Nigeria’s music is electrifying, dynamic, and mind-blowing. But at the center of the country’s captivating music history and development are versatility and unwavering craftsmanship of the music makers

In Nigeria, music is more than an art of sound; it is also a sentimental journey. But long before independence in 1960, many Nigerians and indeed, the world, had encountered the incredibly creative and mobile Nigerian musicians who created and experimented with new and different musical genres. Today, the experimentation and creativity continue with startling rapid growth, especially among younger artistes who are not letting up a bit with their determination to change the world’s music scene. Yet, Nigeria’s independence remains a major turning point in this exciting musical journey that began many decades ago.


Like most African countries, Nigeria is still grappling with political, social and economic challenges. But there is a general agreement among music lovers globally on Nigeria’s preeminent position as one of the world’s most successful exporters of music and great musicians. The superlative performance of Nigerian artistes on the world stage has also come with unexpected advantages for the actors who are having the ride of their lives.


Frankly, what is going on today in Nigeria’s music scene is a revolution. And this innovation will remain on the upward swing for many more years in spite of the many problems confronting the music industry and country in general.


For those familiar with the Nigerian spirit, music lives here. Apart from music’s traditional roles of lightening moods, reducing anxiety and pain, it is also empowering support staff, engendering hope and building a new generation of young millionaires in Nigeria who are not looking back. Unlike their forebears who, many believe, played mainly for the love of music and performance, today’s artistes are more educated, forward-looking, conscious, adventurous and commercially minded. As a matter of fact, they are living the life, and they make no apologies.


But it will be unfair not to remember music’s founding fathers in Nigeria, especially the part they played during the independent struggle. More so, Nigerians remember their stabilizing role, deep philosophies and the foundation they laid for this new generation of unstoppable performers who are ready to conquer the world. To understand this role of music and its practitioners before now, it will not be out of place to state that Nigeria still remains one of the most diverse countries with a variety of musical genres that include but not limited to Calypso, Highlife, Apala, Mambo, Juju, Afrobeat, Hip-hop, Reggae, Galala and even what is now known as Street Music.


Nigeria’s Music just before Independence and the 60s

Before 1960 and shortly after, Bobby Benson, Sam Akpabot, I.K. Dairo, Chris Ajilo, Charles Iwegbue, Haruna Ishola, E.C. Arinze, Victor Olaiya, Zeal Onyia, Osita Osadebe, Roy Chicago, Victor Uwaifo and Eddie Okonta dominated the music industry. In a way, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Afrobeat creator, also belongs to this group. They were the true pathfinders who showed the way with their boundless talent, courage and appetite for their art. They were also patriotic and passionate about Nigeria’s unity and survival especially during the country’s troubled years. For instance, Olaiya, the great trumpeter and polyglot, had the honour of performing during the state visit of Queen Elizabeth 11 in 1956. In addition, he performed in 1960 and 1963 when Nigeria became an independent nation and a Republic, respectively. He also entertained Nigerian troops on the frontlines both in Congo and during the Nigerian Civil War.


However, Olaiya’s contemporaries were no less important. They kept the highlife fire burning all day and night in Nigeria’s major cities, particularly in Lagos, Onitsha and Ibadan where night life and social activities thrived at an ultrasonic level. That era, without doubt, remains Nigeria’s unparalleled years of solid outdoor entertainment for many reasons. The first and most important thing about the period is the issue of safety and security which were taken for granted by crooners and lovers of highlife. So, music and night life thrived unhindered, unlike today.



What followed these pioneers was the unexpected boom that brought to national consciousness, another audacious group that took on the baton. They came in all shapes and sizes and with a determination to make significant impact in the lives of their fans and supporters. The leading lights of this highly motivated group were Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Ade, Sonny Okosuns, Celestine Ukwu, Fatai Rolling Dollars, Segun Bucknor, Rex Lawson, Ali Chukwumah and Peacock International Music Band, the famous group that brought to a new generation, Eddie Kwansa, the well-known signature tune of The New Masquerade, a captivating television drama that attracted national audiences. This class changed the music landscape with their highly sought-after public performances and sonorous voices. And their compositions at the time, centered on local politics, culture, social life and trending issues of the moment. And they inspired a generation of budding musicians who quickly latched on the relevance of the time to create, evolve and position their craft for a future that was already visible.


