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Yoruba Music Definition Essay

The music of Nigeria includes many kinds of folk and popular music, some of which are known worldwide. Styles of folk music are related to the multitudes of ethnic groups in the country, each with their own techniques, instruments, and songs. Little is known about the country's music history prior to European contact, although bronze carvings dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries have been found depicting musicians and their instruments.[1] The largest ethnic groups are the Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. Traditional music from Nigeria and throughout Africa is almost always functional; in other words, it is performed to mark a ritual such as a wedding or funeral and not to achieve artistic goals.[2] Although some Nigerians, especially children and the elderly, play instruments for their own amusement, solo performance is otherwise rare. Music is closely linked to agriculture, and there are restrictions on, for example, which instruments can be played during different parts of the growing season.

Work songs are a common type of traditional Nigerian music. They help to keep the rhythm of workers in fields, river canoes and other fields. Women use complex rhythms in housekeeping tasks, such as pounding yams to highly ornamented music. In the northern regions, farmers work together on each other's farms and the host is expected to supply musicians for his neighbours.

The issue of musical composition is also highly variable. The Hwana, for example, believe that all songs are taught by the peoples' ancestors, while the Tiv give credit to named composers for almost all songs, and the Efik name individual composers only for secular songs. In many parts of Nigeria, musicians are allowed to say things in their lyrics that would otherwise be perceived as offensive.

The most common format for music in Nigeria is the call-and-response choir, in which a lead singer and a chorus interchange verses, sometimes accompanied by instruments that either shadow the lead text or repeat and ostinato vocal phrase. The southern area features complex rhythms and solo players using melody instruments, while the north more typically features polyphonic wind ensembles. The extreme north region is associated with monodic (i.e., single-line) music with an emphasis on drums, and tends to be more influenced by Islamic music.

Epic poetry is found in parts of Nigeria, and its performance is always viewed as musical in nature. Blind itinerant performers, sometimes accompanying themselves with a string instrument, are known for reciting long poems of unorthodox Islamic text among the Kanuri and Hausa. The Ozidi Saga found in the Niger Delta is a well-known epic that takes seven days to perform and utilises a narrator, a chorus, percussion, mime and dance.

Traditional music[edit]


Main article: Hausa music

The people of the North are known for complex percussion instrument music, the one-stringed goje, and a strong praise song vocal tradition. Under Muslim influence since the 14th century, Hausa music uses free-rhythmic improvisation and the Pentatonic scale, similar to other Muslim Sahelian tribes throughout West Africa, such as the Bambara, Kanuri, Fulani and Songhai. Traditional Hausa music is used to celebrate births, marriages, circumcisions, and other important life events. Hausa ceremonial music is well known in the area and is dominated by families of praise singers. The Hausa play percussion instruments such as the tambura drum and the talking drum. The most impressive of the Hausa state instruments, however, is the elongated state trumpet called Kakaki, which was originally used by the Songhai cavalry and was taken by the rising Hausa states as a symbol of military power. Kakaki trumpets can be more than two metres long, and can be easily broken down into three portable parts for easy transportation. Nura m inwa


Main article: Igbo music

The Igbo people live in the south-east of Nigeria, and play a wide variety of folk instruments. They are known for their ready adoption of foreign styles, and were an important part of Nigerian highlife.[3] The most widespread instrument is the 13-stringed zither, called an obo. The Igbo also play slit drums, xylophones, flutes, lyres, udus and lutes, and more recently, imported European brass instruments.

Courtly music is played among the more traditional Igbo, maintaining their royal traditions. The ufie (slit drum) is used to wake the chief and communicate meal times and other important information to him. Bell and drum ensembles are used to announce when the chief departs and returns to his village. Meal times may include pie, and other dessert foods for the holidays.[4]


Main article: Yoruba music

The Yoruba have a drumming tradition, with a characteristic use of the dundun hourglass tension drums. Ensembles using the dundun play a type of music that is also called dundun.[5] These ensembles consist of various sizes of tension drums, along with kettledrums (gudugudu). The leader of a dundun ensemble is the iyalu, who uses the drum to "talk" by imitating the tonality of Yoruba[4] Much of Yoruba music is spiritual in nature, and is devoted to their God.

Yoruba music has become the most important component of modern Nigerian popular music, as a result of its early influence from European, Islamic and Brazilian forms. These influences stemmed from the importation of brass instruments, sheet music, Islamic percussion and styles brought by Brazilian merchants.[6] In both the Nigeria's most populous city, Lagos, and the largest city of Ibadan, these multicultural traditions were brought together and became the root of Nigerian popular music. Modern styles such as Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister's fuji, Salawa Abeni's waka and Yusuf Olatunji's sakara are derived primarily from Yoruba traditional music.Yoruba music have now come of age and the new generation of Nigerian music now sing in their native language. 9ice is one of many that broke into the industry with Gongo Aso and many more artist followed. Listening to Timi Korus Babe mi Jowo and Flosha denotes artist home and abroad now rap and sing in yoruba and not forgetting their heritage.

Theatrical music[edit]

Nigerian theatre makes extensive use of music. Often, this is simply traditional music used in a theatrical production without adaptation. However, there are also distinct styles of music used in Nigerian opera. Here, music is used to convey an impression of the dramatic action to the audience. Music is also used in literary drama, although its musical accompaniment is more sparingly used than in opera; again, music communicates the mood or tone of events to the audience. An example is John Pepper Clark's The Ozidi Saga, a play about murder and revenge, featuring both human and non-human actors. Each character in the play is associated with a personal theme song, which accompanies battles in which the character is involved.

Traditional Nigerian theatre includes puppet shows in Borno State and among the Ogoni and Tiv, and the ancient Yoruba Aláàrìnjó tradition, which may be descended from the Egúngún masquerade. With the influx of road-building colonial powers, these theatre groups spread across the country and their productions grew ever more elaborate. They now typically use European instruments, film extracts and recorded music.

In the past, both Hubert Ogunde and Ade Love, of blessed memories, produced soundtracks of their movies using very rich Yoruba language. Modern day Yoruba film and theater music composers among whom Tope Alabi is the flagbearer have variously accompanied dramatic actions with original music.

Children's music[edit]

Children in Nigeria have many of their own traditions, usually singing games. These are most often call-and-response type songs, using archaic language. There are other songs, such as among the Tarok people that are sexually explicit and obscene, and are only performed far away from the home. Children also use instruments like un-pitchedraft zithers (made from cornstalks) and drums made from tin cans, a pipe made from a pawpaw stem and a jaw harp made from a sorghum stalk. Among the Hausa, children play a unique instrument in which they beat rhythms on the inflated stomach of a live, irritated pufferfish.

Traditional instruments[edit]

Although percussion instruments are omnipresent, Nigeria's traditional music uses a number of diverse instruments. Many, such as the xylophone, are an integral part of music across West Africa, while others are imports from the Muslims of the Maghreb, or from Southern or East Africa; other instruments have arrived from Europe or the Americas. Brass instruments and woodwinds were early imports that played a vital role in the development of Nigerian music, while the later importation of electric guitars spurred the popularisation of jùjú music.


The xylophone is a tuned idiophone, common throughout west and central Africa. In Nigeria, they are most common in the southern part of the country, and are of the central African model. Several people sometimes simultaneously play a single xylophone. The instruments are usually made of loose wood placed across banana logs. Pit- and box-resonated xylophones are also found. Ensembles of clay pots beaten with a soft pad are common; they are sometimes filled with water. Although normally tuned, untuned examples are sometimes used to produce a bass rhythm. Hollow logs are also used, split lengthways, with resonator holes at the end of the slit. They were traditionally used to communicate over great distances.

Various bells are a common part of royal regalia, and were used in secret societies. They are usually made of iron, or in Islamic orchestras of the north, of bronze. Struck gourds, placed on a cloth and struck with sticks, are a part of women's music, as well as the bòòríí cult dances. Sometimes, especially in the north, gourds are placed upside-down in water, with the pitch adjusted by the amount of air underneath it. In the south-west, a number of tuned gourds are played while floating in a trough.

Scrapers are common throughout the south. One of the most common types is a notched stick, played by dragging a shell across the stick at various speeds. It is used both as a women's court instrument and by children in teasing games. Among the Yoruba, an iron rod may be used as a replacement for a stick. Rattles are common, made of gourds containing seeds or stones are common, as are net-rattles, in which a string network of beads or shells encloses a gourd. Rattles are typically played in ritual or religious context, predominantly by women.

Drums of many kinds are the most common type of percussion instrument in Nigeria. They are traditionally made from a single piece of wood or spherical calabashes, but have more recently been made from oil drums. The hourglass drum is the most common shape, although there are also double-headed barrel drums, single-headed drums and conical drums. Frame drums are also found in Nigeria, but may be an importation from Brazil. An unusual percussion instrument is the udu, a kind of vessel drum. This instrument is very essential in most African countries.

String instruments[edit]

The musical bow is found in Nigeria as a mouth-resonated cord, either plucked or struck. It is most common in the central part of the country, and is associated with agricultural songs and those expressing social concerns. Cereal stalks bound together and strings supported by two bridges are used to make a kind of raft-zither, played with the thumbs, typically for solo entertainment. The arched harp is found in the eastern part of the country, especially among the Tarok. It usually has five or six strings and pentatonic tuning. A bowl-resonated spike-fiddle with a lizard skin table is used in the northern region, and is similar to central Asian and Ethiopian forms. The Hausa and Kanuri peoples play a variety of spike-lutes.

Other instruments[edit]

A variety of brass and woodwind instruments are also found in Nigeria. These include long trumpets, frequently made of aluminium and played in pairs or ensembles of up to six, often accompanied by a shawm. Wooden trumpets, gourd trumpets, end-blown flutes, cruciform whistles, transverse clarinets and various kinds of horns are also found.

Popular music[edit]

Many African countries have seen turbulence and violence during their forced transition from a diverse region of folk cultures to a group of modern nation states. Nigeria has experienced more difficulty than most African countries in forging a popular cultural identity from the diverse peoples of the countryside.[7] From its beginnings in the streets of Lagos, popular music in Nigeria has long been an integral part of the field of African pop, bringing in influences and instruments from many ethnic groups, most prominently including the Yoruba.

