1930’s Palm wine music and Apala
Nigerian music can be traced back to Palm wine music, a simple, melodious local folklore played at local celebrations. Following Palm wine music is the percussion-style Apala genre indigenous to the Yoruba people and made popular by Haruna Ishola. The genre has its roots from the Islamic call to prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan and was later influenced by Cuban music till it became popular. Apala uses drums, rattles (sekere), thumb piano and bells to create its simple, melodious and slow rhythm.
1950’s Juju and Highlife
The birth of Juju music in the 1950’s introduced more instruments mainly the ‘gangan’ (talking drum), electric guitar and the accordion. The pioneers of this genre were Tunde Nightingale and IK Dairo, however artistic rivals, Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade, brought international fame and stardom to juju in the 60s. Ebenezer Obey’s music included complex talking drum percussion elements with lyrics that incorporated Yoruba expressions and his conservative Christian faith. His main rival, King Sunny Ade, dubbed the King of Juju music emerged in 1966 ushering new fans by incorporating key boards, background vocals and Jamaican dub music. He introduced the practice of having a guitar play the rhythm and drums play the melody which notably attracted a wide range of international audience who followed his instrumental style and are pleased with the complexity of his musical elements up to this day.
Highlife music originated in Ghana and spread to Nigeria becoming popular among the Igbos due to its easy jazz style crowned by Bobby Benson, the father of Highlife . “Sweet Mother” by Prince Nico Mbanga was one of the greatest highlife songs that became a Pan-African hit and sold more than 13 million copies – more than any other African single of its kind. Today, Highlife is still kept alive by musicians like Oliver de Coque, Sunny Okosun, Victor Uwaifor Orlando Owoh and Victor Olaiya, who’s hit ‘Baby Jowo’ was recently remixed in 2012.
1960s Fuji and Afro-beat
The late 60s saw the birth of Fuji music, a mixture of Apala and Hawaiian guitar. One of the biggest stars of Fuji to date is Ayinde Barrister, who released over 70 studio albums with hits like ‘Orelope’ that went platinum instantly under the label ‘Supreme Fuji Commanders’. Ayinla Kollingtion aka ‘Baba Alatika’ is another Fuji star known for his fast tempo and danceable brand of Fuji music.
A style mostly associated with Nigeria is Afro-beat; a fusion of American funk music and elements of Highlife music. The pioneer of this genre Fela Kuti, brought afro-beat to worldwide attention and was indeed the most popular Nigerian musician in the world. He invented this genre in an attempt to distinguish himself from soul and comparisons to James Brown. Fela revolutionized the musical structure as well as the political context in Nigeria through his lyrical features using chants, call and-response vocals and complex interacting rhythms. Fela established The Shrine, a club which resonated the music of afro-beat. He started recording in the 70’s with Africa ’70 a huge band featuring Tony Allen, a master drummer, who has since gone on to well known musical acclaim. Today, Femi Kuti – Fela’s son has brought even more international appeal to Afro-beat music, winning two Grammy awards.
1980s Reggae and Afrojuju
Reggae music became prominent in Nigeria in the 80’s with stars like Ras Kimono and Majek Fashek whose cover of Bob Marley’s Redemption song was a breakthrough hit and ‘Send down the Rain,’ which solidified Nigerian Reggae as a viable genre of music in Nigeria.
The 80’s also brought a more modernized version of Juju music with faster beats and a disco rhythm in a genre called Afro Juju. Two of the biggest starts were Segun Adewale and Shina Peters, who both played with Prince Adekunle in the 70’s but broke off to start off to start their own bands. Shina Peters broke into mainstream after the release of his ever successful ‘Afro Juju series’ (1989). Afrojuju is a combination of Afro-beat and Juju and it ignited such fervor among Shina fans that the phenomenon was dubbed ‘Shinamania’. Following Shina Peters is modern day Afro Juju king – Adewale Ayuba who released ‘Ijo Bubble’ and many others to solidify the place of Afro-juju in popular music.