On Tuesday, November 10th 2020, rapper Falz released the video to ‘Johnny’, the opening track of his critically acclaimed 2019 album, Moral Instruction. A timely update to the nearly two-year-old track, the graphic video pays tribute to the victims of police brutality and those we have lost in the fight against it. In the opening scene, Falz is seen laying on the ground in a pool of his own blood as he gives a detailed description of young people getting killed by trigger-happy police officers — a recurring act that sparked the recent #EndSARS protests. “Johnny just drop, na person shoot am down/ Johnny wey dey innocent/Johnny wey dey new in town,” he fiercely raps, staring dead into the camera as scenes of real-life police brutality captured on camera flash across the screen.
Music is a universal language, hence it has long been used as a fierce tool to tackle and expose social injustices ravaging our society. While some listeners may be inclined to dismiss musicians when they speak out on anything other than music — and sometimes rightly so — the unwavering fact is, musicians often serve as our society’s conscience. And in times of sociopolitical discord, a musician’s role in this context becomes glaringly vital. Like Falz’s ‘Johnny’ — and quite frankly, Moral Instruction as a whole — over the years music has proven to be one of the richest veins of activist art. Hence, the importance of channeling activism through music cannot be over-emphasized.
The late Nina Simone once famously posed the question ‘How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?’ Along with music’s ability to heal and incite pleasing emotions, lies its power to relay important information to the public, opening up conversations that spur reflection and action. It is therefore an artist’s duty to create music that mirrors the current sociopolitical climate of the society, using their platform to share crucial messages, which will instigate action and eventually actualize lasting change. This is not to say, however, that socio-politically charged music should be the sole order of the day, as the importance of music as a form of escapism has been proven. It is nevertheless of uttermost importance for artists to depict our current plight through their music.
Afrobeat patriarch, Fela Anikulakpo Kuti, once opined in an interview “I think as far as Africa is concerned, music cannot be for enjoyment — music has to be for revolution.” Whether it’s Burna Boy or Falz reworking Fela’s sounds and message, Timaya crooning tales of oppression in the Niger-Delta, or Naira Marley highlighting the corrupt methods of EFCC and SARS, Nigerian artists have continuously turned to music as a response to the injustice and inbred destruction that plights our country, and I urge emerging artists do the same in order to ensure our fight against the system is aptly documented.