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‘Nigerian musicians project very shameful lyrical contents in their song’

By Onochie Anibeze, Laju Arenyeka, Juliet Ebirim, Adeyeri Aderonke

Pains and gains of  the changing tunes  of Nigerian music

Now take this: If your marriage has crashed and you listen to ABBA’s KNOWING ME, KNOWING YOU, there’s something you must feel. The lyrics hit you and you may be emotional about the emptiness that envelops in you when you cast your mind back to the house once made busy by the kids and their mum.ABBA

“Knowing Me Knowing You”

No more carefree laughter

Silence ever after

Walking through an empty house, tears in my eyes

Here is where the story ends, this is goodbye

Knowing me, knowing you (ah-haa)

There is nothing we can do

Knowing me, knowing you (ah-haa)

We just have to face it, this time we’re through

Breaking up is never easy, I know but I have to go

Knowing me, knowing you

It’s the best I can do

Memories, good days, bad days

They’ll be, with me always

In these old familiar rooms children would play

Now there’s only emptiness, nothing to say

Knowing me, knowing you (ah-haa) . . .

Breaking up is never easy, I know but I have to go

Knowing me, knowing you

It’s the best I can do

Sometimes lovers part for some reasons and they end up almost in sorrow, knowing that they got it wrong even as they try to pretend by staying strong. It happens in our lives. Read how Abba captures this in Chiquitita. It’s all about the creativity that we lack in our music.

Chiquitita, tell me what’s wrong

You’re enchained by your own sorrow

In your eyes there is no hope for tomorrow

How I hate to see you like this

There is no way you can deny it

I can see that you’re oh so sad, so quiet

Chiquitita, tell me the truth

I’m a shoulder you can cry on

Your best friend, I’m the one you must rely on

You were always sure of yourself

Now I see you’ve broken a feather

I hope we can patch it up together

Chiquitita, you and I know

How the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving

You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end

You will have no time for grieving

Chiquitita, you and I cry

But the sun is still in the sky and shining above you

Let me hear you sing once more like you did before

Sing a new song, Chiquitita

Try once more like you did before

Sing a new song, Chiquitita …

When you send these lines to any Chiquitita there are chances that reason will prevail and the person returns to her love. These things happen in our lives and rich music sends some messages that influence us.

Take another one, this time from Barry White’s JUST THE WAY YOU ARE:

Don’t go changing, trying to please me

You never let me down before

I don’t imagine you’re too familiar

And I don’t see you anymore

I would not leave you in times of trouble

We never could have come this far

I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times

I’ll take you just the way you are

Don’t go trying some new fashion

Don’t change the color of your hair

You always have my unspoken passion

Although I might not seem to care . . .

Baby I love you

Yeah I love you

Just the way… You are…

This is a strong expression of admiration of your woman. And in most cases songs are composed following true life experiences of the musician. There’s a story behind most creative songs.

When you plead with your love to remain the way she is for you adore her just the way she is the woman will feel real good. Barry was singing to his wife, just like Bob Marley did in his NO WOMAN NO CRY. The song was an apology to the wife for cheating on her when he dated former Miss Jamaica. Marley composed the song to remind the wife that if there were no women in the world he wouldn’t have caused her tears. And that’s exactly what he meant by NO WOMAN NO CRY.

Marley begged Rita, the wife, to remember how they toiled in the past and that the incident shouldn’t destroy the relationship they have built for years.

…Said, said, said, I remember when we used to sit

In the government yard in Trenchtown,

Oba – obaserving the ‘ypocrites

As they would mingle with the good people we meet.

Good friends we have, oh, good friends we’ve lost

Along the way.

In this great future, you can’t forget your past,

So dry your tears, I seh.

No, woman, no cry,

No, woman, no cry.

‘Ere, little darlin’, don’t she’d no tears,

No, woman, no cry.

Rita herself told the story behind this song in a documentary on the legendary Marley. She recalled that most of her husband’s songs were based on true life stories. When Marley fell in love with another woman while on self-exile in London he was so moved that he started writing love songs like:

I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love;

I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love.

From the very first time I blessed my eyes on you, girl,

My heart says follow t’rough.

But I know, now, that I’m way down on your line,

But the waitin’ feel is fine,

So don’t treat me like a puppet on a string,

‘Cause I know I have to do my thing.

Don’t talk to me as if you think I’m dumb,

I wanna know when you’re gonna come, soon.

I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love

I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love

I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love

‘Cause if summer is here,

I’m still waiting there,

Winter is here,

And I’m still waiting there.

