The music of Nigeria includes many kinds of Folk and popular music, some of which are known worldwide. Styles of folk music are related to the multitudes of ethnic groups in the country, each with their own techniques, instruments, and songs.
Little is known about the country’s music history prior to European contact, although bronze carvings dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries have been found depicting musicians and their instruments.
Nigeria has been called “the heart of African music” because of its role in the development of West African highlife and palm-wine music, which fuses native rhythms with techniques imported from the Congo for the development of several popular styles that were unique to Nigeria, like apala, fuji, jùjú, highlife, and Yo-pop. Subsequently, Nigerian musicians created their own styles of United States hip hop music and Jamaican reggae. Nigeria’s musical output has achieved international acclaim not only in the fields of folk and popular music, but also Western art music written by composers such as Fela Sowande.
Photo: Bobby Benson | The late Nigerian Highlife Music Maestro.
Polyrhythms, in which two or more separate beats are played simultaneously, are a part of much of traditional African music; Nigeria is no exception. The African hemiola style, based on the asymmetric rhythm pattern is an important rhythmic technique throughout the continent. Nigerian music also uses ostinato rhythms, in which a rhythmic pattern is repeated despite changes in metre.
Nigeria has some of the most advanced recording studio technology in Africa, and provides robust commercial opportunities for music performers. Ronnie Graham, an historian who specialises in West Africa, has attributed the success of the Nigerian music industry to the country’s culture—its “thirst for aesthetic and material success and a voracious appetite for life, love and music, [and] a huge domestic market, big enough to sustain artists who sing in regional languages and experiment with indigenous styles”. However, political corruption and rampant music piracy in Nigeria has hampered the industry’s growth.
The 1950s, ’60s and ’70s
Following World War II, Nigerian music started to take on new instruments and techniques, including electric instruments imported from the United States and Europe. Rock N’ roll, soul, and later funk, became very popular in Nigeria, and elements of these genres were added to jùjú by artists such as IK Dairo. Meanwhile, highlife had been slowly gaining in popularity among the Igbo people, and their unique style soon found a national audience. At the same time, apala’s Haruna Ishola was becoming one of the country’s biggest stars. In the early to mid 1970s, three of the biggest names in Nigerian music history were at their peak: Fela Kuti, Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade, while the end of that decade saw the start of Yo-pop and Nigerian reggae.
Photo: Dan Maraya Jos | The Late Traditional Hausa Music Maestro.
Although popular styles such as highlife and jùjú were at the top of the Nigerian charts in the ’60s, traditional music remained widespread. Traditional stars included the Hausa Dan Maraya, who was so well known that he was brought to the battlefield during the 1967 Nigerian Civil War to lift the morale of the federal troops.
Modernisation of Jùjú
Main article: Jùjú music
I.K. Dairo Following World War II, Tunde Nightingale’s s’o wa mbe style made him one of the first jùjú stars, and he introduced more Westernised pop influences to the genre. During the 1950s, recording technology grew more advanced, and the gangan talking drum, electric guitar and accordion were incorporated into jùjú. Much of this innovation was the work of IK Dairo & the Morning Star Orchestra (later IK Dairo & the Blue Spots), which formed in 1957. these performers brought jùjú from the rural poor to the urban cities of Nigeria and beyond. Dairo became perhaps the biggest star of African music by the ’60s, recording numerous hit songs that spread his fame to as far away as Japan. In 1963, he became the only African musician ever honoured by receiving membership of the Order of the British Empire, an order of chivalry in the United Kingdom.
Dispersion of highlife
Among the Igbo people, Ghanaian highlife became popular in the early 1950s, and other guitar-band styles from Cameroon and Zaire soon followed. The Ghanaian E. T. Mensah, easily the most popular highlife performer of the 1950s, toured Igbo-land frequently, drawing huge crowds of devoted fans. Bobby Benson & His Combo was the first Nigerian highlife band to find audiences across the country. Benson was followed by Jim Lawson & the Mayor’s Dance Band, who achieved national fame in the mid-’70s, ending with Lawson’s death in 1976. During the same period, other highlife performers were reaching their peak. These included Rocafil Jazz and Prince Nico Mbarga, whose “Sweet Mother” was a pan-African hit that sold more than 13 million copies, more than any other African single of any kind. Mbarga used English lyrics in a style that he dubbed panko, which incorporated “sophisticated rumba guitar-phrasing into the highlife idiom”.