The earliest styles of Nigerian popular music were palm-wine music and highlife, which spread in the 1920s among Nigeria and nearby countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana. In Nigeria, palm-wine became the primary basis for jùjú, a genre that dominated popular music for many years. During this time, a few other styles such as apala, derived from traditional Yoruba music, also found a more limited audience. By the 1960s, Cuban, American and other styles of imported music were enjoying a large following, and musicians started to incorporate these influences into jùjú. The result was a profusion of new styles in the last few decades of the 20th century, including waka music, Yo-pop and Afrobeat.

Palm-wine and the invention of jùjú[edit]

Main article: Palm-wine music

By the start of the 20th century, Yoruba music had incorporated brass instruments, written notation, Islamic percussion and new Brazilian techniques, resulting in the Lagos-born palm-wine style. The term palm-wine is also used to describe related genres in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana.[4] these varieties are better-known than Nigerian palm-wine. However, palm-wine originally referred to a diverse set of styles played with string instruments, characteristically, guitars or banjos) with shakers and hand drums accompanying[8] This urban style was frequently played in bars to accompany drinking (hence the name, which is derived from the alcoholic palm wine beverage).

The first stars of palm-wine had emerged by the 1920s, the most famous of whom was Baba Tunde King. King probably coined the word jùjú — a style of music he helped to create — in reference to the sound of a Brazilian tambourine; alternatively, the term may have developed as an expression of disdain by the colonial leaders (any native tradition was apt to be dismissed as 'mere joujou, French for "nonsense").[9] By the early 1930s, British record labels such as His Master's Voice had started to record palm-wine, and more celebrities emerged, including Ojoge Daniel, Tunde Nightingale and Speedy Araba. These artists, along with Tunde King, established the core of the style[8] which was called jùjú, and remained one of the most popular genres in Nigeria throughout the 20th century. Some Jùjú musicians were itinerant, including early pioneers Ojoge Daniel, Irewole Denge and the "blind minstrel" Kokoro.[10]


Main article: Apala

Apala is a style of vocal and percussive Muslim Yoruba music. It emerged in the late 1930s as a means of rousing worshippers after the fasting of Ramadan. Under the influence of popular Afro-Cuban percussion, apala developed into a more polished style and attracted a large audience. The music required two or three talking drums (omele), a rattle (sekere), thumb piano (agidigbo) and a bell (agogo). Haruna Ishola was the most famous apala performer, and he later played an integral role in bringing apala to larger audiences as a part of fuji music.[11]

The 1950s, '60s and '70s[edit]

Following World War II, Nigerian music started to take on new instruments and techniques, including electric instruments imported from the United States and Europe. Rock N' roll, soul, and later funk, became very popular in Nigeria, and elements of these genres were added to jùjú by artists such as IK Dairo. Meanwhile, highlife had been slowly gaining in popularity among the Igbo people, and their unique style soon found a national audience. At the same time, apala's Haruna Ishola was becoming one of the country's biggest stars. In the early to mid-1970s, three of the biggest names in Nigerian music history were at their peak: Fela Kuti, Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Adé, while the end of that decade saw the start of Yo-pop and Nigerian reggae.

Although popular styles such as highlife and jùjú were at the top of the Nigerian charts in the '60s, traditional music remained widespread. Traditional stars included the Hausa Dan Maraya, who was so well known that he was brought to the battlefield during the 1967 Nigerian Civil War to lift the morale of the federal troops.

Modernisation of Jùjú[edit]

Main article: Jùjú music

Following World War II, Tunde Nightingale's s'o wa mbe style made him one of the first jùjú stars, and he introduced more Westernised pop influences to the genre. During the 1950s, recording technology grew more advanced, and the gangan talking drum, electric guitar and accordion were incorporated into jùjú. Much of this innovation was the work of IK Dairo & the Morning Star Orchestra (later IK Dairo & the Blue Spots), which formed in 1957.[8] these performers brought jùjú from the rural poor to the urban cities of Nigeria and beyond. Dairo became perhaps the biggest star of African music by the '60s, recording numerous hit songs that spread his fame to as far away as Japan. In 1963, he became the only African musician ever honoured by receiving membership of the Order of the British Empire, an order of chivalry in the United Kingdom.[4]

Dispersion of highlife[edit]

Main article: Highlife

Among the Igbo people, Ghanaian highlife became popular in the early 1950s, and other guitar-band styles from Cameroon and Zaire soon followed. The Ghanaian E. T. Mensah, easily the most popular highlife performer of the 1950s, toured Igbo-land frequently, drawing huge crowds of devoted fans. Bobby Benson & His Combo was the first Nigerian highlife band to find audiences across the country. Benson was followed by Jim Lawson & the Mayor's Dance Band, who achieved national fame in the mid-'70s, ending with Lawson's death in 1971. During the same period, other highlife performers were reaching their peak. These included Prince Nico Mbarga and his band Rocafil Jazz, whose "Sweet Mother" was a pan-African hit that sold more than 13 million copies, more than any other African single of any kind. Mbarga used English lyrics in a style that he dubbed panko, which incorporated "sophisticated rumba guitar-phrasing into the highlife idiom".[12]

After the civil war in the 1960s, Igbo musicians were forced out of Lagos and returned to their homeland. The result was that highlife ceased to be a major part of mainstream Nigerian music, and was thought of as being something purely associated with the Igbos of the east. Highlife's popularity slowly dwindled among the Igbos, supplanted by jùjú and fuji. However, a few performers kept the style alive, such as Yoruba singer and trumpeter Victor Olaiya (the only Nigerian to ever earn a platinum record), Stephen Osita Osadebe, Oliver De Coque, Celestine Ukwu, Oriental Brothers, Sonny Okosun, Victor Uwaifo, and Orlando "Dr. Ganja" Owoh, whose distinctive toye style fused jùjú and highlife.[4]

Birth of fuji[edit]

Main article: Fuji music

Apala, a traditional style from Ogun state, one of yoruba state in Nigeria, became very popular in the 1960s, led by performers like Haruna Ishola, Sefiu Ayan, Kasumu Adio, and Ayinla Omowura. Ishola, who was one of Nigeria's most consistent hit makers between 1955 and his death in 1983, recorded apala songs, which alternated between slow and emotional, and swift and energetic. His lyrics were a mixture of improvised praise and passages from the Quran, as well as traditional proverbs. His work became a formative influence on the developing fuji style.

The late 1960s saw the appearance of the first fuji bands. Fuji was named after Mount Fuji in Japan, purely for the sound of the word, according to Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister.[13] Fuji was a synthesis of apala with the "ornamented, free-rhythmic" vocals of ajisari devotional musicians[14] and was accompanied by the sakara, a tambourine-drum, and Hawaiian guitar. Among the genre's earliest stars were Haruna Ishola and Ayinla Omowura; Ishola released numerous hits from the late '50s to the early '80s, becoming one of the country's most famous performers. Fuji grew steadily more popular between the 1960s and '70s, becoming closely associated with Islam in the process.

Fuji has been described as jùjú without guitars; ironically, Ebenezer Obey once described jùjú as mambo with guitars.[15] However, at its roots, fuji is a mixture of Muslim traditional were music'ajisari songs with "aspects of apala percussion and vocal songs and brooding, philosophical sakara music";[16] of these elements, apala is the fundamental basis of fuji[17] The first stars of fuji were the rival bandleaders Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and Ayinla Kollington[18] Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister started his fuji career in the early 1970s with the Golden Fuji Group", although he had sung Muslim songs since he was 10 years old. He first changed his group's name to "Fuji Londoners" when he came back from a trip to London, England. After a very long time — with hits such as "Orilonise", Fuji Disco/Iku Baba Obey", "Oke Agba", "Aye", and "Suuru" — he later changed the group's name to "Supreme Fuji Commanders" with a bang!, "Orelope" that went platinum instantly. Ayinde's rival was Ayinla Kollington, "Baba Alatika", known for fast tempo and dance-able brand of fuji, who also recorded hit albums like "ko bo simi lo'run mo e, in the 80s he released "ijo yoyo, Lakukulala and American megastar" to mention few of his successful albums. With all due respect Ayinla Kollington is a coherent social commentator. He was followed in the 1980s by burgeoning stars such asWasiu Ayinde Marshall.

Sunny Ade and Obey[edit]

Ebenezer Obey formed the International Brothers in 1964, and his band soon rivalled that of IK Dairo as the biggest Nigerian group. They played a form of bluesy, guitar-based and highlife-influenced jùjú that included complex talking drum-dominated percussion elements. Obey's lyrics addressed issues that appealed to urban listeners, and incorporated Yoruba traditions and his conservative Christian faith. His rival was King Sunny Adé, who emerged in the same period, forming the Green Spots in 1966 and then achieving some major hits with the African Beats after 1974's Esu Biri Ebo Mi. Ade and Obey raced to incorporate new influences into jùjú music and to gather new fans; Hawaiian slack-key, keyboards and background vocals were among the innovations added during this rapidly changing period.[19] Ade added strong elements of Jamaican dub music, and introduced the practice of having the guitar play the rhythm and the drums play the melody. During this period, jùjú songs changed from short pop songs to long tracks, often over 20 minutes in length. Bands increased from four performers in the original ensembles, to 10 with IK Dairo and more than 30 with Obey and Ade.

1980s and '90s[edit]

In the early 1980s, both Obey and Ade found larger audiences outside of Nigeria. In 1982, Ade was signed to Island Records, who hoped to replicate Bob Marley's success, and released Juju Music, which sold far beyond expectations in Europe and the United States.[4] Obey released Current Affairs in 1980 on Virgin Records and became a brief star in the UK, but was not able to sustain his international career as long as Ade. Ade led a brief period of international fame for jùjú, which ended in 1985 when he lost his record contract after the commercial failure of Aura (recorded with Stevie Wonder) and his band walked out in the middle of a huge Japanese tour. Ade's brush with international renown brought a lot of attention from mainstream record companies, and helped to inspire the burgeoning world music industry. By the end of the 1980s, jùjú had lost out to other styles, like Yo-pop, gospel and reggae. In the 1990s, however, fuji and jùjú remained popular, as did waka music and Nigerian reggae. At the very end of the decade, hip hop music spread to the country after being a major part of music in neighboring regions like Senegal.

