ current state of crisis and struggle for democratic and peaceful governance.

Drawing inspiration from U.S. American rapper Childish Gambino’s version on „This Is America “- an artful piece of criticism depicting the social depravities under racial discrimination which are still of ongoing concern within US American society – artist Falz decided to call the attention on Nigeria’s critical political climate by turning to similar means:

Staging a musical parody on the countries’ state of affairs, where daily encounters with government corruption, terrorism and human rights abuses have become the New Normal.

The impetus for the artist Falz to speak up against societal ills has been fostered within his own family circle, with both his parents being trained lawyers and advocates for social justice. Precursors to the purpose of employing music as a tool for social change were the likes of Fela Kuti, The African Chinas and Eedris Abdulkareem, amongst others: These artists denounced the social structures that produce the conditions for existential hardships experienced primarily, but not exclusively, by marginalized and impoverished segments of the Nigerian population.

Deploying music as a form of sociopolitical engagement in a postcolonial Nigeria, Falz objects to the normalization of a perceived status-quo that is characterized by insurgencies, economic crime and delinquency, nepotism and misappropriation of funds on behalf of the government élites.

Within this context, it was the artists’ concern to establish a platform for confrontation and discussion in depicting aspects of the reality of everyday life in Nigeria, through a symbolic means of communication by which the artist tries to come to terms with the lived experiences and to further highlight the importance and legitimacy of sociopolitical commentary via artistic means as a daring and challenging instrument for critique.

In creating a music video – which on the one hand serves as a dialectic space, and on the other, aspires to elucidate the interconnection of the individual to its society – the concept of audiovisual composition functions as an intertextual tool in order to convey a message that denounces the governments’ disregard for the lives of the Nigerian people.
Despite acting within his right to freedom of expression which is manifested by Nigerian constitutional law, the artists’ critical song lyrics and provocative video content were deemed offensive by Nigeria’s National Broadcasting Commission, therefore, banned from public radio stations through censorship.

Right at the initial of the video, the question and problematic of the colonial legacy are being addressed by a speech that is given on behalf of the artists’ father, Femi Falana, expressing his opinion in disapproval of the Nigerian government. Deliberating upon the problems of political ethics and advocating for qualitative changes in economic structures:

“Extremely poor. The medical facilities are poor. We operate a predatory, neo-colonial capitalist system, which is founded on fraud and exploitation, and therefore, you are bound to have corruption.”

The scene takes its course, accompanied by heavy and sombre sounds that reemphasize the overall dark mood, lyrically underlined by the artists’ rapping vocals performed in Pidgin-English: “This is Nigeria. Look how I’m living now. Look how I’m living now. Everybody be criminal.” In this instant, the viewer is directly confronted with the image of a dead body that Falz steps over while he keeps on going. Both an allusion to the insensitivity towards the value of life and the negligence and indifference it is being disposed of by looking the other way.

Here, though, the direct framing of the shot that rests upon the lifeless body is intentional, forcing the viewer not to look away.

Shifting into a next sequence, four girls are shown who rush into the frame and join the artist in the background, dressed in hijabs dancing Shaku Shaku. The employment of drastic movement makes for the disruption of space and draws in attention. An attention, for which the artist earned disapproving criticism by Muslim groups for referencing to a religious symbol, namely that of the hijab. Falz’ response to the discordance was the following: “People are trying to shoot the messenger, so that they miss the message;” The girls dressed in hijabs are metaphorically representing the schoolgirls from Dapchi, Yobe State, who were abducted by Boko Haram with one of the girls, Leah Sharibu, still missing. In the year of 2014, 276 Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped, the whereabouts of 100 of the girls remain unknown.

Falz explained throughout an interview:

“Those girls were obviously blatantly symbolic of the Chibok girls and the government’s extremely sluggish attitude and response to when the girls were kidnapped.”

Then pointing out the distracting influence of flashy pageantry perpetuated by viral media and the lulling effect that it has on people’s behaviour, resulting in disconnect towards pressing social topics:

“And the fact that entertainment and dancing (…) continuously distracts us from everything that’s happened – that’s why the girls were dancing.”

Not shying away from provocative means, the artist tried to capture the attention of those he criticizes away from trivial and frivolous distraction of a flashy lifestyle by conversely turning their superficial gaze against themselves and into acknowledging what really matters: Fostering introspection and social consciousness for the lives of those girls that still go unaccounted for.

