Mr Ajetumobi, my music teacher of blessed memory, provided my secondary school class with a definition of music that still clings to my memory. He defined music as an organised sound and went on to teach the various notes and sounds in the subject. He painted music in such cheering colours and made the students look forward to his classes.
His portrayal of music as a much-loved human pastime is seen in the way music is appreciated all over the world. If a piano is pouring out beats or someone is singing a song, there is that instant attraction to the scene. Google’s definition of music as a combination of sounds to produce beauty of form, harmony and expression of emotion shows the colours that music adds to human life.
When King Saul in the Bible was possessed by an evil spirit, a skilful player of the harp was called in, to make him regain his senses. God inhabits the praises of his people. He revels in music. Sometimes people wonder why God loved David so much, despite his inadequacies. I guess it’s because of his dedication to music. The biblical Book of Psalms is a dedication to the beauty of the musical world. Many of those psalms have been set to music.
The allure of music dates back to many generations ago. Its reality is still being felt. Anyone who takes a trip from the music of the various eras in history to contemporary tunes, spanning the music that warms the heart of people in the western world and comes home to Nigeria, will discover that music has come of age.
Once upon a time, musicians, especially in my country, Nigeria, were given a bad label. They were viewed as scoundrels who had no future ambition and chose to drown their sorrows in musical beats that only gratified the soul and did not activate the mind.
Still, there were a few musicians who rose above the ridicule of the majority and embraced fame, while they held on steadfastly to their musical gifts. I searched my childhood memories, with assistance from Google, to gather information about some of these veteran musicians.
Sunday Adeniyi, known by his stage name, King Sunny Ade, is a Nigerian juju singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and is regarded as one of the first African-pop musicians to gain international success, with his signature juju music. This is one musician that has been on the Nigerian music scene since the 1960s and still remains relevant. It is interesting to note that not only the older generation love his music. The granddaughter of a certain Nigerian minister is one of his fans and I watched a video where her grandfather granted her wish and arranged a meeting between them. Her joy was so palpable. An appreciation that spans through multiple generations speaks volume.
Osita Osadebe, known as the king of highlife music, makes history as one of our best-known Igbo highlife musicians. The older generation of Nigerians appreciate his genre of music and years after his death in 2007, his 1984 hit single, “Osondi Owendi,” still floods our airwaves and stills delivers value.
Sir Victor Uwaifo, popularly called Guitar Boy, after one of his hit songs, is one musician who combines a myriad of talents. He is a musician, writer, sculptor, musical instrument inventor and university lecturer. His hit song, “Joromi,” has earned an award as an evergreen song. He recently celebrated his 80th birthday and at the event, his dexterity with the guitar and musical presence show that he is still very much at home with music.
Ebenezer Obey is another Nigerian musician who started his musical career in the 70s and merges highlife and juju beats. His secular music career was a very promising one and after he moved to the gospel music scene, he still holds his own in the musical world and he is respected globally for his musical influence in Nigeria.
King Sunny Ade
Fela Anikulakpo Kuti rose to prominence with his Egypt 80 band, with its blend of traditional Yoruba and Afro-Cuban music, funk and jazz, called afrobeat. Despite the tag of abami eda, a phrase which means the “strange one” in Yoruba language, not everyone saw him as strange and his African Shrine was a beehive of activities. His death since 1997 has not diminished some people’s love for his music, which lives on in his children and grandchildren.
Shina Peters took the Nigerian music scene by storm in the 1980s and some lyrics from his albums, Ace and Shinamania became so popular that social events were incomplete without them. He ruled the entertainment world like a demi-god and his songs gripped people, as if they were under a spell, while they danced to the beats of the well-loved tunes.
Oliver Sunday Akanite, better known as Oliver De Coque, another Nigerian musician and Guitarist, with his blend of modern music and traditional Igbo harmonies, takes the slot as Nigeria’s most prolific recording artists, with 93 albums to his credits. His death in 2008 has not erased his musical footprints, as some of his songs like “One Enwe,” “Biri Kan Mbiri” and “People’s Club,” are all-time favourites.
Onyeka Onwenu, the elegant mare and singer with the golden voice, is one Nigerian musician that has created a path of distinction in the music industry. She did a musical collaboration with King Sunny Ade, featuring hits like “Choices” and “Wait For Me.” Many of her songs, like “One Love,” “Dancing in the Sun,” “Ekwe,” and “Iyogogo” are much-loved tunes. She took a detour to the world of gospel music and still made a statement there.
