I’m having café latte and cookies at a coffee shop in upscale Victoria Island, Lagos; the very heart of Nigeria’s commercial capital. The lighting is conservative, jazz music noodling in the background. It is 12pm, just a few days to Christmas and Falz, dressed in all pink, walks in to join me at the table, opting for hibiscus tea.
A few months ago, this 32-year-old artist released his fifth studio album titled ‘Bahd’ which features musicians such as Tiwa Savage, Timaya and BNXN. He is enthusiastic about how far he has come in his career.
But in 2020, Nigerians for the first time witnessed a more serious side; Falz took part in the #EndSARS protests, a series of demonstrations in the mould of America’s Black Lives Matter movement that aimed to put an end to police brutality and killings.
Encouraged by the ability of Nigerian youth to mobilise during the protests, he believes this same energy could be channelled toward the Presidential election that comes up in February 2023.
“I think they (Nigerian youth) are more willing [to make a change] this time around with everything that has been happening with the #EndSARS protests and all. I think more than ever, people have seen that power is in the hands of citizens,” says Falz.
A few months ago, he, along with other musicians, organised a free concert that was attended by the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The idea behind it was to get Nigerian youths to register and get their voter cards.
The previous Presidential election witnessed the lowest voter turnout in modern Nigerian history at less than 35%.
But Falz believes 2023 will be a lot more different. “I think the voter turnout will be way higher than 2019,” he adds.
To commemorate the second anniversary of the shooting of #EndSARS protesters in October, Falz and other influential youths staged a walk at the Lekki toll plaza but they were dispersed with teargas by overzealous policemen acting on the government’s orders.
Falz, who doesn’t seem surprised by the tactics, says President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is the worst ever.
“Buhari promised us millions of jobs but where are the jobs? For me, this is the worst civilian administration that I have witnessed. Why? Because apart from all the nonsense happening, there is so much disconnect. There is so much hunger, inflation, the exchange rate is ridiculous,” he adds.
The musician argues that the two main political parties have failed and are not different from each other.
He argues that next February’s election may just be the most important in Nigeria’s history because of the many challenges plaguing the country.
Falz adds: “This election may be the most important in our history ever because it might be the last straw. It seems like we are at a breaking point and if we don’t elect someone that starts to push us to an upward trajectory, we are heading for the gutters, the complete desecration of the country.”
Buhari promised us millions of jobs but where are the jobs? For me, this is the worst civilian administration that I have witnessed….
He, however, refuses to reveal who he would be supporting at the next poll when he was asked if he would be supporting Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi, who enjoys a huge following among educated urban youths.
“My issue up until now and why I have not announced my preference and why I am always reluctant to publicly endorse any politician is because tomorrow they could embarrass you and it would bounce back on you,” Falz argues, adding that he may end up endorsing a candidate soon.
Falz burst into the entertainment scene by creating funny skits on Instagram, garnering millions of followers in the process. Leveraging his fame online, he began recording songs accompanied by hilarious music videos and subsequently started acting as funny characters in full-length movies.
To promote his songs on social media, Falz created trends like the ‘wehdone sir’ and the ‘Bopdaddy Challenge’ which involved participants transitioning to different clothes on TikTok while his song, Bop Daddy plays.
“I used to do it for banter. I would just be mimicking people and then it became a habit. So, there was a time in 2014 I was on holiday with my family, and I think my sister was filming me and I was talking in a funny accent and posted it on Instagram.
“The response was overwhelming and it was a key moment for me. I discovered that there was something here,” he recalls.
Falz would later be cast as Segun, a dim-witted hairstylist alongside actress, Funke Akindele, in Jenifa’s Diary, a long-running TV comedy series.
In recent times, however, the entertainer has taken up more serious roles, insisting that he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed. In Brotherhood, one of the highest-grossing Nigerian movies of 2022, he played the role of a police officer alongside veteran Nollywood actor, Sam Dede, and many other young actors.
Despite his success in the movie industry, however, he insists that music remains his first love.
“I will always be biased towards music because that was always the inroad. That was how I came in. I mean, it is arguable since I came in through comedy as well but my first love has always been music and if I had to choose, I would have to choose my first love,” Falz adds.
But music also comes with its own challenges. In 2018, his song, ‘This is Nigeria’, a cover of Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’, which touches on Nigeria’s social maladies including corruption and violent killings, was banned by the government for portraying the country in poor light even though it received general acclaim including from US rapper, P.Diddy. He has since sued the government.
A few weeks ago, an online feud between Musician BNXN and Ruga exposed how artistes were using streaming farms to dubiously exaggerate their streaming numbers in order to boost their ratings on music charts.
Essentially, streaming farms are services created to artificially increase the number of times a song is listened to through software bots. They create listening bots that can stream songs up to 1,000 times per minute, giving a false perception of a song.
“There are streaming farms in Nigeria now. A room where your label bosses pay money to get your songs up by automation, no real fans, no real people, just a facade. You all make the people who really work for this bleed and your day is coming,” BNXN tweeted.
The tweet was supported by other artistes like Yemi Alade, Blaqbonez and Olakira causing ‘Streaming Farms’ to trend at number one on Twitter.
Reacting to the controversy, Falz tells The Africa Report that the streaming farm gimmick is just like the Payola of old where artistes bribed radio stations to play their songs as many times as possible to manipulate the music charts.
“It has become a pandemic,” he says, adding, “It could be frustrating. However, if you try to look at it from a neutral point of view, people sort of doctoring perception is not a new concept. It’s like Payola where people paid to get their songs played on the radio to the extent that the consumer hears a song so many times and of course he begins to like it.”
Falz says streaming platforms like Apple Music and Spotify would have to find a way to restore normalcy so that honest artistes could have a chance of also dominating the charts.
I will always be biased towards music because that was always the inroad. That was how I came in.
“If the songs from number 1 to 70 are just a couple of guys who have paid off streaming farms to stream the hell out of their songs and make sure it remains on the charts, people will end up liking the song… The thing with music is that even if a song isn’t good, if I hear it five times, by the sixth time, I would like it,” he says.
The award-winning entertainer, however, says he will continue to make good music for the love of it and not because he is trying to impress any international audience in pursuit of a Grammy.
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