By Jide Taiwo
It is hard to find a bigger ‘hood ambassador’ than Olamide. Since the beginning of his career, he has represented Bariga in ways that even the legendary former resident, King Sunny Ade did not come close to.
Bariga-born and Bariga-bred, his sound was influenced by the realities of that place that raised him. His mannerisms, his slang – and he has plenty of them – his USP is the closeness to the streets.
Even when he got his break and moved out, he never stayed too far. His connection to Bariga then formed the nationwide love the inner-cities (also known as streets/ghettos) have for him. Little wonder he went back to shoot the video to his latest single, ‘Wo!‘ in his ‘zanga’.
But here’s the thing: Bariga is one of the most notorious slums in Nigeria. Mostly forgotten by government until election campaigns start, it is overpopulated, under-served, under-policed and a hotbed of all the vices in the world.
From Ilaje to Popoola, the streets of Bariga are constant flash points of violence. Several times a year, rival cult clashes result in the deaths of many people in the area.
Easily home to half million residents, it is inevitable that the restless young population would find ‘work’ for itself. For a lucky minority, work is conventional work: go to school, get a job, leave the hood. A few like 9ice, DJ Zeez, Olamide and Lil Kesh become celebrities.
For the overwhelming majority however, life is a continuous struggle of trying to make ends meet – and compensating for it with distractions like drinking, gambling, smoking and having sex. A lot of sex. For instance, there are more brothels in Bariga than hospitals and beer parlours far outnumber schools.
So when Olamide says ‘Werey lo bade’, he’s not putting up a facade; the mentality where he comes from is that when you can’t solve an issue through the straight and narrow, you go the agitated way.
When he says ‘Eru iku yapa’, he means it: the number of eager and ready-to-fight goons number in the thousands. When he names a track ‘Ewo Idi’, it’s only reflecting the culture of cat-calling that goes on in Bariga and Lagos streets.
Therefore, for an artiste that has built his career on themes of that nature, it will be foolhardy for him to switch it up and go Hollywood. That’s not to say Olamide himself didn’t try it: his three penultimate singles, ‘Wavy Level’, ‘Love No Go Die’ and ‘Summer Body’ are hardly the typical Olamide sound. His appeal is not Ramsey Nuoah-esque; the streets don’t care about love in that way.
Hell, he made ‘Eyin Omo Wobe‘ the chant that precedes a session of home-training-forgetting gyration acceptable even to cool kids. That’s Olamide’s gift: the ability to make his street influence interesting (I’m holding back from using the adjective ‘sweet’) enough to become a crossover hit.
So ‘Wo!‘ has sexual references and the video shows someone smoking weed. It will be surprising that anyone is surprised. Olamide is only being true to himself, to his hood and to his art. He’s not under any obligation to create ‘moral’ music. There’s Tope Alabi and Kayode Sodiq for that.
He’s an artist. Like American comedian Eddie Griffin said on his 2008 standup special, Freedom of Speech, ‘You can’t tell Picasso [van Gogh] not to cut his motherfucking ear off! That’s like telling Prince ‘Go on stage but don’t play the guitar..”.
Renaissance era statues were made in the nude. Some people may find it provocative but it is what is. Olamide’s art is making music that his audience connects to and demands. It will be suicidal of him to change that so as not to offend some other people – the Nigerian music fans that are fickle and unforgiving.
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