Nigerian rapper Falz has picked up the media glove This is America to undress the most serious problems facing his society. With This is America, the American singer Childish Gambino has assaulted in recent weeks the Olympus of the combination of culture and social networks and, at the same time, has opened unsuspected doors. As expected, the shock of This is America’s viral earthquake has been felt especially in Nigeria, the great African giant that is also the setting for the continent’s most powerful entertainment industry.
The rise of the Childish Gambino clip was spectacular. As in such phenomena, YouTube’s hit counter and advertising feedback, the media and networks echo a devastating success and, at the same time, make it more visible, increasing its impact and so on and so forth. In this case, moreover, there has not been an international media that has not dissected the video, explaining all the details of the symbolism hidden by the anti-racist criticism. In addition to the transgression of the story, This is America combined all the elements of a consumer society product, but loaded with criticism and that made the video even more succulent for the media. From there, to spreading itself around the world in the form of parodies, it has only gone one step. The clip has been imitated in an endless list that includes from the Korean version to the Jamaican or Canadian version, passing through the Spanish version, obviously, or through the female edition.
However, one of these sequels attracts attention, because of the context and depth of criticism and because it has surpassed what is expected of a parody. Falz, the Nigerian rapper who signs This is Nigeria has picked up the glove launched by Childish Gambino, has accepted the challenge and has launched a critical barrage to draw, without complexes, what does not work in the African giant.
On Friday, Folarin Falana, known artistically as Falz, released his latest work. It was a song and video that followed in the wake of This is America. In This is Nigeria, the rapper from the African country reviewed some of the fundamental challenges faced daily by the society of the continent’s most populous country, one of the most powerful economies, but also one of the most complex and delicate contexts, both socially and politically. Falz does not leave puppet with head and does not save the risk of exposing the criticisms that are on everyone’s lips that very few dare to do publicly.
‘This is Nigeria. Look how I’m living now. Look how I am living now. They are all criminals’. It is Falz’s first sentence, as he passes over the body of a man killed with machetes. In a walk similar to that of Childish Gambino, the Nigerian musician warns about drug abuse among young people, which has led the Nigerian government even to ban the import of cough suppressants that contains codeine.
He also warns of the fascination with the stars of entertainment industry and all that goes with it, the superficiality of consumer society, the obsession with brands, the fixation on buying and selling, or the adoration of the quick money conveyed by entertainment culture, represented by a proud winner of the Big Sister Naija contest (in a little evening allusion to Big Brother Nigerian). And in this social approach, it draws attention to the threat to coexistence demonstrated by the latest incidents with Fulani cattle ranchers related to land use.
The different ways in which Nigerians are manipulated also have space in the Falz theme and in the video directed by Iyobosa Rehoboth, a very young 23-year-old director known artistically as Prodigeezy. Thus, there are politicians who seek to manipulate elections, representatives of different churches, healers or swindlers who operate on the Internet. And, evidently, the rapper does not forget the matters that correspond directly to the powers. He denounces the authorities’ lack of diligence in the face of Boko Haram’s kidnapping of the Chibok girls, the lack of work and deficient services, police violence and corruption or the inability of some public representatives, in the latter case exemplified by an inspector general of the Nigerian police, Ibrahim Idris, who gave an embarrassing speech during the inauguration of a technical intelligence unit for the fight against crime. The video of his hearing, two weeks ago, became viral and was the laughing stock of networks in Nigeria for a few days.
Art, creativity, music and humour are the shields Falz has relied on to draw a stark mosaic of the problems facing his country, and he has done so, possibly, with one of the most impactful languages. It is difficult to know exactly how far This is Nigeria’s video has gone because it has quickly spread across social networks and is shared from different sources, but there may be some clues, for example through the official publication of the video, which is hosted in Falz’s official YouTube profile. In this platform has surpassed the two million views in just five days. But the Nigerian musician has uploaded to his Instagram account three fragments of the video that totaled more than 1.8 million views in the first two days. Beyond the author’s accounts, you can find on Twitter, for example, fragments of the video that have also exceeded one and a half million views.
However, the final push has come to Falz’s work from the hand of another rapper, the American Diddy, responsible for Bad Boy Entertainment, among other initiatives and considered the king of hip-hop, for his business. Diddy has published in his Instagram account two fragments of This is Nigeria that have already surpassed three million views.
This is not the first time that Falz has resorted to the strategy of satire in order to load his songs with critical content, although he has obviously not had the coverage and media climate to achieve the projection he has achieved with This is Nigeria. However, this trajectory weakens the impact of the opportunist criticisms the artist has received. Both in his musical and comic facets, he has dealt with some of the themes that he also denounces in This is Nigeria.
In fact, one of the compliments that Falz has received from This is Nigeria is that his proposal has brought commitment to a cultural industry of enormous dimensions but focused exclusively on entertainment. Both the powerful and productive Nollywood and the tremendous Nigerian musical machinery or its more recent television production potential is fundamentally geared towards generating revenues. Some are concerned that this cultural environment also strives to generate values and have therefore applauded Folarin Falana’s bet.
Another of the side effects of the video’s success has been that it has encouraged a fresh debate on social networks through the title of the song turned into a label: #ThisIsNigeria. As can be predicted, in this discussion you will find everything from disqualifications for considering that the video tarnishes the image of the country or that Falz himself is an opportunist to the most disproportionate praise. However, there are also calmer criticisms of the video and, above all, a space has been created for a debate in relation to the country’s problems, in which most of the most influential users of social networks in Nigeria have participated.
Some, while considering it to be a historical fact, wondered whether the satirical tone and symbolic criticism would really be understood. In any case, This is Nigeria has shown a way for cultural activism, it has been a small conquest for ingenious critique and it has opened a new space for discussion.