There is an on-going revolution in Nigeria—and the most unlikely hero, Naira Marley, is stirring it.
Before we come to what this revolution is and what it means, a few words about Naira Marley: Born Afeez Fashola, partly groomed in Agege, downtown Lagos and Peckham, South-East London before the gentrification came.
Naira Marley was a fledging musician with a clutch of minor hits to his name before he landed ‘Issa Goal’ in 2018 which fortuitously became Nigeria’s theme song at the last World Cup tournament.
Naira Marley’s rise to mainstream fame in Nigeria was occasioned by his controversial rhetorical song, ‘Am I a Yahoo Boy?’, his attendant defence of Advance Fee Internet Fraud popular called Yahoo! Yahoo!! on Social Media and his subsequent arrest and detention by the EFCC last spring.
Following detention, Marley cut a good number of singles but three of those songs went on to become monster hits, call them the Marley Trio—Opotoyi, Soapy and Mafo. Looping through these songs is a trope of lewd lyrics unabashedly naming female anatomy and sexual practices with a vulgarity that some have described as aural pornography. Of course, this does not help Marley’s case with the puritans. Neither do his colourful music videos awash with twerking video vixens.
In the wake of his arrest and arraignment by the EFCC, Naira Marley has courted a fan base called Marlians. Joey Akan, in his satirical take on Afrobeats for London-based The Face Magazine, characterised Marlians as followers of Naira Marley who believe that life should be enjoyed, who dance Zanku and scream ‘Marlians’!
Akan is right. We, Marlians, love fun and a patchwork of leg movements, best conducted in tandem with a swaying kerchief. But I doubt this is what has made Naira Marley popular.
I believe that Naira Marley is popular today because the Nigerian State has made him so.
Regardless of his politics, the lack of it, or the poor articulation of it, Naira Marley’s fate holds up a mirror to every young Nigerian going about the business of piecing their lives together.
It is almost a crime to be young in Nigeria. If you dress in a certain woke fashion in Lagos today, you will be flagged down and patted down by members of the Nigerian police. If you are presenting male, you are already a Yahoo Boy, by affiliation. If you are presenting female, best believe you are a commercial sex worker. If you challenge the intrusion and injustice, you may end up behind the ‘counter’, to be bailed free of charge on paper but after you would have parted with some money. If you suffer the ill-luck of being waylaid by members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), best believe that you are an armed robbery suspect and your phone is probably a weapon. This is why the youths will identify with a man who denounces the notorious SARS and replace them with Sars on the beat!
If you look at Marley’s Twitter following and if you observed his recent concert at Eko Hotel, you would have noticed that the throng outside the concert was just as significant as those inside. One may bother to ask what a slight and unassuming man like Marley is doing with such a significant following.
Being a Marlian is hardly about acceding to Naira Marley’s claims but agreeing to how his struggles mirror that of the typical Nigerian Youth. This unlikely hero, in his gradual consolidation of his fame, has chosen lewd lyrics henceforth and this has shaped the ongoing revolution in the direction of sex and Lamba music.
Yes, the ongoing revolution is a sexual one. The Nigerian Youth are talking about sex with a vocabulary that astonishes, and my argument is that even if this is not what we want to talk about, it is a gambit as well as a rehearsal. There is plenty more to be said, but first we are getting a hang of the language.
One can not say for sure whether Naira Marley will continue to be the face of this revolution that has united youths from the working class and the elites, but what seems incontrovertible is the fact that if Marley continues to be paraded for ambiguous crimes and he continues to make songs with lewd lyrics that demand agiles steps and energetic exertions, he will stay relevant.