Portable: A Portrait – Bunmi Familoni

Portable, with a size of confidence that belies his name, created a life-size image of himself off the strength of an Olamide co-sign at the end of 2021. Regarding him as one of those one-hit wonders, the skeptics gave him a few months to fizzle out, but he rode on the steam of that one hit, ‘Zazoo’, shot past the limelight into realms of superstardom, to the irritation of his harshest critics, and has kept his name on every lip since then, from fights with his former manager to taking on the Headies, to mimicking an Undertaker entrance at a concert, to disrupting a Small Doctor concert in Agege.

But no matter how much they try to make Portable out to be a villain (a role he plays with so much aplomb most of the time – his own way of poking fun at the elitism of the snobbish upper and upper middle classes, flipping them the bird), he is definitely the streetest musician in the mainstream right now; one who has shown (to the most perceptive) the depth of his musicianship (most recently in his live Echoo Room session).

Anybody who listens to Portable’s Apostle and cannot decipher the satirical commentary on the class dangers of neo-pentecostalism in a low-income country where many over-religious people are groaning under the crushing socioeconomic burdens of living under the poverty line while still looking up, in blind faith, to ‘super pastors’ who are members of the upper class, is not worthy of commenting on the man’s more erratic irreverent character, which he presents to the public as part of his persona; and if you can’t see how all of that is a performance to maintain relevance in a social-media age where the metric for relevance is most likely not anything cerebral one has contributed to the general discourse on the human condition, but by how ‘viral’ your most random acts of silliness can become in the shortest possible time, and thus keep you famous. This man understands this approach better than many of his peers, and manages to keep up these  appearances weekly, investing optimal energy in these outlandish performances of his, while playing the jester, the philosopher, the sociopath, the anti-establishment force, etc., all in one breath at times, and in the same breath contributing some of the most exciting and most enduring lingo to the ever-growing accompanying lexicon of contemporary pop culture: from the lusty cry of ‘o ti zeh!’, to the risibly plaintive ‘God abeg oh!’, to the more recent humorous, ‘wahala, wahala, wahala!’, and his zazoo dance (of shoulders raised and palms out pushing against empty air), there are not very many that can boast of having influenced mainstream pop culture to such extent with some of the erstwhile derisive elements of the street’s counterculture (yes, there were Olamide and Naira Marley at the peak of their careers, but one has to admit that there is just something different about Portable, especially in how he has been able to use social media virality, from most of his controversial moments, to his advantage, without restraint, against the better judgement of his former handlers and cronies).

Back to his Apostle, a profoundly conscious song that deserves an entire essay in unpacking all the religio-spiritual elements Portable managed to address in that impressive work – in one sweep he comments on obvious class divisions in the church system, the ‘unholy’ relationship between the custodians of pentecostalism and proponents of the oft-demonized traditional religion, and the dependence of these pentecostal leaders on powers from traditional religion devotees, insecurity and the reign of ‘unknown gunmen’, the sheeple mentality of congregation members.


The percussion-led tune is carried along by a deftly-played tenor guitar on its wing, strings that swing in and out of the musical arrangement expertly, like a dash of spice here and there, to enhance the sound rather than control it, never becoming dominant over the drums which are in front throughout the song, at different pitches. The shout of ‘ilu!’ at the song’s beginning already alerts us that we’re about to be plunged into a heavily percussion-driven pool of music. And it succeeds in that regard – an Afrobeats song that takes on an African problem in the tradition of some of the greats – sonically and thematically; a most conscious track delivered with such brilliance of lyricism.

As a sucker for solid lyrical elements in songwriting, I’m impressed by how much wit is displayed on this track, but my favourite part has to be: “you went to report my case to babalawo, but you didn’t know the babalawo is my fan”. Damn, damn.

Disabuse yourself of the ignorant classist notion that Portable has nothing to offer and pay close attention. Besides, I’m suspicious of ‘intellectuals’, music people, or members of the intelligentsia who dismiss the likes of portable without paying any critical attention to what they’re saying or doing; in fact, I think it is an obvious sign of anti-intellectualism and mental vacuousness, not to mention how crassly classist it is. But then, we saw it happen with Naira, despite his high social currency and his entire influential Marlian movement of the time, so it’s not a surprise.

‘Apostle’ succeeds excellently as a modern-day satire, and if you can’t see it, it is no fault of Portable; your long-held biases against him probably need glasses.

Whatever anyone thinks of him, they can’t deny that Portable is a fascinating subject of study for a while now – his music, his philosophy, his humour, his politics, his psychology, his linguistic innovation, his madness.

So just in case you were wondering why I’m going to all this trouble for such a “riff-raff” (yes, na una snobbish mislabeling dey do more harm to class divisions pass even the economics, all you hypocrites), akoi biza biza to all of una!


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