Some of Nigeria’s famous old school artistes like Ebenezer Obey, formed the International Brothers in 1964, and his band soon rivaled that of IK Dairo as the biggest Nigerian group. They played a form of bluesy, guitar-based and highlife-influenced jùjú that included complex talking drum-dominated percussion elements. Obey’s lyrics addressed issues that appealed to urban listeners, and incorporated Yoruba traditions and his conservative Christian faith. His rival was King Sunny Ade, who emerged in the same period, forming the Green Spots in 1966 and then achieving some major hits with the African Beats after 1974’s Esu Biri Ebo Mi. Ade and Obey raced to incorporate new influences into jùjú music and to gather new fans; Hawaiian slack-key, keyboards and background vocals were among the innovations added during this rapidly changing period. Ade added strong elements of Jamaican dub music, and introduced the practice of having the guitar play the rhythm and the drums play the melody.
In the early 1980s, both Obey and Ade found larger audiences beyond Nigeria. In 1982, Ade was signed to Island Records, who hoped to replicate Bob Marley’s success, and released Juju Music, which sold far beyond expectations in Europe and the United States. Obey released Current Affairs in 1980 on Virgin Records and became a brief star in the UK, but was not able to sustain his international career as long as Ade. Ade led a brief period of international fame for jùjú, which ended in 1985 when he lost his record contract after the commercial failure of Aura (recorded with Stevie Wonder) and his band walked out in the middle of a huge Japanese tour. Ade’s brush with international reknown brought a lot of attention from mainstream record companies, and helped to inspire the burgeoning world music industry. By the end of the 1980s, jùjú had lost out to other styles, like Yo-pop, gospel and reggae. In the 1990s, however, fuji and jùjú remained popular, as did Waka music and Nigerian reggae. At the very end of the decade, hip hop music dominated the country after being a major part of music in neighbouring regions like Senegal.
Two of the biggest stars of the ‘80s were Segun Adewale and Shina Peters, who started their careers performing in the mid-’70s with Prince Adekunle. They eventually left Adekunle and formed a brief partnership as Shina Adewale & the International Superstars before beginning solo careers. Adewale was the first of the two to record success with his famous performer of Yo-pop.
The Yo-pop craze did not last for long, replaced by Shina Peters’ Afro-juju style, which broke into the mainstream after the release of Afro-Juju Series 1 (1989). Afro-juju was a combination of Afrobeat and fuji, and it ignited great passion among Shina’s fans that the phenomenon was dubbed “Shinamania”. Though he was awarded Juju musician of the Year in 1990, Shina’s follow-up, Shinamania sold respectively but was panned by critics. His success opened up the field to newcomers, however, leading to the success of Fabulous Olu Fajemirokun and Adewale Ayuba. The same period saw the rise of new styles like the funky juju pioneered by Dele Taiwo.
Afrobeat is a style most closely associated with Nigeria, though practitioners and fans are found throughout West Africa, and Afrobeat recordings are a prominent part of the world music category found throughout the developed world. It is a fusion of American funk music with elements of highlife, jazz and other styles of West African music. The most popular and well-known performer, indeed the most famous Nigerian musician in history, is undoubtedly Fela Kuti.
In the 1980s, Afrobeat became affiliated with the growing genre of world music. In Europe and North America, so-called “world music” acts came from all over the world and played in a multitude of styles. Fela Kuti and his Afrobeat followers were among the most famous of the musicians considered world music. That is why most artistes like Jay Z have either used the beat or chorus of the late Afro Beat icon in one of their songs. A Broadway show held recently to mark the life and time of Fela is another appreciation by our internationally acclaimed African American artistes who identify with their ancestral heritage.
By the end of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Afrobeat had diversified by taking in new influences from jazz and rock and roll. The ever-masked and enigmatic Lágbájá became one of the standard-bearers of the new wave of Afrobeat, with ‘Koko Below’ and others. Following a surprise appearance in place of his father, Fela, Femi Kuti garnered a large fan base that enabled him to tour across Europe.