Sampling Fela Kuti Right: Tiwa Savage’s video for 49-99 – Ayodele Ibiyemi

Tiwa Savage’s latest single, ’49-99’ is her first since she signed with Universal Music Group.

The single draws its title from a line in Fela Kuti’s 1978 track, ‘Shuffering and Shmiling.’ Apart from sampling Fela Kuti in the title, the song shows us a masterful depiction of how Nigerians live through the dysfunction that is Nigeria.

Unlike Burnaboy who is invested in trying to become the next Fela Kuti, Tiwa samples Fela without losing herself in the process. The delivery of the song is meticulous and the decision to premiere the video with the song is also commendable. Meji Alabi, the video director, went all out to provide matching visuals for a well written song.

The video draws inspiration from Eliot Elisofon’s 1972 portrayal of Congolese schoolgirls. The girls are shown as working class ladies who count their own money and live their own modest but free lives. What would have been just another aspirational Nigerian song with good beats is propped by Meji Alabi’s art.

Meji Alabi’s diligent directing is highly commendable. It is a rare combination of an auteur and a master songstress.

In the video, Tiwa riffs on poverty in the country without romanticizing it as many musicians are wont to do. The singer is shown as one who dresses flamboyantly and enjoys her life while singing a song that any random subjugated young Nigerian can relate to. Also, the call and response style adopted in the song is reminiscent of Fela who perfected the style with his back-up singers who were mostly females.

Meji Alabi pays attention to details with a highly nuanced video. The first scene opens in an alley with a group of brawling young men. Tiwa is shown to the side, a small monkey on her shoulder and two hefty men standing beside her. By the time the video nears the end, the young men are arrayed behind and hailing her.

In another scene, she is shown lying on a floral tapestry, her long black hair extended like tentacles. Long hair is often associated with virility, good health and is seductive.

The depiction of well-dressed middle-aged men is a subtle shade on men who often suffer from undiagnosed and untreated mid-life crises. Tiwa dances on the table and the men fawn over her, eventually placing their heads on the table as if they are dead. In a manner similar to circumstances rumoured to have killed the country’s former head of State, Sani Abacha, Tiwa bites an apple from the table while the men lay there, dead or asleep.

On what she wanted to achieve with the song, Tiwa Savage had this to says:

 “The song you can Zanku to but I wanted my first global single to also have a message that we are suffering and smiling and music is a powerful tool … and I wanted a title that’ll be a conversation starter.

I dare say she has done this and more. It is a video that you want to watch again, it is a good video which might stay around for a long while too.

About the author: Ayodele Ibiyemi is a reader who writes occasionally. For him, words are what makes this intractable world livable.

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