Modupe Afolabi Jemi-Alade popularly called Art Alade, television personality and producer, hosted The Bar Beach Show before he retired in 1979. He embraced what may have been his true calling after his retirement and established a club called Arts Place where he performed regularly. His musical gift sprang to life in his son, Dare Art Alade, after his death in 1993. Dare Art-Alade is Nigeria’s multi-platinum selling and award-winning musician, songwriter and reality show judge, with hit songs like “Not the Girl” and “Escalade,” to his credit.
As the older musicians blazed the trail, the younger generation took a cue and took a stand on the Nigerian musical stage. Burna Boy, Whizkid, Davido, Dbanj, WAJE, Omawunmi, Timi Dakolo and their counterparts, created a rhythm of the music that both Nigerians and the international audience could not ignore.
Gospel music that was once relegated to church choir stands rose to prominence and a crop of skilled musicians with voices soaked in the anointing of God proved that the gift of a man can bring him before great men. The traditional crooners like Dunni Olanrewaju, Nikki Laoye and Tope Alabi fused with Nathaniel Bassey, Mercy Chinwo with her soul-lifting song, “Excess Love,” Eben, Samsong, Sinach and Frank Edwards. This crop of seasoned musicians showed that they were not pushovers when Sinach’s song, “This Is Your Season,” won the internationally acclaimed Dove Award for Song of The Year.
Never too young to start learning music
Nigerian musicians moved from local productions and international acts to winning Grammy Awards. In 1983, Sunny Ade became the first Nigerian musician to be nominated for a Grammy award. Femi Kuti, one of the sons of Fela Kuti, got four nominations and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie got one for featuring in Beyonce’s 2015 album.
Several other Nigerians went beyond honourable mentions and actually won Grammy Awards. Sikiru Adepoju won a Grammy when Mickey Harts, a musical group he was involved in, got the award. Henry Olusegun Adeola, known as Seal, won three Grammy awards for the song, “Kiss from a Rose,” and another one for the song, “Imagine.”
Sade Adu won her first Grammy award of Best New Artiste in 1984, the second in 1994 for her song, “No Ordinary Love,” for best R&B performance by a duo, the third with Lovers Rock in the Best Pop Vocal Album and her fourth in 2011 with Soldier of Love, for Best R&B Performance by a group with vocals.
The most recent awards went to Burna Boy for his song, “Twice as Tall” and Whizkid for featuring in Beyonce’s Brown Skin Girl video. Nigerians have started playing on the global music world scene and it is important for them to be encouraged.
Musical reality shows like The Voice Nigeria, Project Fame and Nigerian Idol, have emerged as a way of unveiling the musical skills of the younger generation and showcasing their creativity globally. I believe a lot more can be done, to promote Nigerian music and Nigerian musicians.
Across the diaspora, in the United States, Europe and particularly in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Nigerian artists out there are mixing it up with legendary western artists in the entertainment and music industry and having major collaboration with modern-day icons. Afrobeats produced in the diaspora mainly by Nigerian artists, regularly get airplay across our airwaves here and are favourites at events and functions. Nigerian music also crossed platforms and has since found a space within the video gaming industry too, with Nigerian artists being featured by gaming giants EA Sports in the Fifa 2020 with Jay Yellow L’s Ozone and Fireboy DML’s Scatter in the current Fifa 2021 video game outing, which also featured the likes of Cardi B and Buju Banton in it. One would find that origin of these talents is easy to identify if you look at our musical history and its reality in relation to the young generation. This artistic foundation was laid and appreciated by many of the great olds and it is exciting when you hear young musicians attribute their musical successes to tutelage by older musicians.
It will be great if this trait continues. The veteran musicians need to pass on the baton of success to the upcoming acts, to ensure continuity in the Nigerian music industry. We need more musical products of the lords of music, to dot the Nigerian music landscape and fill the air with sonorous tunes. This is what success looks like.
It will be great also, if more musical schools are established in Nigeria, to sharpen the rough edges of Nigerian musical stars, who will be sent as ambassadors to rule the world. Mediocrity should not be celebrated, when excellence can be enthroned through the right training.
The Nigerian economy will feel the impact of these shining stars, for the nation has more to give than the black gold beneath its earth.
The generous spread of musical talents that bestride the world of Nigerian music is worthy of celebration.
These musical footprints show that Nigerian musicians have become a force to be reckoned with. Musicians are far from being scoundrels. People have slipped out of other careers and embraced their musical gifts and proved that musicians, like that skilful player of the harp, have gifts that gladden the hearts of people.
This is the musical reality and the world awaits many more musical acts from Nigeria, who will remain relevant on the musical scene.
– The Tale Weaver
If you can talk, you can sing, if you can walk you can dance. – African proverb