Although there are not a lot of details on the early music of Nigeria, there are carvings that show musicians in their craft. For the vast majority of the time—no matter the culture—traditional music was performed for either a ceremony or ritual of some sort, whether it be a funeral or wedding or for some community purpose. Much of their music is tied to the land or agriculture (like growing season and harvest season).
Both men and women sing work songs while doing daily tasks. Complex rhythms help keep feelings of monotony at bay—well, as much as can be expected. As far as vocals go, call-and-response is the most common choral form. The extreme northern regions of the country have more Islamic influences on their music that can be seen in its use of drums with single-line melodic lines.
One of the central instruments of West African music is the xylophone. Typically these instruments are made from wood planks that are laid on logs from banana trees. This is laid on top of resonators, usually made from hollowed out logs. A number of other percussion instruments are used such as bells, struck gourds, scrapers (either on shells or notched sticks), rattles, and a number of different kinds of drums (including the famous talking drums like in the video above). A few kinds of stringed instruments are found here as well, including the musical bow. It looks like a bent wooden stick with a single metal string connecting the ends and is resonated by the mouth as the string is either plucked or bowed. An arched harp is found along the eastern side of the country and has five or six strings tuned to the pentatonic scale (think of just the black keys on a piano). There are also a number of other trumpets, thumb pianos, shawms, flutes, horns, and clarinets played in Nigerian music.
Nigeria has a lot of diversity in its dance traditions, and many of these depend on the specific tribe these traditions emerged out of. Granted, there may be similarities that are spread out among certain regions. I’m highlighting a few of the more common or interesting dances found in Nigeria: Swange Dance (popular among Tiv people, danced by men and women), Ukwata Dance (religious dance of the Abbi people), Ikpirikpi-ogu (war dance), Adamma Masquerade Dance (male Igbo dancers with a female as the masquerade), Gese Dance (Yoruba religious dance), Ekombi Dance (feminine dance from Efik peoples, a dance of grace), Ohogho Dance (a Benin dance used to ward off evil spirits), Bata Dance (this acrobatic Yoruba dance is associated with the God of Thunder), and the Nkwa umu-Agbogho Dance (this “maiden dance” shows off rhythmic chest and waist movements).
As far as modern musicians go, the first I listened to is Segun Adewale (not to be confused with a businessman who is also known as Segun Aeroland). He’s considered the father of Yo-pop, which is a mix of funk, jazz, reggae, Afro-beat, and juju music. He also worked together with Sir Shina Peters, who is an accomplished juju musician. Both styles are heavily reliant on a constant rhythm underneath the music.
And then there’s Fela Kuti. Although his main genres are Afrobeat and highlife, there’s quite a bit of jazz included, and many times it’s quite reminiscent of funk, soul, and even disco. I really liked what I listened to. And apparently there was a Broadway musical based on his life. Who knew? Lagbaja is an Afrobeat musician whose music makes heavy use of the bass in a few of his songs. Gotta love some bass. Although some of the styles reminds me of some of the popular styles of the late 1980s into the 1990s.
I really enjoyed listening to Olamide. A hip hop artist, I appreciated the acoustic music underneath the lyrics and the change up in styles between songs. I listened to his album The Glory, and there were a few songs that sounded like it could be on mainstream radio. Another hip-hop artist I came across is Vector (thankfully not the guy with the squid gun in Despicable Me). Overall, I like his style. He mixes up the styles between his songs, and there’s just something about it I like.
I also listed to Ice Prince. He’s actually won several awards for his rap albums and songs. After sampling several of his songs, I can tell why. I liked what I heard. I listened to part of the album Fire of Zamani, and to me, it’s pretty chill but it has a little bit of a reggae feel to it at the heart of it. The beat is different, but I think it’s still there deep down inside of it all.
Finally, I just discovered Mr Eazi today. Although he was born and raised in Nigeria, he moved to Ghana to get a degree in mechanical engineering. His music is really chill – I love it. Even though part of his catch phrase is “zaga dat,” which reminds me of Beanie Man's. He just released his mixtape Life is Eazi, Vol. 1 – Accra to Lagos, which I hope means there’s a volume two coming later.
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