Nigeria At 60: The Evolution Of Nigerian Music Genres In The Last Six Decades


From Highlife, Juju, Rock, Disco, and Fuji to modern-day Pop and Afrobeats, the Nigerian music soundscape has fully evolved in the last 60years.

Nigeria marks its 60th anniversary as an independent nation on October 1st, 2020 and just as the country has witnessed evolution with every year, one sector that has enjoyed growth with every decade is the music industry.
Nigerian music is globally courted due to the rise of the Afrobeats genre that has seen the evolution of our indigenous pop sound and style on the international scene.

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Names like D’banj, Davido, Wizkid, 2face Idibia, Yemi Alade, and Tiwa Savage represent faces of the leaders of the generation flying the flag high, but this acceptance didn’t exactly happen overnight.

It is as a result of refined genres and sounds that have been forged over many decades.

Charting the history of Nigerian music is a long road to travel, considering the influences of western sounds that played a major role in shaping our sound pre and post-independence.

However, we have been able to put together a comprehensive look at the prevailing genres in Nigerian music from 1960 to date.

1960 – 1970 – Highlife Music and Apala

Prior to Nigeria’s independence in 1960, one style of music that developed among amateur musicians and praise singers at events was Apala Music.

The indigenous brand of music which is familiar with the Western part of the country got popularized by the likes of Haruna Ishola, who released the hit single, ‘Punctuality is the soul of business’ in 1960 and then a number of albums including his most commercially successful project ”Oroki Social Club” released late in the 60s, which helped him become one of the first Nigerian artists to embark on a European tour.

This decade also had the likes of Ayinla Omowura in the early 1960s and Olatunji Yusuf who raised the genre high in the early 70s.

‘Highlife’ which originated from Ghana also found a second home in Nigeria in the 50s through legendary names like Bobby Benson, Cardinal Rex Lawson, and Dr. Victor Olaiya with Igbo artists like Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe and the late Oliver De Coque also a huge part of the movement.

1970-1980 – Disco, Rock, Fuji, Afrobeat, Juju

There was a period in the early 70s when Disco music and Afrofunk flourished through the likes of The Sahara All-Stars from Jos, then came Afrobeats in all its controversial glory. ‘Afrobeat’ in its original form finds its root in Ghana, but it became fully fleshed in Nigeria through the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti following his return to the country from the West Coast in 1967. Afrobeat is an infusion of jazz, highlife, and funk with live instruments a very key element of the sound.

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The likes of Fela’s sons, Femi and Seun Kuti, Dede Mabiakwu, Orlando Julius, Lagbaja have helped continue the legacy of the genre, expressing it in different forms and making it acceptable to a much more diverse audience.

The decade also had ‘Rock music’ which grew through names like flutist, Tee Mac who returned to Lagos as a 22-year-old man in the mid-70s and formed a series of heavyweight psychedelic Afro-rock bands including ”Tee Mac and Afro Collection” and the amazingly named Tee Mac and the Backing Band.

The decade also saw the rise of the ‘Fuji’ category. Fuji music was pioneered by the likes of Alhaji Sikiru AyindeBarrister, who is in fact credited with carving the name ‘Fuji.’

Barrister came into the scene in the late sixties, but it wasn’t until the 70s and early 80’s that he was able to make the genre mainstream appealing with songs like ‘Bisimilahi’ (1977) and ‘Ile Aiye Dun Pupo/Love In Tokyo (India Sound)’ in 1976, even though some of his biggest records like ‘Fuji Garbage’ came towards the latter years of his career.

Juju Music became prevalent in the Yorubaland with artists like Tunde Nightingale, who is regarded as one of the first Juju performers, Idowu Animashaun who launched the group ‘’Idowu Animashaun and his Lisabi Brothers’’ in 1967, and Prince Adekunle who mentored the next generation of talents like Sir Shina Peters, whose album ”Ace” remains a classic moment for the genre and Segun Adewale who were members of his ‘Prince Adekunle & Western State Brothers’ band.

The likes of Fatai Rolling Dollars, King Sunny Ade, and Ebenezer Obey gave new life to the genre before duly passing the baton to young blood like Dele Taiwo, Dayo Kujore, Dele Ojo who managed to make an impression in the late 80s and early 90s.


