You’d be forgiven if you don’t know Bobby Benson, Ayinla Omowura, Mike Okri, Felix Liberty, the Ofege group and the likes. They were the D’banj, 2Face and Yinka Ayefele of past generation. They sang about love, girls, and sex and passed on truckload of wisdom. They sang practically about everything except swagger, ginger, kokolet and free madness. SAMUELOLATUNJI went down memory lane to chronicle music stars that rocked the music scene in the last 50 years in Nigeria.
Born Bernard Olabinjo Benson, late Bobby was an entertainer and musician who had considerable influence on the Nigerian music scene then, introducing big band and Caribbean idioms to highlife, the popular brand of West African music. He started by playing standard big band music, but later introduced African themes. He was one of the pioneers of highlife music in Nigeria. His song, Taxi Driver, where he blended Caribbean and Jazz styles, became a classic hit in West Africa. Other hits were Gentleman Bobby and Iyawo se wo lose mi, Mafe, Nylon Dress and Niger Mambo.
Good Women Choir
Who would ever forget the anthem, Odun nlo s’opin? From the seventies to the eighties to the nineties, the Good Women Choir, under the leadership of Mrs. D. A. Fasoyin ruled the scene and established their dominance with good gospel music. They made their marks with tracks like Jesu O Seun, Good Women, Mowo Ju Re.
For Funmi Aragbaye, music is a calling, her music career started in the church where she wrote songs and sang in the choir. She released her first album on Decross Label. She later joined Sony Music where she released Divine Call.
Panam Percy Paul
For Panam Percy Paul, music was a family thing, having been taught how to play the keyboard by his father. Panam Percy Paul went ahead to record albums at age 20. He has released several hits which include Bring down the Glory 1; Bring down the Glory 2, Bring down the Glory 3, Master of the Universe and Return.
Born in the town of Ijebu-Igbo, Haruna Ishola began recording Apala numbers in about 1955. He soon became the most popular artist in the genre and one of the most respected singers in Nigeria. Ishola adapted and stuck to a strong traditionalist approach, citing both Yoruba proverbs and Koranic scripture in his songs. It is on record that he never used any Western instruments in his music.
Though he died untimely, Ayinla Omowura, also called Eegun Mogaji by his teeming fans, left a good number of albums behind. His first big hit was Challenge Cup, a social commentary on a football match involving Stationery Stores, with Ode tio p’erin a mura, another hit also in the same album. His other hits include, Owo tuntun, Abode Mecca, Eyin Oselu wa, Egbo tuntun, were Were la fin s’ere wa, Shaki n se bi ora, and Awa kii se olodi won, a posthumous release.
This queen of Waka music began her professional career in Waka music after she released her debut album, Late General Murtala Ramat Mohammed in 1976, on Leader Records. It became the first recording by a female artist to sell over a million copies in Nigeria. The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, in 1992, crowned her “Queen of Waka Music”
Omoge crooner, Mike Okri stormed the Nigerian music scene in 1988 with his chat-busting debut LP, Concert Fever, which was ruled the airwaves for a very long time. Okri rendered his songs mostly in indigenous Nigerian languages, which cut across all tribes and age.
His dance skills, costumes and music videos were also captivating. His hits include Rhumba Dance, Omoge, and Time Na Money. His style of music soon made him the hottest new act in the 90s.
Orits Wiliki needs no introduction in the Nigerian music scene. Ever since he stormed the industry in the mid 80s with his first album entitled, Tribulation, Wiliki has gone on and on dishing out hits with his unique style of reggae. Of recent, he featured Eedris Abdulkareem in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Orits is also the brain behind the Nigeria 99 theme song.
Popularly called Loverboy, Felix Lebarty was the toast of music lovers in the 80s. His music literally ruled the airwaves and no party was complete without them. His hits include Ngozi, Loverboy and Ifeoma.
This Ohuhu, Umuahia, Abia-State born became widely popular in Nigeria from the early 80s. Okoro Junior as he is also called, played a type of music called Zigima, a kind of Igbo Highlife. His hits include Okoro.
Rub-a-dub master, Ras Kimono took the Nigerian music industry by storm in the early 90s with his chartbusters, Rhumba Style and Under Pressure 1&2.
In the 70s, a band of high school students from the prestigious St. Gregory’s College in the Obalende area of Lagos took the music industry by storm. They are the Ofege, who went on to stamp their names in the music industry with songs like Nobody Fails, It’s Not Easy, Ofege, You Say No, Lead Me On, and Try & Love.
Born to a Nigerian mother and a Cameroonian father in Abakaliki, Nigeria, Nico Mbarga, backed by his Rockaville Jazz Band, is renowned for his hit song Sweet Mother. He played the xylophone, conga, drums, and the electric guitar in school bands and he made his professional debut as a member of a hotel band, the Melody Orchestra, in 1970. Sweet Mother is sometimes called Africa’s anthem and has been voted Africa’s favourite song by BBC readers and listeners.
