If music is truly the strongest form of magic, then Nigeria has been blessed with enough magicians to last us for all eternity. Master artists who have shown us how beautiful music can be. Geniuses whose musical works have been the people’s greatest treasures. Their music has helped in washing away from our soul the dust of everyday life. Some of them created music that didn’t exist before and wrote songs no one had ever heard.
To the ones who have been hurt, their songs have been a healing balm. To the lonely, a refuge. To the weak, an inspiration. To the naughty, a lesson.
These ten old school musicians made music that continues to give wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, spring to the feet, joy to the heart, gaiety to life and charm to everything.
What’s more, their songs will not stop to have the same effect on the young and old till the end of days.
1. King Sunny Ade
When you talk about juju music today, the first name that comes to mind is that of King Sunny Ade. Born into a royal Ondo family, Sunday Adeniyi knew playing music was not even the least of the profession he could venture into; it was a taboo.
So after finishing grammar school, he left home under the pretence that he had gained admission into the University of Lagos. Such daring moves would see him surpass expectations to become one of the greatest musicians of all time.
You’d have to be truly captivating to be called Africa’s Bob Marley, and Sunny Ade has been awesome. A multi-instrumentalist blessed with dexterous dancing steps, Sunny stole hearts with Synchro System and E Dide E MuJo (Get up and dance). Ja Funmi (Fight for me), Baba Mo Tunde (Father, I’m here again) and Baba Mo Ke Pe o (Father, I call upon you) still rock like they were only released yesterday.
One of the earliest African artists to achieve global success, King Sunny Ade’s songs are guaranteed to stay with us long after the genius departs this realm. Long live the King!
2. Victor Olaiya
In the days when playing music was seen as the occupation of touts, beggars and never-do-wells, young Victor felt a calling in his heart to sing professionally.
Born in 1930 to rich parents who wanted and could afford to educate him, Victor was destined to be a Civil Engineer. Or so his parents wished. The boy had his own dreams, though. He quit school and started his own band, a young Fela Kuti was his lead trumpeter.
He rose to stardom and became the ‘Genius of Highlife’. His band played for Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Nigeria. Many of his hit tracks like Baby Mi Da (Where is my baby), Iye Jemila (Jemila’s mother), Mofe Muyon (Wanna suck your breasts), Feso Jaiye (Live carefully), Ko Sowo Lode (No money in town) and Let Yourself Go are still a favourite of radio stations and music lovers around the country decades after they were released.
3. Alhaji Ayinla Omowura
Omowura died in 1980, still decades of grief and glory have not been able to erase his music from the air waves. And they never will!
It’s no surprise really because at the time his tracks were released, most were popular with the populace and successful in the market. The Abeokuta-born lyrical genius nicknamed Egun Mogaji popularised the Apala genre of traditional Nigerian music and gave us songs we would treasure long after his call to glory.
Have you heard Ebi Kin Pagun Dale (Vultures are never hungry till nightfall) or Eni T’Oluwa Gbega (He who God has promoted)? Ise Ile Lo n Bawon De’ta (Charity begins at home) and Pansaga Ranti Ojo Ola (Hoes, remember there’s a tomorrow) are favourites with men who seek to knock their spouses.
When you have a running battle with someone, blast them into space with Nibo Lo Gba Tao Ri Nita (Where has he gone to hide), Ki L’egun Se Ti o Fi Owuro Jo (Why didn’t his masquerade dance in the morning), and Awa Ki Se Olodi Won (We are not their foes).
4. Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey
Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi has arguably more evergreen songs than any other Nigerian artist dead or alive. And, probably, only late Sikiru Ayinde Barrister could match his philosophical dexterity and ingenuity.
What he lacked in aggressive dancing steps, he more than made up for in great songs. Album after album came out to the delight of his swarming fans. Some of his classics were supplications to God: Anjade Lo Loni Eledumare (As we go out today, dear Creator), Gbemi Leke Isoro (Lift me above troubles), etc.
Despite his Christian tendencies, he made quite a few romantic impressions with Olomi Gbo Temi (My darling, listen to me), Paulina, and Wa Sun Laya Mi (Come lie on me). Others like Ara m Bada Owo o je (I’d perform wonders if I had money), Mase Ri Talent e Mole (Don’t bury your talent), and Enia Ti Mo Feran Ju (The ones I love the most) among countless others are some of his all-time bestsellers.
5. Haruna Ishola
At the time when Apala was beginning to carve a niche for itself in Nigeria’s music culture, Haruna Ishola was at the forefront of the evolution.
Born in 1919, the man popularly known as Baba n Gani Agba was still struggling to make a name at age 30. His first record in 1948, ‘Orimolusi Adeboye’ in praise of the Oba of Ijebu Igbo was a total failure. When the Oba died in 1955, Haruna did another song for the late king. Fate smiled on him as the record did well in the market and Haruna Ishola became a household name.
His ‘Oroki Social Club’ then sold over 5million copies. Ina Ran (Fire spreads), Palu Da(Change music), and Apala Disco followed as marketing success. In 1981, Haruna Ishola was named a National Award (MON) winner in recognition of his music legacy.
