I was in an Uber on my way to conduct an interview when I first played Jay-P’s “Mighty Error”. My mind went through a number of emotions, from surprise and exhilaration to pure delight. The intro’s vibrant sounds felt like a journey back to 80’s when Fela’s afrobeat held Lagos spellbound. With Jay-P music there’s more than just Fela’s aggressive phrases and jazzy beats; he combines the sheer power of a rich, stable bass with an acute social awareness. Jay-P is in total grip of his craft. Here is an artiste with undeniable promise within the flourishing Nigerian music scene.
In recent times Nigerian music and musicians have received plaudits all over the world. From the ritzy streets of Brooklyn, New York to a tiny, pungent alley in old Delhi, and to the rowdy streets of Lagos and Nairobi, Nigerian Afrobeat music is keeping people happy. Recognitions have followed too. Burna Boy and Wizkid won the Grammy in 2021 with their album and song respectively. Despite the roaring success of Nigerian Afrobeats music, one of the accusations still levelled against it is the inability of artistes to make music that is socially relevant, massively deviating from early scions of the genre such as Eedris Abdulkareem, Ruggedman, Mr Raw, and a few others.
Eedris’s “Jaga-Jaga” was particularly influential in its time. The angry voice, the explosive sounds and the aggressive lyrical bombast combined to create a song that is both urgent and significant to the social and political struggles of the Nigerian masses. “Jaga-Jaga” is thus an enduring song of revolution. This political consciousness is found outside the purview of Afrobeats. For instance, the indigenous Igbo highlife music band, Umuobiligbo, released a song in the wake of the #EndSars protests, “Oga Police”, which spoke to the ordinary Nigerian’s experience of police brutality.
To be fair, this accusation does not apply to an artiste like Falz, whose maverick fearlessness sets a unique tone for his generation of musicians. Tekno and 2face Idibia are also honorable mentions in this respect. Tekno’s 2019 song “Better” had so many music covers and was clearly one of the few examples of scenarios where Nigerian artistes consciously spoke truth to power. Many of these artists are given agency in their art by the overarching influence of the legendary Fela as the provenance of a strong component of their lyrical repertoire.
Most Nigerian musicians are fixated with mundane and hedonistic preoccupations. In the light of the fact that they are making art in a country where so much is going downhill, it is disappointing that our musicians do not see fit to use their music to at least acknowledge these socio-political anomalies. Music has always been employed as a tool of activism. The tradition dates to Antebellum America in which Negro musicals became a statement of defiance and resistance from slaves to their masters. The cruelties of Apartheid South Africa formed the major theme of most of Lucky Dube’s entire musical production. That is how strong the lure of social and political issues can be for many a genuine artiste and can possibly elevate an otherwise mediocre music to something of consummate relevance.
Enter Jay-P with his debut single, “Mighty Error”, a song that boldly captures the current socio-political situation of the country. The aggressive rhythm and explosive diction reveal a not too subtle influence of Fela. The genuine story of pain, loss, and violence told here is the macrocosm of the country’s social and political paroxysms. The shame of violence exhibited by security forces who ordinarily should protect the lives and properties of common citizens and the inability of the avaricious politicians to tackle these issues are some of the messages imbued in Jay-P.s song. He calls the chain of violence and incompetence a “mighty error”, hence the title.
Jay-P sings of fear when he sings of random shootings. He sings of pain when he sings of revenge. He sings of chaos when he sings of gun-peddling and the bloodletting it entails. He sings of youth decadence and unemployment when he sings of youths engaged in drug-pushing. All these points to a society at the end of its tether. All these he sums up in the starting lines:
I am in tears I am in tears oo I am in tears
Jay-P owns his music like his maverick character; his voice rises in tempo with each accretion of action in the event he sings of; the sturdy timbre of his voice climbs steadily until it reaches the choral point where he vindictively screams: mighty error!
Violence, brutality, and corruption are comically portrayed as the fount of security forces, whether police or army or any other government-sanctioned security outfit. It is a shockingly real picture of the dystopia that the country is becoming. Hear him: One day the officer show/to corner boys wey sell claro/something lead to something for there/e shoot gun come disappear. The forcefulness and urgency is heightened by the linguistic application of words that portray force and coercion: gun, kill, shout, shoot.
The escalation of extrajudicial killings in recent times provoked trenchant protests that climaxed in the #EndSars protests of 2020. Even after the abolition of the notorious SARS outfit of the Nigerian police, extrajudicial killings have continued unabated. In all sections of the country political and religious killings happen on a daily basis.
Nothing justifies violence; looking the other way is simply a tacit approbation of such violence. This is what politicians, influencers, and even musicians have done. And thus, it is an error, a mighty error, an error that should not be there in the first place.
With his music, Jay-P has chosen not to look the other way; not to ignore or turn his nostrils up at the things happening around him. He has chosen to observe and to scream it. He is like the quintessential whistleblower in a village setting telling his neighbours to come and see oo.
What “Mighty Error” encapsulates is welcome in the music scene. Jay-P’s activism is not accidental. He is entirely deliberate as to his motives. Towards the end of the song he sampled the anguished voice of the popular case of the man in Port Harcourt whose only son was killed by the police in 2020, months before the #EndSars protests. Here Jay-P asks why we should live in a country where violence goes unchecked and unpunished: Shey, you dey see the thing wey dey happen oo.
Just this year only, there have been cases of extrajudicial violence. Music artistes need to step into the conversation. And they are not doing that. Instead, it is a debutant that has picked up the vuvuzela of music activism and he is not subtle about it. On this note, Jay-P’s heart-wrenching song, “Mighty Error”, is extremely relevant now.
— Chimezie Chika has been published in journals and anthologies including Aerodrome, Brittle Paper, Praxis Magazine, Selfies and Signatures, The Kalahari Review, The Shallow Tales Review, The Question Marker, amongst others. A finalist for the Africa Book Club Short Reads Competition (2013), he was a participant of the 2015 Writivism Workshop and a 2021 Fellow of the Ebedi International Writer’s Residency, Iseyin. The Incident of the Dog, his first book for children, was published by GriotsKids, an imprint of Griots Lounge, in 2020.