FALANA‘s work as a recording artist is impressively honest and a sonic adventure influenced by her life as a Nigerian in Ontario and an ethereal encounter with Cuba. Her album, Things Fall Together, has overlapping fusions of many disparate influences that perfectly mash up into a soothing treat (think smoky soul meets 90’s R&B overlaid by muted washes of Cuban guitar riffs).
Falana has an imaginative yet simple way with words. As you will see in the interview below, her impressions on diaspora identity politics and creative participation are direct, on point and moving.
ADA: What would you say political representation is like for Africans living in Canada in terms of things like social justice?
F: Let’s look at numbers, shall we? I like to talk with facts. Based on the 2006 census, Africans made up 0.03% of the Toronto population. In 2006 in Montreal, Africans made up 0.02%. On the same 2006 census, the chart that outlined Population by selected ethnic origins, province and territory, Canada did not even include African as an ethnic origin. Based on the numbers, I think the answer is obvious.
ADA: Do you identify as Nigerian or Canadian? Do you feel like there are identities that are projected on you because of who you are or what you represent?
F: I identify as Nigerian-Canadian. The “common hyphen phenomenon” we experience here in Canada. I believe how we self-identify directs our behaviors, actions, ideas, attitudes that will then inform how people interpret our identities, in a very basic sense of course. There are other obvious markers that we cannot control or change that inform how we are read – how we identify ourselves, for ourselves. Nigerian parents raised me – speaking Yoruba at home, listening to Nigerian music and watching Nigerian movies, eating Nigerian food, following Nigerian cultural customs, in a Canadian context. Obviously, one’s parents have a lot to do with that. I commend them for trying, and they commend my conscious effort to stay connected. An obvious piece missing is the shared experiences that unite a group people – spending time at home will help that process.
That being said – on an average day – I can easily convince a room of people that I am Cuban. Not planning on adopting a Cuban identity though. I am definitely someone who has been fortunate to explore different cultural spaces, and that ultimately influences what comes out when I sit down to make music.
ADA: What do you think about the feminist movement on the continent?
F: It is difficult to talk about feminism in a singular sense because within it exists a spectrum of ideas that represent different groups of women that share but also differ in their experiences. I think feminism on the continent is not going to look like feminism in europe, or feminism in Latin America. There is a constant clash between what presents itself as modern and progressive but to African women who have a very different sense of what it means to be “liberated and independent.”
I think that the feminist perspective is useful because it exposes issues that have existed and still exist on the continent, that are inherently problematic and need to be addressed (domestic violence, for instance). Also, the cultural argument cannot be a to dismiss issues that negatively affect women on the continent. I think womens’ empowerment is important, specifically, because of the role we have played and continue to play in the growth and development of the continent. This needs to be recognized.
I also encourage people to just read a little bit so they understand what early feminists looked like. So they can understand where they fit in. I will not knock someone who wants to stand for something, better yet for Women, Women rights, equity etc. Do not do it in ignorance. Not just female artists, but all artists, specifically, have a visibility that makes it much more important to understand what comes out of our mouths.
Pay attention. People are watching. People are listening.
ADA: Are you writing?
F: Yeah, I’m writing. I’m not writing as much as I should be, but I was working before. I’m now gainfully self-employed, so I can throw my own schedule now.
ADA: You know, you turn on the radio these days and the world seems to be stuck on the same old songs…
F: I had this conversation with my brother and he was saying, a lot of things that happen in pop culture are because people consume it. I said, if people say this is garbage and everyone disowns it, it won’t have any value in society. But people watch it. You know that phenomenon where you hear a song you don’t like but after ten plays you like it? How much of this is just a basic principle of being socialized to digest and accept something as normal and okay?
(singing) Ass, and bitches, and guns, and bitches. I swear they’ve been doing that shit since the 90s. People consume it. It glamorizes a lifestyle, I guess, people want to have. Why am I gonna spend extra money being creative when I can just give people the same thing they’ve been eating for the last how long and it’s fine? From a business mind, it doesn’t make any difference. Can you come to Lagos this weekend? Okay. Can we get some cars and some babes? Oya, shoot it, done! At the end of the day, it saves money.
ADA: How hard is it to be different?
F: I think people who are daring enough to make leaps now, have a platform to demonstrate that it’s possible. When people have more faith, it changes the way that we make decisions. You look to your left, you say, “Hey, this guy is doing it. So what does this guy have that I don’t have?” Wow, wait, he doesn’t have anything that I don’t have, you know?
There’s still a lot of people that live in fear, a lot of people who are like hamsters on a wheel in life. This generation, we’re more aware, and a lot more connected so information is more accessible in making decisions. Before, you had to just be fully crazy. Like, brilliant but fearless. They call crazy. I tell people, I’m moving to Nigeria. They’re like, “Didn’t you just get back from Cuba?”
You’d rather me stay at this job.
ADA: How did Cuba come about?
F: In Cuba, I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t know anybody. I just went and made things happen.
Cuba was brave. Not like this Naija thing I’m doing which is not brave at all. I’m going, my cousin has a room. I’d just stay in his room, if I have a problem, I’d just call him. If he doesn’t answer the phone I’ll call his friend, if he doesn’t answer the phone, I’ll call my aunt, that aunt doesn’t answer the phone, I’ll call my uncle, that uncle doesn’t answer the phone, I’ll call my dad’s friend, no problem.
ADA: Tell us about moving to Nigeria.