Enu Dun Rofo (The mouth cooks well), Aiye Yo Ma Fe Wa (People will love us), Agbe Ko Gberegbe (Wealth loathes the lazy) are all time beloved of many. By the time of his death in 1983, Baba n Gani Agba had become the most popular Apala singer in town, with his large catalogue of recordings ensuring that he will never be forgotten in Nigeria’s music history.
6. Dr. Wasiu Ayinde Marshal
Whether you know him as KWAM 1 or K1 the Ultimate, Wasiu Ayinde will for a long, long time be known as one of Fuji’s brightest exponents ever.
Such accolades don’t come easy in a country of over 140 million people, a million of whom are singers or would-be artistes. But for someone who has released over 50 albums and has been an ambassador of Nigerian music for over two decades, it is honour well deserved.
On the path to being recognised as one of the country’s greatest musicians ever, Dr Ayinde Marshal has brought to our listening pleasure hit songs like Ta Lo n F’ayo (Who wants joy), Consolidation, Rora Se (Be careful), Can’t just stop thinking about you, and Talazo (possibly his greatest success).
He may never be mentioned in the same class as Dr Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, the undisputed Creator of Fuji but Wasiu Ayinde Marshal will be remembered as the man who injected funky into a boring Fuji and made it appealing to the youths while retaining the flavour that charmed the oldies.
7. Dr. Sikiru Ayinde Barrister
Apala, Awurebe, Juju, and Highlife had slowly but gradually
found and established their places in the hearts of Nigerian music lovers. Any
newly introduced genre of music had some serious catching up to do. And you had
to be bold and highly talented to even introduce it to a very critical
But Ayinde Barrister was not just supremely talented, he also had a strong message. So he created Fuji, to deliver it. What followed was pure genius the likes of which we may never see again. Ever. Alhaji Agba doled out the best of the best songs of our time with relative ease and unbelievable regularity.
For a man who could have died in the Civil War serving in the Nigerian Army, we are glad he didn’t miss his calling. By the time he died aged 62, Barry Wonder had recorded more ground-breaking singles than any other Nigerian musician in history. Mo Sa Di E Oluwa (I take refuge in you, God), Ope Lo Ye K’eru O Da (A slave should be grateful), and O ye K’ojo (She should dance) and Fuji Garbage are just a few of his imaginative and philosophical works that will continue to leave lasting impressions in the minds of even those yet unborn.
He remains the only Fuji artist to be given a National Award.
8. Kollington Ayinla
Kollington was a contemporary of Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and one of the earliest leading stars of Nigeria’s Fuji music. The two of them engaged in a fierce musical battle for supremacy which had marked influence in their songs in the early days.
Given the name Kolawole Razaq Ilori at birth, General Kollington was more than just a jealous rival; he was a mobile song reservoir. The quintessential music general has his name penned on more than 100 albums most of which highlights societal ills and educates the public.
The man also known as Kebe n Kwara will always be remembered for evergreen titles like Mekunu n Jiya (The poor are suffering), Alakara o Fe K’eni Keji o Din (No beancake seller wants a rival), Kasabubu, Lalakukulala, among others.
9. Orlando Owoh
Stephen Oladipupo Owomoyela popularly referred to as Orlandoh Owoh died in 2008 at the age of 76. But before he died, he left behind a musical career that spanned well over 40 years, produced more than 50 albums and left an indelible mark on people’s hearts that even the winds of time may never sweep away.
Orlandoh Owoh could have gone through life as a carpenter, unknown and unseen. But his talent led him into music, his passion for Highlife set him apart from countless others and his heavy, romantic voice carved a distinct legacy for him hard to replicate.
His evergreen classics include Ma Wo Mi Roro (Look at me intently), Money For Hand Back For Ground, Iyawo Olele (The corruptible wife), Ire Loni and Laiku Egiri.
10. Yusuf Olatunji
If you are the mentor of greats like Haruna Ishola, Dr Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and Alhaji Dauda Epo Akara, then you are arguably the greatest. Known fondly as Baba L’egba, Yusuf Olatunji delivered his slow, smooth-flowing, Sankara brand of music to his teeming fans for decades without pause.
Christened Joseph at birth, he converted to Islam and took up the name Yusuf, his popularity thereafter caught on like the millennium bug. Several hit tracks followed some of which include Oba Oluwa Loni Dede (God is always on time), Jamba o Le Se Okuta (No harm can befall a stone) and Bi Eri Wa E Ki Wa (When you see us, greet us).
He died in 1978 having played a major role in moving the music industry from being dominated by touts to being performed by gentlemen and seen as a profession.
11. IK Dairo
The colourful flag of Juju music had been proudly hoisted long before King Sunny Ade came to the scene.
One of the earliest advocates of Juju music was an Offa-born barber, Isaac Kehinde Dairo. A visionary musician and talented singer, IK Dairo formed his own record label with Apala crooner Haruna Ishola at a time many of their contemporaries were still learning to play the guitar.
It didn’t take long before he found fame and success with his songs offering melodious tunes for the youths and waxing lyrical for the oldies.
His greatest singles like Salome, Ka Sora (Let’s be careful), Ise Ori Ranmi Ni Mo n Se (I’m doing what I’m destined to do), I remember my darling, E Rora Feso Jaiye (Live life with a little caution) and Se B’Oluwa Lo n Pese (It’s God that provides) are still a big favourites of media houses and countless individuals.