Nigeria: Is it nightfall on traditional music genres?

by Afolayan Adebiyi

There was a time the Nigerian social scene was bubbling with rich and dynamic traditional music of various genres. Patrons and fans alike droll over each other to catch fun with the artists and showed appreciation by showering them with cash and gifts.

The artists were living large, having acquired the status of megastars and the hordes of fans pampered them with heavy spraying of currency notes on their foreheads at parties. But that was then. The period between the 1950s and early 90s was particularly good for the traditional music stars and their grade. The nightlife was flamboyant in the Lagos area. Social circles were bubbling. The stars were dishing out melodious tunes, evergreen tunes that captivated the mood of the time. That was when there was Sakara. The superstars were the late Abibu Oki and Yussuf Olatunji, popularly called Baba L’egba. There also was Apala, whose main exponents were the late Alhaji Haruna Ishola and Alhaji Ayinla Omowura, popularly called “Egunmogaji” of Egbaland. These genres of traditional music dominated the scene in the urban Lagos and Abeokuta areas. From the upper mainland of Yorubaland, there was Adamo from Ijesa/Ile Ife area. This was led by the late Odofin of Iperindo, Ilesa, Chief Adedara Arunra Lo’ja Oba. There was Awurebe of late Alhaji Dauda Akanmu Epo Akara in Ibadan and also the Dundun of late Tatalo Alamu in the same Ibadan.

Holding up the flags in this realm also were the Ekiti music blues of Elemure Ogunyemi, the Dadakuada of Odolaye Aremu, and Iya Aladuke of Ilorin, Kwara State, the Ewi (poetic effusions) of Lanrewaju Adepoju and Olatunbosun Oladapo (aka Odidere Ayekooto). Also, from Okitipupa and Igbomina areas were Batile Alake and Aduke Eyinfunjowo.

Indeed, Juju, Fuji, Apala, Sakara, Dundun, Adamo, and Dadakuada music were among the popular genres of music that originated and evolved among the Yoruba people of Southwest, Nigeria,  which extended by cultural affinity with the Ibariba and Tapa people of Niger State, and the Ajase people of the Republics of Benin and Togo, at various times. However, how and when these forms of music emerged in the Nigerian music scene has remained a puzzle to keen observers.

These music genres came with various brands and rhythms that were unique and refreshing.

The juju genre cannot strictly be categorized as a traditional music genre. It leans heavily on the highlife genre with the heavy percutaneous of the Yoruba traditional music. Even the Afro-Juju of Sir Shina Peters which evolved from the fusion of Fuji of Ayinde Barrister and Juju of Ebenezer Obey may not fall into this categorization.

These various traditional music genres dominated their various communities before the advent of Highlife, Juju, and lastly Fuji music. The arrival of the Fuji genre in the mid-70s however, totally changed the face of traditional music.

Generally, music in Nigeria has come a long way. Since the country gained its independence in 1960, there has been a variety of music genres experienced at one point or the other. Nigerians have since been experiencing music genres like Sakara, Apala, Juju, and Fuji in that order, amongst others. It is however noteworthy that these genres have defined the music landscape in the country, even to the present.

The pioneering exponent of the Fuji genre, late Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister (MFR), a retired Sergeant in the Nigeria Army, practically fused Sakara, Dundun, Highlife, Juju, and Apala to form his Fuji.

Late Sikiru Ayinde Barrister

The many controversies surrounding the creation of this fun-filled genre of music notwithstanding, a huge chunk of the credit goes to the late Ibadan-born Ayinde Barrister. Alhaji Kolawole Ayinla too played a starring role in pushing the genre to national acceptability. By the mid-80s, the Fuji genre had become a direct threat to the Juju music genre. The genre had successfully swallowed Apala, Sakara, and Dundun. It has taken a shade of Dadakuada and Adamo. And with the successful introduction of piano, Hawaii chords, jazz drums, and other westernized percussion instruments, the Juju genre was pushed to the precipice. By the mid-80s, Juju music was on the back foot in the social circles all over the country. The first call in music entertainment was Fuji, the second was Fuji and even the third was Fuji. From Ayinde Barrister to Kolawole Ayinla to (the then younger) Wasiu Ayinde and later the Bonsue exponent, Adewale Ayuba, whose album, ‘Bubble’ singularly created unending bubbles in the social circles in late 89 to early 90.

Once Baba L’egba died in 1978, Ayinde Barrister seemed to completely take over his music and fans. He recomposed many of his old hit tracks to greater success. Alhaji Kolawole Ayinla too recycled late Ayinla Omowura’s music copiously after his death.

Alhaji Kolinton Ayinla

Therefore, from that point on Sakara became part of Fuji. And by 1981 when the Egunmogaji of Egbaland, Alhaji Ayinla Omowura died, Apala suffered a huge loss of verve and vibe. Alhaji Haruna Ishola was becoming old. He too unfortunately died in 1982. From 1981, Ayinde Barrister in his LP tribute to the late Ayinla Omowura had consciously taken over Apala and merged it with his Fuji. He profusely used Apala drums which hitherto were not used in Fuji. Fuji had before Ayinla’s death relied more on Sakara drums.