Yo-pop and Afro-jùjú (1980s)[edit]

Main articles: Yo-pop and Afro-juju

Two of the biggest stars of the '80s were Segun Adewale and Shina Peters, who started their careers performing in the mid-'70s with Prince Adekunle. They eventually left Adekunle and formed a brief partnership as Shina Adewale & the International Superstars before beginning solo careers.[8] Adewale was the first of the two to gain success, when he became the most famous performer of Yo-pop.[4]

The Yo-pop craze did not last for long, replaced by Shina Peters' Afro-juju style, which broke into the mainstream after the release of Afro-Juju Series 1 (1989). Afro-juju was a combination of Afrobeat and fuji, and it ignited such fervor among Shina's fans that the phenomenon was dubbed "Shinamania". Though he was awarded Juju Musician of the Year in 1990, Shina's follow-up, Shinamania sold respectively but was panned by critics.[20] His success opened up the field to newcomers, however, leading to the success of Fabulous Olu Fajemirokun and Adewale Ayuba. The same period saw the rise of new styles like the funky juju pioneered by Dele Taiwo.[21]


Main article: Afrobeat

Afrobeat is a style most closely associated with Nigeria, though practitioners and fans are found throughout West Africa, and Afrobeat recordings are a prominent part of the world music category found throughout the developed world. It is music with elements of highlife, and other styles of West African music. The most popular and well-known performer, indeed the most famous Nigerian musician in history, is undoubtedly Fela Kuti.[4]

Fela Kuti began performing in 1961, but did not start playing in his distinctive Afrobeat style until his exposure to Sierra Leonean Afro-soul singer Geraldo Pino in 1963.[4] Although Kuti is often credited as the only pioneer of Afrobeat, other musicians such as Orlando Julius Ekemode were also prominent in the early Afrobeat scene, where they combined highlife, jazz and funk. A brief period in the United States saw him exposed to the Black Power movement and the Black Panthers, an influence that he would come to express in his lyrics. After living in London briefly, he moved back to Lagos and opened a club, The Shrine, which was one of the most popular music spots in the city. He started recording with Africa '70, a huge band featuring drummer Tony Allen, who has since gone on to become a well-known musician in his own right. With Africa 70, Kuti recorded a series of hits, earning the ire of the government as he tackled such diverse issues as poverty, traffic and skin-bleaching. In 1985, Kuti was jailed for five years, but was released after only two years after international outcry and massive domestic protests. Upon release, Kuti continued to criticise the government in his songs, and became known for eccentric behaviour, such as suddenly divorcing all twenty-eight wives because "no man has the right to own a woman's vagina". His death from AIDS in 1997 sparked a period of national mourning that was unprecedented in documented Nigerian history.[22]

In the 1980s, Afrobeat became affiliated with the burgeoning genre of world music. In Europe and North America, so-called "world music" acts came from all over the world and played in a multitude of styles. Fela Kuti and his Afrobeat followers were among the most famous of the musicians considered world music.

By the end of the '80s and early '90s, Afrobeat had diversified by taking in new influences from jazz and rock and roll. The ever-masked and enigmatic Lágbájá became one of the standard-bearers of the new wave of Afrobeat, especially after his 1996 LP C'est Une African Thing. Following a surprise appearance in place of his father, Fela, Femi Kuti garnered a large fan base that enabled him to tour across Europe.


Main article: Waka music

The popular songstress Salawa Abeni had become nationally renowned after the release of Late General Murtala Ramat Mohammed in 1976, which was the first Nigerian recording by a woman to sell more than a million copies. In the 1980s, she remained one of the nation's best-selling artists, creating her own unique variety of music called waka; she was so closely associated with the genre that a royal figure, the Alaafin of Oyo, Obalamidi Adeyemi, crowned her the "Queen of Waka Music" in 1992. Waka was a fusion of jùjú, fuji and traditional Yoruba music.Waka music is coming back into the new age with fresh artist like Tila man Timi Korus and Dollar billz bringing back the old school into new school.In an interview granted by Timi Korus he acknowledge that Waka Music was made popular to younger generations during the time of salawa abeni but waka music has been in the industry in a long time.

Reggae and hip hop[edit]

Main articles: Nigerian reggae, Nigerian gospel, and Nigerian hip hop

When talking about reggae music in Nigeria, this brand of music was started by a musician simply called "Terakota". By the 80s, Nigerian reggae stars included The Mandators, Ras Kimono, Majek Fashek, whose 1988 cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song", became an unprecedented success for reggae in Nigeria. Like many later Nigerian reggae stars, Fashek was a part of the long-running band The Mandators, who toured and recorded incessantly during the mid to late 1980s and early '90s. Later prominent reggae musicians included Jerri Jheto and Daddy Showkey.

The African Caribbean fusion is one that has been popular and growing over the years, especially in the 21st century. In this genre of music African musicians incorporate Jamaican patois into their lyrics and beats. Although, very popular in Jamaica, this genre well blended genre became well known in the African region around the 19th century because of the Nigerian Reggae musician Majek Fashek who attracted international attention to this fusion.[23] This genre of music is gaining far more presence in Nigeria with recent 21st century artists like Duncan Mighty, Timaya, Slim Burna, Orezi, Burna Boy and Patoranking who are attracting a younger audience.

Hip hop music was brought to Nigeria in the late 1980s, and grew steadily popular throughout the first part of the 1990s. The first acts included Sound on Sound, Emphasis, Ruff Rugged & Raw, SWAT ROOT, De Weez and Black Masquradaz. Moreover, mainstream success grew later in the decade, with attention brought by early hits like The Trybesmen's "Trybal Marks" (1999) and the trio The Remedies' "Judile" and "Sakoma". One of The Remedies, Tony Tetuila, went on to work with the Plantashun Boiz to great commercial acclaim. The 1999 founding of Paybacktyme Records by Solomon Dare, popularly known as Solodee, Kennis Music by Kenny Ogungbe, Dove Records by Nelson Brown, and Trybe Records by eLDee helped redefined and establish a Nigerian hip hop scene. Also, the general rapid growth of the entertainment scene with support from the media helped popularise Hiphop music in Nigeria. Television Programmes like Videowheels, HipTV, Music Africa, the MTN Y'ello show, Music Africa, Nigezie, and Soundcity played a major role. Other prominent Nigerian hip-hop musicians include Ruggedman, former member of The Remedies Eedris Abdulkareem (who had a well-publicised spat with the American star 50 Cent), Weird MC, Naeto C, Twin-X, Young Paperboyz, Jay 'Ikwan a.k.a. The MegaJay and P-Square

In the past few years, Hip-Hop has made a huge leap forward in terms of exposure and the success of its musicians. Around the close of the decade of the 2000s, more hip-hop acts began to gain popularity. These popular hip hop acts include Olamide, Vector, Reminisce (musician) (who was named as one of Time Magazine's seven international rappers to meet), Ice Prince and M.I (Ice Prince and M.I are labelmates). Some Upcoming Acts Such as Kiss Daniel, Tekno, Mc Galaxy, Adekunle Gold, Dammy Krane, Erigga, Cripsymixtee , Shuun Bebe, and Lil Kesh have also started to receive more attention for their songs.

Women in music[edit]

In the Nigerian music industry the female artists stand out and are widely recognized for their talents and achievements. Over the years most Nigerian female artists stuck to the contemporary African music, but in the 21st century several female artists began to diversify into other genres like Rap, Hip-hop and Afrobeat. Some of the popular female Nigerian rappers include, Weird Mc, Eva Alordiah, and Sasha P. While in terms of Afrobeat there are so many female artists but only a few have been constant over the years like Omawumi Megbele, Yinka Davies, Tiwa Savage and Yemi Alade.[24]

Music at festivals and holidays[edit]

Durbar festivals are held in many parts of North-west Nigeria; durbar is meant to honour the Emir during the culmination of the Islamic festivals Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha, and Sallah for the well-known Katsina durbar, and is sometimes also used to honour visiting dignitaries  IslamOnline. Although the principal attraction of the durbar festivals is displays of traditional horsemanship, performances by drummers, trumpeters and praise-singers are an important part of the celebration Africa Travel. Other holidays in which music plays an important role include drumming and dances performed at Christmas, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. 9ice is also one of the upcoming artiste (he sings both Yoruba and English pop) gongoaso is one of his top single.

Classical music[edit]

In the 20th century, Nigeria produced a number of classical composers; these include Fela Sowande, Joshua Uzoigwe, Akin Euba, and Godwin Sadoh. Sowande was one of the first and most famous African composers in the Western classical tradition, and founder of the Nigerian art music tradition. Sowande was also an organist and jazz musician, incorporating these and elements of Nigerian folk music into his work.


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  • "Afropop Juju". Afropop. Archived from the original on June 25, 2008. Retrieved June 21, 2005. 
  • "Afropop Fuji". Afropop. Archived from the original on June 25, 2008. Retrieved June 21, 2005. 
  • "Afropop Apala". Afropop. Archived from the original on February 29, 2012. Retrieved June 21, 2005. 
  • "Islam". Arab World Information. Retrieved August 25, 2005. , specifically the sections "Fuji Music of Nigeria" and "Traditional Hausa Music of Nigeria"
  • Graham, Ronnie. "From Hausa Music to Highlife". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), The Rough Guide to World Music, Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1858286360
  • "A Glimpse at Nigeria". IslamOnline. Retrieved August 25, 2005. 
  • Karolyi, Otto (1998). Traditional African & Oriental Music. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-023107-2. 
  • "Holidays". Motherland Nigeria. Retrieved August 25, 2005. 
  • Omojola, Bode (1995). Nigerian Art Music. University of Ibadan. ISBN 978-2015-38-5. 
  • "ADDICTED! Sammie Okposo says he'll sing gospel until he can sing no more". The Sun News Online. Archived from the original on May 28, 2006. Retrieved August 30, 2005. 
  • Titon, Jeff Todd (ed.) (1992). Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World's Peoples. Schirmer Books. ISBN 0-02-872602-2. 
  • "Afropop Timi Korus". Afropop. Retrieved April 21, 2010. 
  • "Afropop Flosha". Afropop. Retrieved December 12, 2016. 


