Nigerian officials beware: Naira marley’s “Koleyewon” takes on #endsars

A call for government reform and a banger, Naira Marley’s new song “Koleyewon” engages with the #ENDSARS movement in Nigeria and the 20/10/2020 Lekki Toll Gate Massacre. In the song, Naira Marley blends an upbeat but eerie track with equally eerie but upbeat lyrics to call out the Nigerian government and those responsible for the massacre.

In his lyrics there persists an overarching theme of reciprocity. The first half of the song functions as a metaphor as he talks about the code of street life that forces one to act a certain way in order to be safe from those above them. Thus, what you do against this code will be done unto you. This is a reference to the way non-wealthy and unconnected individuals in Nigeria are expected to follow a similar code for survival. Ultimately Naira Marley rejects this way of life when he exclaims “F**** that!”. This line introduces the second half of the song in which Naira Marley turns the tables and points to the fact that those responsible for the massacre should recognize the humanity of those killed as if it were their own children. He begins to allude to the fact that those responsible should watch out that what they have done is not then done unto them. He says “Ba n bet e, o pada wa be’be” (If we were to bet, it’s going to come back the same way), which is a direct reference to how the way things have been is about to shift. This thus offers a new meaning to the street code mentioned in the first half of the song.

Complementing the lyrics is his haunting track. Beyond its main components, what stands out most is the intermittent drumbeat that mimics that of the Nigerian talking drum. It is most heard as an echo to the part of the refrain when Naira Marley repeats “Koleyewon / K’oto ye won” (They can’t understand / Before they understand). The talking drum, notorious for mimicking speech, in this song gives off an eerie pointed emphasis to this part of the refrain. The lasting echoes of the talking drum leaves the same feeling of suspense that the line, “K’oto ye won,” leaves. Lyric and track blend together to warn the government of what will be coming before they’ll even fully understand the weight of what they’ve unleashed.

Despite the well-executed nature of this song, one point of contention is the fact that Naira Marley turned this song into a TikTok challenge. While it is understandable if he did so to make the song go viral, his existing level of fame renders this unnecessary. Shifting the focus from the song’s message to a slow-mo challenge cheapens the significance of the song. However, it is very indicative of how Nigerians in the face of hardship and injustice will choose not to dwell and find joy instead.

Listen to the song here:

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