Apala kan sese de la t’owo omo Ayansola, Akanji Ade mi” (a new Apala has just arrived from Ayansola’s son, my Akanji Ade), he sang gleefully after paying an emotion-laden tribute to the late Apala maestro. Haruna Ishola was old and weak, so could not challenge the budding superstar from merging his genre with Fuji. By 1989, Ayinde Barrister had incorporated bass guitar, piano, and Hawaii chords to his Fuji. This is the completion of the total taking over of the social circles by that genre. Other Fuji artists quickly followed suit. This period of prominence shot many budding Fuji artists into the limelight. There emerged Obesere, Pasuma, Osupa, and Malaika amongst others.

But unfortunately, by the turn of the new Millennium, Ayinde Barrister had started exhibiting clear signs of ill health, Ayinla Killington was becoming inconsistent, Wasiu Ayinde too was becoming complacent, then to worsen the issue all, the economy of fans and patrons started taking a hit. A lot of patrons started reducing their social outings and the purchasing power of the fans too became weak. These affected the release of LP albums. Sales became commercially uncomfortable.

Currently in the country, aside from a few fleeting waves often created by a few Fuji artists, there is no other traditional musician holding his or her own in the field today. They have gone into limbo. Not even Waka can be taken as the wife of Fuji. Both Salawa Abeni and a few other voices of old have gone cold and distant, either due to reason of age, poor health, or out of outright poor patronage.

The artisans were affected, and so also were marketers. But by and large, the public seemed to be the worst for the collapse of the traditional music genres.

Few marketers spoken to lamented the collapse and blamed it on a lack of inventiveness and creativity on the part of the artists, the poor state of the nation’s economy, and the sudden boom of information technology. The boom of internet facilities kill sales of recorded LPs, they alleged

Sone prominent record marketing companies had closed shops. Ogo Oluwa Kiitan Trading Stores, Mut Muksons Records, Sony Records, and several others have folded up due to poor returns of sales.

A marketer told our correspondent in Lagos that the arrival of various online application programs where you can download songs free of charge has totally destroyed the business. He lamented that fans now prefer to go online to download songs rather than buy genuine CDs

He said in the eighties when an artist released an LP, you can sell 50,000 within the first week of release. But now, the print run is hardly 15,000.

All attempts to speak with the President of the Fuji Musicians Association of Nigeria (FUMAN) were futile. A call to KWAM 1 was not responded to. But one of his boys confirmed to our correspondent that K1 now relies on political campaigns and patronage to eke out a living.  He said going through the pains of recording an LP and then making nothing from it had discouraged his boss.

From Ijesaland, the death of Chief Adedara Arunra Loja Oba had taken out the fire in the Adamo genre in the area. Most young folks engaging in the genre are not taking it seriously.

The deaths of many of these prominent artists were the main causes of their loss of prominence. Adedara died and Adamo became a fill-gap for fun makers. So also, was the death of Elemure Ogunyemi, Odolaye Aremu, Batile Alake, Tatalo Alamu, and some others. Also, the poor health of Salawa Abeni slowed her down badly. This affected her output both on and off stage. Now the once vivacious and ebullient songbird is a shadow of her old self.

Alhaji Kolawole Ayinla is also not enjoying the best of health presently. He has taken a back foot in the trade since 2014. Even before the death of Ayinde Barrister, he too had taken his foot off the entertainment gas pedal. He rescheduled his social outings to a maximum of 4 hours and limited himself to one LP album per year.


K1 too had taken things easy since relocating to his Ijebu-Ode countryside home in Ogun State, Southwest, Nigeria. His last bestseller, ‘Ade Ori Okin’ sold impressively, but nothing compared to ‘Fuji Fusion’ of 1991.

Things took a sour turn with the untimely death of the man who used to set the tone and agenda for the genre in 2010. The death of Ayinde Barrister almost killed the genre.  Ayinde Barrister was a cult hero with huge fans in social circles. The Fuji genre that swallowed the other traditional genres is on the low gravitas currently. The artists now either mix hip-hop with the genre or veer off, outrightly doing hip-hop songs.

The rush to sing Fuji is no longer there. Rather youngsters wanted to sing hip-hop. Agreed, as a marketer pointed out, there was a time when the reggae genre was making a serious incursion into our traditional music genres, but with time it melted off.

He was of the opinion that the threat posed by hip-hop was not as stiff as that of reggae back then. Also, an upcoming Fuji artist in Agege, Isiaka Young Barrister affirmed that the Fuji genre has come to stay. He agreed that the genre had been facing a serious crisis, even before the demise of the father figure, Ayinde Barrister. He insisted that hip-hop is a branch of Fuji. He claimed that to sing Fuji, you must be talented. But no talent is needed to sing hip-hop.

A record distributor in Lagos Island told our correspondent, “Save for Ayinde Barrister, no one will reckon with Fuji music again. His old LPs are still doing extremely well in the market”, he said. “Life and Death remains impactful to his lovers due to his philosophy of life which he preached in all his albums. I, as one of his fans, live Barry music, eat Barry music and drink Barry music. Without listening to him my daily routine is incomplete”, he concluded.

The story is not too different from other parts of the country. The hip-hop rave had taken over the social circles, leaving the traditional genres in limbo.

But all said, all traditional music genres, including Fuji, were presently fast losing preeminence in the social circles. There were neither Apala, nor Adamo, nor Ekiti blues again. Even Fuji relies mainly on old evergreen releases.

Afolayan Adebiyi writes from Lagos Nigeria.

Images; courtesy of Google

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