Best New Music: Falz & Tekno’s New Single “O Wa” Offers A Timely Message About Radical Action
a clarion call for Nigeria's youngest generation
a clarion call for Nigeria's youngest generation
Throughout his career, Falz has never shied away from pairing his musical talents with his political leanings. The lawyer-turned-artist has managed to find a sweet spot between entertaining listeners and provoking thoughts about the dysfunctions in the Nigerian social and political structures. On “Senator” off his 2014 debut album ‘Wazup Guy,’ he mocked the selfishness of the country’s ruling class as he rapped in his popular comic drawl, “Take the people property/You no dey do things properly/Calculate you no show working/You say na summary.” Falz, in an interview with Audiomack World, revealed that political activism has always been an integral part of his personality. “I grew up with both my parents as activists,” he said “I was born into that sort of family, that sort of background, so, inevitably I was always gonna have that aspect of me.”
Three days before the 2023 presidential election, which was held on February 25, Falz teamed up with fellow Nigerian artist Tekno on “O Wa,” his single of the year. The Chillz-produced track calls on Nigerian citizens to not be afraid to step away from and cast out any government that doesn’t respect their rights to better and inclusive policies. “All the tax wey we generate/Why the cash no dey circulate?/And when we start to calculate/Everybody come dey agitate,” Falz sings. While the Nigerian economy ranks as one of the richest in Africa—courtesy of the late 60s boom in the petroleum industry—a majority of the country’s citizens still grapple with poverty, with the 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index survey confirming that 63 per cent of persons in Nigeria (133 million people) are multidimensionally poor.
In 2018, Falz’s commentaries on society and politics shrugged off the comic edge and adopted a sharper, pointed tone. In May of that year, American artist Childish Gambino shook the collective consciousness of the world with “This Is America,” whose lyrics and accompanying music video addressed issues of racism, police brutality and gun violence in the United States. Gambino’s “This Is America” inspired many artists from around the world and spawned global remixes from France, India, Ghana, South Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, among others. Falz was one of the artists who drew inspiration from that track. His version of the song, as expected, fixed the searchlights on the problems bedevilling Nigerian society, from political corruption to insecurity to fraud. The music video drew the ire of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) who ordered Falz to take down the video because it showed women wearing the hijab and dancing Shaku Shaku, a popular street dance.
The massive support Falz received for “This Is Nigeria” egged him on into bolder territory. On his 2019 fourth studio album ‘Moral Instruction,’ over Fela Kuti samples, he gave a scathing critique of the Nigerian political and religious classes as well as the citizenry. On “Johnny,” he railed against police brutality; on “Talk,” he criticised corrupt politicians (even sparing a moment for MURIC); on “Amen,” he condemned the antics of unscrupulous clerics; and on the Chillz-assisted “Paper” and the Demmie Vee-featuring “Hypocrite,” he lambasted the broken compass of the Nigerian people as well the folly of homophobia. While Falz’s songs have got their fair share of criticism bordering accusations of misogyny and feminist-bashing, ‘Moral Instruction’ was a notable project as it marked the growth of a (flawed) artist taking up the onus to speak against power.
The bedrock for Chillz’s production on “O Wa” is the Fela Kuti-birthed Afrobeat, drawing on signature elements such as sparkles with horns, trumpets and saxophones. Kuti’s music is an essential part of the relationship between music and politics in Nigeria, with his tunes soundtracking a generation of political and societal injustices, while also inspiring thousands of artists in Nigeria and around the world. On “O Wa,” Chillz, in a subtle mix, adds those predominant Afrobeat elements to the log drums of the rave-of-the-moment Amapiano. Chillz’s production gives “O Wa” a danceable quality but it doesn’t steal the shine of the song’s poignant message.
“Because/It’s a critical reaction/My country no get formation,” Tekno sings on “O Wa,” blending bits of lyricism with his trademark melody-driven style. “O Wa” isn’t Tekno’s first attempt at political commentary; between 2015 and 2017, when he dominated the airwaves with hit singles “Duro,” “Wash,” “Pana,” “Diana” and “Yawa,” Tekno released “Rara,” an Afrobeat-inspired record that mourned the infrastructural and democratic states of Nigeria. A few days ago, he released “Freetown,” decrying issues such as child beggars, fuel scarcity and unemployment. On “O Wa,” he and Falz transform their angst into a sweet-sounding tune.
But the message in “O Wa” is anything but sweet. Falz and Tekno are mostly concerned with inspiring listeners to rise and, with their voter’s card, reclaim their power from corrupt political leaders. “Why you no give me change (Change) I para/I curse the driver, I tell conductor say “waka”/Stop the motor I need to come down, I tire,” Falz sings. In the Nigerian context, o wa—a Yoruba saying—is spoken by passengers in public transport when they are about to alight at their destination. In the accompanying music video, co-directed by OyeTwoPointO and Falz, the country is a chaotic space, with Falz and Tekno acting as galvanising forces to lead the people to grab change, even with force.
“O Wa” possesses a timely message as it urges citizens to use their votes at the polls to create the kind of Nigeria that they want to live in. Although the presidential election was held over the weekend, it doesn’t mean that the fight for proper governance is over, no thanks to the reports of election rigging and violence. With votes currently being counted across the country, and the gubernatorial elections two weeks away, the message in “O Wa”— “Do not be swayed by lies and kick out poorly performing government”—still rings true.
Stream “O Wa” below.
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