By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
Azeez Adeshina Fashola, better known professionally as Naira Marley is without an iota of doubt, the most controversial musician in Nigeria today. Some will say the controversy around him is much-hyped, but the truth is that his notoriety is more a function of his artistic rebellion and predilection to subvert the ethical code of his milieu than his artistry or elegant musicianship.
His recent controversial trip to Abuja has indeed, as some commentators agreed, shed more light on his image as an artistic rebel without an identifiable cause, as one could see in Bob Marley, Fela, Charlie Boy and Tupac Amaru among others.
Last week, Naira Marley in the thick of the flight restrictions in Nigeria, except for those on “essential duties”, boarded a private jet operated by Executive Jet Services to Abuja on Saturday, June 13 for a sold-out musical concert, said to be a drive-in, in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja of all places.
The tragic irony of the situation is that music is not one of the “essential services” as classified by the government. This singular event showed the artistic rebellion in Marley who is ever fond of subverting the ethical code and ever minded to replace it with Marlianism whose stock-in-trade is finding expression in counter-cultural ethos against the societal norm.
It was yet another tragic manifestation of the art imitating life that like the rot and malaise in Naira Marley’s ethos it took only 48 hours later, on Monday- following a hail of outrage by Nigerians on Twitter- for the government to grudgingly take action by shutting down the Jabi Lake Mall venue of the concert while the aviation authorities “suspended indefinitely” the airline company and barred the pilot that flew the aircraft.
Curiously, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the aircraft which brought the singer was originally approved by the authorities to fly in Hon Justice Adefope Okogie from Lagos to Abuja. The minister noted that the airline deceived the authorities and flew Naira Marley instead. This should rank among the highest level of dereliction of duty anywhere, unspeakable in a sector like aviation.
The truth must be told Marley is an artistic representation of the moral malaise and dysfunction in the society, and in a sense, we all see ourselves in Marley. At different levels, society is at war with itself.
If rebellion is an expression of anger against depravities in our society, then the message and lesson taught by the one rebelling must imbibe a new ethos and outlook more ennobling than the one it seeks to replace. We can see that in the philosophic, prophetic and revolutionary music of Bob Marley, Fela, Charlie Boy, but in the philosophy of the Marlians, there seems to be an anarchic nihilism that threatens to destroy what is left of the moral order in the society.
Naira Marley has assumed cult image among his followers. His followers are better known as the Marlians, and they see their idol as a cult figure, and his persona and pose and his wizardry as seen in his performance on stage which on most occasions drives his band of devotees, worshippers and absolutists, into buying into his cult of personality have fostered a large following.
The major attributes of Marlians, according to an online post, are, “alcohol and drug consumption, (weird) hairstyles, zero manners”, who “don’t have manners, (and) … are expected to disobey constituted authorities.” The post further reveals that the musician, “through his songs, preaches Internet fraud, as he believes that making money from dishonest means could be justified.”
As an artist, it is hard to identify his lyrics’ connection with high moral ideal and one cannot pick out any of his songs on any radio playlist other than his recognisable look signposted by his short dreadlocks.
While growing up, Naira Marley had plans of becoming an MC and voice-over artist. He began singing in 2014 after discovering his passion for music and was encouraged by close-knit friends to pursue music. He released the Max Twigz-assisted track “Marry Juana” before releasing his debut EP Gotta Dance in 2015.
In December 2017, he released the Olamide and Lil Kesh-assisted single “Issa Goal”, which became the theme song for the Super Eagles at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The official remix of “Issa Goal” was released on 16 June 2018; it features vocals by Olamide, Lil Kesh, Falz, Simi and Slimcase.
Naira Marley sings in English, Pidgin and Yoruba; his music is a blend of Afrobeats and hip-hop. He derived his stage name from Jamaican singer Bob Marley, whom he admires; his dreadlocks is also a tribute to Marley.
Naira Marley released the Zlatan-assisted track “Am I A Yahoo Boy” on 3 May 2019, and was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that same day. He released “Soapy” on 27 June 2019, a few days after he was released from prison. On 11 January 2020, he won Viewers’ Choice for “Soapy” at the 2020 Soundcity MVP Awards.
On 18 December 2019, Naira Marley released his second EP Lord of Lamba; it is a mixture of Afrobeats and hip-hop. The EP comprises 6 tracks and features guest artists such as CBlvck, Young John and Mayorkun. Its production was handled by Killertunes, Rexxie and Studio Magic.
During the “Marlian Fest”, which was held at the Eko Hotels and Suites on 30 December 2019, Naira Marley announced the launch of his record label Marlian Records and unveiled CBlvck, Zinoleesky, MohBad and Fabian Blu as signed acts. On 10 May 2019, the EFCC arrested Naira Marley and his friends Zlatan, Tiamiu Kayode, Adewunmi Moses and Abubakar Musa.
The arrest was made a day after he released the video for the controversial single “Am I A Yahoo Boy”. Five days later, the EFCC released Zlatan and three others but kept Marley in their custody due to overwhelming evidence against him.
On 16 May 2019, the EFCC charged him with 11 counts of fraud before a Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos. On 19 May 2019, he released the single “4 Nights In Ekohtiebo” while still in prison. In it, he talks about his industry friends, foes and other people who have admired him. In May 2019, he was arraigned before the Federal High Court and pleaded “not guilty”; a bail hearing was set for 30 May 2019.
On the day of the bail hearing, Naira Marley released “Why”, a song that was accompanied by an image of him in handcuffs. On 14 June 2019, he was released from jail fourteen days after being granted ₦2,000,000 bail. A few days later, he released “Soapy”, a track about the sexual habits of inmates in detention.
Naira Marley was born in Agege, Lagos State, Nigeria. At the age of 11, he moved to Peckham, South London, England. He studied at Porlock Hall before attending Walworth School, where he obtained his General Certificate of Secondary Education. Naira Marley graduated with a distinction in business from Peckham Academy. He also studied business law at Crossways College (now Christ the King Sixth Form College).