Posted by Timige, On 9 Dec, 2020 | Updated On 9 Dec, 2020 No Comments »
In “Peace of Mind”, the personal and political converge in a soul-searching, spiritual song which sees Nigerian superstar Rema reflect on this difficult year.
Starting and ending by washing the track in falsetto holy waters, calling on Yahweh in healing waves of ululation, he addresses his unseen personal strife and his homeland’s anti-police brutality #EndSARS protests – a cause for which dozens of protestors were tragically killed by military officers on 20 October.
Seeking temporary escape from the pain, he sings of their shared suffering, currently endemic in Nigeria.
Many people pain dey run in my vein, hmm / Many people don die in vain, hmm.
Explicitly, he criticises the stressors and corruption in his country, and the cruelty that police inflict and later “deny the case”.
In artwork depicting a crimson land ravaged by monsters and engulfed by flames, the young artist mentally floats above to sunset skies.
Over Zoom, the 20-year-old luminary exclusively explains to Vogue that the song is “about what is happening around me… The fear. The uncertainty. People dying. The government not caring.”
The #EndSARS movement – a force for change against the brutality, bad governance, greed, and corruption in the ruling class – has been rising up again, with many planning a second wave of protests, starting from today, in reaction to the police’s attempts to avoid investigation, and distrust in the system to bring about change.
Since the beginning, Rema has been vocal on social media, even cutting off his trademark locs in order to draw global attention to the issues.
In his private life, he adds, there was a period in which every day, “I woke up sad for a lot of months.” Without delving into “personal ish” – potentially saving that for his music the day he’s ready to – he explains that it’s been a difficult year. “I faced some battles… Woke up angry, woke up with a lot of pressure for a lot of months.”
He explains that “a lot of people look at artists as people living the perfect life, but there’s a lot of blood and sweat and tears going on behind the ’gram.” The wunderkind talks candidly about what the #EndSARS movement has achieved, the problems with Nigeria’s government, and what still needs to change for his country to be free.
Where did “Peace of Mind” come from?
If you’re a Nigerian, every day we search for peace of mind, whether you’re rich or poor. We all search for peace of mind because it’s never-ending problems popping up in the country and the government is not paying attention to the people. I went off the internet because there was so much bad news. It troubled my mind for a long while.
Tell me about the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria.
SARS is a unit in the police force: Special Anti-Robbery Squad. They are meant to tackle robberies and such activities but they started drifting from that goal and were oppressing citizens; being violent. Killing young people, mostly for weird reasons: “dressing nice”; using an iPhone; having dreads; being “criminals” or “scammers”. We’re just being harassed unnecessarily.
It’s been happening for years, but it took a while for that unit of the police force to get everyone annoyed. When we started airing how we felt, everyone put their lips to it like, “Yeah, I feel that pain too, let’s start a movement.” We all came out together, protesting as one people.
I wasn’t in the country at the time, so the best thing I could do was use social media. I went as far as cutting my dreads off to have people far and wide know what’s happening in Nigeria. I needed to make enough noise from where I was. The killing of the protesters – until now the government is denying who gave the order. A lot of people lost their lives. The government is not listening to us. It’s just never-ending trouble.
People are suffering. I care about people. Sometimes I stay home because you don’t feel good driving back. Yes, you’re living good but life would have been better if the people in power listened to the people. Seeing mothers and children trekking, begging, hawking in the streets – it’s sad. The government spends unnecessary money on unnecessary things, such as “cutting grass” for 81 million naira. Just dumb things. Setting budgets that go “missing”; they give us silly excuses like “the money was swallowed by snakes”.
On God, I’m telling you, it’s as dumb as that. So, whichever way we can help this movement, whichever way we can make our voice heard… We just do it through our music, interviews, and social platforms.
What’s the movement currently focusing on?
Right now, we are more attentive to know who gave the order of the killing of the protesters. It brought a little pause to the movement because the government was really violent on the citizens. But, right now, the youths are confused and tired. They are stressed and still waiting to hear from the government. The government is keeping quiet and doing unnecessary things like threatening to sue CNN for spreading “fake news” – which is real news. They want their jungle activities to be locked down in here; they don’t want the whole world to know what they’re up to. It’s crazy. It’s some Nazi type shit, I’m not down for it.
I’m Sudanese so, trust me, I know all about corrupt governments trying to cover up their violence against protesters. What was the atmosphere like last time you were in Nigeria?
I don’t stay that much. I fly around because I care about my mental health. Sometimes, [Nigeria] don’t feel like home because the energy around me is filled with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. I go to places that give me hope, and connect with the environment and universe.
People who have money can buy peace… Not for long, it’s temporary, but I feel mostly for people who can’t even eat. A lot of money was put into food to feed people during the coronavirus lockdown and given to the government to buy foodstuffs to feed the poor. We found out that in every state in Nigeria, the government stocked all that food in warehouses and didn’t share it with anybody. It was crazy. Members of the government were sharing those goods as birthday gifts and forgot the people. But people took matters into their own hands and broke down the warehouses. They took everything. It felt amazing to have some payback shit to the government.
We have some wins that we can hold on to as a generation. The SARS unit of the police is scrapped, [and] there have been less cases of police oppression. The government is more careful because everyone is woke. This generation is smart, and we have access to connect with the world whenever anything goes wrong. To some extent, I appreciate the fact that the world paused right now as everyone actually had time to pay attention to their surroundings.
What still needs to change?
The president needs to change. He needs to go. To me, that’s the most important thing in the whole world. He doesn’t know how to speak to his people. He is not strong enough. This country is blessed. We have everything you need – we don’t have no hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes or nothing. We’re blessed. We have oil, we have copper, we have gold, but this rich nation is so poor because of a few people’s decisions over the years. We’d like a change in power.
The Nigerian presidential seat is intoxicating. We need a strong person, a good person, a very good investor. A smart person. Someone who can address the people and give a roadmap. We need a wise leader. And a body to check the government when they are not following the right route. When the UN, London Parliament, CNN, and a whole bunch of people started talking, they were limited, like, “OK, the whole world knows about this, we actually need to calm it down.” We need that kind of powerful check. I want the rest of the world to put the Nigerian government in check when things are not right with their people. It’s not really [just] about the president; the senators and legislators, people making the laws, they all need to be changed.
Is this a taste of more political commentary to come in your music?
I want to do more political music, but my mum doesn’t. My dad was a politician and it was crazy back in the days. She doesn’t want to risk her son. But I’m a man, I’ll still make my own decision [in the end].
You trended for your tweets addressing critics not too long ago. What inspired them?
I just wanted to get some things clear. There’s a lot of disrespect coming from a lot of people because I’m young; because I’m winning; because I’m not really out there and don’t talk a lot. People felt like I didn’t work hard and it was deserved. I know my value; I know who I am. So, I just want to clear a few things up. People think I didn’t struggle to reach this point because it happened for me so early. I want people to know that I work hard for everything I have. And people didn’t see it as a pride-driven series of tweets. People actually understood me. They actually respected me and gave me my kudos. And that’s it. I just want my respect.
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