Falz Lets Out Verbal Fire in Moral Instruction
Across Falz's discography, his penchant for storytelling shows. From as early as TV/Pop darling of a song, Marry Me (ft. Yemi Alade and Poe) to Soldier (ft. Simi), Falz has, if you would say, been blessed with the genius of telling a popular story, peppered with the spice of his vigorous personality and lyricism.
A story thrives on its humanity and anger, two qualities rarely displayed in today's music. Popular Nigerian music has adopted the word 'vibe' for its motto. Freestyle sessions lead to full tracks, hell, most of the songs are barely written, the instantly fitting is preferred. "Me I no go do you wrong," Mr Eazi sings "like Lazarus." Of course, the previous end rhyme was generous, so you get a feel of this instantaneous quality. Mr Eazi, asides being one of the leaders of the African musical movement into other bigger markets (for a genre known as Afrobeats) is a perfect example for what it means to tap off a musical culture which is ever growing.
Falz though, sits just outside of this category. For sure, he is a by remarkable quality, a good entertainer and has won numerous awards outside of his dominant art medium (music) but for every Mr Eazi transition from the Banku artiste to an Afrobeats giant, Falz has made steady strides forward. Ironically, this development takes him to a past, an overwhelming history of humanity and anger, the two qualities his stories needed to be truly worth the telling.
Understandably, Fela Anikulapo Kuti steps in as the inspiration. Whereas he's been idolized by Burna Boy and the likes, Falz's study into Fela seems keener, with a silent understanding struck between both artistes. When Falz released a cover of This Is America to both praise and criticism, it was his video which led to the detractors – members of the latter. Technical inaccuracies and the in-your-face quality of the video put them off.
But Fela was the teacher: he bared his scars for all to see, he was a griot who lashed publicly at his afraid audiences and the government, he was the sort of man who wouldn't have it any other way than in-your-face. Here arises the perfect moment to decry your 2018 "Nigerian Anthem." Whereas Fela's usage of the line and its preceding lyrics "I no wan die..." were to mock the tendencies of Nigerians to always have an excuse, a reason not to fight, Burna Boy's was stylishly worked, a justification if you may, a tipped hat to the philosophy of the day. Mind your business.
Yet social angst and political commentary is needed in the society and more than being a student of Fela, Falz is a son of a foremost activist cum lawyer, a background which hints at an educated understanding of the human condition, particularly the Nigerian's.
Talk, released on the eleventh of January, was a song with a recognizably bouncy beat, the first line a dig at MURIC, the Islamic group which threatened to sue him after some representation they found inappropriate in the This Is Nigeria video. He however, had to employ the trick of the personification, giving a human name and subsequently face to them. If that had a political move, it was his brash insistence at pulling down road blocks on his ragged run to bring home the truth.
An album was to be released about five days later (Moral Instruction) with reverence to Fela from the get-go. (the cover artwork was designed by Lemi Ghariokwu, most notable for his works on Fela’s records.) Talk, as a single, revealed the album's dominant preoccupation to be a fiercely told album. A duo of stylistic forms adopted: anger in the lyrics, dance quality in the production. Whereas detractors of Afrobeat point rather falsely to its heavy handed lyrics as a potent form to mask its musical poverty, it is worth knowing that Fela has been sampled throughout the world, across genres, with his electrifying sound a major hallmark in music history.
That sound makes an instant appearance on Moral Instruction. The opener, Johnny, is a lead person narrative. Over the stuttering instrumentals and background vocals, (throw in a trademark Yea Yea) Falz moves him from one person into a metaphor – the defeated Nigerian, of police brutality, of herdsmen attacks, of lawmaking ineptitude. The next song, aptly titled Follow Follow, samples various vignettes of the Fela sound and lyrics, with zombie chanted. Falz critics the age's penchant for crowd following, with little independent thought being done. His words aren't reserved for only the government.
Demmie Vee pulls off an inspirational hook for Falz, the sound a fresh cut away from the fast paced Afrobeat/Hip Hop that has been adopted so far. Expectedly, Falz comes through with bars which in essence reiterated 2baba's words those years ago: nobody holy pass. The next song, Talk, as you know, is a back and forth, pushed as the single for obvious reasons. Placed alongside other songs on this project, it has come off as basic. Amen is a return to the Afrobeat: Falz cleverly plays on a section of Fela's Coffin For Head of State. Like he's done many times before, he decries religious fanaticism and exploitation. The spoken words at the end add a poignant effect to the overall feel of the song. An early favorite here.
Sess, producer extraordinaire, makes a vocal appearance on Brother's Keeper, touching deep spots with his impressive voice. The rapper does an intelligent job in writing from the painful first person of the oppressor. Humanity is on the other side of the story; anger strikes in every turn of a word in Falz's verses. Chillz turns in a cold hook for Paper, an attempt to depict the dangerous measures people are willing to accept for financial prosperity. Falz, using money as a moving lens, depicts varying storylines but same levels of social ills. (ritualistic killing, drug pushing, child marriage, etc.)
Them say see danger o
You no dey see danger o
No go lose your center o
All because of paper o
E No Finish is perhaps the angriest song on the project. Falz, seeing himself as a metaphorical child of Fela, aims to continue in the rein of his activism. "Baba Fela talk am, but e never finish." he sings, over the rawest production on this album, all of which strips to a duo of traditional drumming and trumpet, all of which leads into a rich spoken word by Falz, titled After All Said And Done.
"Only then can we be free," are the words which ends this gem of a project. Fela never expressed such optimism but Falz's comes with a condition, to "never be content with mediocrity." Fortunately, this points the finger back to us, we the people. Asides pinpointing two parties as leaders of a country as big as Nigeria, we have assumed the greatest – and wrongly so – power upon our voting cards.
There's a more cultivated way at holding yourself equal to the task; Bob Marley worded it best: emancipate yourself from mental slavery. For a start, it is foolish, as Seun Kuti once said, to reduce Fela to T Shirts and other pop culture roles, roles of a black, bruised and beaten man, who smokes, who represents a faux freedom. Fela's freedom is deeper than that. Assuming such a role has meant Fela was the go-to when you wanted to present a faux appearance of profundity, even when you have had minuscule connection with his Art.
Emancipation, given off as "the act of setting free from the power of another, as from slavery, subjection, dependence, or controlling influence," should be aspired to. As a religious man, he (Fela) struggled to understand the slavish precedences in the white man religion he was born into. He sought African cosmology and he was better off for it.
Falz takes a similar route on Moral Instruction. Recognizing the need for a step away from the usual themes and musical theories created this masterpiece. Luckily, he ran into Fela on his way back to understand how History had shaped contemporary thought, how illiteracy, corruption, unaccountability, etc. still runs deep as dye in the fabric of the society. Luckily, this project retains some Pop DNA, and it is Falz, so people will listen and will have taken a much needed first step in their turn away from being the metaphorical zombie.