What a moving poetry that melted the lady in question. And when he had his way but was about losing his marriage he wrote No Woman No Cry to the wife. she appeared to be weighing her options when Marley wrote another one:

“Turn Your Lights Down Low”

Turn your lights down low

And pull your window curtains;

Oh, let Jah moon come shining in –

Into our life again,

Sayin’: ooh, it’s been a long, long (long, long, long, long) time;

I kept this message for you, girl,

But it seems I was never on time;

Still I wanna get through to you, girlie,

On time – on time.

I want to give you some love (good, good lovin’);

I want to give you some good, good lovin’ (good, good lovin’).

Oh, I – oh, I – oh, I,

Say, I want to give you some good, good lovin’ (good, good lovin’):

Turn your lights down low;

Never try to resist, oh no!

Oh, let my love come tumbling in –

Into our life again,

Sayin’: ooh, I love ya!

And I want you to know right now,

I love ya!

Rita said in that documentary that Marley became such a huge personality that she began to see herself as a manager rather than a wife, knowing that if she wanted to exact all her rights as a wife tension would reign. Brilliant woman!

Still on love. A young woman found her man engrossed with another woman so beautiful that she knew she didn’t have a chance to compete with her. She had no choice but to passionately beg her to leave her love. This true life story was captured by Dolly Parton in Jolene.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene

I’m begging of you please don’t take my man

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene

Please don’t take him just because you can

Your beauty is beyond compare

With flaming locks of auburn hair

With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green

Your smile is like a breath of spring

Your voice is soft like summer rain

And I cannot compete with you, Jolene

He talks about you in his sleep

There’s nothing I can do to keep

From crying when he calls your name, Jolene

And I can easily understand

How you could easily take my man

But you don’t know what he means to me, Jolene

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene

I’m begging of you please don’t take my man

What do you think would happen if after this passionate plea Jolene still lures away this woman’s only love? Dolly Parton gets you imagining and thinking about this. That’s what creativity does. Not E go wound o kind of music that Nigerians dance but can’t put a meaning to the lyrics.

And it’s not all about love. There are experiences in life that creative musicians put down in music.

PAPA WAS A ROLING STONE by the Temptations sold for years

“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”

It was the third of September

That day I’ll always remember, yes I will

Cause that was the day, that my daddy died

I never got a chance to see him

Never heard nothin’ but bad things about him

Momma I’m depending on you, to tell me the truth

Momma just hung her head and said, son


Papa was a rolling stone, (my son)

Where ever he laid his hat was his home

and when he died, all he left us was alone

Hey Momma!

Is it true what they say that Papa never worked a day, in his life

And Momma, some bad talk goin’ round town sayin’ that Papa had three outside children

And another wife, and that ain’t right

Heard them talking Papa doing some store front preachin’

Talked about saving souls and all the time reaching

Dealing in debt, and stealing in the name of the law

Momma just hung her head and said..

Papa was a rolling stone, (my son)

Where ever he laid his hat was his home

and when he died, all he left us was alone

Hey Momma,

I heard Papa called himself a jack of all trades

Tell me is that what sent Papa to an early grave

Folks say Papa would beg, borrow, steal

To pay his bills

Hey Momma,

Folks say Papa never was much on thinking

Spent most of his time chasing women and drinking

Momma I’m depending on you, to tell me the truth

Momma looked up with a tear in her eye and said, son..

Papa was a rolling stone, (my son)

Where ever he laid his hat was his home

and when he died, all he left us was alone

If you followed the Temptations from the school days to the the time they got signed on by Motown Label and became one of the biggest groups in the world you would always be touched by the story captured in the above song especially after the death of the rolling stone father. Creativity is it in music and lyrics make all the difference.

Remember Kenny Rogers’ Coward of the County. Another true life story of a boy taken for a weakling because he avoided trouble especially after his father admonished him that it did not mean he was weak if he did not revenge when attacked. His father had died in prison for a crime. He kept his father’s words until three guys raped the love of his life. By the time he unleashed terrific blows on the boys non of them was standing when he left. Pleading with his late father, he said, “sometimes you got to fight when you are a man.” Take a closer look at the lyrics of the song, COWARD OF THE COUNTY:

Everyone considered him the coward of the county

He’d never stood one single time to prove the county wrong.

His mama named him Tommy, but folks just called him yellow,

Something always told me they were reading Tommy wrong.

He was only ten years old when his daddy died in prison;

I took care of Tommy, ‘cause he was my brother’s son.

I still recall the final words my brother said to Tommy,

“Son my life is over, but yours has just begun”.


“Promise me, son, not to do the things I’ve done

Walk away from trouble if you can.

It won’t mean you’re weak if you turn the other cheek

I hope you’re old enough to understand,

Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man.”

There’s someone for everyone, and Tommy’s love was Becky.

In her arms he didn’t have to prove he was a man.

One day while he was working, the Gatlin boys came calling

They took turns at Becky, n’there was three of them).

