Falz’s latest track “This is Nigeria” — an adaptation of US performer Childish Gambino’s “This is America” — has racked up more than four million views on YouTube in just two weeks.
In it he highlights widespread violence and corruption in Africa’s most populous nation, in stark contrast to fellow artists and their fixation with wealth and status.
The 27-year-old performer acknowledged that his subject matter — from Boko Haram Islamists and disputes over land and water to crooked police and politicians — was controversial.
“But I didn’t foresee the magnitude of the response… This has really encouraged me to continue doing that,” he said on Tuesday.
“Everyone is carried away with our entertainment and enjoyment of life and we forget that a lot of things are really happening here…
“There are a lot of things that we need to constantly talk about so that somehow there should be a recognition of this… People feel that the Fela Kuti spirit needs to come back.”
Fela, the self-styled “Black President” and pioneer of Afrobeat, was known as much for his outspoken political and social views during years of military rule as for his music.
Falz’s real name is Folarin Falana. His father, the leading human rights lawyer Femi Falana, once represented Fela.
Nigeria is entering a highly charged period before elections in February next year in which President Muhammadu Buhari hopes to secure a second term.
Already, the former military ruler’s record on tackling insecurity, cutting corruption and boosting the economy is coming under close scrutiny.
Until Buhari’s victory over Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, no opposition candidate had ever unseated an incumbent president at the ballot box in Nigeria.
Falz said it was important for the country’s massive youth population to understand they have the power to change their future, including the problems outlined in “This is Nigeria”.
“It’s a democratic system of government, it’s government of the people,” he said.
“So, if people don’t actually go out there to vote, we’re still going to be stuck in the same mess that we complain about.
“So, you have to go out there, register, get a PVC (permanent voters card) and make sure that when the election comes that you actually vote.”
Ironically, Fela’s son Seun Kuti — also a musician — this week appeared to suggest the opposite, urging people to be wary of the political process.
“Don’t let anyone force you to endorse their system until you are sure it represents you,” he said in a fiery post on his Instagram account.
“Time to cast a vote of no confidence in the political system and build our own! This is the task of the #liberationgeneration.”