In the 70s

After the Civil War in 1970, what followed was a bomb. Kollington Ayinla, Oriental Brothers, Orlando Owoh, Prince Nico Mbarga, Oliver De Coque, Emma Ogosi, Bongos Ikwe, Dele Abiodun and others, appeared on the horizon with a bang.

They opened another interesting chapter in Nigeria’s music industry and history with their stagecraft and sterling performances. They toured different parts of Nigeria and provided colourful motifs for a country in need of direction and healing. Aside the aforementioned male musicians, women also held their own, especially those who refused to live in the shadows of men. Apart from Comfort Omoge, the Asiko Queen who reigned mainly in the Old Western Region, there were also other active female voices. A prominent female musician of this era was Christy Essien-Igbokwe, a well-known actress on the set of The New Masquerade, an entertaining drama on the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA. Essien-Igbokwe, a strong woman, gave impetus to younger female artistes who took advantage of her exploits on set and the untapped opportunities in the music industry to launch their careers.


… In the 80s

Naturally, women found their voices and became an important part of the musical journey of the 1980s. The industry also attracted more educated and assertive women who were not prepared to take the back seat. They challenged the credentials and authority of their male colleagues and insisted on equal treatment for men and women in the performing arts. A leading voice of that struggle was Onyeka Onwenu who had just returned to Nigeria with a higher degree from the United States of America. Onwenu’s dramatic entry into broadcasting and her successful career as a television presenter and producer, gave a boost to her music career that began shortly after she left the media. Consequently, other female artistes took up the challenge and made a name for themselves with their musical compositions and sterling performances. Prominent among them were Veno Marioghae, Funmi Adams, Dora Ifudu, Nelly Uchendu, Esse Agesse, Salawa Abeni, Tyna Onwudiwe, Lorin Okotie, Stella Monye, Mandy Ojugbana and Evi Edna Ogholi. These brilliant recording female artistes came on the scene with energy and a patriotic zeal that left no one in doubt about their mission and essence. Nigeria Go Survive by Marioghae and Nigeria Is My Country by Adams for instance, became songs of the season because of the peculiarities of the time. The songs also turned out to be rallying points for solidarity, orientation and survival of the difficult political and economic challenges of the era.


It is noteworthy to state that the male counterparts of these daring female musicians were equally as important and productive. Shina Peters, Kris Okotie, Bright Chimezie, Jide Obi, Felix Liberty, Majek Fashek, Oritz Wiliki, Ras Kimono, The Mandators, Terra Kota, Chris Mbah, Mike Okri, Dizzy K. Falola, Ras Kimono, Kwam 1, Peterside Ottog, Alex O, Daniel Wilson and others actually fought hard and gave a good account of themselves.


However, one artiste stands out in Nigeria’s musical journey of many seasons for good reasons. Among his peers and even those after him, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti continues to be the ultimate creator and performer who saw tomorrow. Apart from his unique rhythm, courage, revolutionary performing style and unquestionable socio-political voice that still resonates across the world, he remains the quintessential artiste of many parts. He was indeed a fighter, defender of human rights and a great musician who understood music and the power therein. But his biggest contribution to the world of music is Afrobeat, his creation which is essentially a fusion of jazz, blues, funk and highlife. With Afrobeat, he created powerful songs of revolt that took on politicians, the military and business leaders of the time. He also made enduring comments on Nigeria’s political, social and cultural issues through a strong medium that is now widely regarded as his unmatched heritage of songs to his country men and women.