1Although it was through the Church that the concept of music as a contemplative art received widespread popularity in Nigeria, it was left to the efforts of formally trained composers and musicologists to forge new idioms and styles in their works to develop a modern tradition of Nigerian Art Music. While the earliest of them, T.K.E. Phillips, started composing in the 1920s followed by Fela Sowande in 1940, it was not until the early 1960s that several Nigerian composers, who chose to compose in the idiom of European classical music, emerged. Receiving their initial training in the Church, many of them later went to Europe and the United States to study music at a conservatoire or university.

2Constantly aware of the sacred relationship between a musician and his society in traditional Nigeria, and having chosen a largely foreign, mostly European idiom for their creative expression, the works of these composers are often characterised by striking experimentation aimed at bringing about a resolution and synthesis of opposing styles and techniques.

3This chapter serves as a general introduction to the lives and works of prominent Nigerian composers as well as the major objectives and beliefs which form the basis of their creative efforts. The discussion is not exhaustive. Emphasis has been laid on what is considered to be the significant trends in Nigerian Art Music, as reflected in the works of the most prominent composers.

Fela Sowande (1905-1987) Pioneering works

4Fela Sowande is undoubtedly the father of modern Nigerian Art Music and perhaps the most distinguished and internationally known African composer.

5The most significant pioneer-composer of works in the European classical idiom, his works mark the beginning of an era of modern Nigerian Art Music. Building on the work of the composers of Nigerian church music, Sowande has laid a foundation on which younger generations of Nigerian composers have continued to build. His belief in political and cultural nationalism has been reflected in different ways in his musical compositions. The nature and development of these beliefs have been determined and influenced by the circumstances of his cultural environment, his upbringing, his training and his career.

6Fela Sowande was born in Lagos in 1905 into a middle class family. His father, Emmanuel Sowande, was a priest and one of the pioneers of Nigerian church music at the beginning of the century. As Sowande himself recalls, his first contact with Western music came through him:

My father was a priest (who) taught at St. Andrew’s College, (Oyo), the mission’s teaching training institute... Music was around and I suppose some of it rubbed off on me.

7This later became a motivation for him:

... to study European music properly... At that time I thought it as a liability, but I think on looking back it was quite an asset.1

8Apart from parental influence, a more important influence came from the Church through Dr. Ekundayo Phillips, earlier mentioned. As a choir boy at Christ Church Cathedral in Lagos under Phillips, Sowande was introduced to the mainstream of European Church music repertoire as well as the Yoruba experimental compositions popular at that time in Lagos churches.

9In addition to being a chorister, Sowande also studied the organ under Phillips and he recalls how he regularly listened to Phillips playing Bach, Rheinberger and others.2

10Most of Sowande’s works were not written until after his period of study in England. In 1934 he went to London to study European classical and popular music. As an external candidate at the University of London he studied the organ privately under tutors who included George Oldroyd and George Cunningham, becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists with credit in 1943, the highest English qualification for organ playing. He was awarded the Harding Prize for organ playing, the Limpus prize for theoretical work and the Read prize for the highest aggregate marks in the fellowship examination. Sowande also obtained the degree of Bachelor of Music of the University of London and became a Fellow of the Trinity College of Music.

11In addition to academic pursuits, Sowande engaged in a host of professional activities while in England. He was the solo pianist in a London performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in 1936, and he was Organist and Choirmaster at the West London Mission of the Methodist Church from 1945 to 1952. It was during this period that he began active composition; it is not surprising that many of his early works were written for the organ. The Church element which formed the basic foundation of his musical career continued to be the axis of his musical life. Organ works written during this period included Oyigiyigi, Kyrie, Prayer, Obangiji, Gloria and Ka Mura.3 These, like virtually all Sowande’s organ works, are based on Nigerian melodies. This stylistic trait represents Sowande’s objective of giving his works an African flavour. As a composer, he always felt the need to communicate to an African audience. He recollected how he used to sample the reactions of the Black members of his congregation in London each time he played any of his works:

If they kept walking out I knew I was not getting to them. But if I was able to communicate my ideas to them they would sit down and I would say O.K. I got them... I have to communicate, otherwise I feel I am doing nothing. If those who listen to my music cannot hear what I am saying... to me it’s sheer waste of time.

12Despite the very strong influences of European nineteenth century music on his work, the use of African melodies as thematic material seemed to him to be a major way of incorporating elements of African music in his works.

13In 1941, four years before Sowande started playing for the Church, he was appointed musical adviser to the Colonial Film Unit of the British Ministry of Information in London. His main job was to provide background music for a series of educational films designed for Africa. He also gave many lecture programmes with musical illustrations for the BBC Africa Service. The lectures were given under the general title, West African Music and the Possibilities of its Development. For the film music and the lectures, he collected African melodies. These were later to be developed into original compositions, in particular, Six Sketches for Full Orchestra and the African Suite, both of which were issued by Decca Records in London in 1953. Compared with his organ works (such as Oyigiyigi and Gloria) these works show a more African derived rhythmic and harmonic character. Considering the educational objective of these works, such characteristics are not unexpected. In them the more intricate formal procedures used in the organ works were deliberately abandoned.

Nationalism in Sowande’s Music

14Sowande’s career in broadeasting continued in Lagos in the 1950s as he became Head of Music and Music Research of the Nigerian Broadeasting Corporation (NBC). This post afforded him the opportunity to conduct further research into the traditional music of Nigeria, especially of the Yoruba. His interest in traditional music continued to increase while at the NBC, and in 1962 he took up the post of a Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. During his stay at the University he carried out research not only into traditional Nigerian music but also into traditional religion.4 In Ifa5 (Yoruba divination) for example, he examined the concept of divination among the Yoruba, while Oruko Amutorunwa6 was a list of Yoruba sacred names with their symbolic meanings.

15No other work reveals Sowande’s appreciation of Nigerian culture and his strong belief in cultural nationalism more than his Folk Symphony (1960). At the peak of his research activities at the Nigerian Broadeasting Corporation, just before he became a Research Fellow at the University of Ibadan Sowande was asked by the Nigerian Broadeasting Corporation to write a work to mark the Nigerian Independence celebrations. This work, the Folk Symphony, was premiered on October 1st, 1960 during the Independence celebrations. It was later performed, in 1962, by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall through the sponsorship of the African Cultural Group of New York. The work gives a very strong reflection of African elements and it could be argued that it marked the climax of Sowande’s commitment to nationalism. It is not that the basic stylistic features of the symphony are significantly different from those which appeared in his earlier works, such as Oyigiyigi and the African Suite. They remain essentially the same: the use of African folk tunes, treated in nineteenth century European harmonic style as well as Yoruba—inspired heterophonic procedures, the employment of conventional European forms — such as sonata and rondo — and the evocation of the rhythmic idiom of traditional Nigerian music. What is presented in the Folk Symphony is a more mature and organic reconciliation of these culturally different elements.

16Before composing the Folk Symphony, Sowande had written vocal works based on Afro-American gospel tunes. These include Roll de Ol’ Chariot (SATBB, 1955), My Way’s Cloudy (SATB, 1955), De Ol’ Ark’s a-Moverin (SATBB, 1955), and De Angels are Watchin’(SATBB, 1958). The thematic ingredients of these works (that is Afro-American tunes) share the use of African derived modal, especially pentatonic, scales with the thematic elements of the organ works. While, however, the melodies of Sowande’s organ works are generally hymn-like in character, the Afro-American tunes used in his choral works are characterised by a lively rhythmic character. These songs (gospel songs and spirituals) had been originally composed for use in the African inspired Christian churches among the blacks in the United States.

17The difference between the thematic ingredients of the organ works and those of the choral works highlights the stylistic gap between the two categories of works. As exemplified in Oyigiyigi and Kyrie, Sowande’s organ works are often characterised by detailed attention to motivic development, the use of intricate European formal procedures, especially the fugue, and an explorative and relatively complex harmonic-tonal language. On the other hand, the choral works show more incorporation of African music in the use of such elements as the call and response pattern and the evocation of the principle of collective improvisation.

18It is important to view the conception and realisation of Sowande’s nationalist principles within the confines of his educational and professional training as well as in the larger socio-cultural and political climate of Nigeria during the active period of his compositional career (1940-1960). His stated objective, to compose works which are conceptually and structurally relevant to his African background, is in tune with the general wind of nationalism blowing across Nigeria in the 1940s and 1950s. Although he was born in Nigeria and remained there until he went to England in 1934, European rather than African music dominated his professional training. It is, therefore, not surprising that Sowande’s views on nationalism are, despite his commitment to them, marked by a characteristic open-mindedness. He believed in the philosophy of cultural reciprocity and argued against what he called ‘apartheid in art’. According to him:

We are not prepared to submit to the doctrine of apartheid in art by which a musician is expected to work only within the limits of his traditional forms of music.

19He therefore warned against:

uncontrolled nationalism in which case nationals of any one country may forget that they are all members of one human family with other nationals.7

20Closely linked with his philosophy of cultural reciprocity was a belief in the principle of cultural pluralism. It is on this basis that he divided a society’s music into different categories. According to him:

Where the organization of the raw materials of sound into socially sanctioned and meaningful formal and structural patterns in a society, over a long time in the far distant past, is anonymous, then we have the folk music of that society intimately related to that society’s day to day life.


When known individual members of a society begin to organize the raw materials into formal and structural patterns, consciously and deliberately, then each of these individuals presents his society with what, for ease of reference, we may term the society’s new music.

22The modern composer, according to Sowande, can go outside his own tradition to borrow elements from other musical traditions, the result of which is the Fine Art in Music of that society. In Nigeria, new Art Music is divisible into two categories;

European forms used without reference to Nigerian elements in the music (and those that fuse) European forms with one aspect or other of Nigerian elements.8

23Sowande’s compositional style has reflected this duality, and African elements do not feature in all his music. In Because of You (soprano solo and piano, 1954), Songs of Contemplation (tenor voice and orchestra, 1955) and Out of Zion (SATB and Organ, 1955), for example, Sowande retains his romantic heritage in harmonic language and the choral pieces lack the folk elements of his organ works.

