Boro Town, Nigeria — When Abisoye Raji saw a post on Instagram that Nigerian singer Tiwa Savage would be performing at Prince Charles’ coronation at Westminster Abbey on May 6, she couldn’t contain her excitement.
“Crazy oh!” the 23-year-old operations manager at a Lagos-based startup shouted a Nigerian exclamation of surprise as she read from her phone at a public event. Nearby spectators looked at her curiously, but she continued to grin.
“I was very happy for her because to be invited to perform at the coronation of one of the most important monarchies in the world is amazing,” she told Al Jazeera with a smile. “It’s actually good to see Nigerians winning from top to bottom.”
Afrobeats superstar Savage will perform this Saturday alongside Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and other artists, including South African opera singer Pretty Yende, at the coronation ceremony of Britain’s King Charles III, who ascended the throne eight months ago following the Queen’s death ElizabethII.
The ceremony is officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest cleric of the Church of England.
In Nigeria, which gained independence from British colonial rule in October 1960, the news was met with mixed reactions.
A colonial legacy
Savage, 43, a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter who is also a British national, was at Buckingham Palace in March for an International Women’s Day reception held by Queen Consort Camilla.
Back in Nigeria, some of Savage’s compatriots like Raji believe her performance this weekend is a progressive spotlight for Afrobeats, arguably Nigeria’s biggest export since Nollywood movies.
But not everyone agrees.
Others have taken to social media to express their disappointment with the singer, calling her a hypocrite given Nigeria’s British colonial legacy.
Sophia Bambino, a fashion curator, is one of them. For the 23-year-old, it is absurd that any citizen aware of the effects of colonial history between Britain and Nigeria would accept to perform at the coronation ceremony.
“I don’t know what it is, but Nigerians never seem to want to stop being involved with people who have colonized and oppressed them for years,” she said. “Let’s also not forget how British colonization exploited the religion and ethnic identity of Nigerians, causing them to abandon some customs and culture.”
Can Savage ‘save their image’?
Rolling Stone magazine has reported that multiple artists, including Adele, Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles and Robbie Williams, declined invitations to play at the coronation.
And for some Nigerians, Savage should have followed suit.
“It is very embarrassing… that the Crown wants to use an African female artist who is not their first or second choice to somehow salvage their image,” Lagos-based writer Innocent Chizaram tweeted.
This is actually very embarrassing. https://t.co/rn6jDnG4ao
— The Yassification of Chinua Achebe (@Ethereal_ilo) May 1, 2023
Experts say Nigeria’s long history of political, economic and cultural exchange makes it impossible to disconnect completely.
“The UK’s Nigerian diaspora is one of the largest in the world and is an important part of both cosmopolitan British and Nigerian culture,” said Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at Lagos-based geopolitical risk consultancy SBM Intelligence. “For better or worse and despite the complexities of Anglo-Nigerian history, the ties binding both countries remain significant and will remain so for the foreseeable future.”
For Oladokun Peter, a juju musician from Lagos, fans may have their say, but it shouldn’t stop the artist from making decisions they feel comfortable with.
“Even people who are elected to defend our nationalism and our sovereignty don’t do that,” he told Al Jazeera. “So why stop the artist from making some money because other artists refused to do it?”
Music as a service
Joey Akan, publisher of Nigerian music newsletter Afrobeats Intelligence, said the performance was simply an artist providing a service like other service providers.
“We somehow feel that musicians provide a social good and not a corporate commercial product like cooking or something else,” he told Al Jazeera. “If Tiwa Savage runs a restaurant and King Charles decides to eat there for his coronation after-party, will you tell her to chase him out of the restaurant?”
If colonial history really mattered, he said, Nigerians wouldn’t pay huge sums to the UK government to move or study there.
For others, Nigeria’s current cultural and soft-power status is enough to form a new relationship with the UK to showcase African talent on Western platforms and send the message that the continent can hold its own in the pantheon of emerging global culture.
“If the UK recognizes that by inviting Nigerian creatives, we should use these opportunities to make definitive statements about who we are, what our history is and what we represent in the modern age,” said Effiong.
Meanwhile, Raji can’t wrap her head around the reasons why Tiwa Savage should have refused to perform – like other artists.
“She is a global artist and if they were to invite her, why can’t she? What does this have to do with colonization?” she asked.