The real cultural significance of Rema’s 02 Arena performance, we wrongly blamed him

Nigerian singer, Rema, has been accused of Satanism because of the themes in his recent 02 performance. However, these themes are reminiscent of his Edo heritage.

O14 November 2023, Nigerian Afrobeats singer, Rema, performed at the 02 Arena in London. He sold out the 20,000-capacity stadium joining Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy and Asake as the only Afrobeat artists to achieve the feat.

However, his performance has sparked some controversies. Rema opened the stage wearing a mask and mounted on a stationary horse. The public response has had some calling him demonic or satanic. However, his presence on stage primarily served to represent his culture with a host of symbols.

Afrobeats star Rema addresses 'satanic symbolism' in sold-out London concert

Divine Ikubor, whose stage name is Rema, is a Nigeria Afrobeats singer, rapper and performer. He signed a record deal with Jonzing World, a subsidiary of Mavin Records in 2019. He went viral with the release of Dumebi and Iron Man and has since risen to stardom. His most recent achievement is his sold-out London show at the 02 Arena.

While Rema is considered a global artist by his fans, he maintains strong connections with his city of origin, Benin in Nigeria. During his Ravage Uprising performance at the 02 Arena, he inculcated some of his culture into his performance. This received mixed reactions from fans.

REPRESENTATIONS

To open his show, Rema adorned a red mask that covered the upper half of his face leaving only his mouth exposed. It had intricate designs placed all over including two vertical rectangles in the middle and a set of elevations extending at the top. He also rode on top of a stationary horse with a cape draped over him.

Nigerians have a complicated relationship with religion and popular culture disassociates from anything which does not align with one’s religious identity. Because of this, not many fans were able to understand his performance and tagged it as satanic. However, he simply paid homage to his home.

The mask that Rema wore was a replica of the Benin mask of Queen Idia. Benin City is the capital and largest city in Edo State, located in Southern Nigeria. Queen Mother Idia was the mother of Oba (King) Esigie. She is credited with ensuring her son’s victory against his brother, Arhuaran, establishing Benin as one of the most powerful kingdoms of pre-colonial Nigeria. During this time, it was customary for Obas to wear ivory pendant masks during ceremonies and one of those artifacts which have been preserved for centuries is believed to be the portrait of Queen Idia. Rema wore a replica of her mask in honour of her legacy.

Rema also sat on top of a stationary horse. This was a reference to another piece of Benin art. The horse and rider figure is a bronze sculpture depicting a warrior dressed in regal clothes, mounted on a horse. The rider wears a ceremonial headdress while holding a weapon and shield, ready for battle. The rider is also draped in a cape, just as Rema was. The combination of the horse and the mask presents the image of a warrior prepared for battle.

During his performance, Rema also rode on an artificial bat. This gesture was also misinterpreted. Rema has used the bat emoji as his signature emoji for years, and it’s not the first time it has gotten him accused of being satanic. However, the bat is a symbol to remind him of home as bats are commonly found flying around at night in Benin.

Rema was dressed as one prepared for battle. This is especially significant as he performed in Britain, which had colonized Nigeria. He wore the mask of a warrior, as was customary in the historical Benin Kingdom, and with the appropriate attire, was mounted on his horse. His stage paid homage to this important piece of history.

WIDER PICTURE

Fans’ reactions to Rema’s 02 performance are worrying for two reasons. First, it raises alarm bells about the lack of knowledge of Nigerian history, even among its own citizens. Second, it shines a light on how anything cultural is demonized.

Rema stated his intentions with a post on his X (formerly Twitter) account. He said, ‘My ancestors bronzes sit in the museum of this very city, so I remade mine. Hence, Edo is redefined, the map reshaped, your minds awakened & the mask reborn.’

With this, he speaks to the British seizure of the Benin Bronzes, of which many are still yet to be returned. He also mentions Edo which he has now ‘redefined’, awakening the minds of his audience. While initial reactions were negative, Rema’s performance has been able to broaden people’s minds away from religious and cultural intolerance to see the beauty of history and heritage

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