Reekado Banks Ozumba Mbadiwe

The Many Messages on Reekado Banks’ “Ozumba Mbadiwe”

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Reekado Banks is no stranger to having a hit song, but something about his latest and most successful solo record – Ozumba Mbadiwe (titled after the popular expressway in Victoria Island, Lagos) is different. Other than being an irresistible earworm, Ozumba Mbadiwe is packed with messages. It’s most definitely not your run-of-the-mill Afrobeats banger with more of a priority to make you move your body than to connect with the listener on different levels.

This was different. Reekado Banks, assisted by the prodigious P.Priime, delivered a masterstroke of a single, ticking all the boxes between a danceable jam and theme-packed lyrics. In Ozumba Mbadiwe, Reekado Banks might just have cracked the code for himself and found a very rational equilibrium between “danceable” and “deep”, but what exactly was he talking about on the smash hit? And why are there so many possible interpretations to the things he said on the track?

“Me I no wan sleep for highway, before you cross, gatts look your sideways…”

Titled after a literal road, this song is packed with references to road transportation, whether by bike as the cover art of the song implies, or in a car, as the official visuals showed. The references to the road and transportation are abundant in this song, and are used to good effect. For instance, the quoted lyrics above can be translated to regular terms as “I’m not trying to slack, and I have to be very alert and cautious in this place where everything moves fast”.

These lines are insightful enough to show that Reekado put a lot of thought into his lyricism on this track. The lines that follow give more clarity on what Reekado is speaking on. As a follow-up to these lines, Reekado declares “Me, I no come Lagos for child’s play”, meaning that he is aware of how fast and demanding the city of Lagos can be, reinforcing a common trope in the tale of the Nigerian come up. 

It is not uncommon to hear about young men and women leaving their villages and hitting the road to get to Lagos – the bustling, fast-paced urban centre of Nigeria, in search of better opportunities to make a decent living. In a way, Ozumba Mbadiwe echoes the sentiments of the struggle that most people who move to Lagos for these reasons have to face, another profound angle that the iconic song subtly depicts while distracting you with its head-bopping rhythm.

So I hear say them dey find me, for the long time, I’ve been silent… But they think say I’m in hiding, cos they don’t know how to find me…”

Reekado Banks also uses this track to address his one-year hiatus from major music releases between 2020 and late 2021. In an interview with City FM, Reekado stated that he worked on Ozumba Mbadiwe for a year before its eventual release. Deeper into the interview, he was asked why he chose the title “Ozumba Mbadiwe”. Reekado Banks explained that it was a reply to a lot of people who had been asking for his whereabouts during the period where he wasn’t dropping any new music. According to the award-winning singer-songwriter, he had been “busy” just like the Ozumba Mbadiwe way, tying in perfectly with the theme of road transportation.

“Well, if you think say you be giant; you be giant for your pocket, if you only fight for your pocket…”

This line sparked controversy online because many people spontaneously judged it to be a satirical jab at Burna Boy for publicly belittling him on Twitter a year before the song’s release. It makes a lot of sense that that would be the case but the lyrics that follow seem to be pointing at a more pertinent problem than a Twitter feud and bruised egos. The fact that Burna Boy goes by the nickname “African Giant” didn’t really help the case that the line wasn’t directly aimed at Burna Boy. But the line that follows tells you all you need to know about Reekado’s intentions with that line. He proceeds to boldly call out the Nigerian government for the infamous “October 20, 2020” massacre. He says… 

“October 20, 2020, something happen with the government… them think say we forget, for where?”

Nigeria’s history is deeply steeped in injustice and unfair treatment of its masses. The use of music as a conduit to voice the displeasure and rebellion of the people against this federal brand of injustice. Music artists like Fela, Femi and Seun Kuti, Sound Sultan, Falz, Eedris Abdulkareem, African China, Burna Boy, Ras Kimono, Majek Fashek, Jahblend, Ajebo Hustlers, amongst many others.

They have all at some point, used their music to lend their voice to the agitations against government-fueled injustice. And in a long list of songs that voice the dissatisfaction of the people, Reekado Banks makes a huge statement through Ozumba Mbadiwe.

At the end of the music video for the track, we hear the shouts of the protesters that escaped the scene of the unfortunate Lekki tollgate massacre, an unsettling reminder of the reality of government brutality against the people it was designed to protect. It’s very clear that Reekado Banks was being intentional about paying respect to the Nigerians who died at the hands of armed forces. The hit record was released on October 20, 2021, one year exactly after the incident.

…Cause na money I dey find (na money I dey find), E no easy for Lagos

Essentially, Ozumba Mbadiwe is about the Nigerian, and despite its rather plentiful layering of themes and meanings, it manages to show the kind of intentional lyricism and theme setting that many have complained that Afrobeats music was deprived of for a long time. At the end of the day though, the abundance of themes might also be a point of criticism for the song because it could seem to be doing too much for one song.

But how about two? On the third of February, 2022, barely four months after the track dropped, Reekado Banks enlisted the assistance of Fireboy DML. The remix is currently charting in more than fifty countries, but was received with mixed emotions on social media because a lot of people felt like it conveyed a completely different theme from everything the original track was trying to say. 

On the track, Fireboy expresses in Yoruba, Pidgin and regular English language, how much he wants to get paid, and how important his money is to him in the tough city of Lagos, somehow tying it to the actual Ozumba Mbadiwe location somehow. It seemed like a rather sharp deviation from a song with a primary theme of speaking out against injustice for many people. It could be assumed that Fireboy bringing the theme of hustle and payment borrows from the theme of “not coming to Lagos for child’s play”. Could that have been the rationale behind Fireboy’s verse? What are your thoughts on this culture-halting hit song?

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