FLYING THE FLAG IN ANOTHER FIELD

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FOLARIN FALANA

When both your parents are famous lawyers, it takes a lot of guts to step out of line. Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha spoke with Folarin Falana, better known as Falz Tha Bahd Guy, whose rising profile as an entertainer has finally scored with his parents who hitherto struggled with the reality of his chosen vocation

Once upon a time, the name Femi Falana (SAN) went far ahead of the bearer, by miles. A diminutive man, what he lacked in physical attribute, he made up for in professional excellence. He was the Enfant Terrible to many Nigerian despots. On the human rights and development turf, Femi and his wife Funmi were greatly revered across the country for their human rights activism and legal prowess. For a season, it looked like they were the only ones who answered to the name, as it gained more prominence, particularly in the legal profession. Anyone who shares same surname was assumed to be a relative of the Falanas.

But all that has changed, immensely. Another family member has extended the family’s fame beyond the corridors of the courtroom. Nowadays, the Falanas are not only known for Femi and Funmi’s eminence in law. In the same manner that Charles Oputa, better known as Charly Boy upstaged his father’s popularity, Folarin Falana, better known as ‘Falz tha Bahd Guy’s meteoric rise to stardom (and surprisingly) without the influence of his surname has brought a fresh wave of fame to his family’s doorsteps.

These days, Falz has become the eminent Falana. People no longer ask if one with the name Falana is related to Femi Falana. The frequently asked question is whether one is related to Falz. A fact his siblings and parents readily attested to.
None of his parents anticipated his sudden stardom. Therefore, his recent accomplishment as a recipient of the BET Award for Best New International Act category brought out the pride in his family, as they called for celebration. Family members, friends and loved ones were recently feted at a private and cozy setting in Protea Hotel, GRA-Ikeja, Lagos.

Anchored by his two sisters, Folake and Foladele, bits of Falz’ childhood stirred nostalgia in the gathering – from the riveting tale of his passion for music which on one occasion earned him a slap from his mother to the infamous lock-up in toilet by his Uncle Femi Samuel whenever he misbehaved. ‎

Friends who knew him back in secondary school and university also shared their moments with him, particularly his determination to be a musician at all cost. “He never stopped rapping, whether people listened or not,” a friend recounted.
Groping for pointers in his background that could explain his proclivity towards music, he recalled that there was a piano his parents acquired. But he never learnt to play it. And he was not sure if the musical instrument was bought to nudge them in that direction.

Perhaps the most inspiring of all was his parents’ struggle to deal with his decision. It was particularly hurting to his mother who wanted him to follow in their footsteps, as a practicing lawyer. She couldn’t deal with the reality. How could she have a musician as a son? She recalled an incident where she paid him an unscheduled visit in his secondary school in Osun state. His teacher had called her aside and told her in a concerned tone that Falz spends most of his prep time writing musical lyrics. She was so upset.

Unfortunately for Falz, that same day in the company of his two sisters, he was going to impress his female classmates with the new song he had penned down. It wasn’t helpful that the song had an obscene title. An angry Funmi stormed into his little party and literally wrecked it with a dirty slap on his flustered son. All through the journey back home, she wept her heart out that her son had an uncanny interest in music, which she considered disgraceful.

While his mother was insistent on him toeing her path, the father on the other hand was more cooperative. She accused him of supporting their son despite her attempt to make him pursue a career in law. Femi had been a close associate of the iconoclast Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and was familiar with the rebel musician’s life trajectory. Perhaps, this hindsight influenced Femi’s tacit support for his son, much to the chagrin of his wife.

Still adamant that he would study law, she bundled him to England where he interestingly, graduated with a second class upper in Law. Despite his academic brilliance in the field, his pursuit of music was still stalled by his parents. They insisted that he practiced law for two years. Although, his father argued that his practice was just six months, his siblings insisted that he completed the full cycle.

In obedience, he danced to their tune but not for too long. At a point, he had to throw all in the ring to convince his parents that music is his life-long ambition. It took more than mere words to sway his parents. He had to do a presentation to prove to them that music is his true calling. They finally, even if grudgingly, allowed him to do what he wanted. Today, an over-joyous Funmi is proud of her son for his giant strides in the industry within a short time.

Indeed, Falz in his own right used his creativity to launch himself in the competitive music industry. There was nothing about his upbringing that suggested music. If anything, it was an innate ability, supported by his hunch. Harping on the boundless opportunities of social media to today’s youths, he devised a medium of promoting his brand.

First, he started updating comedy skits on his Instagram page. His hat-trick was his accent – an affected Yoruba accent tinged with colloquial expressions. The acting caught on, garnering loads of interest. Within a short time, he became an online sensation, gathering faithful followers on Instagram. Apart from his accent, he accessorised his outlook with a pair of framed spectacles without lens, similar to that of popular Yoruba actor, Baba Sala.