A man of many parts, Victor is a musician, writer, sculptor and inventor. He is famous for his music, Guitar Boy and Mammy Water. Early in his career, Victor Uwaifo was a member of Bobby Benson’s Highlife band in Lagos.
Uwaifo made history in Nigeria when he won the first Golden record in Nigeria, West Africa and Africa (presented by Philips, West Africa) for his song Joromi in 1996.
The Lijadu Sisters are identical twins and were active singers and performers in the 1970s, but are apparently no longer professionally active. They produced an album called Double Trouble, which was released in 1984. Their hits include Danger, Orere Elejigbo.
The elegant stallion, as she is fondly called, made her marks in the music industry in the 80s. She is a broadcaster, singer and actress. Her hits include One Love, Ekwe, Iyogogo and Wait for Me, a duet she did with King sunny Ade.
Isaac Kehinde Dairo’s musical career entered the fast lane when he founded a ten-piece band called the Morning Star Orchestra in 1957. In 1960, during the celebration of Nigeria’s independence, Dairo was called on to play at a party hosted by a popular Ibadan-based magistrate. That single performance endeared him to many who later called him to perform at their gigs. Later on, he was able to form his own record label in collaboration with Haruna Ishola and achieved critical and popular acclaim and fame. His hits include Onile gogoro, Ejire Ara Isokun and Hungry for love.
Oliver de Coque
Oliver de Coque was a prolific guitarist who popularised the “Ogene” dance, inspiring style of Nigerian highlife and recorded no fewer than 73 albums in his lifetime. Some of his major hits include “Mbiri ka Mbiri, and “Funny Identity.” Oliver played on the Prince Nico Mbarga’s evergreen album Sweet Mother.
Born Orlando Owomoyela, Owoh was initially enrolled to learn the art of carpentry in Osogbo until 1958, when he was hired by the Kola Ogunmola Theatre Group to play drums and sing. Owoh went on to form Dr. Orlando Owoh and his Omimah Band in 1960. In a musical career spanning more than forty years, he became one of the leading proponents of highlife music. With bands such as the Omimah Band and later the Young Kenneries and the African Kenneries International, Owoh will be remembered for hits like Logbalogba and Asaro Elepo Rederede. Orlando had over 45 albums to his credit.
Rex Jim Lawson
Cardinal Rex, as his fans called him, was a singer, trumpeter and bandleader. One of the best-known highlife musicians of the 1960s, Lawson took highlife music to an intoxicating peak that has hardly been heard again after him. His greatest success came as the leader of the Mayors Dance Band whose recorded hits include So ala teme, Yellow Sisi, Gowon Special, and Jolly Papa. Rex’s most popular hit is Love Adure. A highly emotional and deep musician, Lawson was known to weep and shed tears while singing his own songs on stage, notably the haunting So ala teme.
Reggae singer and guitarist, Fashek first gained national fame on a television show in the early 1980s as a member of Benin-based reggae group Jastix. His band mates included Ras Kimono and Amos McRoy Gregg. His song “Send down the Rain” was a hit, and he won six PMAN Music Awards. His albums include Spirit Of Love, The Best of Majek Fashek, Rainmaker, and Little Patience.
Evi Edna Ogholi
Known as the “Queen of Nigerian reggae music”, Evi recorded her first album, a light style of reggae with vocals in her native Isoko, in 1989. She established herself all over West Africa and received sponsorship from Pepsi for a Nigerian national tour. Evi’s hits include Happy Birthday, Lingua Franca and Mobaro.
Christogonus Ezebuiro Obinna (Oriental Brothers)
Christogonus Ezebuiro Obinna, the Ultimate Dr. Sir Warrior, was the leader of the Oriental Brothers International Band, which ruled the Nigerian highlife music scene for several decades. He modernized the highlife music. His style remains an epitome of defined music with meaning, direction, and purpose.
His works garnered him several awards worldwide. His witty words, often spiced with Igbo proverbs, were appreciated by all so much that he came to be called the Ultimate Star of Music. His albums include Ihe Chi Nyere M, Ikoro, Ochu Okuko New Ada, Uwa Atuola M Ujo, Akwa Uwa, Onye Di Mma N’Azu, Heavy On the Highlife, Warrior Abiala Ozo and Zik.
Dan Maraya Jos
In the 80s and 90s, a choice for most shows that seek to have a northern musician is Dan Maraya Jos. He was, for a long time, the face of northern Nigeria music. His works include Jawabin Aure, Auren Dole, and Gulma Wuya.
The voice behind the Cock Crow at Dawn (a television soap opera) soundtrack, Bongo Ikwe will be remembered for his numerous hits, which include Mariama, Teardrops, and Still Searching. Bongos Ikwe is presently resident in Oturkpo, Benue State, where he runs a chain of hotel businesses.
