By Ayo Onikoyi
It is said that the only constant thing in the world is change, and nothing defines the history of evolution of music genres in Nigerian than change. Even Change, as constant as it seems, is never sudden, it is a gradual process, that may involve a lot of intermingling elements and situations.
The history of Nigerian music and its ever-changing genres have never travelled one road, it is harmonious, arduous journey through many overlapping pathways.
It is almost impossible to trace the origin of music genres in Nigeria without recourse to earlier years which influenced pretty much of the scene from 1960 to date. Attempting to do so, is like studying the anatomy of a man without the head and neck.
No doubts various cultures in Nigeria have always had their folklore music but earliest styles of Nigerian popular music were palm-wine music and highlife, which spread in the 1920s among Nigeria and nearby countries. By the 1960s, with infusion of Cuban, American and other styles of imported music into what was palm-wine music juju evolved just as highlife was enjoying appreciable prominence alongside it.
It is believed that Babatunde King, one of the earliest palm-wine musicians coined the word ‘juju’, making him arguably the founder, after infusing Caribbean and American styles into palm-wine music. However, there are others who believed ‘juju’ may have developed as an expression of disdain by the colonial leaders as any native tradition was apt to be dismissed as ‘mere joujou, French for “nonsense”. After Babatunde King, names like Ojoge Daniel, Tunde Nightingale, Speedy Araba, Irewole Denge and the Blind minstrel, Kokoro also became popular.
By 1950s and 1960s 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 funk became popular in Nigeria, and elements of these genres were added to jùjú by artists such as IK Dairo. At the same time, highlife had been slowly gaining in popularity among the Igbo people and their unique style soon found a national audience. Concurrently, Apala music championed by Haruna, a pseudo juju music that requires two or three talking drums (omele), a rattle (sekere), thumb piano (agidigbo) and a bell (agogo), was also taking the southwestern Nigeria by storm. By 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.
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 Jos 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.
Juju began its upward spiral growth with Tunde Nightingale and IK Dairo who introduced more Westernised pop influences to the genre. In 1963, IK Dairo 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.
Then in 1964 and 1966 respectively Commander Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade arrived the scene to change how juju is played. So legendary was their rivalry that juju music was catapulted into a national conscience. They both increased their bands to 30 and over, a long way from Dairo that increased the original 4 performers ensemble to 10.
With Shina Peters and Segun Adewale the scene changed completely. While Segun Adewale introduced Yo Pop, Shina Peters introduced Afro-juju which influences can be seen in today’s Afro hip-hop.
Apala music became very popular in the 1960s through Haruna Ishola, Sefiu Ayan, Kasumu Adio, and Ayinla Omowura but it soon metamorphosed into Fuji. Fuji grew steadily more popular between the 1960s and ’70s, becoming closely associated with Islam in the process. It is closely related to juju. In fact Fuji has been described as jùjú without guitars.
Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and Sir Kollington Ayinla were the forerunners of fuji music in Nigeria. Their rivalry in no small measure added to the hype that heralded then in the 70s and 80s. Soon after them King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal and Akande Obesere followed suit. Then came Pasuma Alabi and Saheed Osupa rivalry. Curiously enough, with these duo fuji has seriously dwindled in popularity as much of their audience now seek allegiance in Afropop and hip hop.
Highlife and Afrobeat
While juju is predominantly a Yoruba kind of music, highlife is more African in nature and mostly accepted and played by the Igbo people. Though it is thought to have originated in Ghana, the music gained popularity as far back as 1950s in Nigeria. Earliest proponents of the genre in Nigeria were Bobby Benson, Jim Lawson, Victor Olaiya, Stephen Osadebe, Celestine Ukwu, Mike Ejiagha, who all took a thing or two from Ghana’s Mensah. There were many others too.
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 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, Orlando Julius and others. Most of them reigned from mid 60s down to early 80s.
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. It is a fusion of American funk with elements of highlife, jazz and other styles of West African music.
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.
By the end of the ’80s and early ’90s, Afrobeat had diversified by taking in new influences from jazz and rock and roll. Lagbaja became one of the standard-bearers of the new wave of Afrobeat, especially after his 1996 LP. Following a surprise appearance in place of his father, Fela, Femi Kuti garnered a large fan base.
In the 21st century, Afrobeat is still one of the most recognized genres in Nigeria with more artists joining the music scene, such artists include D’banj, P-Square, Wizkid, Davido and many more.
Reggae, Afro Hip-Hop and Afro Pop
Much of early 80s to late 90s saw the rape of the Nigerian music scene by foreign influences, mostly from the United States. Then, the youths craved for foreign funk, pop and to a lesser extent reggae music. Juju, fuji and highlife, though fading out in prominence was only appreciated by the older folks.
Even at that, the Nigerian music was undergoing a change and it was hip hop that was trying to find expression and acceptance among the youths.
In 1988, Sound on Sound was the first Nigerian group to compete for the hearts of the Nigerian youths with what can be called true Nigerian hip hop and rap music.
When talking about reggae music in Nigeria, this brand of music was started by a musician simply called “Terakota”. By the 80s, leading Nigerian reggae stars included, The Mandators, Ras Kimono, Majek Fashek and others and they enjoyed their share of public glee from mid to late 1980s and early ’90s. Later prominent reggae musicians included Jerri Jheto and Daddy Showkey who started inculcating the Jamaican patois, pretty much around the period ragga music was romancing true reggae . This style has influenced the likes of Duncan Mighty, Timaya, Orezi, Burna Boy, Patoranking and lately Cynthia Morgan, who will bring some smiles to the face of Jamaican Patra.
After the Sound on Sound bold effort of 1988, Emphasis, Ruff Rugged and Raw, SWAT ROOT, De Weez and Black Masquradaz followed suit. By 1990s to early 2000, Trybesmen, The Remedies, Plantashun Boiz have climbed the stage.
Other prominent Nigerian hip-hop musicians include, Ruggedman, Eedris Abdulkareem, Weird MC, Naeto C, Styl Plus, Don Jazzy, Dbanj, Davido, Olamide, Vector, Ice Prince, MI, Reminice and many others.
Whatever the history tells us it is obvious Nigerian music genres are an offspring of our cultural folk songs with help from other cultures abroad. The true progenitors are the ancient palm-wine music which gave birth to juju, and from juju to afro juju and from afro juju to afropop which is pretty much afro hip-hop.
So, is highlife. Highlife still exists in its purest full but much of it has been swallowed by hip-hop and concocted to a blend of afropop. Do we hear much of juju, fuji or highlife today? They have all been swallowed and reborn as afro hip-hop and afropop.
Nevertheless, it is a win win situation for the country. At 55 Nigerian music industry can thump its chest that it is far ahead of others in Africa in quality and quantity of its production. Someone has said the industry is worth billions in dollars and has actively engaged many of the youths. We may still be a long way behind US and some parts of Europe but Nigerian music industry is one Nigeria can be proud of at 55.