On July 26, as a military coup was underway in the West African nation of Niger, the airwaves of Télé Sahel, the state television station, filled with upbeat music videos praising the military. Some of these videos had been circulating for years, but since a group of generals toppled the democratically elected president in July, Niger has witnessed a revival of both old and new military propaganda, now remixed for the TikTok era.
In interviews, a dozen artists, academics and entertainment executives plugged into the Nigerien music scene said that what could be seen as a paradox in the West — an outpouring of new videos and music under military rule — made sense in a country with a long history of griot culture, where storytellers and keepers of oral history praised figures of authority. Fear and respect toward the military are also deeply entrenched within the society, analysts said.
It is not clear how many Nigeriens support the military takeover. But the widespread appeal of these songs and videos provides a window into the layered history and sentiments that exist between Nigeriens and the military, which has been omnipresent in the country’s political life through five coups in 50 years and, lately, a struggle with Islamist insurgencies.
They also shed light on why many in Niger have in part welcomed the end of democratic rule that they associated with endemic corruption, economic hardship and limited freedom of expression, including for artists.
Drums of war and the silence of censorship
As thousands of people took to the streets of the capital, Niamey, in early August in support of the new junta Souleymane and Zabeirou Barké, two brothers, joined the crowds to shoot their latest music video.
Among throngs of men assembled in front of the country’s national assembly, the green and orange Nigerien flags, raised fists and defiant messages against Western countries provided an ideal backdrop for their new song, “Niger Guida,” or “Niger My Home” in the Hausa language.
The threat of a military intervention by a bloc of West African countries has only strengthened the resolve of young Nigeriens to defend their country and prompted some artists to denounce the threats in scathing songs.
“Niger is our home, whoever tries to attack us will face the consequences,” the Barké brothers, who are in their 30s and make up the popular rap group MDM, say in the song, which has been broadcast on Télé-Sahel. “We are not afraid of death, come and kill us.”