24Considering the influence of the Church on his professional career, it is not surprising that many of Sowande’s compositions have religious associations. For example, the theme on which his Oyigiyigi is based is a Yoruba salute to God while his Prayer is based on a theme of supplication. Church anthems such as St. Jude’s Response (SATB with organ), Oh Render Thanks (hymn anthem SATB with organ, 1960) and Out of Zion (SATB with organ, 1955) reflect another aspect of Sowande’s religious compositions. While the organ works use Yoruba-Anglican9 choral tunes, the anthems to religious texts are set to original music. His predilection for compositions which have a religious association, however, also emanates from a fundamental belief rooted in African traditional culture. Music in Yorubaland is used in religious worship to invoke ancestral and deified spirits, to transform man from his actual, materialistic world to an imagined, spiritual plane. This function represents the most profound role of music in the traditional Yoruba world. Sowande’s belief in this religious function of music is summarised in his statement that:

Whereas on the social level (music) communicates with the men and women of the society, on the ritualistic and religious levels it communicates with the gods and goddesses of the group’s pantheon with the forces of nature, which it impresses into the service of the group through their priests and seers.

25He continues:

What the contemporary African has lost — if Nigeria is indicative — is the recognition and acceptance of the metaphysical correspondence through which sound can become for us —as it was for our traditional man — creative and evocatory.10

26The influence of Yoruba religious music. on Sowande’s style of composition goes beyond the level of its conception. Although the incorporation of the dynamic, rhythmic character of African music is strongly reflected in his orchestral works (such as the African Suite), his organ works (such as Gloria, Kyrie and Oba Aba Ke Pe) are marked by an expressive quality that derives from their legato character. It is not in all cases that African music makes use of pulsating dance-like rhythms. African vocal music also often possesses a legato character. Sowande believes that it is in such features that the best expressions of Yoruba music are to be found and they are usually restricted to music used in religious rituals. According to him:

African music is popularly supposed to consist, in the main, of red-hot drum rhythms and wild tunes which must be called melodies for want of a more appropriate term. It needs to be stressed, therefore, that there are melodies in Nigeria, properly so called, which would compare favourably with anything found outside Nigeria on every level. While many of these melodies pulsate with keen and arresting rhythms, others are solemn chants which use no drum-rhythms at all and approximate more closely to the Catholic plainsong than to any other type of music.11

27To Sowande, therefore, the musical legacy of the African Church does not represent any fundamental difference or change from the nature and the role of music in traditional religious worship — the use of music for the purpose of communion with God in the Church represents a continuity of, rather than a break from, traditional African norms. It is this belief which accounts for Sowande’s conception of religious works and the fact that virtually all his major organ pieces are based on Yoruba Anglican pentatonic melodies.

28Sowande’s style shows influences from diverse sources. These include nineteenth century European harmony, Highlife and Jazz idioms, Yoruba- Anglican liturgical music and Yoruba traditional music. These sources reflect the diverse nature of his professional activities: a church organist, a band leader who played in Nigeria in the 1930s and played jazz in London, and a researcher and collector of Nigerian traditional music.

29His patronage of nineteenth century European music occurs mainly in the realm of harmony and in the use of folklore elements. His use of form, however, generally remains within the bounds of classical practice, notably in the use of sonata, fugue and theme and variations.

30It is important to note in any study of Sowande’s works that he was able to reconcile his objective as a composer (to write works which have an African character) with his desire to be part of the tradition of European classical music. In other words, although his works have been influenced by the nationalist tradition of European nineteenth century music, the use and the choice of stylistic materials in his works are often guided by nationalist considerations. For example, although his harmonic language maintains affinity with late nineteenth century European style in its use of dissonant- contrapuntal textures (as will be demonstrated in chapter 4) it has a conceptual relationship with the harmonic principles of African music. The adoption of this particular harmonic style is often conditioned by Sowande’s own interpretation of African music and his desire to incorporate that interpretation into his works.

31Sowande’s compositions can be grouped under six main categories which reflect the diversified nature of his professional career. These are:

  1. Folk song arrangements
  2. Organ works
  3. Sacred choral works
  4. Solo art songs
  5. Afro-American choral works
  6. Orchestral works

32A general survey of these works from his early arrangements such as the Three Yoruba Songs to his last major work — the Folk Symphony, reveals that African nationalism continues to recur in the conception of most of Sowande’s compositions. But manifestations of this objective often differ from one work to another. For example, although most of his major organ works are based on Yoruba melodies, the treatment of the melodies often takes one of three forms. Thus, in works such as Oyigiyigi and Kyrie, the melodies are presented within harmonic and formal contexts which are predominantly European. In a work like Gloria, European and African techniques co- dominate, while in Ka Mura and Prayer the treatment of themes reflects a predominantly African approach.

33Sowande’s contributions to the development of modern Nigerian music, both through research and composition, have been well acknowledged. In 1956 he was honoured with an M.B.E. for ‘distinguished services in the cause of music’; with an M.F.N. (Member of the Federation of Nigeria) in 1964; with a chieftaincy title, Babagbile of Lagos, in 1968, and an honorary doctorate degree in music by the University of Ife in 1972. He relinquished his post as Professor of Musicology at the University of Ibadan in 1968, when he left Nigeria for America where, between 1968 and 1972, he was Professor of African Studies and Research Programme at Howard University, Washington D.C. From 1972 to 1987, he was Professor of Musicology at the University of Pittsburgh. He died, in March 1987, at the age of eighty-two.

34Sowande’s style marks only the beginning of an era in the history of Modern Nigerian Art Music. Although his ideas on nationalism provided a working premise for the composers who came after him, those ideas are now regarded as being too cautious and restrictive to help bring about a national tradition of Nigerian modern Music. African idioms must be used in greater abundance in modern works, both from a conceptual and structural perspective, for an authentic national tradition to emerge.

Samuel Akpabot (1932- )

35Compared with that of Sowande, Samuel Akpabot’s style is relatively homogeneous. Virtually all his works are typified by a recurring approach in which elements of Highlife music combined with those of his traditional culture, Ibibio, are fused with features of European tradition. Often rejecting the expressionist, even avant-garde style of Euba, and the nineteenth century European heritage of Sowande, Akpabot’s strong reliance on Highlife and Ibibio traditions is symptomatic of a personal vision of the role which Nigerian and modern African composers should perform in society.

36Samuel Akpabot was born on 3rd October, 1932, in Uyo, in Akwa Ibom State. At the age of eleven he came to Lagos for his education at King’s College, a school often referred to as the ‘Eton of Nigeria’ and where European music was taught. It was, however, in the Church that Samuel Akpabot received the most significant introduction to European music. He was a chorister at Christ Church Cathedral, Lagos, under Phillips. According to Akpabot ‘it was in Christ Church that I was introduced to a great deal of European masterpieces; I sang all of them before going to England and that turned out to be a very great advantage’.12 Those masterpieces included Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Today, Mendelssohn remains Akpabot’s favourite composer, although his influence seldom appears in his own works. As well as being a chorister he also found time to play in bands, the most popular of which was the Chocolate Dandies, formed and led by Soji Lijadu. In 1949 when Akpabot left the choir, his voice having broken, he formed his own band, The Akpabot Players; T.A.P as it was popularly called.

37In addition to leading a band, Akpabot was also organist at St. Saviour’s Church in Lagos. Referring to the dual nature of his musical activities he said:

I would come back very late in the night from night clubs and steal into the Bishop’s court where I lived (with Bishop Vining, then, of Lagos) and the following morning go to play for both the Holy Communion Service and the Sunday Mattins !

38In 1954 he went to London, to the Royal College of Music, to study organ and trumpet. His teachers included John Addison, Osborn Pisgow and Herbert Howells and he also met Thurston Dart and Gordon Jacob. He later left the Royal College for Trinity College. He returned to Nigeria in 1959 with an ARCM and LTCL and took a post as broadcaster with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation.

39It was also in 1959 that Akpabot’s compositional career began. Despite his wide exposure in England to European styles ranging from the pre- baroque to the twentieth century and despite his initial training at Christ Church — the citadel of the emerging tradition of Nigerian Church music — it was the Highlife idiom which dominated his first attempts at composition. His first work, Nigeriana, for orchestra (1959) was originally written as an exercise for his composition teacher, John Addison.13 After minor revisions it was later renamed Overture for a Nigerian Ballet. Conceived along the tradition of the nineteenth century European concert overture, the work is characterised by literal and allusive quotations of Highlife tunes strung together in a rhapsodic manner.

40In 1962 Akpabot left the N.B.C. for the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to become one of the pioneering members of the academic staff of the music department. Nsukka proved a stimulating atmosphere in which to compose. The university, itself, established in the same year as Nigeria’s independence, was generally regarded as a symbol of modern independent Nigeria. It was seen as one of the most important foundations for fashioning an artistic tradition that would reflect the national aspirations of the country. Between 1962 and 1967, Akpabot wrote four works which clearly reflected the prevailing nationalist euphoria of that time. The works are Scenes from Nigeria, for orchestra (1962); Three Nigerian Dances, for string orchestra and percussion (1962); Ofala, a tone poem for wind orchestra and five African instruments (1963); and Cynthia’s Lament, tone poem for soloist, wind orchestra and six African instruments (1965). Both Ofala and Cynthia’s Lament were commissioned by the then director of the American Wind Symphony Orchestra, Robert Austin Boudreau, who had been invited to Nigeria in 1962 by the Nigerian Arts Council. Ofala and Cynthia’s Lament were premiered in Pittsburgh in 1963 and 1965 respectively.