After tutelage under the ageless Fatai Rolling-Dollar’s band, Ebenezer Obey Fabiyi went ahead to form a band called The International Brothers in 1964, playing highlife-juju fusion. The band later metamorphosed into Inter-Reformers in the early-1970s, with a long list of Juju album hits on the West African Decca musical label. Some of his popular tracks include Board Members, Ketekete, Eni ri nkan he, Gbeja mi Edumare, Aimasiko, Ota mi dehin lehin mi, Alowo ma jaye and Eda To mose Okunkun.
King Sunny Ade
Born Sunday Adegeye to a church organist father and a trader mother, Sunny Adé has, over the years, registered his name as a force to reckon with in the global music world. He was nominated twice for the Grammy Awards and was once among the first 100 guitarists in the world. His works include, Odu, Sweet Banana, Ojiji, Eri Okan, Aye nreti eleya mi, My dear, among others.
Sir Shina Peters
Born Oluwashina Akanbi Peters in Abeokuta, Ogun State, SSP began his career while playing the guitar with General Prince Adekunle, later forming his own group with Juju maestro Segun Adewale. Shina Peters, after releasing many albums with Segun Adewale through the 1980s, went on to form his own band, Sir Shina Peters & His International Stars. SSP has sold millions of albums worldwide & has taken his music to the shores of South Africa, Europe, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy and United States. Freedom (Senwele), Money Power, KO Temi fun mi, Ace, Afro Juju Series 1, Pay Back Time and Splendour are some of his works
Folashade Adu is a Nigerian-born British singer, songwriter, composer and producer. Sade was born in Ibadan, Oyo state to a lecturer father from Ekiti State and a white mother, a nurse. She first achieved success in the 1980s as the front woman and lead vocalist of the popular Brit and Grammy Award winning English group, Sade. Her albums include Diamond Life, Promise, Stronger Than Pride, Love Deluxe, Lovers Rock, Soldier of Love, Lovers Live.
Born Olufela Ransome-Kuti to a reverend gentleman father and an activist mother, multi-instrumentalist musician and composer and the pioneer of Afrobeat music started music with his band, the Koolar Lobitos in the early 60s. Fela, a human rights activist, and political maverick, sang most of his songs in pidgin, although he also performed a few songs in Yoruba. His main instruments were the saxophone and the keyboards, but he also played the trumpet and guitar and took the occasional drum solo.
The legendary Abami Eda was known for his showmanship and his concerts were often quite outlandish and wild. He referred to his stage act as the Underground Spiritual Game. Some of his numerous works include, ITT (International Thief, Thief), Coffin for Head of State, Unknown Soldier, Beast of No Nation, No Agreement, Palaver etc.
Sunny Okosuns was one of the leading Nigerian musicians from the late 70’s to mid 80’s. His first band, The Postmen, was formed in 1964. In 1969 he joined Melody Maestros, a band led by Victor Uwaifo. His 1977 song, Fire in Soweto, became a major international hit. He featured in the anti-apartheid album, Sun City, and his song “Highlife” was in the soundtrack of 1986 film Something Wild. His musical styles included reggae, highlife, Afro-funk and gospel among others. He made his music in Ishan language, Yoruba and English.
The founder of the famous Sahara Stars Band and the Great Pyramid of Africa band, Miller started his music career at the Holy Trinity School, Lokoja in 1934. Miller was a recipient of many awards, including the Member of the Order of Niger (MON), Star Performance Award, Black Entertainment Award and Nigerian Music Award, amongst others.
The first female president of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria who is also dubbed Nigeria’s lady of songs put Nigeria’s name on the world music map with her evergreen Seun Rere track. Some of her tracks include Ife, Onwu, Don’t Let me Down, Saboteurs.
Sikiru Ayinde Barrister
One of Nigeria’s best-known singer/songwriters, (Chief Doctor) Sikiru Ayinde Barrister has played an essential role in the evolution of the music of his homeland. Barrister combined juju, apala, and Fuji that he introduced in the late ‘70s. He has recorded such albums like Fuji Garbage, Destiny, Aiye, Superiority, Barry Wonder, Fertilizer, and Fuji Exponent.
Tuface started his musical career with the defunct boys group, Plantashun Boyz. He left the group to pursue a solo career where he released the all time award winning song, African Queen, which was used as the sound track of the 2006 comedy film, Phat Girlz. Tuface has won several awards, which include the MTV Europe Awards for Best Act, MOBO award for best African Act, Channel O Music Video Awards. His hits include, Ole, African Queen, Implication, and Right Here.
Nelly Uchendu is a name that won’t ring a bell to many, her fans inclusive, but her classic hit, Love Nwantintin is a song we all won’t forget in a hurry. Credited with modernizing folk songs, Nelly was a star of three worlds. She sang pop, gospel and highlife. She was a popular feature on the screen between 1979 and 1983. She died on May 19, 2005.
In the 60s, there was no bigger star than Victor Olaiya. He was described as a highlife genius and his hits attest to his ingenuity. His hit songs like baby jowo, Omo Pupa, Odale Ore, Iye Jemila, and the likes are still favourites of followers of highlife.