Nigerian Music Timeline

Posted Thursday, 21 September 2017

Popular music in Nigeria can be divided into three time periods: the Traditional period (early times until the mid-19th century); the Post-Western Influence period (mid-19th century until 1960); and the Contemporary Popular music (1960 until present). Within these periods there are a number of genres such as Highlife Music, Fuji Music and Afrobeat.  


Traditional period

Music was employed in Traditional societies for ceremonies, celebrations and religious events. However, music in Nigeria was different depending on what region people were from, due to the diverse cultures, languages and ethnic groups. Each ethnic group had their instrumentsparticularly leather skinned drumsthat signified their unique voice, style of music and dance.

Post-Western Influence

During this period, religion styled Nigerian music the most. The 19th Century started with Islamic unrest, causing many to take in Muslim culture and create Hausa-style music. The music was a mix of Muslim religious hymns and traditional African music.


By the mid-19th Century, Anglican Churches had been established all over the country and congregational hymns were sang at the services. The hymns became popular musical themes in Nigerian society especially when Priest Josiah Ransome-KutiGrandfather of Fela Kutibegan to compose hymns in Yoruba. This type of music became the favourite of wealthy, educated Nigerians, while Traditional music remained popular for the less wealthy. This changed when brass bands adapted traditional tunes and performed to large audiences.The most popular was the Calabar Brass Band (a.k.a. Lagos Mozart Orchestra).


The earliest form of popular music was Palmwine Guitar Music, emerging in the 1920s. It was a fusion of Latin and Caribbean music with African traditional vocals. The pioneers of this style were artists like Irewolede Denge, Ayinde Bakare, and The Three Night Wizards. This style of music was popular with the working class while high society danced the foxtrot, waltz and other dances accompanied by big band ensembles. The blending of Palmwine Guitar and big band music gave rise to Highlife Music in the 1940s.  


Highlife Music spread due to the establishment of Philips West Africa Records, which released albums from local popular artists, and Lagos Rediffusion Service (radio service) which broadcast Highlife Music to a wide audience. Other forms of popular music were imported from the USA, such as rock and roll, Soul, R&B and Jazz. Jazz was a dominant music genre in the 1950s with musicians like Chris Ajilo, bassist Steve Rhodes, drummer Bayo Martins, trumpeters Mike Falana and a young Fela Kuti.

Contemporary Popular Music

After WWII, Nigerian music incorporated new techniques and instruments into their styles and with this various genres were created. This period was also a time of renaissance in the struggle to find a musical identity.  


Jùjú - Jùjú music was the sound of urban western Nigeria. It was a fusion of Palmwine Guitar music and Traditional Yoruba music. The most prominent musicians were I.K. Dairo, King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey and Shina Peters.

Afrobeat - This genre was popularised by Fela Kuti, with ground-breaking albums from 1960 until his death in 1997. To date his sons, Femi and Seun, continue producing contemporary Afrobeat music. Other artists include Dele Sosimi and Ade Bantu.


Afrofunk - Emerging in the late 1960s, Afrofunk is a fusion of American funk and African rhythms and vocals. Some of the artists within this genre are The Strangers, Wrinkars Experience, Monomono, BLO, The Funkees and Boy Band Ofege.


Fuji Music - Fuji music is the next generation of Apala and Sakara music. It is a hybrid of Traditional Yoruba Music and Islamic chant. It emerged in the 1970s and artists include King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, Kollington Ayinla, and Salawa Abeni.


Reggae, Hip-Hop, Rap and Beyond - Reggae has had an influence on Nigerian artists since the 1970s. Artists like Majek Fashek produced albums that received rave reviews under this genre. Recently with the advent of dancehall and ragga, more contemporary stars have emerged like General Pype, Felix Duke, Kupa Victory, Burna Boy and Pato Ranking.

 Image result for burna boy

In the new millennium, a new generation of stars have emerged: D’Banj, Darey, Banky W, Asa, Sound Sultan, P-Square, Wande Coal, Flavour, Davido, WizKid, Bez, Tiwa Savage, Omawumi, Waje and the list goes on.


Nigerian Hip-hop, including Rap took off in the new millennium. The 1990s saw groups move from rapping in English to Pidgin and later in their native languages. Nigerian Hip-hop groups include Remedies, Trybesmen and Maintain, and solo artists Eldee, Olu Maintain, Tony Tetuila and Eedris Abdulkareem. Later came Jazzman Olofin, Ikechukwu, Naeto C, Sasha P, Sauce Kid, Ice Prince, M.I, Jesse Jagz, and Ill Bliss. Artists that express their art in indigenous language and use indigenous genres include included Lord of Ajasa, Mr Raw, MC Loph, DaGrin, 9ice and notable new sensations Olamide, Phyno and Reminisce.


The Future

The history of Nigerian music has mimicked the economic and therefore political arena of Nigeria’s history. Post colonisation, Nigerian music struggled to find an identity and prove itself to its people and the world. This is all changing and now Nigerian talent is being recognised, celebrated and encouraged both locally and globally. No one knows what the future of Nigerian music will be but with the current situation of successful artists and the love for Nigerian music locally and globally, the horizon looks promising.



Nigerian Music History and Genres,

Popular music in Nigeria, Ed Keazor,

The Music of Nigeria,

The Evolution of Music in Nigeria, Sierra Coppage

A Brief History of Contemporary Nigerian Music, Dami Ajayi,

Musical History of Nigeria, Nicholas Lazo,


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