Profanity in Nigerian Pop
The Nigerian music industry, just like every other music industry around the world, is a hedonist thrill: A playground for revelry and self- exaltation, hence the use of sexually explicit lyrics and steamy music videos, where artists lay bare their hedonistic lifestyles for the audiences to watch and listen to. Some artists, however, are subtle and timid about their vulgar utterances, while some are loud, uncouth, and unapologetic and breaking the social rules of morality.
The Afro House singer Niniola houses more sexual innuendos in her lean oeuvre than many of her female colleagues. The once timid Project Fame alumna now sprinkles her songs with debauchery. And only the initiated can decode her messages. In ‘Oyin’, one of the spotlights of her début album This Is Me, Niniola metaphorically sings about sex, diverting a Yoruba proverb about a certain “insect that dwells in a vegetable root and is eating the vegetable” to something sensual. And on ‘Sicker’, she pornifies pongila (lollipop), substituting it for a phallus. She wails and pleads her lover to give her pongila. “Pongila o, fun mi ni pongila o (Lollipop o, give me lollipop o). While on ‘Maradona’, she gives us a vivid description of oral sex. Sex, it seems, is the stylemark of her music.
But Niniola is not the only Nigerian female act who talks about sex and uses sexual innuendos. There are other female artists who embrace libidinal impulses and gratification and are etching a niche for themselves in the testosterone-driven Nigerian music scene.
Where some of her colleagues are elusive, Seyi Shay, unlike Niniola, is brash and unapologetic. She is not afraid to let us know how much sex she is having. Her debut album, Seyi or Shay, reeks of sex. And her numerous singles and features talk about sexual urge and activities. On ‘Right Now’, off her debut, she sings about having sex from sunset to sunrise. And on ‘Weekend Vibes’, she wants to have sex with her lover every weekend. Sex, it appears, can be copacetic.
Niyola, another deviant female act, bare it all on ‘Love To Love You’ video. Niyola is naked in the video as she dances erotically about. And Cynthia Morgan’s ‘German Juice’ encourages ladies to twerk their asses and squirt.
Artists usually subvert mundane items to something grandeur and sultry. “Them say I get big cassava, I get big cassava,” Tekno sings on ‘Pana’, subtly disguising male member as cassava. While on ‘Sugarcane’, Tiwa Savage begs her lover to give her sugarcane, corrupting sugarcane to a phallus. And on the sexually violence song ‘Tesoju e’, Reminisce, after telling a girl “wa fe ku lale yi (you’ll almost die tonight), implores the girl to stay calm, that he wants to farm, he wants to plant cassava. In fact, Reminisce’s ‘Skilashi’ video bears a perfect picture of his bawdiness.
After a couple of run-in with National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Olamide screens himself and opts for a new tactic. On ‘WO!, he speaks eno (Pig Latin) and uses the Hausa musical instrument, Kakaki, in place of a phallus. “She be buro, no be wakawiki / she says baby sa ra gidi / I want to play your kakakiki.” (She’s calm, not a walkabout / She said baby stand well / I want to play your Kakaki.)
Pop acts use sexually explicit lyrics and videos as tools to sell songs and rock concert arenas. After a cold reception and the realization that his new single ‘Fever’ is not smashing chart and winning hearts, ‘Wizkid collaborates with Tiwa Savage and they shot a steamy music video for the tasteless song and makes it tasty. The video brings the tepid song to live, reignites the dating rumour between the two artists, and restores Wizkid waning fame, albeit fleeting. In an attempt to revive his dwindling fame, the now visually impaired Fuji star, Remi Aluko, playing the role of a lady, tells a man who is flirting and trying to seduce her to “take away his money and leave her vagina be.” Though the lyrics sound woke and feministic, the artist intention is purely sensual. Remi is not a good enough actor to conceal his obvious message. Some of the words intersperse in the song are horny and rehearsed: “brother with a big, fat piece, please take your money away, don’t ruin my vagina,” he exclaims. “Take your piece away and leave my vagina be.”
We all know sex is the staple of R&B and it’s glamorized by every R&B acts. Praiz’s ‘69’ symbolizes sexual position and the song reeks of sex. Praiz and his feature artists brag about their sexual prowess and how they are going to satisfy their ladies in bed.