41While Scenes from Nigeria and Three Nigerian Dances belong essentially to the same category as Overture for a Nigerian Ballet; Ofala and Cynthia’s Lament reveal a greater emphasis on African (Ibibio) elements not only in the use of instruments but in the use of melodic and formal procedures. These two works show a prevalence of Ibibio derived melodic patterns and formal procedures dictated largely by extra-musical considerations. Ofala, in 1972, won first prize in a competition for African composers organised by the African Centre of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); forty-one African countries were represented. The prize winning work was a tone poem based on the annual ‘yam eating festival’ of the Onitsha people of Anambra State. Its formal outline is suggested by the format of the festival which it evokes. Although Cynthia’s Lament has a form that is not tied to an extra-musical element, it is also a tone poem. Its conception is described fully by the composer:

Cynthia Avery was the 16 year old daughter of the white American Vice-Chairman of the American Wind Symphony Orchestra of Pittsburgh with whom I stayed during a visit in 1963 for the premiere of Ofala. After the performance, we went to the Conrad Hilton to have coffee with Mr. Boudreau. The rather silly waiters deliberately avoided serving Miss Avery and myself (we were seated together a short distance from the girl’s parents and Mr. Boudreau, who were served). This so distressed Miss Avery that she stormed out into the foyer, sobbing, ‘I don ‘t know what has become of my people !’ I decided to write a short piece for her, and on my next commission two years later, I produced Cynthia’s Lamente.14

42An important feature of the work is that Cynthia’s Lament is reinterpreted in African musico-dramatic terms. The harmonic-tonal framework of the work is, like Akpabot’s previous works, still almost entirely diatonic, and it is only in a later work, Nigeria in Conflict, for wind orchestra and eight Nigerian instruments (1973), which is a commentary on the Nigerian Civil War, that Akpabot began to use key changes and chromatic punctuations.

43Akpabot is the one Nigerian composer who has written almost entirely for the orchestra. His choice of instrumentation is, however, also conditioned by the need to project the features of traditional African instruments, as exemplified in Nigeria in Conflict consisting of those which are typical of Ibibio music. They are the gong, woodblock, rattle, wooden drum and xylophone. In the same vein his favoured use of wind instruments is determined by the fact that they can be more readily used to provide melo-rhythmic fragments, similar to those played by the Uta Horn orchestra (an Ibibio orchestra) consisting of horns made from elephant tusks.15 By combining these two categories of instruments (European wind and Ibibio percussion) in, for example, Ofala and Nigeria in Conflict, Akpabot hoped to achieve an orchestral effect in which ‘African instruments are treated on an equal footing with Western instruments and not as exotic instruments which they are not.’16 In addition, by using melodic and harmonic elements inspired by traditional Nigerian and Highlife idioms and formal schemes akin to African procedures, Akpabot was courting popularity. According to him modern Nigerian composers should not engage themselves in writing works the appreciation of which will be restricted to the educated elite: ‘it is for this reason that I often ignore European standard form, in favour of formal techniques commonly employed in traditional African music.’17

44At the end of the civil war in 1970 Akpabot became a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, and the two works written there continued to reflect the nationalist element of the pre-war works. These were Two Nigerian Folk Tunes for choir and piano, (1974) and Jaja of Opobo, a folk opera, sung and spoken in Efik, English and Ibo (1972). Akpabot’s nationalist zeal has, however, been curtailed in his two most recent works: Te Deum Laudamus, (Church anthem, choir and organ, 1975) and Verba Christi, (a cantata for three soloists, chorus and orchestra) commissioned by the Nigerian Broadeasting Corporation for the World Black Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) which took place in Lagos in 1977. The two works brought back echoes of the Church, the foundation of his musical training. The Verba Christi is his largest work to date and is notable for its use of musical materials from diverse European styles ranging from Victorian choral tradition to twentieth century atonality. Despite its strong European leaning, Akpabot’s approach to the use of the tone row, motivic processes and melodic conception in Verba Christi still bears the influences of African music. The adoption of the distinctly European format in his most recent compositions does not indicate a turning point in his composition career; rather, it reflects the varied nature of his artistic temperament, itself a reflection of the diversity of musical resources at his disposal. Now a professor of music at the University of Uyo, Akpabot has continued to write works which have very strong nationalistic characteristics.


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Ayo Bankole (1935-1976)

45Ayo Bankole’s musical style takes a line from the cautious approach of Fela Sowande although later in his career he also, like Euba, saw the need to lessen the stylistic bond between his works and European classical music. Like Sowande, he maintained close links with European conventional practice in the use of forms and formal procedures such as the sonata, the fugue and the cantata. Despite the relationship between his works and those of Sowande, Bankole’s style is defined by a personal approach to reinterpreting elements of traditional Yoruba music and their fusion with European idioms. Thus although his harmonic style generally remains within the bounds of tonality, it is frequently characterised by features such as whole-tone scales, modality, the interval of the tritone and much use of chromaticism, often within a tonal language defined through repetition and emphasis rather than orthodox harmonic procedures. The affinity between these features and the impressionistic and folklorist works of Debussy and Bartok is clear. But their use in Bankole’s music is also often governed by considerations which emanate from nationalist intentions. An analysis of his work in Chapter 5 clarifies this point.

46Bankole’s career follows a similar pattern to that of Sowande — the Church being the most important factor in his creative output. Born in 1935, in Lagos, his father was the organist of St. Peter’s Church, Faji (in Lagos) while his mother taught music at Queen’s School, Ede, Western Nigeria. The musical family into which he was born provided necessary encouragement for the beginning of a musical career that was to produce one of Nigeria’s leading composers. On his father’s suggestion, he became a chorister and a student under T.K.E. Phillips at Christ Church, Lagos. In the same year, 1945, he entered the Baptist Academy Secondary School (also in Lagos) where he also received music lessons. In 1954 he became a clerical officer at the Nigerian Broadeasting Corporation and it was there that he met Fela Sowande who gave him advanced organ lessons. Bankole’s contact with the most important African composer of the day, at that stage of his career, is significant. Sowande’s works, in their nationalist orientation, provided immediate motivation and inspiration for Bankole. By the time he was leaving for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, in 1957, he had started to compose. These compositions include two piano works, Nigerian Suite and Ja Orule.18 Like the organ works of Sowande, some of which Bankole had already played, these pieces make use of simple Yoruba folk tunes and rhythmic patterns. In their modally inflected harmonies, pedal notes and ostinati, important stylistic features were established, and these recur continuously in his works.

47During the three years that Bankole attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama he studied piano, composition and organ for the G.G.S.M. — the graduate diploma in teaching. In 1961, having distinguished himself as an organist, he was awarded a scholarship to study music at Clare College, Cambridge. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in music in 1964 (and was awarded a Master’s three years later). In addition, Bankole also obtained the FRCO in 1964, the second Nigerian to obtain this highest British professional qualification for organists, a great achievement. Bankole’s greater exposure to the works of European composers while in England and his insight into Yoruba music are reflected in the wide range of experiments made in his works at this period.


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48His compositions over these six years included three piano sonatas: Christmas Sonata (1959); The Passion (1959); and English Winterbirds (1961); a cantata: Baba Se Wa ni Omo Rere (Father make us good children), for female choir and chamber orchestra (1958); solo songs: Three Yoruba Songs (for bass and piano, 1959); part songs: Three Part Songs (for female choir, 1959) and an organ work: Toccata and Fugue (1960).

49Two points about these works are significant. First they represent the most popular of Bankole’s works in Nigeria today, and second, the range of styles presented in them reveals Bankole’s eclectic approach to composition. For example in the Three Yoruba Songs there is the juxtaposition of sharply contrasting styles. While the first song, Iya, maintains close links with the nineteenth century in the use of its predominantly diatonic harmonies, recurring accompanying patterns and spontaneous appeal, the second and third are striking in their use of impressionist-coloured dissonant intervals — especially the tritone and major seconds — to weaken and temporarily suspend the background tonality. Contrasting vividly with the tonal language of works such as The Passion Sonata and English Winterbirds is the atonal language of the Toccata and Fugue.

50The juxtaposition of elements which are inherently opposed to each other often occurs within a single work and, as in The Passion Sonata, this is not always successful. Bankole’s use of diverse materials within a work often stems from his efforts to fuse elements of traditional Yoruba with those of European music. Thus, the quasi-bitonal language of Ja Itanna To’n Tan, the second of the Three Yoruba Songs, derives from the juxtaposition of the inflectionary tonal quality of Yoruba vocal style with an harmonic style noted for its lavish use of chromaticism.

Stylistic Eclecticism in Bankole’s Works

51On the completion of his course at Cambridge in 1964, Bankole went to the University of California to study ethnomusicology. There he also met Roy Travis, and like Euba, during his stay at UCLA he considered writing works which would explore the use of traditional instruments and group improvisation. The two works conceived along these lines were Ethnophony (for traditional African instruments, 1964) and Jona (for narrators, singers, dancers and traditional instruments, 1964). Again, like Euba and Uzoigwe, Bankole’s experiment along these lines was to be short-lived. On his return to Nigeria in 1966, he went back to writing works in notation that could be easily recreated in performances. Although he was a senior music producer at the Nigerian Broadeasting Corporation (NBC) in Lagos from 1966-1969 and later lecturer in music at the University F Lagos Rom 1969-1976, when he died, he was actively involved with choir work in Lagos.

52His own choir was part of his Musico-Cultural Society and he was also choirmaster of the Chapel of the Resurrection for a brief period. It is, therefore, not surprising that most of the works written by him at this period were vocal pieces. They included Adura fun Alafia (Prayer for Peace), for soprano solo and piano (1969); Ore Ofe Jesu Kristi (the Grace of Jesus Christ) for unaccompanied choir (1967); Fun Mi Ni Beji No.I (Give me Twins) for unaccompanied choir (1970); Fun Mi Ni Beji No. II (1970) and Ona Ara (Mysterious Ways), for full chorus, soloists, organ and Yoruba instruments (1970). The most significant feature of these works is that, in them, Bankole abandoned the relatively complex, harmonic and formal character of works such as Toccata and Fugue and English Winterbirds, for a simple folk- inspired style. Such a compositional decision was necessary since these works were written for amateur choirs whose audience was mainly drawn from the Christian community in Nigeria, noted for its conservative musical taste. Despite their simplicity, the music is characterised by a fine taste, which reflects Bankole’s ability to achieve a successful and satisfying effect through simple material. Like his early vocal works, such as the Three Part Songs, these works are characterized by a fusion of Yoruba inflectionary tonal patterns with European conceived harmonies. In Fun Mi Ni Beji No. I and Ore Ofe jesu Kristi, melodic lines which are word-borne are treated polyphonically.

