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Nigeria indigenous music and the changing times

By Daniel Anazia
20 August 2016   |   3:07 am
It has been said that music is one of the most powerful, most compelling and most glorious manifestations of human cultural heritage.


It has been said that music is one of the most powerful, most compelling and most glorious manifestations of human cultural heritage.

And Nigerians, no doubt, are music-loving people; they love singing and dancing to a fault, as music in Nigerian societies is a way of life that carries the qualities, traits and values of the culture it proclaims.

With a population of about 180 million people, Nigeria is blessed with older generation musicians and modern singers, who are doing the country proud at home and abroad.

While indigenous folks sing on the farms and on their way to the river, the educated whistle in the bathroom or attend disco parties or concerts to dance out their hearts.

As an integral and vital part of culture, music plays a noble role that cannot be over emphasised. It is a medium through which facts and values of society are preserved and passed from one generation to another.

Directly and indirectly, traditional music performs communication roles through singing and use of musical instrument to spread messages to near and far distant with respect to peaceful and war signal and announcement of certain events to the public.

Music in Nigeria has a history and can be largely categorised into genres. It assumed commercial interests in the early 1900s and by 1910; popular musicians were already emerging into popular genres, like Juju, Highlife, Apala, Afro-beat, Waka and Fuji.

Juju, as an indigenous music style, took shape in the early 1920s and got popularised by Nigeria’s first musical stars, which included Tunde King and Irewole Denge.

By 1950, other artistes, such as Tunde Nightingale, J. O. Araba and C. A. Balogun came into the scene.

In the early 1960s, I. K. Dairo rose to stardom and took the center-stage, paving the way for acts likes Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Ade to come up into prominence.

Sir Shina Peters, Dele Taiwo and Dayo Kujore also achieved fame with Juju in the early 1990s when the genre began to decline in popularity.

Though it originated from Ghana and then Cameroun and Zaire, with Ghanaian E. T. Mensah popularising it in Ghana in the 1950s, highlife music, which was popularised in Nigeria by artistes like Bobby Benson, Cardinal Rex Lawson and Dr. Victor Olaiya came on the scene.

But the music achieved more with Igbo musicians, such as Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Oliver de Coque, Celestine Ukwu, Oriental Brothers, Sonny Okosun, Victor Uwaifo and the Yoruba Orlando Owoh.

Apala is a slow and emotional dirge-like kind of music, which took root in Ogun State and popularised by Haruna Ishola and Ayinla Omowura in the early 1960s.

Olatunji Yusuf raised the genre high in the early 70s, while Musiliu Ishola, Haruna’s son, also made an attempt to resurrect the genre among the Yoruba-speaking people in 2003 with his album.

Predominantly sung by Yoruba women with Islamic backgrounds, with the most reputable being Queen Salawa Abeni, who ruled the Waka music genre for almost three decades, with no other artiste dislodging her leadership.

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti pioneered what is today known as Afro-beat around 1961, playing a mixture of funk, highlife, jazz and West Africa music to make his blend of music.

Although Fela is credited with pioneering Afro-beat, Orlando Julius Ekemode was also prominent as an Afro-beat musician, which he still plays till date.



Upon Fela’s death in 1997, his son Femi Kuti, took the stage and promoted the genre by releasing several album and touring Europe.

Then, the masked musician, Lagbaja, entered the stage with his style of Afro-beat that became instant hit with people all over the country because of his enigmatic performance.

The late Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, also known as Barry Wonder, gave the name Fuji to the new form of Yoruba music prevalent among Yoruba Islamic communities in the early 1970s.

He was followed by Kollington Ayinla, alias Kebe Kwara, as rival, and by 1980, another competitor, Wasiu Ayinde Marshall, came into the genre.

Before the advent of the missionaries, who brought western music education into Africa, traditional approach of studying and training was approved as an effective means of passing musical knowledge from one generation to the other.

The method of learning by imitation was effectively used to disseminate musical information as an effective tool for promoting oral tradition before formal approach was introduced into the school system as a subject of study.

In attempt to find answers to many begging questions on the death or gradual death of Nigerian indigenous music as a result of the changing times, the Association of Nigerian Musicologist (ANIM), at its just-concluded 14th Annual International Conference held at the University of Lagos, looked at the concept of indigenous music, its methods and perception and the significant change.

In his keynote address, Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, noted that indigenous music could be described as the music of an original of ethnic group that inhabits any geographic region alongside more recent immigrants who may be greater in number.

He said: “Like the languages of Nigeria that are a legion, various music types are indigenous to various tribes, people and state, almost to the extent that it will be inappropriate to label any particular genre of music as indigenous Nigerian music.

“However, as concerns for the survival of indigenous languages grow, the worry over the survival or relevance of various indigenous music forms has also grown, almost to the point of trepidation that certain music forms, like dialects and languages, may soon become extinct if care is not taken.”

According to Ayorinde, there is basis for fear for the seeming disappearance and transmutation of a number of indigenous music styles, like Apala, Awurebe, Waka, Iremoje or the Ewi chants, when assessed from the musical cum performance art form, as they are at the risk of falling out of use or transmute into other forms that derive their relevance from not just other languages, but foreign and in most cases technology-driven instrumentation.

“This fear is real when we consider that the proponents of certain types of musical art forms tend to either die with their brand of indigenous music or their music does not last beyond their prime.

“This assertion is reinforced when we consider the exit of once legendary musicians, like Haruna Ishola, Ayinla Omowura, Ligali Mukaiba or even Comfort Omoge, who really have not had a continuation of their types of music blossom, except for limited airplays on radio.”

He added: “We must worry when a genre of music, like Waka, even while Salawa Abeni is still alive, has almost gone into extinct or even when juju, with its two main leading proponents- Chief Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade- appears to be gasping for breath in the midst of the stiff opposition posed by Fuji, dance-hall, indigenous gospel and of course, hip-hop/popular music.”

Ayorinde accused the media, particularly the broadcast media, which appears to find more fulfillments, and perhaps understandably so, more listenership in the contemporary hip music that now dominates the airwaves.

He, however, commended the courageous efforts of some radio and television stations that are wholly or in part dedicated to the promotion of indigenous culture and preservation of heritage by broadcasting in local languages and thereby giving constant and copious airplay to indigenous music.

For Prof Tunji Vidal, Head, Department of Music and Theatre Arts, Lagos State University, Ojo, historical records show that musicians were already in existence as far back as 1651 at the Oba of Benin palace, where dancing women were brought to the court to entertain visitors.

This indicates that there was flourishing indigenous music, especially in the palace, at the time.

He, however, questioned the place of indigenous music when globalisation and information communication technology has brought foreign music of various artistic tastes into the living room of an average Nigerian, providing private entertainment, as did the radio broadcasts of live and recorded music of the 1920s and 30s.