By Mallam Abdul Okwechime
Parents are panicking. Mothers are secretly checking on their baby girls’ undies. Teachers are having sleepless nights trying to make the kids wear belts around their waists, again.
The fad among a growing number of teenagers is ‘no panties three times a week’, Wednesday, Fridays and Mondays. No matter the dress or dress sense at whatever occasion, belts are not worn. Their motto is, “the bum is better than the certificate”. Your bum, they claim, opens more and better doors than any certificate. Their call to life is that you can be all you want to be without your parents breathing down your neck or choosing a path for you. If your dreams and aspirations don’t tally with those your parents had for you, jettison theirs and follow your own dream.
These kids have caught the new bug in town. They are Marlians. It is a movement, if you wish, birthed by Naira Marley, the Nigerian rapper of Yoruba descent. And that, or rather, he, is the problem.
“Naira Marley has beats peculiar to him alone. Without his songs his beats are recognisable. The patterns are unique to him. The bells, a distinct use of the cymbals, constantly in unison with the high hats and tightly knit together by a solemn bass line”
Naira Marley hit the news when he was arraigned in a Court for internet fraud in Lagos, Nigeria. He was little known before this time, not even as a musician. When his music came under spotlight, particularly from curious Nigerians who wanted to know this Enfant terrible, it turned out to be a glorification of everything fraud and drugs. That was how he made his entrance into the Nigerian music. And he has grown in “notoriety” with time, waxing stronger song after song.
He sings about butts, praises tramadol, codeine, and other psychedelic drugs. His voice comes across as one very high on drugs but laced with a patterned beat which is sustained by a definite tone of bells. The kids love it. The beat is danceable and uniquely his, unpretentious tribal beats. That, is the difference. An Identity. Now everyone is singing ..gb’ęsę k’o t’esu mø’lę…”, Naira Marley’s sins are no longer remembered, everyone is dancing and singing along the maverick’s music. He is unrepentantly vulgar, but who cares? Now he has won the kids and everybody is panicking.
The fear of the Marlians is not in its music. It is the lifestyle, the so-called life of self-fulfillment, where your sexuality is viewed a stronger asset to life than education. The Marlian Population is soaring by the day and threatens to pull down roofs of concert halls. Yet nothing really binds the throng of followers beyond the examples of how life should be lived as portrayed by Naira Marley, their cult hero. He literally rose from grass to grace. By some twisted logic the kids are ready to forgive his crimes and view same as the routes to fame. What infamy? They say if Naira Marley could make it alone with no parental support, so can anyone else with determination.
Born Azeez Fashola, in Agege, a sprawling mix of lower and middle class populace with high crime rate in the north of Lagos, on May 9, 1994, he left for England at the age of 11 and lived in Peckham, South London. He attended Porlock Hall and Walworth School for his secondary school. He later graduated with Distinction in Business from the Peckham Academy and an additional degree in Business Law from the Crossways College, London. As a kid he dreamt to be an MC but was made into a rapper by the company he kept in Nigeria. Olamide, LilKesh, Zlatan are a few of those. His first single, “Marry Juana”, a bastadised coinage of the term ‘Marijuana’ brought him immediate attention. However, on May 10, 2018, a day after his 24th Birthday, he was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), for internet fraud. The case is still in court. So beyond the noise, is a well schooled, self made man who is deliberately bringing attention to himself. Naira Marley is married to two wives and they have four children.
We however need to put this sensationalism in proper perspective in the context of the Nigerian music industry, especially its hip-hop section. It’s not by coincidence that the industry is Showbiz It is the business of show. What we sell in the industry is show. Show arrests attention. Next to show, is the substance. To succeed you must first, discover yourself, get out the substance in you. So, substance first. But in the industry the show must necessarily propel the substance, which will, thereafter, sustain the show. You must possess the two. In the business of show in Nigeria today, Naira Marley has taken over, and that is the truth. Substance is the issue next. But I must say, the substance is evolving. Hopefully it will. And when that time comes, we might have a new star in our hands, whether we like him or not.
The moral issues of his rise to fame is what is bothering the parents and elders. No need to fear I can assure. First, there is no commune of the Marlians, so strategising for any ideology is not possible. Naira Marley, doesn’t live here, in Nigeria. His family lives in Europe. Lately his court case had brought him into the country more times than he would ordinarily come. Funny enough he doesn’t like discussing the Marlian movement, at least according to his aides.
