Naija Music As A Vehicle Of Social Criticism: The Example Of African China

by Nnaemeka Oruh

It was the late Afro-beat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti who said that he cannot do music that is not political or which does not in any way advance the African struggle and the struggle for the emancipation of the downtrodden. Fela thus perceived music as some form of applied art, a Marxist weapon that should first and foremost answer the question “how does this musical piece advance the struggle for the emancipation of society”.

But the use of music as weapon of social criticism is not peculiar to Fela. American history shows that the origin of rap music coincided with the emergence of the panthers- that renowned black party that fought viciously for the emancipation of the blacks in racist America. Later in the panthers struggle emerged late rapster Tupac Amaru Shakur who used rap (hip-hop) as a way of pointing out the social ills in his society while hoping that by drawing attention to those ills, correction will be effected. As Mr. Shakur himself said, it was because the media was bringing home the gory details of the Vietnam war, that was why public opinion came up to request for an end to the war. So Mr.Shakur decided to paint graphic details of the ills in his society, in his musical videos hoping that by doing so, he will start a trail that will change the world. Thus follows songs that touch on teenage pregnancy and abandonment (“Brenda’s got a baby”) police brutality on the blacks (“Trapped”) America’s obsession with external war while neglecting the war on the American streets (“Letter to Mr. President”).

Rugged and African China (L – R)

The perception of the hip-hop artist as a social critic got full anchorage in Nigeria, in the rising star African China. Evident in the music of this youngman are his preoccupations with the ills in the Nigeria society. African China seldom releases a song that does not discuss an aspect of the ills in the Nigeria society.

In “Crisis”, China examines theethnic killings that characterize the northern part of the country. The gross and senseless killingsof the southerners especially ndi-Igbo under the guiseof religious wars. China tells the story ofayoung Igbo man, who had completed his apprenticeship in the north, and having become newly established by his patron, had come home to inform his parents of his success. The parent’s expectations of a new lease of life from their now establish son was cut short when a few months after their son’s return to Kaduna (Northern Nigeria), they were summoned to receive the dead body of their son, who had become a victim of the merciless tribal killings in the north.

He further examines the political assassinations that politicians perpetrate in order to gain positions of authority. In his words ” .killing to become as bale”. China here uses the “Ajegunle area of Lagos as a micro representation of the entire Nigerian society:

They steal land o o

For Inside Ajegunle

My Brother they burn house,

They kill man o o

For inside Ajegunle.

His newest song “Mr. President” is a distressed plea to Nigeria leaders to try their possible best to provide good leadership to the people. China advocates that in whatever leadership position we find ourselves that we should do what the position demands from us:

Mr. President lead us well

If you be governor, govern us well

If you be senator, senate us well.

No let this nation fall inside well.

What African China does with most of his songs then, is to consciously draw our attention to what is obtainable in the Nigeria society, hoping that by so doing, conscious efforts will be made to eradicate those ills. To him, the country is a land of plenty, and thus demands only effective leadership that is not selfish, in order for its citizenry to be able to live the good life.

Yet his songs are not always political. In “No condition is permanent”, he tries to offer consolation to the teeming deprived of the Nigerian society. He had evidently borrowed from the renowned Igbo saying “No condition is permanent” an aphoristic saying that seeks to uplift the down spirited. In this song again, he almost succeeded in lifting the spirit of a lot of us, except that one weakness of the song namely China’s input of snide remarks to unknown critics.

If I dey owe dem,

No be from your pocket.

Despite his weaknesses, African China has established himself as a society conscious artiste. He has further succeeded in drawing our attention to most of the problems that the Nigerians society faces. More than all these, most of us have begun to see in him our town-crier, who quickly brings to us, news of the anomalies in the society. This is made more poignant by the fact that hip-hop is fast becoming Nigeria’s most effective means of information dissemination and consciousness raising.

I am however disappointed at the counter song to China’s “Mr. President” by Lily and Pincher. In their song titled “No look ‘en face”, Lily and Pincher countered everything China said in “Mr. President”. Hear them:

“Food no dey. Shut up! You no dey eat for your house?

African China has started his “Mr. President” thus:

Food no dey

Brother water no dey

Our road no good o o

While African China was objective in his assessment of the Nigerian society, Lily and Pincher came up with their counter which is clearly biased, and politically motivated. They were bold enough to say

Mr. President, no look ‘en face

Mr. Governor, no look ‘en face

Mr. Senator, no look ‘en face

En’ just dey judge another man case

Na small boy.

They later told us why: “I no go look en face cos money no dey en face”. In other words then, they had released the countering song to appease Mr. President, Mr. Governor, and Mr. Senator because “money dey their faces”. What I do not understand however is why they did “Trouble Wahala” where they also said things about the persistent problems in the Nigerian society.

I have weaved in the countering song by Lily and Pincher with the aim of drawing attention to the conflict being created in the Hip-Hop world by moneybag politicians, while advocating that some form of unity be achieved especially within the circle of social crusaders among the hip-hop artistes. No amount of money is greater than the social message which you are all dispensing. Hopefully, someday soon, our society will become a better place through your efforts.

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Anonymous February 16, 2007 - 7:23 pm

THIS ARTICLE WAS VERY INTERSTING TO READ. visiting nigeria a few months ago and hearing african china on the radio and in the clubs i was very happy that someone is stepping up because the situation in Nigeria is sad! THANKS AFRICAN CHINA PROVIDING GOOD AND TRUE MUSIC!

Nono January 5, 2007 - 8:54 pm

I think this is nigerian best artist in fact he is…

achibobo August 25, 2006 - 9:06 am

I will like to thank african china for his new reales, this mr president is very very interesting it is very courageous to so called our leaders.


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