The most peeving thing about Nigerian – world, more likely – popular culture is that whatsoever hits widespread imagination, will, ultimately die. The fleeting nature of that rush is a given. It might take time, but the withering away of that phenomenon’s potency is as sure as day and night are. We can fawn over things, laugh at them, make them ubiquitous in one breath, and then the next day, discard them for newer, shinier toys and gifs and videos and challenges. It’s an all-powerful drug and we are collectively waiting for the next hit.
How the fad goes out and is preserved is another issue entirely. And that is why I think popstars should leave Obesere alone. It has been wonderful to see Obesere receive a lap of honour on the streets of social media; in a country where cultural archives are not as detailed as one would like, his re-entry into our consciousness is a twin reminder of what a brilliant – and prescient – musician he was, is, and how much fuller we must leave archives for a succeeding generation, however that may be: YouTube videos, essays, cultural critiques, Twitter threads, and the whole work.
The other thing about viral pieces of Nigerian pop culture that saddens is how over-flogged they are. Popular songs, films, shows, slangs, and axioms are ruthlessly appropriated, drained, and stripped of the nostalgic lore that made them ignite in the first place. The music that Obesere has been on since social media’s rapprochement with him falls squarely into the squeezed and misconstrued section of things. Zlatan and Skiibii have both recorded songs with Obesere and both songs are, predictably, built around the Egungun be careful phrase. It is difficult to accuse any song made in Afrobeats’ eclectic fusion system of vulturism but both songs do more than try to cheaply tap into the virality of Egungun be careful; they also reflect a lack of care for their art.
In a Friday of great music by Nigerian acts, as we get acquainted with a probable national pandemic, both songs stuck out like a sore thumb. Joey Akan advised not to play the song; but I did, my curiosity won over. By the first spin, I knew this was not it, but I played it, again and again, trying to understand the reasoning process that goes behind making these songs. By listening, I know I am trolling myself and I accept it. In essence, listening to both songs was practice in the fine art of masochism; you ask yourself: how much cringeworthiness and sonic pain can one man endure as you play the music over and over looking for something, anything, that can make it ignite. Sadly, that never happens, and not even P Priime’s shape-shifting, inspired production can save this song. Skiibii’s attempt is marginally better but it is still bubblegum pop that will barely resonate above-average chatter in 2020, the listeners are just too sophisticated for what he aims at creating.
There are ways to honor Obesere that don’t involve attempting to reverse-engineer a hit record off his buzz or taking a phrase from a song released 19 years ago, then willfully going as off-topic as possible. If anyone wants tips, just see Niniola’s Omo Rapala. And I beg, by all things that Nigerian pop stars hold sacred, leave Obesere alone if you won’t take time to work out something that elevates him or your art.