Oliver Twist: D’banj’s Veiled Social Commentary

D’banj? Social Commentary? What the dickens!

The last valid criticism of D’banj is that he is not a serious songwriter. But with his latest effort it appears he has finally scaled that critical hurdle…

Oliver Twist is on the surface just another one of the artist’s numerous songs about sex. A topic he has been fascinated with from his very first single, Tongolo, a contrived word that has been broken down to its individual syllables, into three separate words, to mean a particular sex act. Whether this was the original idea has not been substantiated by the Mo’ Hits star. But taking his oeuvre since then into account, it doesn’t seem a stretch of an idle mind’s carnal projection.

D’banj has since then taken the industry and listeners quickly into the mind of a young, rich and famous Nigerian. This incursion has been inadvertent for many discerning listeners. This group of people will rather listen to the mellow insightful music of a less boisterous musician. Only if Nigerian radio will let them; but no it will not! Nigerian radio loves D’banj- if radio deejays did not have him, they may have had to create him for themselves. And if his shows are anything to go by, the ladies love him too. It is strange to see women who will ordinarily frown at the use of sexual language lapping up the artist’s music, luxuriating even as they shower the man with unfettered adulation. Such is the lure of his performance.

For all the success seen by him since that initial foray into the industry, he has never really enjoyed critical acclaim. If it can be acknowledged that pop music’s Big 3 in Nigeria today are Tuface, Psquare and D’banj, then Tuface is both the most critically successful and most popular. The others are in contention for the latter spots with D’banj pipping the twins to second in acclaim while the twins are ahead in commercial success.

While it appears the twins cannot be troubled about their rank lyrically, the slur against D’banj’s songwriting seems to have bothered him so much that he took his insecurity on record: the title track on his The Entertainer album has him boasting that he doesn’t have to make sense since his self-appointed job description is to entertain. After that declaration, he goes on to sing in gibberish to prove his point.

There are those that would claim that the meaningless chants he utters on that track are little more than an extension of his usual lyrics. Maybe. But his last single, Oliver Twist, while not as culturally significant as the book/character that lends its title, presents some incontrovertible truths about the male psyche.

Stripped of its pulsating beat, the song starts solemnly: “I have a confession.” D‘banj’s voice is unable to convey melancholy but it is the plea of a sinner. Or the glee in his voice is indicative of a sinner that takes pride in his frailty. Whatever the case, the protagonist then goes on to not only demand your attention but ask not to be judged. He needn’t have bothered with that last request since almost all men can relate with his confession. His sin? He likes a host of women, and not just regular women, famous women. It is not exactly a case of objectifying women since he appears to factor in their achievements- Beyonce is taken by the rich and powerful Jigga; comically Nadia Buari is too rich, too beautiful to drink garri.

Beyond, the opportunity to name drop that this confers, the predilection for famous women is not unique.

It would be hardly surprising if a significant percentage of a poll with its main proposition . To postulate wildly, for a lot of people (males especially) who have recognized that fame, greatness will forever elude them, sleeping with an embodiment of greatness might be the closest they would ever get. It is the ludicrous logic behind groupies.

Of all the women he expresses a desire to be with, the Omotola ideal is most curious. The others are either with prominent backsides, beautiful or sweet- qualities that may send the average male’s pulse racing- but the Omotola archetype is wanted only because ‘people like her’. Beyond the usual trappings of beauty and endowments, the major appeal she has to the narrator is her appeal to others. This too is something a lot of young males are familiar with, the girlfriend whose main feature is the like/love/lust she arouses in others, the trophy girlfriend. Art imitates life; it is not uncommon to see numerous suitors for female students in final year of Pharmacy, Medicine and Law. Suitors whose first attraction is the title the wife would bear when out of school. For better or for worse, it is not a Nigerian peculiarity-there is an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where Sandra Oh’s character wistfully tells her partner, “You only love me because I’m a doctor”.

The second verse sees the protagonist accuses an unnamed female of his crime. She too likes the famous boys that serenade her as her radio plays surrogate lover. So in essence she’s only human, he doesn’t blame her. And he expects her to reciprocate. If said female is his romantic partner, they seem to both come to appreciate their smallness in the grand scheme of things.

Importantly, the entire drama plays out exclusively in the head of the protagonist showing how powerless he is as the media inundates him with striking idealized women he can never meet talk more of date. He wants ‘to have them all’ but he never will. Not wanting to bear guilt alone, he claims his partner is also guilty of wanting them all, that she too desires to carnally express her feelings to these strapping males but cannot.

This futility is common to both male and female however it is for different reasons. The male cannot consummate his desires for he is an ordinary guy without the prerequisites for chasing such successful women. The female is scared society would frown and label her loose considering the number of men, he claims, she wants. In reality, she will not be sated by just him- she is his female equivalent, she is Olivia Twist.

Luckily, through these inherent constraints, society reins the dramatis personae from the brink of promiscuity. Arguably, these constraints are the ingredients that make up the repressed individual but that is beyond the scope of the song.

Invariably, there would be questions about D’banj’s intentions; that is, if he thought about the workings of the world before he penned Oliver Twist. That query is for the large part irrelevant, as all of art is littered with unintended consequences. For as a critic once commented on Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift believed he had written a powerful book on politics; today though, that work is mainly a children’s book.

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