Crime, urban migration and three Nigerian songs
We all love crime. We might not all be criminals, but we sure love crime. Crime is part of our social culture, part of our collective identity. Crime is so suffusive that it can be hard to escape from, even if we’re trying to escape from its snare, we would still be caught unaware.
Our hatred for dull, sleepy, and bucolic life of towns and villages makes us complicit in the city’s crimes and anomalies. Our affections for the glitzy, glamorous, and funky lifestyles of cities make us victims’ of crimes and other anomalies that plaque every city around the world.
Criminals and their crimes don’t like villages too. As we are planning to find fortunes in the cities, so are they praying to make it even bigger than we do. They spend every minute plotting and thinking of ways to hatch their felonious plots. They are fishermen of our cities: they cast their nets tirelessly, day and night, to catch us and strip us of our valuable assets. They are watchmen of our cities: when we are asleep (or daydreaming, or bury in our fantasies), they watch every move of ours; they watch us lose our guards and pounce on us like hungry lions. They are giant hawks that watch our moves from their sky before swooping down to prey on us.
The migration of people from towns to cities is what the American rapper J Cole calls ‘Ville Mentality’. “‘Ville Mentality’, Cole explains, “is believing [sic] that you have to leave the town in order find an opportunity” (in the city). Cole further explains, “It’s not running, it’s escaping. It’s starting a new life in a foreign location.” That’s no lie. People are leaving villages and towns for cities on a daily basis with the expectation of finding fortune or wealth.
Three Nigerian artists confirm the relationship between urban migration and crime in their songs. The three songs document the beauty and ugliness of life in the city, their narrators painting different pictures of the city’s life, and basing it on their perspectives and sentiments. On ‘Wish Me Well’, Timi’s narrator extols urban migration and the possibilities of amassing wealth and fortune in the city; Brymo’s narrator laments the absence of love and good turn in the city in a song aptly titled ‘In The City’ (a soundtrack for ‘No Good Turn’, a short film that explains the evil perpetrated by city people); and, on ‘Pray For Me’, Darey’s narrator asks us to pray for him in his quest to move to the city.
‘Wish Me Well’ opens with a dirge-like chant which can be interpreted as the ‘mourning’ of a poor person who is travelling to an unknown destination with no money, food and shelter. But, in spite of all his obstacles, Timi is high on hope and dreams, dreams that only fits into the city. He believes leaving the village for the city would amass him fame and wealth. So he plans to leave his village and never returns. “I pack my bags / I’m leaving town / I bought a one-way ticket / I ain’t coming back,” he narrates. He would later renounce the village and swells allegiance to the city. “Goodbye, friends / And goodbye folks/ I’m heading to the city / And that’s my home.”
With the chants, lyrics, and mood of the song, it is obvious Timi is aware of the calamities and uncertainties that might befall him in the city but, instead of cowering about the danger that might betide him on his journey; he chooses to be optimistic about his quest, hence his appeal to his family and friends to wish him well, a subtle reminder that he might not make it back home safely, but, nonetheless, he would still embark on his journey. And do Timi attain fame and amass wealth in the city? Of course, he does.
Brymo’s perceptions about city life are not the same as that of Timi. His opinion on city life is scary, it’s full of horror. The song is sad and moody just like many of Brymo’s songs. In the song, Brymo laments the death of goodness, compassion and love in the city and warns about the reign of evil or terror. The song starts with a news report of a suicide bomber who drove a truck into a market in Borno State, killing a lot of people. After the news report, Brymo begins his narrative: “There is fire all over the city / No one can sleep,” Brymo sings, giving us a morbid nature of the city. “And everyone around me said that / Nothing was heard or seen / Woke up in the city that couldn’t sleep,” he continues. With these opening lines, Brymo, however, negates Timi’s proves that one can amass wealth and build a fortune in the city. And, somehow, he is right.
Darey Art Alade shares the same sentiment with Timi but he is not blinded by hopes and wishes like Timi. He also shares some sentiment with Brymo on the city’s hard life, but not as pessimistic as Brymo. One can say Darey sits on the conflicting bench between Timi’s optimism and Brymo’s pessimism about city life. The city is not paved with gold; it’s a concrete jungle that haunts its dwellers night and day, eating their brains and feeding on their memories.
Darey’s ‘Pray For Me’, which is synonymous to Timi’s ‘Wish Me Well’ (because we can’t wish someone well without praying for them) tells a story of a young man who neglects his father’s advice about the danger in the city and travels to the city. But, despite ignoring his father’s advice, Darey is more realistic in his quest of finding wealth and fortune in the city as he partially agrees with his father refused to let him go because of his father’s fear that Darey might get rob, broken, and lost. “I know I could get lost / I know I could get broken.” Darey sings, acknowledging his father’s warnings. Darey would later beg and implore his father to pray for him on his quest. “Forgive me, father,” he pleads, “but I got to take a chance, Oh, I’m already gone, so just pray for me.” And months after being broken and dejected (and unaware about his mother’s death), Darey writes his father and confesses the truthfulness of his father’s warning about the danger of living in the city. Though we are not told weather he is successful in the city but, according to the video, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for him.
The artists are right about their sentiments on the beauty and ugliness of the city. Their lyrics ring true as testaments for the hope and terror city’s offers her inhabitants. It’s a well known fact that a lot of Nigerian artists leave their town and villages to seek fortune in big city like Lagos. And after years of hustling and bustling, they break out and become pop stars. Aside the success story of Timi Dakolo in the city, the Cinderella tale of Olajumoke Orisaguna’s rise from abject poverty to wealth is a testimony about the goodness of the city. It’s only in a big city like Lagos that a bread seller can become an overnight breadwinner, a celebrity and a millionaire. It can never happen in villages.
Also, Brymo’s pessimism about the evil in the city is not out of place. Series of events have proven their sentiments right. Few years after the song was released, there was a bloodletting group called Badoo Boys, who killed and maimed people in the Ikorodu area of Lagos and sold the handkerchiefs stained by the victims’ blood for fetish purposes. There are kidnapping in virtually all the big cities in the country and, like never before, the Nigerian Police Force, who are hated by the populace because of their rogue behaviour, are now harassing and killing the people unjustly.
The city is a mixture of pain and gain, joy and sorrow, good and evil, life and death. The city is a blend of heaven and hell, in fact.