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Falz 'Moral Instruction' cover.

7 Songs That Prove Falz Is the Moral Conscience of Nigeria's Youth

Falz has taken both popular and unpopular stands against the gamut of Nigeria's societal ills.

Falz has been the moraliser-in-chief of Nigerian pop and youth culture for all his career, which spans one joint EP with Simi, Chemistry (2016), and four studio albums: Wazup Guy (2014), Stories That Touch (2015), 27 (2017) and Moral Instruction (2019).

The man born Folarin Falana has taken unpopular stands against internet fraud, transactional sex, ill gotten wealth and the gamut of Nigeria's societal ills in his songs, social media and interviews, culminating in his latest album, Moral Instruction.

It's his most musically-mature record on account of the evenness of production, dextrous, fluff-free raps, bountiful humor and an emboldened crusading spirit. Below, we examine all of Falz' album releases for the seven songs that best present the rapper as the bastion of moral rectitude in Nigeria.



"Wehdone Sir"

"Wehdone Sir" is the most sweeping of Falz' moral reproaches for its sustained attack on lying and insincerity. The song's wide range of targets includes bottle poppers who can't pay rent, pretenders to high social classes, pop stars who manipulate their ages, poor faithfuls with wealthy pastors ("so you're out there looking for more chiz (money), but apostle is getting on Forbes List"). The humorous approach removes the heavy hand of judgement. This is made even more effective by the fad, both gesture and dance, of mock salute to any such liar; a simple and clever combination of populism and moral finger-pointing.

"Child Of The World"

A coming of age tale which charts the story of a law student with promise and innocence about the world who is abused by her uncle, neglected and falls into prostitution later contracting HIV. Falz' empathy and warmth makes for good storytelling and a cautionary tale that is affecting enough to seem new or urgent, even when it is an overused trope in rap, especially by male rappers.

"E No Finish"

"This no be club song, I no come to shout / na real strong matter I wan talk about" announces Falz on "E No Finish," one of his most direct and stringent songs, from his most direct and stringent album yet. Here, the trained lawyer is humorless and his words unvarnished, his delivery is assertive and even forceful: "corruption and indiscipline, with no regard for the life of a citizen / so sickening, I hope you greedy muthafuckas are listening." The song is righteous and full frontal, and would remain so without importing from Fela's musical and moral universe. Typically, homages to the originator of afrobeat rarely shed their powerful influence. But Falz, askance and angered, cannot believe how little has changed in the country when he raps: "somebody tell Baba Fela e too talk truth / say the government still dey shit on youth / animal, them still dey put on suit and agbada / our leader dem still confused."

"Talk"

Lasting just two and a half minutes and rapped entirely in pidgin, "Talk" is succinct and apt over a galala beat (Nigeria's interpretation of dancehall). Here, the rapper takes his biggest swing at President Buhari and his promise of security and economic prosperity against a backdrop of austerity measures and (now abated) campaign of terror by Boko Haram. Falz deploys his trademark humor with clever play on words about the president's failings; "four year tenure, three years holiday," "We buy your story but you no give us change."

"This Is Nigeria"

Released 20 days after Childish Gambino's state of the nation address about America's societal ills, Falz' interpretation is every bit as critical of Nigeria and its failings. Over production that relies heavily on woozy synths and trap drums, he takes on rampart internet fraud, problematic prosperity gospel, President Buhari's careless comment on the country's "lazy youths," embezzled government funds, and poor state of policing in pithy ways: "Police station dey close at 6 [p.m], na security reason oh."

"Hypocrite"

This is where Falz takes to task, not just corrupt elected officials, but also the misguided electorate whose votes bring in and keep bad leadership in power: "what about even you voters / wey dey act as if you only see two jokers / recycle the same corrupt me / later you dey say that you hate the government." The staccato drumming and patient, melancholic piano suggests Falz is working with ideas from Nas' "One Mic" though he refrains from xeroxing the tonal changes in the NY rapper's delivery. "Everybody is a muthafucking hypocrite" goes Demmie Vee on the chorus before admitting that "of course I know truth is bitter" which sensibly portrays immorality as a fallen state of human endeavour, rather than conceive of perpetrators as born sinners, with little chance of redemption.

"Foreign"

Common to a terribly aspirational society as found in Nigeria is the taste for fine living and the readiness to acquire it, or pretend, at all costs. Such individuals are parodied and mocked on "Foreign," taken from his collaborative EP with Simi titled, Chemistry. Rather than come across as the insults they are, Simi's sweet falsetto which makes her own depictions of class pretenders sound like friendly ribbing. They are not, and this is also true of Falz' put-on accent, takedowns and malapropism. Produced by frequent collaborator, Sess The Problem Kid, the tight groove and airy horns make for Falz' most convincing take on Fela's afrobeat, before the mature interpretation of this on his latest project, Moral Instruction.


Interview
Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF


This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF


You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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