When was the last time you ever heard the word cassava, and not thought of Tekno and his penile offering to Folake on ‘Pana’?
My friend Amarachi is a holy fellow. She’s the type of human who wakes you up at 3am with an SMS telling you that God’s grace is coming to meet you this morning. Sister Amarachi, as we love to call her, loves Christianity with a passion, and abhors everything about Nigerian music.
She breathes the word of God, sleeps with the bible, and when men ask her out, she throws some scriptural defence right back at them about sexual immorality and the dangers of sharing your spirit and ruining the temple of the lord.
I haven’t seen Amarachi for two years since she left Lagos on a civil service transfer to Abuja. But last month, she got transferred back into the state. Yesterday, we had our first meeting in forever, and as we hugged, she shouted:
“The Lord has been good to you," she said, obviously referring to my pot-belly, which was upsetting the shape of my shirt. I replied by tempting the sister.
“You too, you have been blessed. It’s like blessings, money, cassava, and banana has been constantly falling on you.” I threw in a Davido and Tekno reference in there.
The next reaction shocked me. Amarachi laughed. Jesus wept.
“Haha, is it only banana? How about cucumber?” She said. I knew something in the world is broken. Life will never remain the same.
Over the course of our discussion, I discovered that Amarachi had thrown herself into the dance circuits of Abuja nightclub. Those places where the music is loud, the booze is endless, and the lyrics are lewd.
She is still a Christian, but no longer a prudish one. Her brush with Tekno, Davido, Mr Eazi, Wizkid and Runtown has changed her disposition towards sexuality and its jokes. They have become some sort of trivia for her.
Before, the mention of a penis would make her cringe. But she has found more colourful euphemisms from Tekno’s world famous line: “Baby Pana, you say you like Cassava, I get big Cassava.” Penis has been transformed into a food item in a humorous and entertaining way, and she is embracing it.
Imagine the visual imagery of Davido wishing that “Banana fall on you’, in his new song ‘Fall’.
Nigeria is traditionally a conservative society, where some of the greatest conversations ever held were about sexuality and different ways to censor it.
But Nigerian music has fought against restrictions. Generations of pop stars have inadvertently led the revolution via music produced from their studios in Lagos, Enugu and other cities.
The National Broadcasting Commission is a step behind creatives, wielding a big censorship stick to cut out their explicit songs from mainstream airplay and broadcasting. So the artists get creative.
The typical hack is to use euphemisms that are primarily everyday items. These items can be anything, from ‘Kondo’, which is the Yoruba word for baton, to cucumber, cassava’ and many others. They are repurposed via creative songwriting to wear a new meaning,
When was the last time you ever heard the word cassava, and not thought of Tekno and his penile offering to Folake on ‘Pana’? When did the Christian in you last resisted a good ‘Banana’ joke? When did you not sexualize cucumber?
They are all a part of the system now, and each day brings a new way to go round censorship. Artists will turn anything nice and ordinary to something packed full with sexual innuendo.
And it’s paying off. Due to the influence of these songs, the sexual vulgarity that was frowned upon and clamped down in the 80s and 90s have taken on a new form.
Today, it’s Banana, Cassava and Cucumber. Tomorrow, it just might be Yam, or worse still a bazooka being twisted into some form of hilarious but effective sexual object.