53Like Sowande, Bankole’s compositions are not always composed to present elements of African music. In a preface to Toccata and Fugue, one of his most Europeanised works, Bankole wrote that:

... no conscious effort is made to inject African traditional styles... and if these are felt their roles should not be exaggerated.19

54As the composer admits, the influence of Max Reger is felt in the Toccata and Fugue especially regarding the use of chord clusters. In addition, the emotional temper of the piece is suggested by Liszt’s Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H, which he played frequently in the period shortly before he composed the work. Bankole’s patronage of European conventional procedures is, however, clearly shown, not only in the formal conception of Toccata and Fugue, but also in the use of periodic and symmetric phrases and the traditional process of motivic development. In its use of conventional European elements, the work maintains strong links with some of the significant works of the Second Viennese School. For example, Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire which, despite its atonal character, still contains residual tonal features and conventional formal patterns. It must, however, be pointed out that a work like the Toccata and Fugue constitutes the exception rather than the rule. The need to fuse European and African elements represents the most important basis for his compositional career. In no other work is the syncretic basis of his works more sharply focused than in his last major work, the Festac Cantata for chorus, soloists, wind orchestra and Nigerian traditional instruments (1974). This work represents a summary of Bankole’s compositional style, since virtually all the diverse elements of his previous works are combined in it. The combination of European and traditional instruments, the juxtaposition of diatonic, tonally conceived, harmonics and atonal textures, the use of Yoruba inspired modal (harmonic and melodic) procedures and harmonic-tonal features which suggest an affinity with Bartok and Debussy are all used within a work which symbolises the pervading eclectism in Bankole’s output.

Akin Euba (1935 )

55Like Sowande, Akin Euba’s20 ideas on the need for African composers to maintain a strong link with traditional African music have been reflected both in his compositions and research work. Clear parallels often, therefore, occur between his writing and his composition. The writing shows Euba’s strong commitment, far beyond that of any of his colleagues, to a search for a contemporary African society. In one such piece he stated that:

... as a participant in the new Fine Art Music (in Nigeria, he) has been puzzled for a long time in his search for a style of composition which would distinctly reflect his cultural heritage and which would be a natural extension of this heritage... Having been brought up primarily in the Western tradition and being all too aware of the force with which this tradition is encroaching upon native culture, this writer has felt the need not only for a preservation of his Country’s folk tradition, but for a logical direction of the processes of acculturation in such a manner that their products will be not a severance from but a continuation of the past.21

56Euba’s search for an authentic idiom of modern African Art Music has been exemplified in a variety of ways and, as the discussion below will show, they are usually valid interpretations of the principles governing the organisation of traditional African music.

57Akin Euba was born on 28th April 1935, in Lagos, and was formally introduced to Western music by his father, who was a pianist. He later attended the C.M.S. Grammar School (now Anglican Grammar School), Lagos, where he continued lessons in the rudiments of European music. In addition, Euba had private piano lessons from Major J.G.C. Allen, a colonial administrator in Lagos, and a man to whom Euba would later dedicate his piano work; Scenes from Traditional Life (1970). These initial musical experiences are significant. He made rapid progress at playing the piano, winning in 1950 a medal at a competition organised by the Ministry of Culture. According to Euba:

From 1950, things improved after I won my first Silver Medal at the Nigerian Festival of the Arts. This turned me from an obscure member of the School to a kind of star. This small recognition of my achievements may have reinforced my progress towards a musical career.22

58On Major Allen’s recommendation, Euba secured a government scholarship in 1952 to study music at Trinity College, London. There he studied harmony and counterpoint under Eric Taylor, composition under Arnold Cooke (a former pupil of Paul Hindemith) obtaining his Fellowship of the Trinity College of Music, London (FTCL) in piano and in composition in 1957. Euba’s compositional career started at Trinity College where he wrote his orchestral piece, Introduction and Allegro, and the String Quartet (1957). In both works he experimented with atonality.

59Euba returned to Nigeria in 1957 to join the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) as a producer in the Music and Music Research Unit. It was during his stay at the NBC that he began to develop a research interest in traditional Nigerian music. He recorded and produced for broadcast, various traditional music performances from different parts of Yorubaland. When, in 1962, Euba was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Scholarship to study in the United States he opted for ethnomusicology at the University of California where in 1966 he obtained an M.A. degree.

60Euba’s compositions written between 1959 and i960 reveal the influence of his new interest in traditional Yoruba music: the use of Yoruba melodies and rhythmic idioms are vividly shown in his Six Yoruba Songs (1959), Two Yoruba Folk Songs (1959), and The Wanderer (for violin, cello and piano, i960). It was, however, not until he arrived at the University of California that he started experimenting with the use of traditional African instruments. At UCLA, he came in contact with Roy Travis, an American composer who himself composed works such as the African Sonata (piano, 1966) and Collage for Orchestra (1968) in which African rhythmic idioms are strongly featured and who was his teacher. Akin Euba also took courses on the elements of traditional African music and the possibilities of their incorporation into his works. This widened his horizon. According to him:

The atmosphere at UCLA was very suitable for composers wishing to experiment with non-Western resources. We not only had theoretical courses in several of the world’s musical cultures but also had actual ensembles from these cultures in which we would play... My studies at UCLA indicated to me in what ways I, as a composer seeking to develop an African idiom, could proceed. I became aware for the first time that one of the most important methods by which I could Africanize my works was to employ African traditional instruments.23

61The immediate results of this experience are shown in his Three Yoruba Songs (for baritone and iya-ilu, chief drum 1963), Igi Nla So (for piano and four Yoruba drums, 1963), Four Pieces (for African orchestra, 1966) and Olurombi (for symphony orchestra, 1967). In all these works, Euba explores the rhythmic nuances of traditional Yoruba music in combination with twentieth century European atonality.

IGI NLA SO gudugudu, kanango, lya-the, kerikeri, piano.
Akin Euba

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62The use of an atonal harmonic texture to present African rhythmic elements is not simply an attempt by Euba to identify himself with a twentieth century European tradition. It represents a reinterpretation of a stylistic tendency of traditional Yoruba music. Thus, Euba’s experiments in works such as Three Yoruba Songs and Igi Nla So are based on an interpretation which sees Yoruba drum music as having a quasi-atonal quality.

63While the use of traditional instruments is an interesting development, it brings with it a particular problem. With the present state of music scholarship in Nigeria there is as yet no music school that emphasises the teaching of traditional instruments at the level it deserves. As a result, literate musicians who can play traditional instruments are indeed very few. This means that works such as Igi Nla So which make use of traditional instruments rarely get performed in the form in which they exist in the score. Traditional musicians who can play the traditional instruments used in the works cannot read music.

Euba’s Concept of African Pianism

64It is, however, important to explain how Euba has tried to overcome this problem. In some of his piano works written after Igi Nla So he abandoned the use of traditional instruments, relying on the piano alone to capture and evoke the rhythmic, melodic and harmonic textures of traditional Yoruba music. The works in which this new experiment take place include Four Pictures from Oyo Calabashes (1964), Saturday Night at Caban Bamboo (1964) and Scenes from Traditional Life (1970). Euba’s use of the piano to evoke the textures of traditional African music is based on the concept of African pianism which he has evolved himself. This concept defines a compositional approach through which the piano can be used to evoke the rhythmic, textural and formal characteristics of traditional African instrumental music. In addition, Euba believes that capturing the essence and the spirit of traditional African music is more important than a mere use of traditional folk tunes.

65According to him:

It is true that (African modern) composers have often attempted to Africanise their works by making use of African tunes and rhythms, but in their preoccupation with Western forms, such borrowing has been quite minimal and their works must be regarded as an extension of Western art music rather than a continuation of African tradition in music.24

66It is not that European elements should be discouraged in modern African works, but they should not suppress the African features used in such works. Thus he does not:

advocate a total insulation of African music from foreign influences since such influences are often enriching, provided they are compatible with and do not tend to dominate the native tradition.25

67Despite the strength of African idioms in such works as Igi Nla So and Olurombi, Euba’s most nationalist works were not composed until the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Neo-traditionalism in Euba’s Works

68In 1966, after the completion of his Master’s degree at UCLA, Euba took up an appointment with the University of Lagos as Lecturer in the music department. A year later, while still at Lagos University, he registered as a part-time doctoral student at the University of Legon, Ghana, where, in 1974, he obtained his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology after submitting a thesis on Yoruba dundun music.

69From 1967 onwards there was a drastic change in Euba’s approach to composition. In 1967, Euba left the University of Lagos for the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, a place renowned for its interest in the cultural heritage of Nigeria. Located in the place of mythical origin of the Yoruba — Ile-Ife — the University has initiated important research into different aspects of Nigerian culture. The Institute of African Studies, the University’s main organ for this cultural objective, has different sections for music, dance and drama. In addition to research, this institute also lays emphasis on the practical aspect of those courses. Regular performances took place in the University’s Oduduwa Hall. Euba worked as a Research Fellow in the institute and coordinated ‘Ori Olokun’, a group of semi-professional artistes. Euba’s time in the University resulted in his re-examination of his initial ideas as to how a modern African composer can satisfy the aesthetic needs of contemporary African society. This has in turn resulted in compositions significantly different from his earlier works. In an article written in 1970, Euba expresses certain important ideas which formed the basis of his change of approach to composition. Instead of writing works which only make use of African elements within a predominandy European structural context, African composers who genuinely want to maintain strong links with African culture in their works should take a close look at the principles governing African traditional music. According to him:

Compositions written by Africans... even when (they have)... utilised elements of African music have generally conformed to European ideals to such a degree that the African elements have been overshadowed by the Western. The influences at work here are so forceful that the music produced must be regarded as representing an almost total rejection of African norms. On the other hand, by judicious selection, African composers can leave themselves open to foreign influences which are so peripheral in nature that the core of their music retains its identity. (For example) Africans can accept the idea of a new music designed for aesthetic listening without necessarily committing themselves to using foreign materials in the creation of this music.26

70Works written by Euba which accept the idea of a new music designed for aesthetic listening, but which do not use many European elements, include Dirges for speakers, singers, and Nigerian instruments (1972), Two Tortoise Folk Tales, for speakers and Nigerian instruments (1975), Morning, Noon and Night, a dance drama for Nigerian instruments (1967) and Alatangana, a dance drama for Nigerian instruments (1971). These works were composed while Euba was at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ife. Since most of the performers could not read music, the works were conceptualised on an oral basis. This approach naturally removed the initial problem which Euba had in performing his earlier works such as Three Yoruba Songs, which make use of dundun drums. According to Euba, composers could adopt this approach while the training of African musicians able to play traditional instruments from notation goes on.

