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'Sòrò Sókè' and 'No Wahala' meanings explored amid candle name backlash

Bruno Cooke August 5, 2022
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Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images

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Luxury lifestyle brand FORVR Mood unveiled its Owambe collection today featuring four all-new fragrances: Sòrò Sókè, No Wahala, Soft Life and Spice Of Life. What are the meanings of ‘Sòrò Sókè’ and ‘No Wahala’ and why have some of the names sparked a backlash?

FORVR Mood began life in 2020. It’s the brainchild of Nigerian-American beauty YouTuber Jackie Aina and productivity coach Denis Asamoah.

They co-founded the brand with the belief “self-care isn’t selfish.”

Their Owambe collection of candles features four new fragrances, the meanings of which may be lost on anyone unfamiliar with Yorùbá and/or Nigerian pidgin. 

Traffic in african megacity. Lagos, Nigeria, West Africa

What is the meaning of the phrase ‘Sòrò Sókè’?

In brief, ‘Sòrò Sókè’ (also transliterated without accents as simply ‘Soro soke’) is a Yoruba phrase meaning ‘speak up.’

Yorùbá (or Yoruba) is one of the main languages of Nigeria. London’s School of Oriental and African Studies claims more than 20 million people speak it as their first language in southwestern Nigeria alone.

The phrase started to gain traction in 2020 and was often accompanied by the word ‘werey,’ as in ‘soro soke werey.’ 

Definitions vary but tend to run along the lines of ‘speak louder,’ ‘make your opinions known,’ ‘advocate for yourself,’ and ‘don’t sit on the fence.’

Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

What about ‘No Wahala’ and why have people taken offence to some names of FORVR Mood’s fragrances?

‘No Wahala’ is in some ways more straightforward to translate. ‘Wahala’ means ‘trouble’ and its meaning can change depending on context.

According to the British Council’s webpage on Nigerian pidgin, when someone says “no wahala” they could either mean “yes” or “no problem.”

But as a phrase, ‘no wahala’ doesn’t carry as much cultural weight and significance as ‘soro soke.’

‘Soro soke’ arose as a popular phrase in 2020 in the wake of what came to be known as the “Lekki massacre,” when members of the Nigerian Army opened fire on unarmed End SARS protesters at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos State. At least 12 protesters died, according to Amnesty International.

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Nigerians petitioned against German author who claimed she coined the phrase

In May 2022, German scholar Trish Lorenz published her book Soro Soke: The Young Disruptors Of An African Megacity. She interviewed Nigerian activists, artists and entrepreneurs on “what it means to be young in an otherwise ageing world.”

She also claimed, per Punch Newspapers’ reporting, that she coined the phrase “Soro Soke generation.” As a result, more than 500 Nigerians signed a petition for her to move the phrase from her publication, stating she had no right to claim ownership of the phrase.

It’s with this backdrop some people have reacted with irreverence to FORVR Mood’s decision to name one of its new candles Sòrò Sókè.

“Dear non-Nigerians,” writes one such critic on Twitter. Sòrò Sókè ‘was one of the rallying cries during EndSars.’ It is their feeling that a luxury brand co-opting such a politically charged phrase for the name of a candle is inappropriate.”

What does ‘Owambe’ mean and how does it relate to ‘Sòrò Sókè’?

According to Nigerian news organisation Pulse, ‘Owambe’ is a Yoruba word that translates to ‘it is there.’

“It is the general name used to refer to parties thrown in Nigeria, especially by the Yoruba people.”

It refers to a celebration. ‘Soro soke,’ meanwhile, is a protest phrase that became popular after multiple people died while protesting against Amnesty-documented brutality.

The apparent disjunction between the two has not gone unnoticed. One Twitter user wrote on the platform: “Do your candles smell like anguish? Tears? Blood? Grief?”

The Focus has reached out to FORVR Mood for comment.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.