How Do Creatives Influence the Masses on Political Consciousness?
Recently, Nigerian alternative soul and pop artiste, Asa, was invited to perform at the unveiling of ‘NNPC Limited’, a commercial rebrand of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. According to the country’s president, this rebrand is aimed at transforming the petroleum company in order to strengthen its growth. Asa, at this event, performed her breakout 2007 song, Fire on the Mountain. It was a passionate, eclectic and nostalgic performance which she did in all-black clothing which also had a black cape attached to it, probably a symbolism for mourning and the weight she carries as a creative to be the hero of the people. This performance stirred a flurry of varied reactions online. Many reactions were tilted towards the perspective that Asa’s choice of this song was an ingenious middle finger directed at her VIP audience. On the other hand, some other people felt that it was just another ploy of yet another artiste selling out their consciousness to the emotionally dead political class.
Asa herself hasn’t come out to confirm or deny anything related to that performance – not that she’s expected to – so, we the people are still left to only guess just what was in her head up on that stage as is the case with most works of art. Maybe we even are overreacting. It could be that she only chose to perform Fire on the Mountain simply because it’s her most popular song.
Asa’s newer albums such as Bed of Stone, Lucid, My Beautiful Imperfections and her latest, V, may fade away, but nearly twenty years post-release, Fire on the Mountain and the Asa album with which it came still sound as vibrant as ever. Till date, the single has withstood the test of time despite its creators’ evolution. This may be because the country seems to have slid even further into woe since the halcyon days of ’07. And so, whether or not it was her protest presented in the form of art, the irony of performing that song in front of leaders of the sitting government still amuses me.
“Conscious music” has and will always be a heavy part of Nigerian culture. You would be hard-pressed to find any popular Nigerian artiste over the last thirty years who hasn’t, in some form or another, sung something about the difficulties of the Nigerian society and/or its popular hands-in-the-cookie-jar government. Even the infectious Amapiano-inspired hit Ozumba Mbadiwe pays homage in a few lines to the Lekki Tollgate Massacre.
Newer artistes like Teswess are even less subtle, blatantly asking if an incontinent Tinubu is really going to lead the country. And with all the anger and despair present in society today, we can expect even more brash expressions of art from creatives.
But with the 2023 elections coming up in the country, with all of its social, ethnic, religious, and economic consequences, artists; musicians, writers, and visual artists become necessary political tools, working to convince their audience that things aren’t nearly as bad as they seem, while also lending legitimacy to campaigns through endorsements. So, while the cost of living continues its relentless march forward, while citizens are being kidnapped and murdered on an industrial scale, while public university students are carefully preserved in a state of limbo as their private university counterparts are being churned out in multiples of hundreds as graduates to join the rising tide of unemployment the country’s youth face; we can also expect catchy jingles and visuals from popular creatives extoling the strengths of recycled candidates. After all, we are a country of citizens who thrive on nostalgia.
Conscious music may have a storied history, but conscious artistes are becoming even rarer to find. The poet whose words you once used to direct your frustration at the system might post a tweet or a photo endorsing The Man. So to those of us who resonate with lyrics like ‘I see the blood of an innocent child and everyone is watching’, could you imagine Seun Kuti performing Coffin for Head of State at Olusegun Obasanjo’s birthday party? Stranger things have happened.