71The reception given to the works each time they are performed both within and outside Nigeria has given Euba encouragement to continue along these lines. Apart from the use of traditional instruments, they reflect certain important, basic features of traditional African music: flexibility and spontaneity in performance and the integration of music, dance and drama. They also often have a quasi-utilitarian character. For example, by using poems which have a political theme in Chaka (1970), Euba is able to adumbrate the African tradition in which a musical performance also performs an extra-musical function. Chaka, for soloists, chorus and ensemble of traditional African instruments, makes use of a text based on a dramatic poem about a famous nineteenth century Zulu warrior, dedicated to the Bantu Martyrs of South Africa. The poem was by Leopold Senghor, former President of Senegal. The work was first performed at the Ife Festival of the Arts, University of Ife in 1970 and was later presented at a command performance before Leopold Senghor in Dakar in 1972. The third performance of the work, attended by this writer, was in London, at Brent Town Hall, in 1986. Since an absolute score does not exist, each time the work is performed it takes a slightly different form. The wide reception and commendation which Euba’s orally conceived works received both within and outside Nigeria is illustrated in the successful presentations of Alatangana. Like Chaka, the work was taken abroad after performances at Ife and Ibadan, and was performed during the 1972 International Festival of the Arts in Nancy, France. Its enthusiastic reception is summarised by critic Yoland Thiriet, in Le Journal de Nancy:

The performance is a result of a choreographic effort of a high order. modern melodies and rhythms revitalize the traditional repertoire to produce a means of unique richness. At first sight the performance is folkloric. But its depth is not lost on the attentive spectator for long. For the traditional aspect is carried by an undercurrent of marks of masterful technicality... The complexity of the performance runs the risk of being distracting. But its richness of rhythm, its diversity and its pageantry are sufficiently arresting and win our attention.27

72Like other works in its category, the musical conception of Alatangana is aleatoric. As Euba has said:

Essentially, I gave the barest of direction to the performers about the kind of music they should play. Then I let them play at will without synchronizing their rhythms. So every time this dance-drama is played the music is different.28

73Despite the success of these orally-conceived works, Euba realises their limitations. One major problem is that there is a limit to which his own creative intentions can be portrayed by performers (traditional Africans) who generally fall back on their own knowledge and judgement in presenting his (Euba’s) ideas.

74Thus, although originally orally conceived, for three-part choir and five Nigerian instruments, his Abiku No. II, (1968), was later scored. The decision to score the work highlights Euba’s dilemma and continuous search for an appropriate medium in which to present his creative intentions, since he had to resort once again to the use of notation in a work written for African instruments. The score of Abiku No. II, however, is significant in that it shows the ingenuity of Euba in capturing and redirecting the compositional techniques of traditional Yoruba music to suit a contemplative presentation. By scoring the work, Euba has provided us with an opportunity to examine the main compositional features of his orally-conceived works, since the work represents a written example of the techniques employed in the conception of the orally-based works. Apart from the use of Yoruba drumming procedures, central to the conception of Abiku, is:

The exploitation of the tonal characteristics of African languages to produce a kind of music in which speech tones, without being turned into melodies having discrete pitches, assume musical importance in their own right and could be used multi-linearly.29

75Euba’s experiments at fusing European and African elements are typified by a commitment and articulation which exceed that of any other Nigerian composer; and the musical realisations of his ideas are guided by a personal style noted for its intellectual depth and maturity.

Lazarus Ekwueme (1936-)

76Lazarus Ekwueme is perhaps the most learned of the most prominent group of Nigerian composers. A product of such famous schools as the Royal College of Music, London, Durham University, England and Yale University in the United States of America, Professor Ekwueme holds a sizeable number of degrees and diplomas including B.Mus, M.Mus, M.A., Ph.D., L.R.S.M. and F.T.C.L.

77Born in 1936 in Anambra State of Nigeria, Lazarus Ekwueme had much of his music education in Britain and the United States, studying under such great names as Sir Adrian Boult (conducting) and Gordon Jacob (composition). In line with the varied nature of his academic training, Ekwueme has not only been an active composer, he has also displayed striking competence in different areas within the music discipline. A professor of music in the University of Lagos, Nigeria, he has authored many academic publications on music, including journal articles and books. He has also led an active career as a singer and conductor. His Laz Ekwueme National Chorale has been an active ensemble in the performance of classical music in Nigeria, boasting a repertoire of a highly varied nature.

78His compositional career began actively during his student days in England and since then, he has written works which reflect a varied genre. His works can be grouped under four categories. These are (a) original choral works; (b) choral arrangements; (c) opera; (d) chamber and large orchestral work. Works in the first category include: Sopuru Chineke Nima Mma Nke Idi Nso (O Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness) SATB, 1958; Chineke No N’ulo Nso Ya (God is in His Holy Temple) SATB a capella, 1976; and Zidata Mo Nso Gi (Send Down Thy Holy Spirit, O Lord) SATB, 1989.

79Works in the second category include Let My People Go (Negro spiritual) for tenor/soprano solo, SATB, 1989; Chi Chi Bud (Jamaican folk song) for soprano solo, SATB 1970; and Eku Ewu (Yoruba folk song) for soprano solo, SATB and piano, 1976. His only opera is tided A Night in Bethlehem while Dance of the Black Witches is a chamber piece and Nigerian Rhapsody an orchestral work.


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80A survey of Ekwueme’s works reveals a pervading element of nationalism. Like all the composers earlier mentioned, Ekwueme’s compositional objective in most of his works is marked by a striking attempt to create syncretic works in which elements of European and African music are imaginatively woven together. Relying on a well grounded knowledge of European and African music, he has been able to successfully marry distinct and different musical elements to create a new tradition of musical composition especially in the realm of vocal music. Works which bear eloquent testimony to this include Nno ( Welcome) SATB, in which the Igbo drum language is convincingly simulated within a European-derived tonal texture; and Olele (Yoruba melody), arranged for solo voice and piano (1961) and typified by a percussive tension arising from the hemiola character of the piece; again, within a generally restricted European tonal background. Other features of Ekwueme’s style include the use of the African derived call and response pattern as in Nne Neku Nwa (O Mary, dear Mother) for SATB in which a nonsense word Zamiliza becomes a recurring answer; the setting of Igbo texts to modes other than major or minor keys as in Zidata Mo Nso Nke Gi which employs a transposed Dorian mode; the use of rhythmic and tonal ostinato as in Hombe and the use of parallel harmony as in Obi Dimkpa (SATB).

Meki Nzewi (1938-): His Musical Philosophy

81We shall now turn our attention to the compositional activities of Meki Nzewi, who by virtue of age and experience belongs to the older generation of Nigerian composers, but whose approach to the development of a contemporary tradition of Nigerian Art Music is perhaps, the most radical and avant-garde. Born in 1938, Nzewi studied music at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka before proceeding to the Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland, where he had the privilege of studying under the renowned ethnomusicologist, John Blacking. Prior to his studies in the United Kingdom, Nzewi had experimented with works conceived along the European tradition and similar to most of the works by other Nigerian composers earlier discussed in this chapter.30 Such works include three musicals; The Moonsage Hero, Kunje and A Drop of Honey and two piano works: Searching, Nos 2 and 3. His musical vision however changed dramatically following his education at Belfast and after realising the predominant European basis of his earlier works. His commitment to the evolution of a more relevant and viable tradition of contemporary music is manifested in his new approach to Art Music presentation, notably in his performances of traditionally Igbo Ese Music. He has not only notated Ese music for modern concert presentation purposes, for those who may be interested in performing it, he has also learnt how to play Ese musical instruments, a set of a tuned drum row consisting of four pitched membrane drums, plus one bass drum which is an open- ended single membrane drum of indefinite pitch.31 Nzewi believes that many examples of traditional Nigerian music are classical enough to be performed as contemplative music. In addition, it is only through a good mastery of traditional music that a solid foundation can be laid for an evolution of authentic and relevant Art Music in contemporary Nigeria.

Okechukwu Ndubuisi (1939- ) Contemporary Igbo Vocal Music

82Contrasting with Akpabot’s compositional preference for orchestral works is Okechukwu Ndubuisi’s predilection for writing vocal works. As the most important and consistent composer of modern Igbo vocal art music, his works represent some of the most articulate forms of that tradition.

83Okechukwu Ndubuisi was born on the 29th September 1939, in Item, Abia State of Eastern Nigeria. At the age of six he went with his uncle, a teacher, who was transferred to Ora in Edo State. It was in Ora, where he received his primary and secondary education, that he had his first formal contact with European music as a chorister in Ora Methodist Church. The organist and choirmaster, Mr. Odutola, from Abeokuta (in Western Nigeria) later gave Ndubuisi his first lessons on the piano and organ. In addition, Ndubuisi as a chorister had an early opportunity to develop his talent as a singer.

84At the age of 17, after his secondary school education, he went to Enugu in Eastern Nigeria, where he met a British engineer who was also a musician, who, impressed by his potential as a singer and pianist, gave him lessons in singing and piano free of charge.

85Two important developments took place in his musical life at Enugu. First, he played in jazz bands. As a pianist in these bands he was introduced to the basic principles of jazz harmony and improvisation. Secondly, in 1959, he met a Scottish Operatic Singer, Mrs. Grant Elliot with whom, in that same year, he formed the Enugu Operatic Society. Before the end of 1959, this society was able to produce the popular musical, The King and I.