That means there is no ideology to propagate beyond the show. He hardly preaches about the belief, if indeed it’s a belief, on stage or anywhere else for that matter. Some of the viral lifestyle videos of him are actually video shoots. There is no Marlian house anywhere, where half naked men and women are dancing by the pool, where psychedelic drugs are freely used and abused. Nowhere. So if any person fears an uprising some day by a group of Fun seeking youths, know that no guts exists amongst the Marlians for such an adventure.
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But what of the drugs: Tramadol, codeine, rohypnol, …? These are frightening to any parent. Naira Marley is not the reason. Drugs are everywhere. Everywhere. School kids, House wives, workers … are all hooked on substances. Weed is the mildest of these. All the neighborhood clubs are indeed drug dens. Those innocent looking drinking-water bottles, those packets of juices or the plastic soft drinks bottles, that the kids carry about, contain, most of the times, mixtures of today’s psychedelic drugs. The Marlians didn’t add to it, they only proclaim it. Drugs have been part of the story of the show business industry since time immemorial. Wine, Weed, Women and Music are the ways of Show business. You can hardly separate them.
Great stars are neither Church Ministers nor choirmasters. They are unusual people, eccentric, bohemian and most of the time non conformists. They are too much in a creative hurry, too much in their world to be bothered about the ordered society. Name them; Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Micheal Jackson, The Beatles, Immortal FELA, Beyoncé, Nneka, … the list is endless. Luckily the lifestyle of the Marlians is mild compared with those of the Superstars mentioned earlier.
These fears of the Marlians vividly remind me of the fear of KALAKUTA REPUBLIC, back in the day. Just like today, none of our parents back then, clapped for us when we followed FELA. As a matter of fact, this cult following was the first major problem that confronted FELA and the followers. Our parents went all out to kick against the FELA “scourge”. They initiated arrests and criminal charges against him. Some of us were disowned by parents and family but the beat and the show went on. The rest is now history.
But our parents like today’s parents were right. Some went down the drain in that adventure expectedly. But a majority went on to achieve success in our endeavors. Above all, FELA became the most famous and the biggest musician ever to emerge from Africa. What if the parents back then were able to cage FELA and the KALAKUTANS? We probably would have lost this gift to the Music world. This is not saying that Naira Marley is another “FELALIKE” Phenomenon. There is no commune in the mould of KALAKUTA, No deliberate ideology being propagated by the hero of Marlian movement. But why not?
Let’s bother more about his music. Naira Marley has beats peculiar to him alone. Without his songs his beats are recognisable. The patterns are unique to him. The bells, a distinct use of the cymbals, constantly in unison with the high hats and tightly knit together by a solemn bass line are becoming his trade mark sound. I hear critics say his rap is too tribal and lacks international appeal. Lie. You don’t need to understand what he says to feel his beat. Most of these critics are indeed unconsciously reacting, not to his music, but his bohemian lifestyle which is a “threat to an organised family life”. However, that, is neither here nor there for both the Marlians and the rest of us.
For the Marlians a lot of work still needs to be done on the music. It has started on a very good footing by creating a peculiar beat to itself. It could be by default but it has come to stay for now. But music cannot be based solely on propagating everything illegitimate. It won’t work. Sooner or later the ordered society will stoutly react. His lyrics must change drastically and deliberately. That way he will begin to win the sympathy of all, otherwise apathy from the society would stall the Marlian dream.
For the rest of us, no need to panic. The Marlians are not about to take over our children. No, they possess neither the guts nor the capacity to so do. The non conformist stance of the movement has no ideological backing. It’s indeed not a movement but an euphoric outflow sustained now, by the streetwise lyrics of its creator. Of course, there will be casualties. Some kids will fall by the wayside, carried away by the show and tell of the moment. But that will just be about that. Others will come out of it stronger and better and if eventually a strong music brand emerges from these furore, these will be its disciples.
“He sings about butts, praises tramadol, codeine, and other psychedelic drugs. His voice comes across as one very high on drugs but laced with a patterned beat which is sustained by a definite tone of bells. The kids love it.”
Rather than loose sleep over The Marlians, just remind your kids that Naira Marley went to school and has certificates and his career to show, not butts or sexuality. Full Stop.
-Okwechime has written about music in top music journals for close to 40 years. He was a columnist in The Daily Times of Lagos, Nigeria, in the early 1980s and did both culture and crime reporting for This Week from the middle of the 80s. He was close to Fela Anikulapo- Kuti and was briefly a manager of Femi Kuti.