… And Nigeria becomes home to the new afrobeat

But there are also those who will always be remembered as part of the shakers and makers of the new Afrobeat. Musicians and entertainers like Femi Kuti, Lagbaja, The Remedies, Plantashun Boiz, Paul Play Dairo, Eedris Abdulkareem, Weird MC, Asa, Soul E Baba, D’Banj and Don Jazzy, Dr. Sid, Wande Coal, Timaya, Daddy Showkey, Sunny Neji, African China and Mad Melon and Mountain of Danfo Driver fame, occupy a prime position. They took Afrobeat to another level. These artistes and others contributed in no small way, to this new musical revolution that began technically in 1990.


Less than ten years into the new era, Nigerian music naturally became a staple in major night clubs, homes, shops, amusement parks and streets of many cities in the world. The drivers of this revolution, globally recognized Nigerian musicians who are making impact across the world, are also collaborating with foreign record labels and shattering myths. By dint of hard work, these recording artistes are daily, drawing world’s attention to their unique craft and compelling personal features. And these sure-footed boys and girls are doing exploits, regardless of the challenges in the music industry back home. For most of them, exposure and confidence remain a major factor in their successful careers. As a matter of fact, many of them learnt music and mastery of instruments at the feet of legendary artistes and masters who provided the needed tutelage. Among this group are also children of musicians who used their environment and leverage to improve their skills and careers.


From every indication, the legacy of Afrobeat will linger on. With the genre’s well-planned journey to immortality which began long before the creator’s transition, there are signs that Afrobeat will continue to inspire generation after generation. Apart from Fela’s children like Femi and Seun who are also following in their father’s footsteps, most established young musicians and even the up-and-coming ones, are plugging in to this genre of music that is famous for its abundant social, political and cultural creative opportunities for everyone. So, it is not only the music of today and tomorrow, it is also the only road to travel for those seeking relevance and success in their respective careers. Unsurprisingly, many are still anxiously waiting to travel this familiar path to their destination because Afrobeat will remain Nigeria’s mainstream music for many generations to come.


This brand of music is not just the rave of the moment, it is clearly Africa’s ultimate hymn, and it is performed generously everywhere. In Nigeria where it all began, it is now a national anthem at weddings, night clubs, music festivals, parties and different social gatherings. And no one discusses Afrobeat of the moment without paying attention to musicians like Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, the Okoye twins (formerly known as P Square), Tiwa Savage, Olamide, 2Baba and others. These artistes are all walking confidently on the world stage with their appealing themes that revolve around social struggles and realities, urban life, love, wealth and class issues.


To a great degree, the global respect generally associated with Nigerian songs, hinges on the creative abilities of these musicians and the universal appeal of their irresistible songs. Today, Afrobeat is called the world’s global pop music because of its international demand, relevance, the never-ending experimentation and collaborations with famous artistes in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world. At different seasons of the year both in Nigeria and outside, Afrobeat also inspires big festivals, concerts and street shows. One other remarkable and undeniable thing is the music’s rich history that precedes this amazing generation that is performing on all fronts. Obviously, Afrobeat will continue to inspire and innovate. So, it is no surprise that even under very harsh creative environment, the music continues to thrive with harvests of talents and great musical compositions. It is equally interesting to note that this era broadened and gave wings to Nigeria’s rap hits and the pop genre.

Therefore, for Afrobeat, Nigeria’s music industry and the performing artistes, an unquestionable great future awaits. The future is bright, no doubt. Again, the genre is growing by leaps and bounds essentially because some creative geniuses are holding the light and forging ahead. At the moment, those in the front seat include Olamide, Yemi Alade, Teckno, Patoranking, Kizz Daniel, Adekunle Gold, Flavour, Zinoleesky, Naira Marley, Simi, Falz, Mayorkun, Teni, Runtown, Fireboy, Phyno and Joeboy, among many others. They are all strong contenders for an enviable place in Musicians Hall of Fame anywhere in the world with their creative endearvours and success. And they are aware that to remain at the top, they must continue to draw from their rewarding collaborations, exposure, financial independence, mindful ambitions and audacious experimentations. All these are pointers to a future that holds promise, despite the changing times.