Edited by: Adedeji Oluwafemi
Nigeria’s vibrant and diverse music industry has birthed some of the world’s greatest music legends. From juju to afrobeat, gospel, highlife, apala, hip-hop, and R&B, Nigerian music plants its roots in various styles reflecting the country’s cultures and history. This article highlights Nigeria’s top 10 music legends in no particular order and how their music influences the country’s culture and the industry itself. Let’s dig in!
1. Fela Kuti
Olufela Anikulapo Kuti, popularly known as Fela, is one of the greates musicians to ever emerge from Nigerian soil. Fela pioneers Afrobeat, a music genre that fuses African rhythm and jazz with funk and soul. It’s not a surprise he’s known as the father of Afrobeat.
Fela is one of the music legends who used his music to fight and publicize the corrupt military government. Furthermore, his music protects cultural colonization by advocating traditional African beliefs and cultures. Kuti is a multi-talented musician and composer loved by people. And although he’s late now, his legacy lives on and continues to influence the lives of other contemporary Nigerian artists.
2. King Sunny Ade
When you hear the name, King Sunny Ade, you’d probably assume this man is more of a king than a musician. However, King Sunny Ade wasm’t just a musican, he also came from a royal family. Despite his royal heritage, he decided to go into music instead.
Inspired by his idols IK Dairo, James Brown, and Brook Benton, this legend started his musical career at 17. The style and manner in which King Sunny incorporated traditional Yoruba music with Western pop and jazz are so beautiful. His soaring songs, complex rhythms, and professional guitar playing make him stand out among his contemporaries.
He has over 50 albums and won numerous awards, including a Grammy nomination in 1988 for his album “Odu.” This prolific musician deserves the title he’s popularly called “The King of Juju.” As a result of his influence in the music industry, the board of the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria invites him to serve as the chairperson.
3. Ebenezer Obey
Ebenezer Obey is another veteran musician who has been active since 1960. He’s among the frontiers of juju singers with the nickname “Chief Commander.” The perfect way he blends highlife and juju music with elements of Yoruba folk tunes, blues, and jazz makes him unique and well-known.
Furthermore, Obey’s music contains stories about Nigeria’s civilizations, history, and social issues. However, in 1980 Ebenezer switched his music to gospel music. This music legend has released over 100 albums and received various awards for his contribution to Nigerian music.
4. Sir Shina Peters
When you are talking about the most outstanding Nigerian musician, and you don’t mention Shina Peters, your list is far from complete. Shina Peter is a legendary juju musician whose style of music is one of a kind.
You can describe it as a rhythmic combination of both juju and afrobeat accompanied by guitar and other musical instruments that touch the ethnic, cultural, and language barrier in Nigeria. His choice of music changed juju music in Africa and earned his band the nickname “International Stars.”
Shina Peters has over 16 albums, and he has toured different places, such as South Africa, Germany, Italy, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe.
5. Sir Victor Uwaifo
Sir Victor is a music legend, painter, and sculptor. He’s famous for his influence on nightlife and rock music. Uwaifo is the legend that introduced the “Ekassa” rhythm to Nigerian music, which became a popular music style in the 1960s and 70s.
Furthermore, his artwork has traveled home and abroad. He owns 50 albums and various awards for his music and art. Other international artists like Beyonce and Jay-Z used some of his music. Unsurprisingly, he’s one of Nigeria’s legendary musicians.
6. King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal
Ayiinde Marshal, also called KWAM 1 or K1 de ultimate, is one of the most prominent indigenous fuji artists of the past 50 years. Although Ayinde Barrister pioneered fuji music, Ayinde Marshal expanded the percussion-rich tune globally.
He represented his mentor, Barrister, well through his music. Marshal has recorded over 50 fuji albums, the most successful of which was Talazo 84. This album introduces the Talazo system- a unique turbo-charged style that became popular today.
So it’s not wrong to say that he deserves the crown given to him, “The King of Fuji.” And till today, he remains one of the sought-after Nigerian artists both at home and abroad.
7. Fatai Rolling Dollars
When talking about the greatest Nigerian music legends Prince Olayiwola Fatai Olagunju, aka Fatai Rolling Dollar, makes it to the list. This great legend is one of the greatest juju and highlife musicians of all time, known for his hit album “Won Kere Si Number Wa.” The perfect way he blends traditional music with highlife and jazz is beautiful.
One feature that made his music stand out was using the thumb and index finger to play his guitar. This style makes his music sound different and unique. Fatai’s shows are always interesting because of his ability to connect with the audience and his energetic performances. He’s one of the great pioneers of highlife in Nigeria, and even death can’t stop his legacy.
Bisola Ologunde, popularly known as Lagbaja, is a masked musician legend. His mask usage during performances is one of his significant contributions to Nigerian music. This mask symbolizes the facelessness of the oppressed in society. He uses the mask so people will focus on his music rather than his looks.
Lagbaja’s style of music addresses various social and political issues in Nigeria. It’s not surprising it’s heard both at home and abroad. Also, several of his music is used in international movies and television shows such as the Hollywood movie “Beast of No Nation“. Simply put, Lagbaja’s contribution to the music industry cannot be overstated.
9. Haruna Ishola
Talking about another musician who preserved the Yoruba culture and tradition through his music, Haruna Ishola, is another Apala legend who believes he must keep the culture alive. He’s one of the pioneers in publicizing apala music at home and abroad.
Likewise, how he used traditional instruments such as the talking drum and agidigbo spiced up his music and influenced the juju genre. Despite his death, his musical legacy is long-lasting.
10. Ayinla Omowura
Not all talented artists begin their music career at an early age. Ayinla Yusuf Gbogbolowo started his music at the age of 50. At first, he was under an Apala master, Olalomi. However, his music took a huge turn when he released his popular song “Aja to f’Oju D’ejo” shortly after he joined the Emi Nigeria record label.
What makes his music unique? He serves as the citizen mouthpiece, lamenting to the leaders about the suffering these people undergo through puns and adages. No wonder a lot of artists respect his music till today.
In conclusion, these music legends left a significant impact on the music industry in Nigeria. They also have a role to play in popularizing Nigerian music globally. Their music never dies. It continues to live and serves as an inspiration to a generation of musicians and fans all over the world.