Nigeria: Siji Awoyinka On Celebrating Nigerian Music Legends

17 September 2021

Over 10 years ago, US-based musician Siji Awoyinka teamed up with his friend Ade Bantu to make a documentary. Having been introduced to Nigerian sounds while in the United States by his father, Awoyinka was inspired to pay tribute to them.

However, the music direction expanded as they embarked on making the 'Elder's Corner', which is Awoyinka's debut film as a director. He also wrote and co-produced the documentary with Bantu. In the series, Awoyinka met and recorded music with Nigeria's greats like Ebenezer Obey, MonoMono rock band, playwright and folk artist Jimi Solanke among others. Through their eyes, he told the history of Nigerian music.

"In a way, the mission was to tell the history of Nigerian music through the eyes of these musicians. It was important for us to look at what was going on in the country at the height of their glory," he said.

"When the nation was celebrating independence, it was reflected in Highlife. The country was happy, boisterous and lively and that was reflected in the music. When we fell into the windfall of petroleum dollars in the 70s, Juju music was all the rave. It was all about celebration, spraying money around, etc. When the country began to get into trouble with the military, we saw the likes of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti calling out the corrupt leaders, singing about the inequity in the country. So all great music is a reflection of the situation in the country."

He however observed that the present generation of musicians is not socially conscious.

"Nigeria is going through a lot of turmoil now but I don't necessarily think that is reflected in the music. It's more of partying. Maybe because the socially conscious among them have not been heard."

Notwithstanding, he acknowledged the role the artists have helped in promoting the indigenous language of Nigeria through their music.

With 'Elder's Corner', Awoyinka set out to arouse curiosity on the foundation of Nigerian music. The documentary does not focus primarily on Afrobeat, rather, it brings to the fore Highlife, Juju and Waka music. These genres he said were there before the popularity of Afrobeat or Afrobeats.

"There were other genres of music that came before Afrobeat or Afrobeats. It was important for the world to understand the foundation of where the music came from, the people who laid the groundwork like E.C Arinze. It was important for people to be aware of these folks."

But there were only a few that the director could pack into the 97-minute documentary. For instance, their efforts to feature King Sunny Ade was not successful. He plans to run it as a series where each genre will be standalone.

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