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Should Nigerian Music Be Judged for Morality or Art?

Music is art before anything else. And it is based on this understanding that it gets a pass at every level of its manifestation. Art is the creative expression of human voices and the human spirit. It comes from our moments, our thoughts, our experiences, and just about anything else.

And generally, it is beautiful. You listen to a song that you didn’t have five minutes ago, and you hit a new level of enjoyment. Visit music studios and sit in on a creation process, and you will appreciate how expressions can become sound and sound put together to form art.

Nigerian music is art. From ancient indigenous tribes communicating with the gong to the introduction of complex traditional instruments, music has existed in Nigeria long before history books began to detail. It is an integral part of life, with original rhythm taking various forms as you travel from one region to another.

It is beautiful.

But music does more than entertain. It drives the spirit, educates a community, influences the society at many levels, and communicates the feeling of the times. Its effects on a human being are physical, emotional, psychological.

Ever wondered why war songs were sang to put fighters in the right frame of mind? Or why Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” album came to known as the rallying sound track to the Black Lives Matter Movement in the US? How about Fela, the militant singer who defined a generation with his protest music? The power of music and how it can be a force for change is evident.

But we should never forget that music is art. It can be a tool, but it is art. It can be many things, but those are all secondary. Music is art, and art by nature is free. The creators can draw from a wide spectrum of inspiration to create.

Giving a defined role to art, or interpreting it for a specific use, limits both the potential of the art, and stifles the creativity of the maker. That’s why generations over time have fought hard to maintain the freedom of the arts.

Falz has a point for saying music should be positive in its messages. Crime should ideally have no place in our society, and the people who indulge in them should not be made into celebrities. There’s a huge possibility that music, with its influence, can sway public opinion and normalize crime. This is a valid argument. It comes from a place of positivity. Its intentions are pure.

But in the bigger picture, this hurts the purpose of art. Passing art through the moral lens of Falz is bad for art. It prevents artists from drawing inspiration from their society to make music. Yahoo Yahoo, sadly, is a relevant part of the Nigerian society.

Nigerian artists should have the freedom to create music with Yahoo. It is how art operates. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad.

Falz has made his stand. Art cannot take his stand. It is bigger than him. It is greater than morality.

It is this same school of thought that empowers the archaic National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to periodically dip its hands into the music pool and slam bans on some select songs. The NBC justifies its actions by opining that censorship of bad language and debauchery is a necessity. One day, it might decide to pass all songs through a ‘Yahoo’ filter. I pray that day never comes.

Forced morality corrupts art. Forced morality ruins the creative pool. It should never be a part of the music.
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