I recently wrote an encompassing article about my interpretation of the Kuti family, their legacy and the dynamics that underline my fascination with them. An angle I did not look into deeply was the Nigerian public’s obsession with a new Fela: A messianic figure to herald the death of money and women objectification in mainstream music and lead us back to the sweet undiluted beauty of Protest music and government criticism.
Several names have worn the ‘New Fela’ cap; Wizkid, Burna Boy and now Falz. The connections with Wizkid are the more confounding, the lives of both men diverge, their artistry and message do not stand in the same position, the only reason the connection has existed has to be because of their mutual appreciation for marijuana and the immense success of Wizkid in years gone by. Burna Boy has appropriated some of the Fela mannerism and has shown a keen eye for sampling Fela’s music to deliver beautiful melodies, but the anti-government rhetoric that defined Fela’s music and life is largely absent from Burna Boy’s discography.
The acclaim for Falz to be considered the new Fela can be traced back to the release of his ‘This is Nigeria’ video, the visual and lyrical content created a pop moment unlike any other, for the first time in ages, a Nigerian artist held up a mirror and forced the nation to reflect on itself. Falz tackled issues such as the ineffectiveness of President Muhammadu Buhari, the lack of dependable power supply, poor infrastructure, the popularity of advance fee fraud, (locally known as Yahoo boys), deplorable power supply and the normalization of insecurity.
‘This is Nigeria’ changed everything, no longer was Falz just known for the funny Instagram skits, witty humour tinged bars or the movie roles, he stepped into New Fela territory – his father is, after all, Femi Falana, a noted legal luminary and human right activist who has a history with Fela. Falz’s body of work was scoured over and ‘Confirm,’ ‘Child of the World’ was held up as proof that he was as socially conscious as they came, he had also chosen ‘music’ over the lawyers gown. That was enough for the comparisons to begin.
In the early days of January, Falz has released ‘Talk’ picking up on where he left on ‘This is Nigeria’ and we are back where we started again, the Fela comparisons have trickled in once more, or in this instance poured.
— GreenBrain (@iamGreenBrain) January 12, 2019
Fela dropped the mic, Falz picked the mic
— DADDY THE BOY (@DaddyTheBoy) January 11, 2019
— Royal-Tee (@ObajemuJnr) January 11, 2019
While it feels good to have a mainstream artist speaking up about the ills in society, it is simplistic to call Falz the second coming of Fela, for one, where Fela was famous and unrelenting for use of direct name-calling, Falz has adopted a more vague form of social commentary (that hits home nonetheless) the video of ‘Talk’ gives a simplistic but true interpretation of a man who has a 4 year tenure but spends 3 years in London on holiday, the answer is quite simple but trust Fela to call names.
Fela was not just a musician, he was concerned citizen, political critic, anti-establishment town-crier and social philosopher rolled into one person, he famously said: “As far as Africa is concerned, music cannot be for enjoyment, it has to be for revolution.“ It is clear from Fela’s discography that he fiercely believed in this description of music as a tool for social upheaval, most of Fela’s singles were averagely not-radio friendly 12 minutes tracks filled with incendiary remarks and calls for a revolution. For Fela, the music was secondary, only a means of getting his message out in formats that might pique people’s interest. It is hard to say the same of Falz, that total abandonment of sonic fulfilment in hopes of passing a message – a political one – is largely absent from his steadily increasing discography.
Where Fela was centre to trying to seek solutions to the problems that beset Nigeria by forming his Movement of the People (MOP) party and advocating a Pan-African socialist doctrine for a more egalitarian society, Falz has not shared any observable step or thought process for getting Nigeria to work, his focus has been mainly on getting people to talk by painting a truthful picture of the nation, it almost seems like he is content to spur the reaction and watch people take up the mantle.
With Fela, it is impossible to divorce the art from the artiste, Fela was on a never-ending spiritual journey that painted how he perceived reality, his cultural realities meant the world to him and shaped how he acted and lived. Ogun, Ifa were the Gods of his heart as he divorced himself from the Anglican teaching of his childhood. Falz, well, Falz is a sweet boy, all that ambiguity that Fela wore has never been part of his persona or image, it is hard to envision him becoming a chief priest now in the quest of connecting to his inner core.
In these Buhari Times where disillusionment is rife and our favourite artistes are pro-establishment or decidedly apolitical, people just want to see their brightest stars touch on issues that affect them, to let them know that they are not alone in the extreme sports that is ‘Living in Nigeria,’ the average man loves that Falz amplifies their struggle and that’s why they are calling him the New Fela.
The brightest part of Falz’s activism is that finally, Nigerians have an artist who acts like they exist in the same ailing country as their fans.
The saddest part?: People will relish this, and hold on to this for dear life because they know that it won’t last long.
— Joey Akan (@JoeyAkan) January 11, 2019
Falz has crossed the divide of privilege to speak the truth of the people and it is interesting to see how far he is willing to go to amplify the average man’s struggle, he can only help others if he is saved after all.
Fela and Falz are two different personas from two different periods. Ultimately, artistes are products of their ages and Fela was in charge of his period through his music, his stubborn-minded brilliance, eccentricity and world view (that includes the misogynist opinions of the man), The one Fela was a human-sized container of raw energy, unbridled passion, patriotism, protestations, sexism and music. He was a true outlier.
Can Fela just Rest In Peace ?
— Oni Olu (@norty31xx_) January 11, 2019
Falz is a very good musician living his best life and trying his very best to lend his voice to the struggle of the everyman, he is no Fela though, we may never see another, he is just a 28-year-old man who is navigating his path in life and trying to talk about the things that bother him on his own terms.
Falz is not Fela 2.0, he is Falz the Bahd Guy and that is an OK thing.