An article called The Falz Paradox by Oris Aigbokhaevbolo was shared extensively by the Nigerians I follow on twitter yesterday. Falz is a Nigerian musician who won the Viewers' Choice Best International Act at the BET Awards last week. While his music is popular, he's perhaps just as famous for his hilarious use of Pidgin English and what some would call a local Nigerian accent in his instagram sketches and some of his songs.
The article was supposed to be a review of Falz' first album, Stories that Touch, but it strayed. Littered with sentences like, "Falz has it both ways, whipping out his 'abroad status' when it serves, turning local when it helps (which is maybe how he received a curious Best Street Hop nomination at the 2015 Headies)", it seemed to suggest that Falz is guilty of class appropriation.
It asked the following question:
"Since in the Nigerian imagination the local accent is lower-class, could Falz' act be one of class appropriation?"
Being Nigerian is a tonic. It means that I come from somewhere. Whatever anyone may think of me, I have a home, and I have a people. For better or worse, I claim all aspects of it: the good, the bad and the ugly. Every Nigerian has this right. There is a world that only we Nigerians can understand. There is a language that is our birthright. In as much as it is mine, I claim no ownership of it. I dare not say to another Nigerian, this part is mine and that part yours. It is here that I think Oris Aigbokhaevbolo's critique of Falz fails.
We are all fortune's fools. The qualities that we believe to be the birthright of the "lower class Nigerian" become ours the moment our bank accounts bleed a sufficient amount of zeros. Although privilege is assigned by birth, it requires more than breathing to keep it or even earn it. After all what good is an expensive education if your continued unemployment strips you of every perk of wealth you've ever known? And what good is a sophisticated accent if your neighbours cannot understand your foreign tempered words?
When that happens, we have a fail safe, pidjin English. There is no Nigerian who doesn't understand it. It is not the defining characteristic of the poor or the average. It is a language more unifying than Ibo, Yoruba, or Hausa.
Just as potholes are present from Okokomaiko to Ikoyi's million dollar streets, and frequent power outages are no great respecter of address or pocket, Falz' music is a jack of all classes and a master of none. The same can be said of all musicians who have ever been described as good. Does Fela's music not ring out from BMW's and Danfo's alike?
Falz' song, Soldier, has done more for me than D'banj's Pop Champagne ever could. I have never popped a bottle and not starved for it. It is far easier to listen to a brilliant song about a woman dealing with the advances of a man she does not want than it is for me to listen to a song that glorifies a lifestyle I cannot presently afford.
All products of creativity have one thing in common; more often than not, they live and die by their quality. When I listen to Falz' Karashika, his privilege is moot. He could be a rabid dog and I wouldn't give a damn. The only thing I care about in that moment is the song's quality, and I think the same is true of most people.
To infer that a Yoruba accent and a glorious mastery of pidgin are things that would constitute class appropriation is to call soaking garri class appropriation. It is stupid to a spectacular degree.
When you write a critique please be wary of the use of absolutes. I'll refer you to the article.
"For Falz, the sole disadvantage of his class shape-shifting is that for such a gifted rapper, he'll never be an MI or an Olamide (two rather good Nigerian musicians). Falz will never command a class... He'll never be rated as highly as those two."
If you do not know the future as clearly as I know that 1+1 is 2, do not pretend to. If you have indeed looked into a crystal ball and seen that Falz will never be as great as M.I or Olamide are, please bring that crystal ball to me so that I can inform it that there is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain.
One More Note:
Music is entirely subjective. No matter how much you may believe that you are the sole articulator of the thoughts of the masses, it only gives people like me cause to believe that you're a profound snorter of lizard shit.
I do not think that it is in fact possible to appropriate a class. When you can wake up rich and go to bed dirt poor I do not see how it is worthwhile to talk about class appropriation. If Falz became destitute tomorrow (a distinct possibility) would it still be class appropriation?