By Toyin Falola
Don’t say you won’t read this fine piece because it is about Igbó, alias Indian Hemp. I sympathize with the Indian, as the one I want to talk about is the original Nigerian hemp. I am not inviting you to smoke but to listen to Igbó songs. There is Igbó shirt, Igbó powder, Igbó babe, Igbó boss, Igbó cake, and orísirísi amugbó. All those for later. Today, it is about Igbó music. Well, you don’t smoke Igbó; you don’t inhale it, but you have probably danced to Igbó song. Play along with me. Plug in headsets to get some inspiration, you know, for something creative, and lyrics roll out until it gets to Burna Boy’s:
…I no holy and I no denge pose
Like Baba Fryo
My eye, oh, don cry, oh (my eye, oh)
(I need igbó and shayo) shayo
I need igbó and shayo (shayo)
I need igbó and shayo (shayo)
I need igbó and shayo (shayo)
Shayo (shayo) shayo (shayo)
…. and it goes on and on. So, I decided to listen to something older, and 9ice “Ganja Man” rolled in…
Give me the lighter, pass me the ganja
Quickly roll up the rizzler, let the smoke pump
Let the smoke pump ina air
If you do not know, Igbó and Ganja mean the same thing: Cannabis. In one of his classics, the uniquely talented Orlando Owoh called it ewé ọlà—the plant of prosperity. And he saluted his famous dealer, Eléwé Ọlà. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nycp-qc8CI4. I have tried to sing this song unsuccessfully, but God has yet to create another vocalist with this baritone voice. I can do a soprano, but with Orlando, he can move, in verse, from tenor to countertenor. I am glad he has joined the Angels to sing for God—this way, there is no time to ask him about Ganja!
Igbó heats consciousness and captures the social music trends that probably meet the market demands in contemporary Nigeria or, in fact, the world. “I know so”, to use Fela’s phrase. Coming on the heels of advancements in information technology, particularly mass communication, music has been a major cultural export globally. In Nigeria, hip-hop has been a significant export in the last decades. Hip-hop has remained the most consumed music genre in Nigeria and the continent, with the youth being the predominant producers and consumers. So, the demand is increasing, so they try to conform to different market cultures obtainable, especially in Europe and America, including promoting nudity, social vices, and, most particularly, Igbó.
But before music became a commodity of exchange (to be consumed or exported), it was, and still is, first, an integral component and expression of cultures. Like other components of culture, music is flexible and permissive to external influences. In the dead past, promoting deviance was alien to Nigerian music. Seen as an integral part of the culture, the messages contained in music were targeted at social reforms, albeit with some exceptions. Well, the oldies also have their expressions of relaxation and shortfalls, but in what could be regarded as some sort of permissible silliness in those days, there was still some radiation of culture and didactics.
However, foreign music came with its foreign elements, part of which is the promotion of vices mostly found in American rap and trap music. The modern development of Nigerian pop music has been inextricably linked to the intercourse between American trap music and local acceptance. Interestingly, rap black music originates from the harsh socio-economic conditions of southern United States youths in the late 1990s to the early 2000s who slept and woke up in poverty, crime, and drugs. Music was, therefore, for them, a way to reflect and memorialize their street experiences, hustling, substance indulgence, and struggles in the neighbourhood. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the Nigerian variant, Nigerian hip hop, has thoroughly emulated its American influence. So the humble days of Oshodi Underbridge, Agege street lives, and other ghetto exposures have followed the same patterns and are reflected in Nigerian contemporary hip hops.
The glorification of drug abuse, particularly marijuana, and other vices in Nigerian music is a case in point. Perhaps, a good way to understand the situation is to trace its history (not its development as discussed above) starting from the origination of Afrobeat as birthed by the iconic Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Well, a modern musician, Mr Real, has said, “K’òsí bí o ṣe fẹ́ fagbó, o lè fagbó tó Babá Felá,” meaning there is no way you would smoke marijuana, it cannot be as intensive as Fela did. On my recent visit to Allen in Ikeja, Lagos— the resting place of the Afrobeat legend and social activist — it was hard to imagine that Fela died more than twenty-five years ago.
Unlike the New Afrika Shrine, which bustles with a fusion of highlife, jazz, and Fela’s rebellious music in the evenings, the Allen community offers more calm as every sanctuary should, but one thing is apparent, Fela’s music and radical legacy permeate the length and breadth of the community in various dimensions, even announcing itself with the controversial headless statue of Fela which welcomes visitors into Allen Avenue from the Opebi corridor. No Shrine you reach.
This ubiquitous and enduring legacy is soothing, offering fond reminisces of Fela’s life and times, but we are presented with its ugly dimension—a case in point. Here, just like in the recesses of Agidingbi (home to the New Afrika Shrine), Allen has its fair share of psychedelics, more fashionably referred to as junkies or stoners, who justify their obsession as rebellion. As with most cultures that stay around long enough, marijuana obsession has found its way into Nigerian music, particularly the hip-hop and pop genre, which is the most popular in the country anyway.
While Fela’s lifestyle may have portrayed an addiction to marijuana, his songs were never about that life. They were strictly socio-political commentaries and songs of rebellion against the status quo. Fela did reference marijuana in one of his songs (in the Expensive Shit album), but even in that instance, he was referring to an encounter with the police which necessitated him to hide the contraband by swallowing it. Yet, contemporary pop artists have decided to carry on the acts of the preacher with little or no attention to the message. Naira Marley rolls in,
I just wanna marry Juana
Please let me marry Juana
Cannabis in the rizla, so high I can’t get higher
You will think Juana is a pretty woman!
