Nigerian singer, Azeez Fashola aka Naira Marley is KOKO’s Person of the Year 2019.
The annual honour is awarded to the person who influenced the years’ events most, for better or for worse. KOKO’s Person of the Year 2019 is about the person or people and ideas that shaped our continent and shaped the year. For 2019, no other person or group of people, encapsulates that more than Naira Marley And His Marlians.
The Naira Marley Story
He’s the bad boy of Nigerian music – a hugely divisive and controversial award-winning talent, who’s built an empire of loyal fans and topped the African charts. The youth love him and the press cannot get enough of him.
It all started with an unfamiliar story to most Nigerians and Africans of every generation in every corner of the globe: an indignant unknown youth and a sudden burst of rebellion. It became one of the most unlikely and surely one of the swiftest ascents in a generation.
Yet the truth is that Naira Marley never planned to become an artist or have a massive fan base of loyal Marlians. Naira Marley originally just wanted to help manage the careers of his MC friends in Peckham, South West London. After all, he had not long ago moved to Peckham from Lagos aged 11, but a chance decision in 2014 changed everything.
“I paid for my mates to go studio ’cos I thought they had talent,” Naira recalls. “They recorded something and there was space on the track – and they were like, ‘Jump on it!’ I was like, ‘Are you sure? In my accent?’ But I jumped on it anyway.” To Naira’s surprise as much as anyone’s, his verses – delivered in his inimitable Nigerian Yoruba accent wowed everyone. He immediately knew who he is and over the course of a year, his outspoken views, trials, challenges and fragility became clear to all Nigerians and Africans.
In May 2019 Marley released the track Am I a Yahoo Boy, which features the popular Nigerian rapper Zlatan Ibile. In the song, Marley doesn’t claim to be a yahoo boy. But the lyrics are provocative: “Government is a thief, bloggers are armed robber/all my friends are yahoo/music is my source of pride.” The video depicts Marley being slammed onto a car by police and handcuffed.
The day after the song dropped – coincidentally, Marley’s birthday – Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested him and Zlatan along with three other men, Tiamiu Abdulrahman Kayode, Adewunmi Adeyanju Moses and Abubakar Musa. Despite his legal woes, Marley has refused to be silenced. He famously tweeted “In Nigeria they will arrest u first then they will try find out ur crime after”; “Our leaders don’t even live in the country.”
Unsurprisingly though, whilst many thought his accent and fan-base will depletes, the Marlians grew louder and stronger.
Naira Marley has become the biggest voice on some of the biggest issues facing Nigerians, Nigeria and Africans as a whole. Naira is the avatar of a broader generational shift in our culture that is playing out everywhere from the campuses of Lagos to the legislative chambers in the Abuja.
Naira Marley was drawn by Fatola Israel
Creatives: Laurence Oke-Hortons and Sobo Adenike