22 September 2013

Nigeria: Evolution of Nigerian Music - So Far, So Good

Photo: FelaKuti/Facebook
Fela Kuti.

Music has been known to provide comfort to people in distress, as well as providing some form of entertainment. Over the centuries, music has moved from one stage to another so that it can conform to the current trend.

The Nigerian music is so dynamic that it is known worldwide. The world music isn't complete without mentioning Nigerian music and that is why we now see different foreign artiste coming to sing or perform in Nigeria. The Nigerian music covers so many folk songs which have their origins from the various ethnic groups in the country and popular songs with roots from other foreign cultures especially from the West. However, each kind of song is so distinctive with each having its own techniques, instruments, and language.

Nigeria is a blessed country with diverse cultural heritages but more focus is usually placed on the three major tribes, namely Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. This is because of their size in terms of population and land space. This is not to say the minor tribes are ignored but are most times categorised under the major tribes depending on their locations.

The northern part of the country is a unique entity for its kind of music. The people of the North are known for complex percussion instrument music, the one-stringed goje, and a strong praise song vocal tradition. This part of the country, by the virtue of being a Muslim dominated area and their strict adherence to culture, have been able to blend their music with Arabic. The Hausa play percussion instruments such as the tambura drum; the talking drum and the Kakaki which is the elongated state trumpet. 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.

The Igbos play a wide variety of folk instruments and are known for their ready adoption of foreign styles, and were an important part of the development of the Nigerian highlife music. Just like every other cultural setting, they had peculiar kind of singing which was and is in the Igbo language, Ibo and they made use of the 13-stringed zither, called an obo. The Igbo also play slit drums, xylophones, flutes, lyres, udus and lutes, and more recently, imported European brass instruments.

Without any form of bias, the Yoruba music is most considered as the most important component of modern Nigerian popular music, as a result of its early influence from European, Islamic and Brazilian forms. Singing in one's language was difficult especially if it's intended for the international audience. In actual fact, there was no international appeal when singing in one's dialect until the Yoruba broke through. Modern styles such as Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister's fuji, Salawa Abeni's waka and Yusuf Olatunji's sakara are derived primarily from Yoruba traditional music. Yoruba music has now come of age and the new generation of Nigerian music now sings in their native language. 9ice is one of many that broke into the industry with Gongo Aso and many more artists followed.

Taking a cursory look at the various kinds of genres of music in Nigeria shows how much development has come into the Nigerian music industry over the years. In every era, there are kinds of music played and are developed on by succeeding artistes the following era.


Among the Igbo people, Ghanaian highlife became popular in the early 1950s, and other guitar-band styles from Cameroun and Zaire soon followed. In the mid-70s, other highlife performers were reaching their peak. These included Prince Nico Mbarga and his band Rocafil Jazz, who's "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 1970s, 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. 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, Oliver De Coque, Celestine Ukwu, Oriental Brothers, Sonny Okosun, Victor Uwaifo, and Orlando "Dr. Ganja" Owoh, whose distinctive toye style fused jùjú and highlife.


Juju music practically started with the coming on stage of two maestros in the person of Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey. These two were so enigmatic to the point that they ushered in the international audience and gave the Nigerian music more exposure. Both were rivals and as such did everything humanly possible to sell their music and it yielded so many dividends for them and it's still yielding till date.

Obey's lyrics addressed issues that appealed to urban listeners, and incorporated Yoruba traditions and his conservative Christian faith and 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. Ironically, both displaced the iconic IK Dairo from the pinnacle with their emergence who was perhaps the biggest star of African music by the '60s, recording numerous hit songs that spread his fame to as far away as Japan.


This kind of music is synonymous with the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti who recorded a series of hits, earning the ire of the government as he tackled such diverse issues as poverty, traffic and skin-bleaching. 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. 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 acts. Afrobeat led to the birth of another genre of music, jazz and rock and roll. The ever-masked and enigmatic Lágbájá became one of the standard-bearers of the new wave of Afrobeat. However, successive artists have refined this spectacular genre and kept the flame burning. Femi and Seun Kuti, two of Fela's sons are among. Dbanj has been able to fuse afrobeat into his kind of music. Certainly afrobeat isn't going to die; rather it's the fulcrum of most music thanks to the legacy put in place by Fela.

Reggae and hip hop

When talking about reggae music in Nigerian, this brand of music was started by a musician simply called "Terakota". By the 80s, Nigerian reggae stars included The Mandators, Ras Kimono and Majek Fashek. Like many later Nigerian reggae stars, Fashek was a part of the long-running band The Mandators, who toured and recorded incessantly during the mid to late 1980s and early '90s. Later prominent reggae musicians included Jerri Jheto and Daddy Showkey. The general rapid growth of the entertainment scene with support from the media helped popularise Hiphop music in Nigeria.

Television programmes like the MTN Y'ello show, Music Africa, Nigezie, and Soundcity, amongst others played a major role to bring hip pop music to its very present heights. Every tribe in Nigeria has a hip hop artiste either trying to blossom or already blossomed. 2face, an international artiste is from Benue State. Eedris Abdulkarem is from Kano State. This shows that Hip hop is the most encompassing, creating avenues for different people irrespective of tribe or religion to freely express their talents and the fans craving for more.

Kudos must be given to the present day artistes who have not let the efforts of the founding fathers be in vain. They have blended the Nigerian culture with the foreign culture to create an international appeal without losing the Nigerian touch in their songs. The sky is just the beginning as their best is yet to come.

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