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The History of Nigerian Pop Music
by Alex Cosper (4/24/13)

Nigerian music has been called "the heart of African music." Its roots come from a mix of native rhythms and musical elements from Congo and South America. The xylophone is an important instrument used in traditional Western and Central African music.

In the 1920s juju music started spreading from club to club. One of the early pioneers of this percussive music was Tunde King. He became well known by the mid 1930s from radio shows but he still made his living from performances, which included private shows. During the 1930s while Nigeria was a British colony, King sang songs in favor of King George VI of Britain. During that time the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria was established by the British. Nigeria gained independence from the UK in 1960.

In the 1950s palm-wine music was popularized by Ebenezer Calendar & His Maringar Band. Another form of West African music known as high life was popular from the 1940s through the 1960s. The name came from music supported by the elite that became well known in night clubs. Some of the early stars of high life music included Bobby Benson and Rex Jim Lawson. Hauna Ishola helped popularize the influence of American rock and roll in Nigeria. The Biafran civil war disrupted the music scene from 1967 to 1970, as many nightclubs closed.

The biggest names of the early 1970s included Fela Kuti and Ebenezer Obey. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s juju and Afro-beat, which had grown from high life music, became the sound of the Nigerian mainstream. One of the most celebrated albums of all time from Nigeria is Sweet Mother by Prince Nico Mbarga from 1976. The album was based on high life traditions, which included xylophone and conga. Another big name in high life was Orlando Julius Aremu Ekemode, who left Nigeria in 1974 to record and perform shows in America.

During the 1970s Nigeria experienced an oil boom, which helped the economy. The market diminished for 7 inch singles and live bands by the end of the decade. The ensuing recession was characterized by synthesizer musicians who performed at lower fees. Yo-pop became a trend in the 1980s following the success of Segun Adewale, who combined African music with jazz, funk and reggae. A style called Afro-juju emerged in the early 1990s, popularized by Shina Peters.

According to a report by Iboro Otu at, Nigerian record sales increased from 10 million in 2005 to 30 million in 2008. Some of the challenges that Nigerian music faces, according to the report, are overcoming poor production standards, poor marketing and piracy issues. Even though Nigeria exports its music to other countries such as the UK, Ghana, Namibia and Kenya, the nation's music industry suffers from lack of a developed marketing framework.

In 2013 hot artists include Iyanya, Omawumi, Chidinma and Burna Boy. The leading styles of popular music are hip hop, r&b and rap. Thanks to the internet there has been an interest in music of the past, such as high life. America has had a huge influence on the popular music of Nigeria since the 1980s even though Nigerian radio mandates a certain amount of homegrown music. Some of the top paid artists include PSquare, D'banj and Tuface. Female singers such as Asia, Lara George and Omawumi have had big hits on the charts.

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