Having established how the behavior came to be, it might be helpful to look at the motivations behind its continued existence. Here, three hypotheses could help us to understand why there is a growing use of marijuana content in these songs. First, as observed in its history, we see that reference to marijuana and other intoxicating substances furthers an existing culture. Despite being an imported phenomenon, its acceptance has morphed into a tradition—an inextricable component of pop culture. For this reason, artists refer to marijuana and its many other sister substances to keep up with the game’s culture. As more songs continue to romanticize the trend, substance addiction becomes mistaken as a form of radicalism when it is, in fact, nothing but a social vice.
Secondly, we find another motivation for the proliferation of marijuana music in the social organization of the Nigerian pop music industry itself. This reflection reveals that the “high life” nature of the industry promotes a disposition to social vices, particularly philandering, partying, and smoking different kinds of hard drugs. A third hypothesis posits that the continued use of marijuana content in Nigerian music is, in fact, a corollary to popular realities. In other words, pop songs are deliberately written to mirror popular trends. And since popular trends include drugs, deviance, and partying, these artists create space for these contents in their artworks to boost acceptance. Individually or in concert, these factors account for the growing inclusion of marijuana allusions in Nigerian songs. Burna Boy rolls in again …Say, how would you like to smoke some weed…gyal…
Today, Nigerian music is inundated with lyrics that directly and indirectly refer to marijuana. Marijuana has been referenced as an inspiration and a psychedelic tool of liberation from the many struggles that are ever so apparent in society, drawn from testimonies of those that found inspiration in Fela and Bob Marley. So, more than just a muse or a psychedelic drug, marijuana has become a buzzword for musicians and a symbol of deviance among the youth, who are the worst hit by the prevailing socioeconomic difficulties in the country. Fela and Bob Marley are still seen as revolutionaries, and probably some are deluding that marijuana must go with it.
For instance, when the former president of the United States, Barack Obama, shared his favourite songs of 2022, it was good news for Damini Ogulu (Burna Boy), who, for the second time running, had appeared on the ex-president’s music playlist. Burna Boy’s single, Last Last, from his Love, Damini album made the 23-song playlist, opening up many issues for discussion. In Last Last (the first song in the album), Burna Boy wasted no time introducing marijuana to his listeners. His first words, “shayo oh” and “Igbó oh,” both generic street names for marijuana and other intoxicating substances, were the perfect intro for the eventual chorus: “I need Igbó and shayo oh.” In the song, Damini narrates a recent heartbreak experience for which he takes solace in Igbó (marijuana) from the breakfast he was served. In this personal context, Burna Boy hoped to find solace in shayo to forget his pains.
Burna Boy’s Last Last is not a one-off ode to the magical cannabis plant. In 2011, he released a song titled “Rizla,” with lyrics like: “Pass me the rizla/ Make I roll up the ginger/ Cause them no get e liver.” Afeez Fashola (Naira Marley) was even more direct with his marijuana connotation in his song “Marry Juana.” The song opens with a hook: “I just wanna marry Juana/ Please let me marry Juana/ Cannabis in the rizla/ so high I can’t get higher.” In Party No Dey Stop, Adekunle Kosoko (Adekunle Gold) and Azez Oniyide (Zinoleesky) offer the most subtle reference to marijuana with the expression “Olúwé máwé.”
Apart from the undeniable influences of foreign music, marijuana as a theme in Nigerian music is not recent. Marijuana allusions could be found in oldies like Dr Orlando Owoh’s Iye Mi Mabinu. In this song, the late musical genius apologizes to his mother for indulging in marijuana smoking using his native Owo dialect with the lyrics: “Iyemi má bìnú pé mo sáìgbó.”
Marijuana songs in Nigeria indicate more than an obsession with the cannabis plant; it presents a bigger problem, including the abuse of drugs of different kinds. In the dark world of hard drugs in Nigeria, drugs like cocaine, coke, and heroin have been joined by Crystal meth, Ecstasy, and Codeine, amongst others. I must not forget what is trending now: Colos.
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency is unable to win its war, as the drug market continues to grow, further deepening existing addictions and inducting new addicts. At the crescendo of the drug abuse crisis, popular hip hop artiste Olamide Adedeji (Olamide) dropped a single titled “Science Student,” where he glamorized the use of different drugs by referring to it as a scientific process of mixing chemicals to concoct a solution. For instance, the chorus starts with “Wọ́n ti po omi gutter pọ̀/ Ojú ti dirty/ Wọ́n ti po chemical pọ̀/ Àwọn ọmọ science students.” In a more direct reference, he says, “Tramadol lò ńmu bí tonic water yí.”
Interestingly, the over-the-counter sale of Tramadol has been banned by regulatory agencies following the excessive abuse of the opiate analgesic. The sales and access to marijuana for recreational use or abuse are under supposed strong control and ban. What remains uncertain, however, is whether the enforcement efforts of the regulatory agencies are matched by music censorship boards, considering the degree of unfettered obscenities in contemporary music. Increasingly, substance use is being glamorized and has gotten to the point where the consumption of these drugs has become normalized as the “vogue.”
The impact of music in shaping social behaviour is well-founded. It is not surprising that cannabis has remained the most consumed hard drug in Nigeria. As more songs join the fray in glamorizing substance abuse, these teeming listeners try to emulate the artists and characters in these music videos. And like most vices, marijuana abuse does not exist in a vacuum but in association with other vices. Hence, the need to address the menace before it becomes a bane.
As you smoke up this piece, do not take me for character judge. In understanding the comfort people get from smoking, one must draw the line based on illegality, health, and addiction. However, the efforts of the regulatory agency are like pouring water into the ocean if social characters are excessively fueling what they intend to regulate. Daddy GO, Igbó and the songs around it are here to stay. I heard one of them at the Camp!