Tommy opened up the door, and saw Becky crying.

The torn dress, the shattered look was more than he could stand.

He reached above the fireplace, and took down his daddy’s picture.

As the tears fell on his daddy’s face, he heard these words again:


The Gatlin boys just laughed at him when he walked into the barroom;

One of them got up and met him half way cross the floor.

When Tommy turned around they said, “Hey look! old yeller’s leaving,”

But you could’ve heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door.

Twenty years of crawling were bottled up inside him.

He wasn’t holding nothing back — he let ‘em have it all.

When Tommy left the bar room, not a Gatlin boy was standing.

He said, “This one’s for Becky, as he watched the last one fall. (And I heard him say,)

“I promised you, Dad, not to do the things you’ve done

I walk away from trouble when I can

Now please don’t think I’m weak, I didn’t turn the other cheek,

And papa, I should hope you understand

Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man”.

This song, among other things, teaches us not to underrate people. The beastly strength in a supposed weakling unfolded the moment he was pushed to the wall and he held nothing back in pummeling the Gatlin boys who raped his girlfriend. The angle of the father and the uncle telling the story made it emotional.

This is MUSIC. It is what we lack in our own music today in Nigeria. Interestingly, there are more things happening today for our musicians to base their lyrics on than the times of Fela and co. They could be more creative.

We have cited some of the songs by creative musicians to show that our musicians can do better even if they want to sing about a woman’s waist. There should be a story about the said waist. That will make the difference. But they lack creativity and that’s the big minus in our music now. If Blo, Wings, One World, Ofege and many other past Nigerians musicians tried to be creative as far back as in the 70s and 80s what a challenge this is for the musicians of today.

Ofege were secondary school students. And in one of their popular tracks they told the story of a boy who had a seeming magical wand especially over girls. If he approached any girl it was certain that girl would fall. He charmed all yet he could not be said to be friendly. And he was rascally too. He was called Whizzy Ilabo. The schools boys captured the aura or otherwise around this guy in a track titled Whizzy Ilabo. They sang:

When Whizzy Ilabo smiles

You know that something is wrong

When you see him dancing around

You better find your way …

When he turns his back you’ll find .. the weather bad

It’s gona be total storm …

When he lays his hands on her you know that she’s gone

Whizzy Ilabo, Whizzy Ilabo, begging you never go near mine

Begging you never touch my babe …

This was a song based on an experience. It sold hundreds of thousand copies. The rhythm was good and there was a story behind the song. And these were secondary school students. They were creative and they made meaning to the industry at the time.

Apparently, Tony Grey had experience from a long distance relationship and made a song to the love in a popular track COME BACK LOVE. He had pleaded “it’s you I just want to love … Come back love. Since you have gone far away … come back love.” It was another good song that had a story behind it. There are times you are in love but your friends are not comfortable with your love. They try to persuade you to take a walk. Sweet Breeze in their song SHE’S MY CHOICE told such friends that

it’s important to natural justice, equity and good conscience, that we keep a listening ear to our friends and accommodate and “tell me what to do I’ll do it,” but his love is a no-go-area.

You don’t like the way she’s built

You don’t like the way she walks

You don’t like the way she smiles

Tell me what to do but don’t tell me to drop her for she’s my choice, she’s my choice …

Wrinkars Experience made sense in their track FUEL FOR LOVE and Wings great track BELIEVE ME … I’m the one for you’. But it was not always about love. When you listen to BLO’s IT’S GONNA BE A GOOD DAY you feel natural about a good day and you imagine or perhaps cast your mind back to a lovely day you woke and you were full of expectations, some great feeling that you can’t help starting with a glass of wine.

“ I woke up this morning and I was feeling fine …” Ofege also sang about ingrates in their NOBODY FAILS. There was even a song on a Palm Wine Tapper by Sweet Breeze, DANCING TIME by Funkees, GIVE A BEGGAR A CHANCE by Joni Mastreup and Monomono. There were lots of good music laced with lyrics that kept one imagining about life. They sang about philosophy, love, life experience etc. And like many world-acclaimed artistes as the ones mentioned earlier, there was always a story behind the songs. Now, our artistes sing sex, sex and sex with no story to even elicit imagination. How times have changed. This may be global but out there in the countries our artistes copy there are those who sing sex and many who still tell a life story with their songs. And as we said earlier, 10 percent is no pass mark if we are to give credit to the Nigerian artistes whose lyrics make sense.

On the streets of major cities in the country, every Nigerian youth wants to be a musician. They are usually quick to tell you about their “talent”. Funny though, artistes with good lyrical contents seldom headline the big shows. The likes of Asa, Timi Dakolo, Cobhams Asuquo, Dare Art Alade are in this category. 2face and a few others have also found their level. Bu we need more. RESPECT


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