Falz explained the look. “It is a unique and striking part of my identity. Initially, it started in the university days where I was just playing around. The first time I wore it out, people liked it so I liked the effect it had on people so I kept it.”

This is perhaps the only eccentricity one would find on the artiste. Not for him the craze for body decoration and piercing. He feels “tattoo looks good on fair skin” and ear-piercing is just not his thing. So much for one who has found a good use for ‘Bahd’. For him, b-a-h-d means ‘Brilliant and Highly Distinct’.

Alongside his comedy skits, he promoted his music. His first major hit that shot him into the spotlight was the single ‘Marry Me’ featuring Yemi Alade. The hit earned him a nod in the 2015 Nigeria Entertainment Awards in Best Rap Act of the Year, Best New Act to Watch and Best Collaboration of the Year categories.

Subsequent tracks from him like ‘Soldier’ featuring Simi, ‘Ello Bae’ further highlighted his profound artistry. Describing his music as ‘Wahzup music’, he released his debut album ‘Wazup Guy’ in 2014, followed by ‘Stories that Touch’ in 2015 under his own record label Bahd Guys Record. His latest hit ‘Soft Work” is the most downloaded caller tunes on MTN network.

By 2015, Falz started appearing on the big screen as an actor. He featured in ‘Couple of Days’ and ‘Jenifa’s Diary’. The latter fetched him an African Magic Viewer’s Choice Award as the Best Actor in a Comedy/Movie series early this year. Last month, he was rewarded with a BET award as Viewer’s Choice Best New International Act. He is currently a co-host of the Bigger Friday Show on MTV Base.

Despite his various achievements in the industry, Falz described himself as a musician, an actor and an entertainer but not a comedian. He was emphatic that he is not a comedian, and as long as he does not perform as a stand-up comedian, he doesn’t regard himself a professional in that aspect of entertainment. Still deepening the mystic about his persona, he said he did not mind flying with the label ‘comic’.

An excited Falz who was hosted to a welcome party for his BET award was speechless at the outpour of love by his friends and loved ones. “I never expected this crowd,” he said during his vote of thanks speech.

It’s been over one month since he saw his parents and siblings. These days, the demand of his new celebrity stature has taken a toll on the close relationship with his family. But that is not the only thing that has suffered. His frequency at church service has dropped. Most times, his shows on Saturday night drag late into the early hours of Sunday and by the time he goes to bed, going to church is a forgotten issue. However, he said the important thing he never forgets to pray and maintain an unwavering relationship with Jesus Christ.

Moving out of his parents’ home last year was his first act of independence since he veered into the music industry. That strategic change of address is a big reminder that he is now his own boss. Add the fact that he has since asserted his financial independence by refusing to collect pocket money from his parents. But he won’t say exactly when he untied himself from his parents’ financial apron string.
Doubling as a CEO and artiste of his record label adds more pressure to him. Even though he is coping just well, he looks to the future when he can engage more competent hands as the company grows in stature.

If there is one thing that Falz has at the back of his mind, it is not to disappoint his family by getting into a scandal. “The only thing I can do now that will surprise them now is to do something bad that will have a negative effect on my career, like getting into a scandal. They will be disappointed in me. I pray not to get into one particularly because of the nature of my industry.”
From all accounts of Falz coming from different quarters, on this special day, one thing stood true: He is shy.

“I keep wondering if this is the same boy that used to lock himself up in the room for days,” said his father looking at his young star.
“I’m still shy. I wouldn’t say I have grown out of it,” he said later in an interview. “But at the end of the day, being a performer teaches you to find a way out of that shell every now and then. People are different,” he continued. “My type of creativity doesn’t flow when I’m around people. So I like to be by myself a lot. It helps me reflect, make my mind travel so that’s how I’m able to write songs and develop ideas. Usually when I’m around people, I get distracted easily because my concentration span is not very long.”

He attempted to define a shy person. “A shy person is someone that is not excessively outgoing. I think that is the best way to describe it.”
His shyness limits the number of persons in his social circle. “I have very few friends, others are acquaintances. In this industry, a lot of people are fake. You can only see me in public when I have to work, otherwise I keep to myself. I enjoy my own company.”

To be sure, Falz emphasised that his law degree was not out of parental pressure but a self-ambition. He genuinely wanted to study law because he admired his parents. He revealed a little known side of Femi and Funmi Falana. “My parents are very interesting characters. They are full of drama.”

He arguably defended his position as a lawyer-cum-entertainer. The sharp vehemence with which he retorted, “says who?”, to the suggestion that he could not practice law now that his popularity as an entertainer is on the rise.

He argued: “I can still practice law even as an entertainer. The rule, to my knowledge, is that if you do something that brings the legal profession to disrepute, then you will not be allowed to practice. So it’s arguable that being an artiste or entertainer does not necessarily bring the profession to disrepute.
“Maybe in the future, I will practise law. But for now, I’m still trying to marry my entertainment with law. Maybe I will further my education in entertainment law so I can still develop a practice in that area and become an expert.”