Deep Dive: 60 years after independence; has Nigerian music come of age?

by Kola Muhammed

Nigeria’s independence anniversary should not just be about politics or governance, it is supposed to be emancipation across every sector and industry and music is not left out.

Since 1960, the Nigerian music industry has evolved from a lot of genres to the level it is today. From Highlife, Jazz to Juju, Apala, Fuji, R&B, Pop and Afrobeats, the diachrony is without doubt a genre-laden one.

The evolution

From the time of Independence till the 1970s, the most popular genre of music was Apala, championed by Haruna Isola. Soon after, Ayinla Omowura, Yusuf Olatunji came into picture and equally becoming household names, especially in the Western part of the country. Despite the prominence of Apala, Juju rose to become a parallel genre and had the likes of Tunde Nightingale, IK Dairo, King Sunny Ade, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey champion it.

Juju continued its reign into the ‘80s while the headliners were joined by Shina Peters, Segun Adewale and Dele Taiwo. Meanwhile, from the late 1970s, Fela Kuti had already his own movement which would later be known as Afrobeats. The ‘80s were a decade which brought limelight for the activist musician.

Reggae became the trend from late ‘80s to the 1990s through performances from Majek Fashek, and Ras Kimono, among others. More so, the late 1990s through the early 2000s laid the foundation for what would be a generation defining hip-hop music.

Names like 2face, Weird MC, D’banj, Ruggedman, Eedris Abdulkareem and P-Square to mention a few became the biggest hip-hop stars of the 2000s decade and it was this era that would set the tone for the current crop of stars who are leading charge for Afrobeats.

With the evolution of music to this point of a historic national milestone, it calls for examination whether Nigerian music can be considered thriving or in the category of #Nigeria60andUseless.


At the current point in history, Afrobeats is the vogue and it has got the world drooling with music acts across the globe apparently queuing to have a taste of the genre. Afrobeats was equally represented in the the official soundtracks of the latest edition of the FIFA game, marking not only a milestone but also an indication of the heights it continues to attain.

It would then appear that Afrobeats, indigenous to Africa, is devoid of external influence and is largely influenced by indigenous cultures and pop customs. At the current rate, attention has largely been external. The days where African artistes are obsessed with foreign singing style and vigorously chase international features with scanty requited attention are long gone.

READ ALSO: FIFA ’21: Fireboy, Burna Boy and Rema feature another milestone for Afrobeat 

Now, attention is ample. Headlining international festivals, Billboard features, Obama’s playlist, Puff Daniel’s confession, Beyoncé’s album and numerous collaborations are examples of how Afrobeats is enjoying global fascination.

The words of Afrobeats star, Tiwa Savage, in a recent interview with NME may sum up the perception of Afrobeats, especially in the country.

“I’m so proud of the whole spotlight on Africa. I only hope that this is not Africa’s 15 mins of fame or this whole afrobeats genre is a flash-in-the-pan moment.

“I love where I’m from and what all my brothers and sisters are doing – WizKid, Burna Boy, Davido, Simi, Diamond, and Nasty C. It’s beautiful to see everyone honing their crafts and elevating it higher and higher. We inspire each other because when we see one doing numbers; we all want to push harder and move this moment forward.”



With achievements comes recognition. For awards which are supposed to celebrate music acts over the course of a period, they are not quite at the same level of brilliance of the recipients.

Awards in the industry have often been marred with accusations of bias, resulting in large scale snub of events or social media rants. The episodes in the past few years at The Headies summarise the prejudice with which awards are met. Olamide and Don Jazzy’s altercation remain fresh in the memories of many. Since then, the labels headed by the two heavyweights have refrained from gracing later editions of the award.

As recent as last year, there was a clash between The Headies awards and Wizkid’s Starfest in London. There were reactions as some felt it was a deliberate act on Wizkid’s part to ridicule the award while others called for more respect for local awards.

Apart from The Headies, other Nigeria-based award platforms such as Nigeria Entertainment Awards, City People Entertainment Awards and The Future Africa Awards deserve honourable mentions for their efforts in a highly controversial aspect of the music industry.

While these controversies have left many looking outward for recognition – the most recent obsession with Grammy being an indication, we can do better in our attitude towards indigenous awards. Ostensibly, a Grammy nomination is fast becoming more valuable than winning the best act from a local organiser.

While it will be unfair to use the Recording Academy as a benchmark, it will represent significant progress, onward, if a Nigerian award can be mentioned in the same bracket with Grammy sooner than later. It requires concerted efforts, starting with attitude of artistes and devotion from other stakeholders including fans, to improve the pedigree of Nigerian awards.

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