After the civil war in the 1960s, Igbo musicians were forced out of Lagos and returned to their homeland. The result was that highlife ceased to be a major part of mainstream Nigerian music, and was thought of as being something purely associated with the Igbos of the east. Highlife’s popularity slowly dwindled among the Igbos, supplanted by jùjú and fuji. However, a few performers kept the style alive, such as Yoruba singer and trumpeter Victor Olaiya (the only Nigerian to ever earn a platinum record), Stephen Osita Osadebe, Sonny Okosun, Victor Uwaifo, and Orlando “Dr. Ganja” Owoh, whose distinctive toye style fused jùjú and highlife.
Birth of fuji
Main article: Fuji music
Apala, a traditional style from Ogun state, one of yoruba state in Nigeria, became very popular in the 1960s, led by performers like Haruna Ishola, Sefiu Ayan, Kasumu Adio, and Ayinla Omowura. Ishola, who was one of Nigeria’s most consistent hit makers between 1955 and his death in 1983, recorded apala songs, which alternated between slow and emotional, and swift and energetic. His lyrics were a mixture of improvised praise and passages from the Quran, as well as traditional proverbs. His work became a formative influence on the developing fuji style.
The late 1960s saw the appearance of the first fuji bands. Fuji was named after Mount Fuji in Japan, purely for the sound of the word, according to Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister. Fuji was a synthesis of apala with the “ornamented, free-rhythmic” vocals of ajisari devotional musicians and was accompanied by the sakara, a tambourine-drum, and Hawaiian guitar. Among the genre’s earliest stars were Haruna Ishola and Ayinla Omowura; Ishola released numerous hits from the late ’50s to the early ’80s, becoming one of the country’s most famous performers. Fuji grew steadily more popular between the 1960s and ’70s, becoming closely associated with Islam in the process.
Fuji has been described as jùjú without guitars; ironically, Ebenezer Obey once described jùjú as mambo with guitars. However, at its roots, fuji is a mixture of Muslim traditional were music’ajisari songs with “aspects of apala percussion and vocal songs and brooding, philosophical sakara music”; of these elements, apala is the fundamental basis of fuji. The first stars of fuji were the rival bandleaders Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and Ayinla Kollington. Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister started his fuji career in the early 1970s with the Golden Fuji Group,” although he had sung Muslim songs since he was 10 years old. He first changed his group’s name to “Fuji Londoners” when he came back from a trip to London, England.
After a very long time — with hits such as “Orilonise,” Fuji Disco/Iku Baba Obey,” “Oke Agba,” “Aye,” and “Suuru” — he later changed the group’s name to “Supreme Fuji Commanders” with a bang!, “Orelope” that went platinum instantly. Ayinde’s rival was Ayinla Kollington, “Baba Alatika,” known for fast tempo and dance-able brand of fuji, who also recorded hit albums like “ko bo simi lo’run mo e, in the 80s he released “ijo yoyo, Lakukulala and American megastar” to mention few of his successful albums. With all due respect Ayinla Kollington is a coherent social commentator. He was followed in the 1980s by burgeoning stars such as Wasiu Ayinde Barrister.
Photo: Ebenezer Obey & Sunny Ade | Two HIghlife Music-Influenced Juju Music Maestros.
Ade and Obey
Ebenezer Obey formed the International Brothers in 1964, and his band soon rivalled that of IK Dairo as the biggest Nigerian group. They played a form of bluesy, guitar-based and highlife-influenced jùjú that included complex talking drum-dominated percussion elements. Obey’s lyrics addressed issues that appealed to urban listeners, and incorporated Yoruba traditions and his conservative Christian faith. His rival was King Sunny Ade, who emerged in the same period, forming the Green Spots in 1966 and then achieving some major hits with the African Beats after 1974’s Esu Biri Ebo Mi.
Ade and Obey raced to incorporate new influences into jùjú music and to gather new fans; Hawaiian slack-key, keyboards and background vocals were among the innovations added during this rapidly changing period. Ade added strong elements of Jamaican dub music, and introduced the practice of having the guitar play the rhythm and the drums play the melody. During this period, jùjú songs changed from short pop songs to long tracks, often over 20 minutes in length. Bands increased from four performers in the original ensembles, to 10 with IK Dairo and more than 30 with Obey and Ade.
1980s and ’90s
In the early 1980s, both Obey and Ade found larger audiences outside of Nigeria. In 1982, Ade was signed to Island Records, who hoped to replicate Bob Marley’s success, and released Juju Music, which sold far beyond expectations in Europe and the United States. Obey released Current Affairs in 1980 on Virgin Records and became a brief star in the UK, but was not able to sustain his international career as long as Ade. Ade led a brief period of international fame for jùjú, which ended in 1985 when he lost his record contract after the commercial failure of Aura (recorded with Stevie Wonder) and his band walked out in the middle of a huge Japanese tour. Ade’s brush with international renown brought a lot of attention from mainstream record companies, and helped to inspire the burgeoning world music industry. By the end of the 1980s, jùjú had lost out to other styles, like Yo-pop, gospel and reggae. In the 1990s, however, fuji and jùjú remained popular, as did waka music and Nigerian reggae. At the very end of the decade, hip hop music spread to the country after being a major part of music in neighboring regions like Senegal.
