Exploring the delicate balance between creative expression and religious sensitivity
In an age where social media dominates our lives, trends and controversies spread like wildfire. Recently, music artist Davido found himself trending on Twitter. I didn’t bother to check why he was trending because he always seems to trend every other week. Little did I know that his name was entangled in a controversial music video clip with religious references.
The release of a 45-second teaser for Logos Olori’s music video for “Jayelo” stirred intense reactions. Logos, an artist signed to Davido’s music label, was depicted in the video sitting on the rooftop of what appeared to be a mosque. In the video clip, Logos can be seen somewhat straddling the external speaker as he sings. Coupled with a group of men dressed in white jalabiyas and skull caps, the scene raised eyebrows about the appropriateness of using religious settings in a music video.
The song appears to be a thanksgiving song of some sort with the opening lyrics being: “Alhamdulillah, talika ti di onile, talika ti di olowo…. me I no go lie, I see the blessings coming” loosely translated as “thanks be to Allah, the poor person has become a landlord, the poor person has become wealthy.” While some argued for artistic freedom and the incorporation of real-life elements in the expression of art, others felt the portrayal was disrespectful to the Islamic religion and called for action against the artist and his label owner, Davido.
As the video went viral with people sharing their diverse thoughts, some predictably asked if Christians would also react negatively if such a video had been shot in a church. Someone else even went further and declared that he was giving Asake, another music artist, not signed to Davido’s label, 24hrs to delete the music video for his “Bandana” song which he sang with Fireboy DML. In the “Bandana” music video released almost a year ago, Asake can be seen walking into a building resembling a church with a cross on the roof. Additional scenes show him singing with some men in black attire and later walking out of the building with some goats. Many of the people who compared this video with Logos’ video stated that Asake’s actions could also have been termed disrespectful to Christians at that time.
Nigeria, like many countries, struggles with religious intolerance, a longstanding issue rooted in historical tensions and societal complexities. The country’s diverse population consists of both Christians and Muslims, and a sprinkling of traditional worshippers with some parts of the country having a larger concentration of adherents of each religion as compared with other parts. Instances of perceived affronts to religious beliefs across the country have often ignited outrage, with reactions occasionally bordering on irrational behaviour.
Similar issues have also arisen in the international space. I remember the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly magazine, in France in 2015. Islamist extremists attacked the offices of the satirical magazine, killing 12 people, in response to the publication’s cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Before that, there was the publication and subsequent film adaptation of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” in 2003. This was met with protests and objections from some Christian groups who felt that the story’s portrayal of Jesus and Christian history was offensive and sacrilegious.
In 2018, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted its annual Met Gala with the theme “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” Many of the guests came dressed in clothing inspired by Catholicism as the theme suggested. Rihanna even came dressed in an outfit closely resembling the Pope’s! Many people expressed negative comments with some calling it “disrespectful” appropriation. And one of the more prominent global examples in my opinion was the publication of Salman Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Verses” in 1988. This led to widespread protests and condemnation from the Muslim community for its perceived blasphemy and disrespect towards Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
These examples highlight how creative works can trigger strong reactions from religious communities irrespective of location and lead to disputes over freedom of expression, religious sensitivity, and cultural understanding. Such incidents underscore the importance of promoting respectful dialogue and finding ways to strike a balance between artistic freedom and religious reverence in the modern world.
Thinking about various art forms that have depicted religious references, I begin to wonder whether such references are appropriate, even in the context of artistic expression. The sensitivities of many people are easily aroused when certain symbols and references, which hold deep religious significance, are used in art. There is always the argument of creative license, but many believe this should be considered together with sensitivity and respect for the concerned religion.
While artists often draw inspiration from their personal experiences and surroundings, incorporating religious references can be a delicate task, particularly in a diverse and religiously sensitive society like Nigeria. The debate raises fundamental questions: How should artists balance their creative freedom with the need to respect religious sensitivities? Should there be any limits to artistic expression when religious symbols and references are involved? Should artists exercise restraint when adopting religious themes, especially because such topics can evoke deep emotions and may be misinterpreted? Should artists follow their creative leanings and hope that their true intentions are communicated through their art?
Those who would choose religious consideration are most likely more focused on ensuring no feathers are ruffled in society and that the peace and unity that we enjoy can continue. However, those who support exercising their creative license as their major consideration would more likely believe that their freedom of expression and ability to explore various themes, not just religion, can be upheld as long as their intentions are pure. For such people, creative expression is a vital part of society and should be protected as a form of free speech. I believe that artists should tread carefully when incorporating religious references into their creative works to avoid unnecessary controversies, especially when they consider their environment.
As we reflect on the controversy surrounding Logos Olori’s music video, we are reminded of the impact of religious intolerance on artistic expression. While artists have the right to express themselves creatively, they must be mindful of the potential consequences of incorporating religious references in their works. Similarly, society must strive to engage in constructive dialogue and cultivate a culture of tolerance and respect for diverse beliefs. Education and enlightenment are also key factors in broadening the minds of people who may be limited in understanding by their cultural and religious awareness. Only through open-mindedness and empathy can we navigate the boundaries between artistic expression and religious sensitivity, fostering an environment where creativity thrives without causing unnecessary strife.
We need to embrace the richness of artistic diversity while fostering understanding and respect for each other’s religious beliefs. In doing so, we pave the way for a more inclusive and harmonious society that celebrates both art and religion. By promoting dialogue and mutual understanding, we can create a more profound appreciation for the power of creativity to bridge gaps and build bridges between diverse communities. As we move forward, let us strive to find common ground, celebrate our differences, and work towards a more united and accepting world. This is the way I see things today.