Even the alté and socially anxious artists like Brymo explores eroticism while at the same time being introspective and self-reflective. “Prick no gets shoulder / You put im head, the rest enter / Prick no get shoulder,” Brymo sings on ‘Prick No Get Shoulder, off his fourth studio offering Tabula Rasa. Though the use of these lines is not intended to be pornographic, but to an average Nigerian audience, the result is dirty and sultry. And on ‘Let’s Make Love’ from Klitoris, his fifth studio effort with a pornographic name and art, Brymo outrightly entreats his lady to let them make love while at the same time being introspective and self-reflective.
And so to that ending, how did we get here? Let’s have a bit of back-story.
Although the older generations’ acts have been criticizing millennia for being perverse and rendering nothing but gibberish, the aged musicians themselves are not prudes. There is no whataboutery about their colourful oeuvres that are laden with uncouth sexual references and innuendos. Millennia, though saucy and unapologetic, didn't just start singing dirty; they inherit the dirtiness from the older generation acts. They occasionally go back to the works of their predecessors to pick sound and lyrics. And it’s obvious that the subtle raunchiness of the earlier pop acts segues into the arts and tunes of the millennium, thereby morphing into a heighten profanity and mainstream pornography of pop culture. They aged musicians set the bed for defilement, and the youngsters, basking in the glory of their musical forbearers, sully the bed. The only difference between millennial and the aged musicians is that millennia are redefining sexuality, and intimacy has been tainted by technology.
In the early ’90s, when the Nigerian music industry was a bit couth and conservative, the Fuji act Abbas Akande Obesere blatantly sings about sex. He openly brags about how he’d explore a woman’s body, even if a woman’s body is not a country. Moreover, Wasiu Ayinde Marshal (K1 The Ultimate), the man who introduces jazz to Fuji, defiantly sings that he wants to suck some women breasts and f^%k them hard, that is after he sings “eyin mama e sempe (all you women should calm down)” and the women angrily rebuke him.
“Baby jowo ko ma i lo o, ko wa fun mi loyan tutu mu o,” Sir Victor Olaiya sings. He later rewrites the song and changes the ‘oyan tutu’ to ‘Ife tutu’, but the message has been passed and embraced by the target audience. The Fuji act Adewale Ayuba also calls a girl’s breasts ‘orombo aladun (sweet orange). He would later tell the girl he’d like to have some taste and told the girl to bring her ‘osan’ (orange) closer.
Just as Olamide opts for the obscure, the Fuji legend Kollington Ayinla employs the service of his drum for profanity. “Salawa and Kollington were making love in the room, I barge in, see a huge piece, I run out,” the drum talks in Yoruba.
Even the most political and philosophical acts of eons had pornographic lyrics in their artifacts. Fela mixes sex with rebellion and creates an acerbic tune that stings seedy government and military officers. The guitar maestro and the juju legend, King Sunny Ade, too, insidiously sing about sex. “Kileleyi o, eja osan, eja tutu, sokoyokoto,” he sings, comparing a woman bosom to a delicious fish.
Just like the secular acts, the seeming gospel acts circuitously inject filthiness into songs. The Juju, Highlife (gospel?) act Saint Janet of St Bottle Cathedral is more profane than many of her male counterparts, and she esteems her profanity. “My songs will always be dirty,” she says in an interview. “We are all sinners.”
Truth be told, a bit of sex is needed in music. It’s not enough for songs be about death, lovelornness, forlornness and corruption. A little sex here and there will spice it and diversifies the tune. What matters is balance.
Ultimately, sex is everywhere. And it seems it’s everything to pop artists, but it isn’t everything — not yet. Songs that are devoid of sex still sell. Wizkid scores great musical feat with ‘Ojuelegba’. A feat he couldn’t achieve with mundane songs like ‘In Your Bed’ and ‘Your Matter’. Likewise, Olamide and Reminisce attain a lot of musical accolades for ‘Melo Melo’ and ‘Ponmile, than they did with ‘Story for the Gods’ and ‘Skilashi’. The success of those formal songs is a testimony that artists don’t need to resort to obscenity to sell music. Good music still sells.
Musical obscenity, at times unnecessary and unfitting, is not going anywhere soon. It’s the spirit of the time. And will perpetually continue to be. As it was in the past, so it’s in the present and that’s how it will be till the end of time. But if a song is really good, it won’t need sensual appeal to reach the people. Good music, albeit little, still sells.