As an astute observer, it is the normalization of the unacceptable which the artist Falz tries to reflect under critical view when he tackles further topics throughout scenes that allude to several events of people’s everyday life: The almost a decade long fights between Fulani herdsmen and farmers which resulted in numerous deaths up to these days; government embezzlement cases; the problematic of drug abuse amongst the Nigerian youth; the illegal acquisition of money through internet fraud perpetuated by so called Yahoo Boys, to name a few.

Referencing to the ineptitude of executive institutions in administering their agency, and with a critical side note on the political leadership exerted by president Buhari, the artist highlights the afflicted economic sphere where many Nigerians are being either unemployed or having to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet.

Furthermore, the artist is preoccupied with topics that touch upon the question of innocence, justice and dignity on the one hand, and abuse driven by corruption on the other: Showing one government division which is supposed to act as a security facility and law enforcement unit going by the name of so called SARS police officers (Special Anti-Robbery Squad). Instead of being a guarantor for peace and stability, these are feared for exerting police transgression against citizens. Bribes serving as a currency in order to avoid falling victim to police brutality.

Like a story that ends on a moral note, unlawfulness is being denounced; Serving as the outro to the song:

“But what happens every day is that, the system has allowed it. For instance, there is no law that allows you to take money from the church, invest in business, and privatize it. No. It is only in Nigeria where you can take money from the church, money contributed by poor congregation members. You go and set up a university that the members cannot attend. Cannot send their children to. It’s against the rule and the law of God. It’s against our constitution.”

The camera slowly zooms out of the frame, depicting the picture in his entirety, resuming the events:

“Not (…) a mere ‘representation’ but a total sympathetic experience, it will derive not from the separate, depictive shot-fragments but from the total, genuine involvement that comes from a synthesis of the emotions evoked by skilfully chosen suggestive details.”

These suggestive details are enclosed in “the assemblage of the various figures that merge into an event to a unified representational cause”, the symbolic instance that carries the artist’s message and that functions as a mirror to society; The resuming shot is the concluding of the story:

A story, in which thematically, Falz is preoccupied with the concerns of the Nigerian population and therefore wants to foster political and social awareness:

Falz: „In our everyday life we get to see ordinary people and how difficult things are at the end of the day. And people who close their eyes to that, are, I think, insensitive. “

Here, the depictions serve as a juxtaposition of art against the habitual experience of a country in crisis: “(…) and we must direct all our resources towards ensuring that art always exacerbates a current conflict rather than distracting audiences from it.”

Consequently, the artist wants people to see and question themselves. In this final act, language is being suspended, silence sets in, the picture fades out, the scene closes.

 

1 Ciara Wardlow: 6 Filmmaking Tips from Sergei Eisenstein, p. 4.
2 Luka Arseniuk: Movement-Action-Image/ Sergei Eisenstein and the cinema in crisis, 106.
3 Ibid., p.107.

4 Interview with Hello Nigeria. 

5 Luka Arseniuk: Movement-Action-Image/ Sergei Eisenstein and the cinema in crisis, p. 39.

6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minstrel_show#cite_note-coon-1.
7 Luka Arseniuk: Movement-Action-Image/ Sergei Eisenstein and the cinema in crisis, p. 212-213.
8 https://edition.cnn.com/2018/04/20/africa/nigeria-young-people-buhari-backlash/index.html.
9 Glenny, Michael; Taylor, Richard (eds.): S.M. Eisenstein-Selected Works, Vol. 2 – Towards a Theory of Montage, 1991, p. 139.
10 Ibid., S. 91.
11 Interview with TheOtherNewsNigeria.
12 Luka Arsenjuk: Movement/ Action/ Image/ Montage – Sergei Eisenstein and the Cinema in Crisis, 2018, p. 29.
13 Taylor, Richard: S.M. Eisenstein – Selected Works, Vol. 1 – Writings, 1922-34, 1988, p. 69.

Über die Autorin

Alba Blödorn studiert im Bachelorstudiengang der Europäischen Geschichte an der Universität Bayreuth. Parallel zu ihrem Studium befasst sie sich mit den Medien Theater und Film und hat im Rahmen des Filmfestivals Lima Independiente bei den Regisseuren Fernando Arturo Vílchez Rodríguez, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, José Celestino Campusano und Sylvain George zu den Aspekten Cine y Observación Erfahrung sammeln dürfen, sowie bei der mexikanischen Filmemacherin Valentina Leduc unter dem Thema El lenguaje cinematógrafico documental. Während ihres Studiums eröffnete sich ihr die Möglichkeit zur Teilnahme am Theaterschauspiel sowie an universitären Filmprojekten.


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