Nigeria at 62: Reminiscing On The Growth Of Nigeria’s Music Industry
When Veno Mariaghae prophesied it nearly four decades ago, most people might have dismissed her words as wishful thinking.
The Delta songbird’s prayers on her 1985 bop dubbed, Nigeria Go Survive, still manifest deeply into the existence of this great country. It has been a 62-year-long adventure filled with twists, travails and triumphs.
Veno’s prayers might have not fully come to fruition in every facet of the country, but within the Nigerian music industry, there have been monumental leaps of growth. From a child of circumstance, struggling to find a voice, the Nigerian music industry has grown from just a mesh of tribal sound systems into one giant ecosystem that has now become the soundtrack of the world.
In this Guardian Music Independence Day special, we are taking a kaleidoscopic view of some of the monumental eras, landmarks, and figures that shaped the growth of our beloved music industry.
Rise of indigenous popular music
THE sweetness of indigenous music, from both the Eastern and Western climes in Nigeria, was almost as intoxicating as the palm wine itself that was the main staple in social settings where they were championed. Already, Babatunde King’s Juju music had already been a noble genre, which was played across pre-colonial Nigeria at that time. Yet, there were some scintillating voices emerging such as Dr Victor Olaiya, Roy Chicago, and Rex Lawson, among others, ruling the highlife scene in Lagos, Nigeria’s entertainment capital.
Within the Southeast, the Osita Osadebes, Oliver de Coques and the Oriental Brothers were also chiefly involved in popularising the highlife genre. Other highlife stars such as Roy Chicago blazed a trail with his slew of hits such as Iyawo Pankeke, Are owo ni esa Yoyo gbe, and Keregbe emu. He was also arguably the first musician to blend the talking drum into highlife music. Victor Olaiya’s International All Stars and Roy Chicago’s Abalabi Rhythm Dandies were two of the leading highlife bands in Nigeria, both led by graduates of the Bobby Benson Orchestra.
The ‘60s and ‘70s were such a beautiful era for indigenous music in Nigeria. Within the South Western region, Haruna Ishola became the stuff of legends. The musician was the best performer of apala, a percussion-based style that started in the 1930s as a wake-up call to the Islamic faithful during the month of Ramadan. Ishola was known for performing lengthy shows to massive audiences in Osogbo.
In 1971, two years after he started STAR Records with I.K. Dairo, he released Oroki Social Club on Decca Records, an ode to the popular nightclub that hosts his performances in Osogbo. That album sold over five million copies and became his largest selling record till date.
Nonetheless, indigenous genres started to take a nosedive during the ‘70s and early ‘80s, with the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) pushing highlife’s mavericks into other genres including Juju music. Adherents like Victor Olaiya kept the fight going strong with his series of ‘revival’ concerts, which were held at the Papingo Nightclub of Stadium Hotel, Lagos and even an album dubbed, Highlife Giants of Africa. Still, highlife faced its eventual decline.
Disco-funk and Rock Evolution
WHILE Highlife was battling its decline; and Juju and Apala music were still flourishing with that anxiety of ‘who is going down next?, a few musicians were experimenting with Afro-funk, creating varieties of electronic music that were silently taking over dance clubs in Nigeria.
Joni Haastrup’s Greetings; SJOB Movement’s A Move In The Right Direction, Bongos Ikwue and the Groovies’ You’ve Got To Help Yourself, and T-Fire’s Will Of The People were profound records that proved Nigeria’s mettle in the realm of Disco Funk. Drenched guitars, jazzy trumpets, flailing flutes and heavy percussion of Disco Funk dominated this sort of ‘alternative’ genre.
Conversely, Nigeria’s rock scene rose mostly from university campuses shortly after the Nigerian Civil War, and the bands came from all over the country but were especially common in the East. The members of BLO (it was an acronym of their first names) had played with Ginger Baker in Europe for a few years, as had Joni Haastrup, with his rock band called, Mono Mono. These were two of the country’s biggest rock bands. Other bands such as Ofege, and their Higher Plane Breeze album provided one of the Nigerian rock scene’s iconic images.
Many other names like Tunji Oyelana, the Funkees, Ofo the Black Company, The Hygrades, Colomach, Tabukah ‘X’, The Elcados, and many more were all lost from memory due to Nigeria’s horrid legacy of not keeping good archives.
Fela Kuti and Afrobeat
THE musical mad scientist, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, is another proud beam of Nigeria’s musical legacy. After he broke into the Nigerian music scene, in the ‘60s, with his Koola Lobitos band, he began to gain prominence. However, it was his 1969 tour of the United States that bootlegged his drive for activism, after being exposed to the work of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and other militants.
With his band, which was variously known as Nigeria 70, Africa 70, and later Egypt 80, he churned out an increasingly politically-charged discography. Songs like Roforofo Fight, Zombie, Sorrow, Tears and Blood, and many others.
To date, Fela Kuti is the most influential singer that has ever created popular music. His style of music, a melange of Jazz, funk, and its own distinct drum patterns became a spectacle of admiration globally. It would later influence musicians down several generations, whose creolised fusions are collectively categorised under the moniker, Afrobeats.
Streaming Platforms, COVID-19, Social Media and Global Awards
THE dawn of the millenia ushered in a new era of music, where American Hip-Hop and Rap were fast becoming household sounds. RnB, too, began to dominate radio plays and dance clubs. Everyone was hooked on Destiny’s Child, Mary J Blige, Mariah Carey, Ja Rule, Ashanti, 50 Cent, and many more.
It didn’t take long before stars like Plantashun Boiz, The Remedies (Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdulkareem and Eddy Remedy), Styl Plus, Eedris Abdulkareem, Sound Sultan, and Lagbaja began to lead their era with Afro RnB and Hip-hop, which became the popular music of that time.