1980-1990 – Reggae, Juju, Fuji

Fuji further became mainstream in this decade as the genre grew through the input of Barrister’s music rival, Killington Ayinla, and King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall [K1 The Ultimate] who took the art form to a completely different level in the 90s. The mid-eighties was the year that Reggae music came to town, the genre which is identified with Jamaicans was adopted by the likes of Majek Fashek who rose to fame off the back of his 1988 album, ”Prisoner of Conscience” that had the massive hit single ‘Send Down The Rain’. Late Ras Kimono released his critically acclaimed album, ‘‘Under Pressure” in 1989, Alex Zitto with the hit single ‘Tickle Me’ in 1988, Evelyn Ogoli, Daniel Wilson, Oritz Wiliki, and more all contributed to the growth of the genre.

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Reggae was the sound of the streets across the country, its impact was huge and far-reaching as the message and style resonated with the masses. This decade also witnessed the gradual spring-up of radio stations making it possible for Reggae music to gain nationwide acceptance as they controlled the airwaves. Groups like Plantashun Boiz who emerged much later on created their style through the inspiration of the Reggae sound which later transformed into Ragga/dancehall music becoming a movement in places like Ajegunle in Lagos shaping the ghetto sounds as delivered by the likes of Daddy Showkey, Daddy Fresh, Nico Gravity and more.

‘Juju’ music is one that has always been here through leading characters like I.K Dairo and J.O Araba, Juju was actually existent pre-independence and also in earlier decades, but it wasn’t until the eighties when it got the recognition that it duly deserved.

It was in 1983 that King Sunny Ade released the album, ‘’Syncro System’’ which earned him a Grammy nomination while Shina Peters got his break in 1989 with the album, ”Ace’‘, his sixth project in that decade.

1990-2000: Ragga, Hip-Hop and R&B

The Reggae wave continued in the early 90s morphing fully into Ragga/dancehall as names like Daddy Showkey and his Ajegunle comrades held sway, until the late 90s when the hip-hop scene came to life. The present wave of R&B and Pop music began in the later nineties when groups like Remedies, Plantashun Boiz, Def ‘O’ Clan, Trybesmen came calling alongside an era of new generation producers like Nelson Brown and OJB Jezreel.

Prior to that Nigerian music was going through a period where the audience was struggling to identify with it, giving room for Westen sounds to take over the airwaves. But the rise of private radio stations like Ray Power coinciding with the entrance of labels like Kennis Music created room for songs like ‘Shakomo‘ and ‘Shake Bodi’ to take over the charts and become mainstream records ushering in a paradigm shift in the history of Nigerian Music


2000-2010: Hip-Hop and Pop

The success of the pioneering groups started a trend where new groups and a younger generation of talents sensing that a definite sound they could relate with had emerged and many both home and abroad began to associate with it. This decade was perhaps the most bubbly era of the Nigerian music scene, with the likes of Eedris Abdulkareem, 2face Idibia, Azadus, Maintain releasing pop bangers that were dominating the streets.

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Emboldened by their successes, both artistically and commercially, talents in the diaspora like D’banj and Don Jazzy returned up to set up Mo Hits, while Banky W also came to take the RnB throne. It was the decade where the quality of our videos hit new heights as Nigerian artists began to have their music showcased on international platforms and recognized for awards outside our shores.

2010- Present: Afrobeats

Afrobeat is back but in a different form, sound, concept, and even a change in name, now called Afrobeats. Afrobeats defined usually by fast drums and its high tempo is the prevailing sound of this decade, a sound that takes a bit of everything from Fela’s Afrobeat to Pop, to London Grime and even hip-hop.

The genre is championing the rise of Nigerian artistes to true global stars with the likes of Wizkid and Davido performing at the biggest stages across the world, even though the early successes came with the likes of D’banj with ‘Oliver Twist’ and 2face Idibia with ‘African Queen’ built major foundations upon which this house has been built. There are Afrobeats and there is Afropop, even though in seeking recognition, the lines have become intertwined and those who make pop music find themselves edging towards the former.

But names like Tekno, Tiwa Savage, and a multitude of uprising stars are pushing a variation of the sound that is also quite huge across the continent and beyond.

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