F: I can develop a lot in Nigeria, artistically speaking, and just be exposed to a different market, but I’m also doing it for my own self and identity. Other people from the diaspora who are now returning home, it’s like this reality that the true North, the West, that has all this possibility – the façade has now been revealed. I read that Eko Atlantic is salvaging land that was lost in the Atlantic and turning it into like 5th Avenue in New York. They’ve built luxury apartments and already sold most of the units. Nigeria is already stupidly expensive so I can’t imagine how much it actually costs. The first thing that came to my mind was, “Are these foreign or national investments because, that will direct the profits and the control.” If you give up too much of the control, it’s basically like the Naija oil problem.
If you don’t have the right leadership in place…I mean, I didn’t go to law school and to me, it’s not even that complicated. People are now aware of what is really going on or that this opportunity, is not really opportunity, and that really, you can also create opportunity wherever you are. So you’re finding this movement now, people are just relocating. Everyone’s going back home. When in the 80s, it was the complete opposite. Nigeria is a great example because our markets are booming. If they’re managed properly, the country can be on the verge of some really big development. I’m for nationalizing. It makes so much sense – the economic turnaround, the type of development that you’ll see, when you nationalize your industries and it’s done. So simple.
ADA: How do you feel about the current Nigerian government and where the country is headed considering everything that’s going on?
F: My friend and I have this joke about Goodluck Jonathan. Literally, his name is his life – good luck. By luck, he became governor. Someone died and then he became vice president – handpicked by luck because he happened to be the governor that succeeded. The president dies and by luck he becomes president. Then by luck, he’s given another try, so we vote him in.
My friend was telling me about Buhari in the 80s and remembering when he was younger that actual change was happening. Buhari was also talking about directly controlling the income from all oil revenues, so he wasn’t gonna trust anybody to control that revenue. He was going to manage it himself, which is telling. That’s always been the issue – the money is coming in but where’s it going? It’s going to this guy’s house or car, this wife’s ring, you know what I mean?
My dad is in Nigeria right now and he says people are hopeful and positive. Having expectations is a dangerous thing, so it’s better to just lay low, eyes open. I also think for anyone transitioning like myself, this is a great time to go to Nigeria.
ADA: You also sound hopeful.
F: Whatever happens, happens. I’m also going for myself, to spend time in Nigeria. If one more person tells me, “where were you born?” – I was born in Canada. “Okay, so you’re Canadian.” I’m not gonna fight you. I’m just gonna move there and I’ll come back and then you won’t be able to tell me I’m Canadian anymore, please. People who grew up in the diaspora, we have to do more work. Friends and I talk about our experiences, being in these spaces and claiming our authenticity as a Nigerian or Ghanaian. We have that battle specifically with some men.
It’s uncomfortable because when you come back to Canada, identity is such a fragile, transient thing at times and the more that you can explore and understand where you come from and who you are, the more authentic your understanding of self will be. Everything I am right now has been through short experiences and what I’ve understood or read. I talk to Cubans and Cubans tell me that I’m Cuban. Why? Because I lived in Cuba and I know the hustle of what it means to be a Cuban and I speak like a Cuban, so it’s funny because if I go to Nigeria, the same thing will happen. Things that I think I understand will become clearer.
ADA: Are you interested in studying Yoruba mysticism and knowledge systems while in Nigeria?
F: I’m a very curious, open-minded person. Yoruba is so rich with ideas that don’t necessarily translate the same way in English, so I’m making sure I really understand the language and watch how that influences my music. Something as basic as metaphors, you use to express ideas in African proverbs. Obviously, you have to put in work.
I’ve been writing songs that incorporate Yoruba into music that I hadn’t done with such intention before, so that’s different. I play Cajon and I’m starting to perform with it a lot more, which is really cool because it’s been received very well. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman and I’m making beats on a box and singing, maybe that trips people up. I’m starting to hear what comes out of me and there’s like some Afro-Naija, Afro-Cuban sounds. You don’t even realize how you absorb stuff. I’ll switch between guitar and Cajon in my performances.
ADA: Did you make a conscious decision to do this now or was it something you tried out and it worked?
F: Percussion and rhythm have always come very naturally to me and rhythm is an extremely important element in music in places like Cuba, and Africa at large more so than Europe where they’re more listening to familiarity and harmony. So it’s always been there. It’s just a matter of tapping in; we already have what we need. Now I’m conscious of what I have and how to use it.
ADA: Are there any African artists that you’re feeling now?
F: Yes, this song I’ve had on replay, “Soke”. A friend of mine sent me this song and I’m actually obsessed. Like, it’s my ringtone, I love the production, and I even looked up the guy who produced it. I really like it. There’s just something about it, it’s very smooth, but still very African. The artist is Burna Boy. I like the production a lot, a lot.
ADA: Are you familiar with any Ghanaian artists or producers?
F: You know, one country at a time. The last time I was in Nigeria someone was like, “do you know this guy” and I was like no, and he was like “WHAT?!” You claim you’re Nigerian and you don’t even know who this guy is?
I cannot let that happen again. I’ve been trying to put all my Naija artists in line, by generation. So, Ghana has been neglected a bit.
ADA: Are you paying attention to music coming from the continent? If yes, who are the ones that stand out to you?
F: I do make an intentional effort to keep up-to-date with music coming from the continent. Especially since, African popular culture is not readily represented in Canadian music or pop culture outlets. However, it is a constant race to stay current, so I make a modest attempt to keep my ears open and I do enjoy exploring new artists, sounds and ideas. The Internet is a wonderful thing for this reason.
Artists that I listened to this week: Burna Boy, Asa, Femi Kuti, Jojo Abot, Davido.