Naira Marley, recently arrested for internet fraud, has not let his trouble with the EFCC disturb his creative output.
While incarcerated, he released ‘Why’, bemoaning several frustrating life scenarios. After he was granted bail, he released ‘Opotoyi (Marlians)’, a ribald ditty about salient aspects of the female anatomy. But the song that has brought him another outpouring of outrage is his latest, Soapy.
Less than three minutes of spool time, Soapy coasts on the jaunty rhythms and shuffling percussion of Rexxie, Marley’s go-to producer. If Rexxie’s beat puts one in the mood to dance, Marley’s deadpan and humorous lyrical delivery extends his MO of leaning into sexual innuendos.
Soapy is essentially a dance instructional. Soapy, an English adjective by default, becomes a noun, characterising an action that used to be known in the biblical days of yore as onanism. These days, masturbation will suffice.
The song was accompanied by the dance which was first posted by Marley himself in a number of short videos on social media.
The Nigerian dance scene is always in search of a new move. That effusive leg work, Zanku, has been the rave for too long.
Marley, knowing the importance of jailbreaking a new dance from ‘Issa Goal’ his biggest hit till date, does this rather eloquently with Soapy.
The dance has caught on. A short description: the fulcrum of the dance is the midriff. Between quick leg shuffles, there is that move of making exaggerated sliding hand movements simulating a frenzied hand job with a corresponding gleeful facial expression.
The Soapy dance routine has been panned.
One of its most ardent critic is the renowned dancer/choreographer Kaffy, who insists that it is an immoral dance destined to corrupt a cohort of adolescents.
Of course, the dance, with its insouciant humour, is problematic on account of its optics. Even though masturbation is at the core of self-love, it remains a private act and Marley’s effrontery in bringing it under public scrutiny must be challenged. This is expected in a puritanical society like ours which already contradicts itself with an alarming birth rate and a tsunami of sexual improprieties.
But to cast Naira Marley’s Soapy song and dance away will be to neglect the necessary conversation this artiste is having with culture and tradition.
First, ‘Soapy’ is a worthy and necessary contribution to musical prison narratives within the Nigerian context. Marley updates and unearths activities about prison life that had been touched on by late musicians like Orlando Owoh and Fela Kuti.
If Orlando Owoh details his observation of the hierarchy of individuals he encountered as a prisoner in Alagbon Close, Fela Kuti’s frequent detentions dotted his musical career and are often signposted in his songs. Songs like ‘Alagbon Close’, ‘Expensive Shit’, ‘Kalakuta Show’ and ‘Unknown Soldier’ rush to mind, but the most salient song to reflect upon with regard to Soapy will be the groovy ‘Beast of No Nation’, where Fela categorised prison and civilian life as inside and outside worlds respectively.
Marley deploys the term, “Inside Life” to describe the different attitudes and acts of people within the prisons and detention centers that he was slammed into. He identifies religiosity, consumerism and economic inequalities even within the prison system but his most rabid fascination is the ubiquity of masturbation among inmates.
Masturbation is also ubiquitous in the outside world so what exactly is Marley’s point, one may ask. Then comes the catch, Marley’s experience in prison revisits the inventory of primitive masturbatory aids and vehemently rejects that former powder-blue detergent, Omo.
To reflect on Marley’s creative instincts and inadvertent leanings to sexual imagery of all kinds will be to interrogate his background.
He moved to Peckham, South London at age 11 from Nigeria. Anyone with some retentive memory will remember the women identified as the Yoruba Aunties of London. These are woke, tech-savvy and sexually liberated middle-aged women of Yoruba descent living in South London, popular for posting impassioned and vulgar rants about each other on social media. It would seem that Marley takes his language directly from them, because he brings a new dimension to vulgarity that shares no kinship with the Saje tradition of Fuji music popularised by Abass Akande Obesere.
And to the niggling issue of the dance itself, soapy dance is not the first overly suggestive routine that we will see. A little over a decade ago, Zule Zoo, a duo singing sensation, released a song ‘Kerewa’ which also had an accompanying dance.
The song ‘Kerewa’ is told through an innocent child observer who describes, to her cuckold father, an illicit sexual intercourse between the mother and her paramour. The song’s hook coincides with a dance that gyrates the hips, simulating sexual movements and was duly banned at the time.
Only a year ago, Pataapa, a little known Ghanaian musician released an unlikely hit, ‘One Corner’. A ditty famed to be meaningless, it was notorious for its frenzied dance requiring people to find a corner where they could make agile hip movements that simulated sex. These dances grew in popularity and faded in due time.
Soapy is not likely to rule the radio airwaves. Perhaps the National Broadcasting Corporation have done the needful. I doubt that Marley will be inclined to make a music video, but Marlians may want it differently.
Emmanuel Iduma, wrote in his highly recommended travel book, A Stranger’s Pose, that “dance is the fulcrum of desire” and this is the best way to reflect on the soapy dance.
Even prisoners, shorn of their humanity, are entitled to their desires. Naira Marley in giving us Soapy; the song and the dance, compels us towards this rather uncomfortable gaze.
We should be more pensive than outraged.