Photo: Shina Peters | Creator of the Afro-Juju Music Genre.
Yo-pop and Afro-jùjú (1980s)
Main articles: Yo-pop and Afro-juju
Two of the biggest stars of the ’80s were Segun Adewale and Shina Peters, who started their careers performing in the mid-’70s with Prince Adekunle. They eventually left Adekunle and formed a brief partnership as Shina Adewale & the International Superstars before beginning solo careers. Adewale was the first of the two to gain success, when he became the most famous performer of Yo-pop.
The Yo-pop craze did not last for long, replaced by Shina Peters’ Afro-juju style, which broke into the mainstream after the release of Afro-Juju Series 1 (1989). Afro-juju was a combination of Afrobeat and fuji, and it ignited such fervor among Shina’s fans that the phenomenon was dubbed “Shinamania”. Though he was awarded Juju Musician of the Year in 1990, Shina’s follow-up, Shinamania sold respectively but was panned by critics. His success opened up the field to newcomers, however, leading to the success of Fabulous Olu Fajemirokun and Adewale Ayuba. The same period saw the rise of new styles like the funky juju pioneered by Dele Taiwo.
Photo: The Late Fela Ransom-Kuti, later Fela Anikulapo Kuti | The Ebamieda.
Main article: Afrobeat
Afrobeat is a style most closely associated with Nigeria, though practitioners and fans are found throughout West Africa, and Afrobeat recordings are a prominent part of the world music category found throughout the developed world. It is a fusion of American funk music with elements of highlife, jazz and other styles of West African music. The most popular and well-known performer, indeed the most famous Nigerian musician in history, is undoubtedly Fela Kuti.
Fela Kuti began performing in 1961, but did not start playing in his distinctive Afrobeat style until his exposure to Sierra Leonean Afro-soul singer Geraldo Pino in 1963. Although Kuti is often credited as the only pioneer of Afrobeat, other musicians such as Orlando Julius Ekemode were also prominent in the early Afrobeat scene, where they combined highlife, jazz and funk. A brief period in the United States saw him exposed to the Black Power movement and the Black Panthers, an influence that he would come to express in his lyrics. After living in London briefly, he moved back to Lagos and opened a club, The Shrine, which was one of the most popular music spots in the city. He started recording with Africa ’70, a huge band featuring drummer Tony Allen, who has since gone on to become a well-known musician in his own right.
With Africa 70, Kuti recorded a series of hits, earning the ire of the government as he tackled such diverse issues as poverty, traffic and skin-bleaching. In 1985, Kuti was jailed for five years, but was released after only two years after international outcry and massive domestic protests. Upon release, Kuti continued to criticise the government in his songs, and became known for eccentric behaviour, such as suddenly divorcing all twenty-eight wives because “no man has the right to own a woman’s vagina”. His death from AIDS in 1997 sparked a period of national mourning that was unprecedented in documented Nigerian history.
Photos: The Funkees of Aba | An Afro-Funk Rock band from the East of Nigeria in the 70s.
In the 1980s, Afrobeat became affiliated with the burgeoning genre of world music. In Europe and North America, so-called “world music” acts came from all over the world and played in a multitude of styles. Fela Kuti and his Afrobeat followers were among the most famous of the musicians considered world music.
By the end of the ’80s and early ’90s, Afrobeat had diversified by taking in new influences from jazz and rock and roll. The ever-masked and enigmatic Lágbájá became one of the standard-bearers of the new wave of Afrobeat, especially after his 1996 LP C’est Une African Thing. Following a surprise appearance in place of his father, Fela, Femi Kuti garnered a large fan base that enabled him to tour across Europe.
Photo: BLO Band | Three-man band | Berkely ‘Ike’ Jones, Laolu Akins & Mike Odumosu.
BLO was a three-man Nigerian group which derived its name from Berkeley, Laolu, and Odumosu, its three members. The group fused the Afrobeat rhythms of its native Nigeria with the mind-expanding psychedelia and funk of late-1960s Western rock to forge a wholly original sound embracing the full spectrum of black music.
The roots of the group lay in the Clusters, already one of the most popular Nigerian highlife acts of the mid-1960s even prior to a stint as the support band for the Sierra Leonean pop superstar Geraldo Pino.
Part-culled from: OnlineNigeria | Photos by Anonymous.