If you were really good at stretching the argument, you could probably convince a room of people that Falz is Nigeria’s Childish Gambino. Their career trajectories are quite similar, both of them have degrees and are academically gifted. Both have successful music and film careers and have been able to span several film and music genres without losing the fundamental spark that has earned them their fandoms. Both are trying to navigate strong personal dichotomies in their music. For Gambino this translates to finding his blackness while not divesting himself of his upper middle class upbringing; for Falz this translates to being the son of one of the country’s foremost activist lawyers and finding fame and respect in a career path many consider frivolous. Falz has clearly had more success with melding both halves but Gambino’s work is clearly more culturally relevant.
None as culturally relevant as his ‘This Is America’ event. I’m forced to call it an event, because Childish didn’t announce or create any anticipation for this song, neither did he prepare for us for the cultural impact it would have. The song basically shook the world, laying bare the hypocrisy that has come to define American pop culture and its obsession with hip-hop and the trappings of black life without actually valuing the people around which this culture has grown. A few magazines suggest that Glover’s song and the accompanying video are companions to the second season Atlanta, the critically acclaimed black-focused television show he is front-running. The think piece mill is still churning around the song, many arguing that Glover’s decision to show depictions of himself killing black people only capitalized on black suffering rather than denouncing the sources of said pain. There were of course also the parodies of the song, most well-intentioned but ultimately critically panned because they fail to see that fundamentally, the song and video itself is a visual metaphor and simply cannot be spoofed, however well-intentioned.
This is the cross on which Falz’s cover/parody of ‘This Is America’ is slain. Falz does a better job than most of transmuting the basic elements of Glover’s idea and using the format to decry Nigeria’s problems. He particularly focuses on Boko Haram, the killings by Fulani herdsmen across the country, the greed of Christian Pentecostal churches and the growing drug and fraud epidemics we are so keen to overlook. This would be a fantastic song and perhaps an important one in Falz’s repertoire, if he had simply taken inspiration from Glover’s courage and made a song of his own that doesn’t rely heavily on Glover’s composition and video direction for its bite.
There are so many cringe-worthy moments in his ‘This is Nigeria’, none bigger than Falz’s decision to incorporate the dancing school children of Glover’s video and simply replace them with avatars of the kidnapped Chibok girls. In Gambino’s video, every single creative choice conveys a specific message. The school children in his video represent the millions of Gen Z’s and millennials who become obsessed with hip-hop and the dance craze that rise every few months to promote the music and how that has come to define who rises to the top in hip-hop. What exactly Falz’s dancing Chibok girls, who wear leggings and visible synthetic weaves under their ‘symbolic’ hijabs and dance suggestively, are supposed to represent I am not quite sure.
On the other end of the spectrum, he asserts through clear visual imagery (the video starts with a man dressed in ‘fulani attire’ playing a traditional guitar who stops to slaughter a man with a hood on his head) that Fulani people without distinction are murderers. This was incredibly tone deaf considering Nigerians have strong ethnic biases and already attack people of Northern origin, lumping them as ‘Hausa/Fulani’. The reality is, the vast majority of Northern immigrants in Lagos are internally displaced persons driven from their homes by Boko Haram and other extremists. They are terribly mistreated by other Nigerians, called derogatory names and cheated by people who rely on the communal disgust for the Northern immigrant to cover their tracks. To brand an ethnic group as murderous without any nuance or any understanding of how vast the Fulani population is and just how damaging an insinuation that they are gleeful murderers is incredibly irresponsible.
There is imagery depicting the codeine epidemic in Nigeria that is virtually indistinguishable from a typical Nigerian music video, an unsubtle visual gag that digs at Big Brother Nigeria but does not actually investigate why Big Brother Nigeria is ‘bad’ for Nigeria, and of course the obligatory corrupt politician and generator shots and an overlong SARS scene that segues into audio clips from that now infamous Ibrahim Idris ‘Transmission’ interview.
Sure there are a slew of ‘scenes’, but what do they actually say anything that we aren’t already versed in, what stereotypes about Boko Haram and Fulani people does he deconstruct? Is there even a lick of nuance in Falz’s ‘This Is Nigeria‘ video?
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.