Best New Music Special: Bloody Civilian fiercely guards her autonomy on ‘Anger Management’
Best New Music Special: Bloody Civilian fiercely guards her autonomy on ‘Anger Management’

Best New Music Special: Bloody Civilian fiercely guards her autonomy on ‘Anger Management’

Being punk is no gimmick here, there’s actual tongue lashing to go round.

Bloody Civilian evolved from rebellion. As the SoundCloud renaissance was firmly in its twilight at the end of the 2010s, discoverers became attuned to the heady writing and supple voice of the artist then known as Emosé. Her self-produced music was colourful but with a gothic hue attached to it, and she sang of freedom as a feeling she needed to attain. Just as the Emosé hype train was revving up with the 2020 release of “Goliath,” she unceremoniously packed it up. There were rumours, of societal constraints within the deeply conservative and misogynistic confines of Northern Nigeria, that her choice to pursue a creative career was an act of continuous blasphemy.

Naturally, a move down south made sense and it spurred the re-emergence of the artist now known as Bloody Civilian. That’s why her 2022 “debut” single, “How to Kill A Man,” doesn’t even remotely come across like the work of a rookie. In fact, the artistic singularity on display is incredible, it’s a prodigious mind expressing itself on clear terms. The instructions are remarkably vivid: “And if that man start to shout/Omo na to slap am oh/And take him to the backyard oh/And give him with the dagger oh.” It doesn’t matter whether she’s killed a man before or not, I believe her the same way you believe her because of the magnetic charisma in every line and the lustre in her voice.

On her new debut EP, ‘Anger Management’, there’s blood in Bloody Civilian’s mouth and it’s not from biting her tongue. Where her previous work couched some of her irreverence in biblical allegories, everything is out in the open and anyone who incurs her annoyance is fair game. The story isn’t linear but the narrative is unmissable: Freedom isn’t just something you manifest, sometimes you have to take it and guard it fiercely. In her taking and guarding, there’s impatience for “anybody wey cross my meter” and she’s willing to bite through flesh to reiterate her point.

The 3-song run that follows the second-placed debut single on ‘Anger Management’ is proof that, sometimes, adopting a no-nonsense attitude is important to self-determination. Fuck being politically correct—being punk is no gimmick here, there’s actual tongue lashing to go round. If you thought DETO BLACK had the ultimate aunty read in Nigerian music, “Family Meeting” would make you double back on that take. “Aunty, please go home/Even God rested on the 7th day,” she sings in utter disgust. Yes, Bloody Civilian agrees that she’s “the problem child,” but the she doesn’t want her motivations and life choices subject to the opinions to unwanted intruders.

As a pop song, the best part about “Family Meeting” is that it’s chockfull of quoteables, even the somewhat raunchy line telling a boyfriend off could be used as a caption. The rawness of her writing is how you can tell that Bloody Civilian is not playing the part, these lyrics are pulled from lived situations and she doesn’t have to sell it because she’s been through it. The authenticity adds to the allure, like when she tells some guy to “put that shit to rest” on the club-ready “Mad Apology,” her chagrin is effortless and the melodies stick in just one listen.

Released earlier this year, “I Don’t Like You” is staggeringly direct. It’s not so much an incise untangling of past, toxic friendship, as much as it is a messy gashing, with lyrics that bludgeon like a stick with spikes. Bloody Civilian revels in it. “It’s not like I hate you/It’s just that I don’t like you” is the kind of petty jibe that can cause physical heartache—sorry to Abdullahi and James. The object isn’t the “you,” it’s the “I,” and that’s where ‘Anger Management’ really wins. For every person she doesn’t fucking like, they’re just characters she expels on the path to definitive autonomy.

It’s incredibly heartening to hear a Nigerian woman express these thoughts and feelings, given that we live in a society where women are still subjected to casual abuses and intentional injustices. From pop stars like Ayra Starr and Teni to rap artists like Brazy and ytboutthataction, women practising and preaching irreverence is as mainstream as it’s ever been in Nigerian music. There’s even more space to fill and Bloody Civilian snaps at whatever boundaries of appropriate behaviour society asked of her when she performed under a different moniker.

Largely self-produced, ‘Anger Management’ filters musical influences through the artist’s ever-present gothic lens, resulting in a project that’s as glossy as it is dark. Opener “Escapism” starts off as an ambient house song with Bloody Civilian ruing her choice not to smoke “because my ancestors are watching.” You can hear it coming from a mile away but the log drum-inflected EDM drop is no less satisfactory. It’s a great tone-setter in the sense that the elements and sounds are familiar, but they function differently because of the artist’s vision and touch.

“How to Kill A Man” is actually a bashment song, but the centre is so bloodied that the instinctual move is to nod aggressively rather than imagine anyone giving or catching whines. “Family Meeting” is a psychedelic pop ballad until the occasional additions of drums on the hooks, with stick work that would impress Tony Allen. “Mad Apology” and “I Don’t Like You” are both influenced by the intoxicating bounce of Jersey Club, with the latter featuring sprinkles of gan-gan percussion.

‘Anger Management’ closes with “Come From,” where Bloody Civilian acknowledges vices and social constraints as obstacles, but not in the defeatist way. “Don’t have to find drugs/That’s the thing, drugs will find you,” she sings on the first verse over woodwinds and blown out bass, while referencing the raging insecurity woes in the north on the second verse. “I’m going to be sitting at the top shining so bright” goes the reminder on the hook. It’s a poised reflection that highlights the EP’s bracing sentiment: Anger against people and systems that aren’t positively enabling can be fuel to becoming your best self.

Anger gets a bad rep, and perhaps rightly so—it can be really destructive. In the hands of Bloody Civilian, it’s a rousing emotion.