Soon, the Ajegunle boys such as Daddy Showkey, Daddy Fresh, Baba Frayo, Marvelous Benji, Mad Melon & Mountain Black, African China, and others started fusing elements of music from other West African climes, popularising sub-genres such as Makossa, Konto, Galala, among others. The music was hard to categorise, at the time, with its very native appeal. There were stars like Pasuma and Obesere who were still holding the forte with Fuji music. However, these newer genres and fusions ruled the scene.
Interestingly, the 2010s brought in the biggest change to Nigerian music. As of then, more access to technology helped Nigerian musicians create better music videos. From The Mo Hits crew to Storm Records, the EME Crew and other major music collectives, or superstars, it was the era of shooting music videos in foreign countries. The video qualities were crisp and very attractive.
It was also the era of major music-based TV stations such as Channel O, MTV Base, Hip TV, and SoundCity TV, among others. The industry was becoming more localised, with all facets of the ecosystem being represented in the country – from production to marketing and distribution, to performances. It was a good thing, while it lasted. Now, the industry is fast-becoming Westernised, and for good reason too. But that is discourse for another day.
The 2010s also brought the experiment of streaming platforms. looking was the forerunner of the business. After seeing the digital explosion happening, and the accelerated movement of local listening habits from CDs to mobile consumption, the company swung into action to create a product.
Founded in September 2010 with headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria it offered a range of online media products, including its movie streaming website named iROKOtv focused on Nollywood Film productions, and ‘brokering’, a Nigerian music streaming platform. While cooking was short-lived, other music platforms – all owned by foreign companies – started to slowly crawl into the Naija music sphere. The likes of Apple Music, YouTube Music, Audiomack, Boomplay, and more recently, Spotify, all came on board. And this catapulted our music scene to greater acclaim.
With the streaming platforms came more elaborate charting systems that helped with cross-continental music discovery. Music lovers in other climes were now discovering Nigerian musicians via playlists. And the diaspora black community strongly became hooked on Nigerian music. The streaming revenue from this has been meteoric. For instance, Ckay’s Love Nwantiti has raked in more than one billion naira from streaming royalties alone.
Then came the COVID-19 and social media era. This current generation of music creators has enhanced possibilities with marketing their music today. It is also quite easy to discover new talent today. From Adekunle Gold, to Reekado Banks, down to Ayra Starr, to Mayorkun, and many others, artistes are now getting discovered by posting freestyle videos on their Instagram or Twitter pages.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, we were all taken by surprise in Nigeria. Nationwide lockdowns forced concerts and disco floors to be shut down. Musicians were stuck at home and not performing on stages. It only meant one thing; more music. And with creative ideas such as Instagram live challenges, between music producers, musicians and so on, the internet kept everyone busy. And this era changed our consumption of music permanently. Nigerians became more voracious listeners, and musicians started to seriously consider creating music for more markets beyond the Nigerian industry. This is where Wizkid comes in.
In the middle of the pandemic, he released an album dubbed, Made In Lagos, which till today is one of the best-selling African albums of all time. Songs from Made In Lagos, such as Essence, attracted the entire diasporic community, with big stars including Rihanna, Jay Z, Chris Brown, and even former US President Barack Obama all giving their applause on the Terms-assisted song.
The current music industry space is also a more profitable scene thanks to social media. With the rise of entertainment platforms such as TikTok, Triller, YouTube shorts, Instagram and Twitter, it is easier for artistes to create trends with their music. You’d hardly see any song, today, being released without a dance challenge or some routine being used to promote it on TikTok. We even witnessed extreme routines, many of which were not spearheaded by the musicians themselves but the artistes, such as the Joeboy’s Alcohol challenge, where people kept pouring cooking oil, liquid soaps, and bottles of alcohol on their bodies. However, it has helped with a global explosion of these songs.
You see songs like Oxlade’s Ku Lo Sa, currently going viral in literally every region of the world. Thanks to social media. It’s easier to track views and gain more insight into the stats of your listeners. It is helping show promoters better understand consumer behaviour and know the right types of artists to bring to specific regions.
Lastly, global award shows such as the Black Entertainment Television (BET) award, as well as the Grammys, have also become another laudable point in our music history.
While they were not the first Nigerians to be nominated, Wizkid and Burna Boy became the first two Nigerian-based musicians to win big awards. Wizkid won, in 2021, for his contribution to Beyonce’s Lion King: The Gift album, while Burna Boy won in the same year for his Twice as Tall album, which earned him the Best Global Music Album.
The BETs had previously been won by artists such as Wizkid, Ice Prince and Davido, and had always been closer to home, but the Grammys were seen as the holy grail of music worldwide. And this is a US-based award; that’s the legacy you get for 64 years of consistently celebrating musicians.
Other African award platforms like The Headies, Soundcity MVP Awards, and the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA) have equally tried to fill the void within the country. But these platforms are all young, and it will definitely take them a bit of time to reach the Grammy’s acclaim.
While 62 years might seem like a long time, for the marathon of achievements that the Nigerian music industry has made it definitely is something to be cheerful about.
Currently, with the exports of Nigerian music under the aegis of Afrobeats, the Grammys have started contemplating creating an “Afrobeats” category at the awards.
Billboard has created a dedicated charting system dubbed, Billboard Top 100 Afrobeats. Wizkid, Burna Boy, Ckay, Asake, and many more are selling out monumental venues in Northern America and Europe. And literally, every British or American superstar wants to collaborate with Afrobeats/Nigerian artists.
After 62 years, we are enjoying more general exposure, increased access to opportunities, better technology for production and distribution, a decline in music piracy, ridiculously high streaming numbers (or song plays), and dominance of worldwide music charts. After 62 years, Veno was right about us. The Nigerian music industry is here for the long run. And it can only get better.