The guitar from its lowly beginnings in palm-wine/tombo bars had, at the turn of the eighties, shaped Highlife and its hybrid genres of popular music in Nigeria for nearly five decades.
As from the seventies it was now the turn of the youth; more in-tune with and influenced by ‘global’ popular music from the United States and Britain than the ‘elder’ musicians, to create their own genre of contemporary Nigerian popular music; in line with the global youth revolution, primarily for their own generation in Nigeria.
AfroPop was born and, its stars were usually the vocalists/singers; not necessarily singer-guitarists as in the mould of western pop music. Nonetheless, the guitar and ace guitarists played a major role in shaping Nigerian AfroPop music!
When Airforce broke up, Ginger Baker came back to Nigeria and went about restructuring the Nigerian AfroRock music scene, to his benefit..
In some circles it might be more appropriate to categorise this music as AfroRock as against AfroPop, since the first generation of young Nigerian musicians in this genre patterned their music after the Beatles of England and other popular Rock ‘n Roll bands of the sixties in the United Kingdom and United States of America.
Journalist later-turned writer and poet Eddie Aderinokun was involved in the formation of what is generally regarded as one of Nigeria’s oldest Pop groups, ‘The Clusters’, based in Lagos. The Clusters were led by singer and organist Joni Haastrup; with Berkley Jones on lead electric guitar, Laolu Akins (a name coined by Aderinokun) on drums, Mike Odumosu on electric bass and Bob Cole.
Another of Nigeria’s pioneer AfroRock groups that came to the fore in 1969 and in Eastern Nigeria during the Civil War was ‘The Funkees’, managed by Marcel Ihekweme who took them to a long London sojourn. The band included Harry Mosco, Chyke Maduforo, Bill Iyke, Jake Solo and others. Jake Solo played with the Enugu-based Pop group called ‘The Fractions’, managed by music writer Tony Amadi during the war in Biafra but Jake joined the Port Harcourt based ‘Hykkers’ after the war.
The Hykkers was quite a popular war-front band with musicians like singer Pat Finn. It was however, the Funkees who were hit-makers with singles like Onyemanya, Akula, Dancing Time etc.
Their music was described as “a combination of pure Funk with the local Igbo Atilogwu beat.”
Just as in Highlife in which musicians incorporated their local indigenous rhythmic flavours, this trend of infusing Igbo rhythms into AfroRock was later made internationally successful by ‘Ofo and the Black Company’ led by Larry Ihedioramma with their Gold-medal-outing at the Berlin Youth Music Festival.
The Clusters and Funkees were the catalysts that went on to shape AfroRock and AfroPop in Nigeria, thanks largely to the intervention of English star pop-music drummer and friend of Fela, Ginger Baker. During a visit to Nigeria in 1970, Ginger Baker was so taken in by Haastrup that he took him away to become a member of his world-famous Rock band Airforce.
When Airforce broke up, Baker came back to Nigeria and went about restructuring the Nigerian AfroRock music scene to his benefit; in that he eventually formed a band of young Nigerian musicians which he took overseas to perform with much success.
By now there was a new star group on the Lagos scene, ‘The Afro-Collection’, made up of British-trained Engineer turned electric bass player Tunde Kuboye, Swiss-Nigerian flute player Tee Mac Iseli as well as Berkley Jones and Laolu Akins.
Ginger Baker asked Kuboye, Jones and Akins to be part of his new Afro-Rock band called Salt; which also had the Lijadu twin-sisters as singers and two European musicians. Salt, led by Ginger Baker was a featured act at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games Music Festival (interestingly representing Nigeria/Africa).
Tony Amadi, who had started off as a music reporter for the Eddie Aderinokun-edited Daily Express newspaper in Lagos, was later quite instrumental in shaping the Nigerian AfroRock scene.
Incidentally, this was my first musical encounter with this young generation of Nigerian popular musicians and, I reviewed the performance of Salt and other jazz musicians on the bill for DownBeat maga
There was literarily an AfroPop-AfroRock explosion nationally and internationally; involving these young pioneer musicians. Joni Haastrup had a new band Mono Mono, whose hit song Give the Beggar a Chance made waves as far away as in Argentina.
Tony Amadi ensured that Berkley, Laolu and Odumosu formed BLO, which became one of Nigeria’s most successful AfroRock bands; which I caught in performance in a nightclub in Oslo, Norway. Jake Solo and the Funkees went to Britain in 1973 and, later Jake Solo and then Odumosu, joined the world-famous band Osibisa.
A definite AfroPop-AfroSoul movement had also started manifesting as Black Soul music spread at some expense of the white Rock ‘n Roll music of Britain and America.
In the forefront, by 1968, were Segun Bucknor and Soul Assembly, which included the Nelson Cole brothers and, had first come out in the blaze of amateur school bands in the mid-sixties.
Geraldo Pino of Sierra Leone ironically, spread Soul Music across West Africa; first in Ghana and then from 1968 in Nigeria where he stayed and performed until his death over forty years after. By 1969 Bucknor and The Revolution were truly giving Soul an Afro-flavour.
By the turn of the seventies, Ofege, a band of students at the St. Gregory’s College, Lagos, had become another important feature on the scene. Tony Benson, Bobby Benson’s son, also had a band named Strangers. Bongos Ikwue and his Groovies, a big band with saxophones and brass also made contributions singing in Idoma and English in different pop genres of soul, rock and reggae; earning him gold discs with Still Searching and Something Good in 1978.
The seventies also witnessed the emergence of a new and younger school of genuinely AfroPop musicians, influenced by mostly soul music and a bit of rock; but much more expressive about love and relationships situated in the Nigerian environment. In this category was Chris Okotie, the then law student at the University of Nsukka, whose first album I Need Someone sold over 100,000 copies in under six months to earn him a Gold Disc. Also from Nsukka came another heart-throb in Jide Obi, also an Nsukka undergraduate.
It is interesting that just as Al Green went from Love Soul to Gospel and the Church, Okotie too eventually became a big-time pastor and church owner and a two-time Presidential candidate!
Tony Grey, Wrinkers Experience, Peacocks, Wings, were some of the pop groups of this golden era of Afro Love-Pop. In the eventual emergence of disco pop in Nigeria, Sonny Okosun, who had started off in Enugu at the turn of the sixties with a pop group ‘The Postmen’, had gone through the different phases of his special Ozzidi pop music; including Highlife and Reggae influenced phases to play Disco Pop. Remi Kabaka’s Funky Lagos was a standout hit in this Disco-pop phase.
The women were not left out in the development of this AfroPop phase of Nigeria music. From Highlife Queen Nellie Uchendu to Christie Essien- Igbokwe to Onyeka Owenu, Dora Ifudu, Oby Onyioha, Stella Monye and Patti Boulaye, abroad, they were important contributors.
We are now in the Afro/Nigerian Rap phase of popular music. As the new Turks of this genre forge ahead to consolidate and distinguish the genre, they have come under criticism for being copy-cats.
Quite a few of the stars in the segment are however quite creative and root-conscious! Two outstanding examples are a rap-remix of Rex Lawson’s hit highlife tune by Flavour and MI’s classic African Rapper Number 1, with the reminder that they are exploring a “highlife and hip-hop combination!”
They know where they are coming from.
TAM FIOFORI c tam fiofori june 1, 2011