Saturday, January 11, 2020 12:28 pm
Despite the backlash against him, Naira Marley’s fan base continues to rise
Call him what you will: the bad boy of Nigerian music or a negative influencer. The truth is, Afeez Fashola ska Naira Marley, defies description. An artiste with a unique blend of UK rap and Afrobeats he calls Afroswing, he is currently topping the charts in Nigeria, thanks to his racy music, raw language and brashness. While many vilify him for his kind of music which they believe is “dirty” and likely to corrupt the youths, his fans see him as the best thing that has ever happened to Nigerian music; and are ready not only to stick out their necks for him but also identify with him through thick and thin and swoop down on anyone they perceive is his enemy.
Some believe he is another version of Olamide and Pasuma in their rawness, vulgarity and streetwise mentality. Still, many aver he is a breath of fresh air that chokes because of his kind of music, which subverts social order, governance, morality and decency. His songs Soapy, and Am I a Yahoo Boy, which he released to critical acclaim attest to that. “I am raw to the core. I just say it how it is. I don’t sugarcoat it,” he maintained.
That’s undeniably true. In December 2019, Marley was performing at a show in Lagos and suddenly Soapy, his smash hit, came on. His fans went into a frenzy and started pulling the rapper who was trying to entertain them. A sea of people started running one another to see him, but they had to be restrained by bouncers and guards. On his Twitter handle, Marley wrote:” Soapy is the new national pledge.” On another occasion he posted a short note to his fans: “Dear Marlians, I will use music to clear your head, heal your heart and lift your spirits. Thanks.”
This is the groundbreaking story of a crowd puller, of a guy who burst onto the Nigerian music scene and stole the hearts of many. However the controversial artiste never fails to pull stunts. Something freakish about him is his name, Naira Marley: a quaint combination of the name of Nigeria’s local currency and that of the late reggae legend, Bob Marley. But ironically that seems to endear him to his fans the more.
Yet they can’t have enough of the Soapy crooner. At present, Marley is not just the rave of the moment, he is arguably the most popular artiste in Nigeria today, what with his lyrics now the street lingo in Nigeria and other parts of the country. Now the boy next door identifies himself as a Marlian, and ready to dance his (Marley’s) latest dance steps – shaku shaku and Soapy (a demonstration of someone pleasuring him or herself through dance).
This Marlian fever has taken over the streets of Lagos and everywhere you go, men, women, the young and the old, the affluent and the poor are quick to claim they are Marlians with glee; and the buzz word “I am a Marlian” hits you like an unforgettable dream.
Since he burst onto the UK music scene in 2014 with Marry Juana, a song he wrote with his friend Ma Twigz, the Agege-born, Peckham-bred artiste has been banging out hit after hit. In November 2019, the controversial singer sold out the almost 5000 capacity 02 Arena for Marlian Fest in three minutes. Tickets for the Marlian Fest which held on 30 December 2019 at the Eko Convention Centre, Eko Hotels, Lagos also sold out. There was chaos at the venue as fans try to gain entrance into the concert.
In the buildup to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Marley released Issa Goal and started a social media frenzy with fans doing the shaku shaku dance on various social media platforms before the music video dropped. That song later became the semi-official song for the Nigerian national team, whose lime-green Nike shirt broke sales records with three million pre-orders. Coca-Cola swiftly commissioned a remix for its hashtag-heavy World Cup campaign. And like a bolt out of the blue, Naira Marley became the hottest name in the Nigerian music industry.
A day after he released Am I a Yahoo Boy, featuring popular musician Zlatan Ibile, which coincidentally was his birthday, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission arrested him alongside Zlatan and three other persons and slammed an 11- count charge bordering on credit card fraud, car theft and cybercrime against him. Thus started a legal battle that culminated in his detention for 35 days. Many believe the EFCC arrested him because of his overt support for internet fraud and his claim that cybercrime is a form of reparation of the wealth stolen from Africa.
Still, that didn’t deter his fans from protesting against his arrest outside the EFCC headquarters in Lagos. They see his arrest as outright victimization .Marley was quoted to have said in an interview that their rage was understandable. “Because they know the system. They knew what [the EFCC was] trying to do and they followed what happened. They knew I shouldn’t be getting arrested for what I’m saying. Freedom of speech! I should be allowed to be saying what I’m saying. But the EFCC said I was supporting fraud, because I said I have no problem with these people.”
Even while in detention, the controversial artiste composed Why. In the song, he declares that he wants to have some fun today even if it costs him money and questions a lot of issues ranging from relationship, internet fraud to friendship. The song was released shortly after regaining his freedom to critical acclaim – and the illustration on the album cover depicts him raising his cuffed hands as an act of defiance.
Not done yet, Marley pulled another stunt in December 2019 when he released another hitsong, Soapy. Marley coined Soapy as a slang for self-pleasuring – a common pastime in prison – which of course has kick-started another dance craze, which is demonstrated by raising one’s hand as though masturbating. Many believe the song is another lascivious offering from Marley’s stable. They are also of the view that the song is “dirty” and encourages masturbation. However, Marley has debunked that view, adding that Soapy is not just about masturbation, that there is a serious side to it. “I’m sending a lot of messages in that song. People] think it’s just talking about guys wanking … I was talking about conditions in prison and inside life. Fela called it ‘inside world’” he averred.
Still, Marley’s fan base continues to rise, despite his legal battle and the backlash against him. On Tuesday, 7 January, 2020 a clergyman, Chris Omashola, took to his Twitter page on Tuesday, January 7, 2020, where he shared a series of prophecies concerning Nigeria. He warned that Marley is a demon and his music is inspired by demons, to destroy the youths in Nigeria. “In 2020, God told me, Naira Marley is A Demon, He is Satanic and should repent before it’s too late. His songs are demonically inspired to destroy the Destiny of The Youths of this generation, Nigerian youths should desist from calling themselves Marlians. #ACOProphecies2020,” he tweeted.
Marley’s fans have dismissed the clergyman’s warning, as they call or his head and send him threat messages; while he himself reacted by sharing screenshots of the pastor’s leaked sex tapes with an interesting caption. “To all Naira Marley’s fans aka Marlian. Please what’s your final judgment on this #NairaMarley and Apostle Chris Omashola case,” it reads. Then on another occasion he tweeted: “Jesus never went to church.”
However, Marley’s legal battle is not yet over, as the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has adjourned the case to ebruary 27 and 28, 2020. Still many questions continue to beg for answers. What is behind Marley’s mystique? What does he have that other artistes don’t? Why is his fan base rising in spite of the charges leveled against him?
The answer is not farfetched. Marley is a musician whose time has come. Because of his nonconformist lifestyle, lewd music and brashness, the youths see him as the answer to all their problems they feel bad governance and a warped society have engendered. “I say it as it is. No sugarcoating,” he says. That’s what the youths want. They see him as an alternative to the straitjacket society has become; an artiste who represents freedom, licentiousness and their own truths.
They see him as the artiste they had been waiting for after Fela Anikulapo Kuti. And of course he sees his arrest, detention and trial as persecution comparable to what the Afrobeat legend went through. “They want to treat me as they treated Fela,” he maintains. No matter what his critics say against him, his fans see him as the cure to all their problems. And he proved that when he tweeted, albeit with a word of caution, “My music can cure depression. Side effect- you might lose home training.” But his teeming fans don’t give a damn about home training or morality. Succinctly put, they want to be freed from it. And the Soapy crooner gives them large doses of freedom..