Press Release :
It was the sound of post-independence Nigeria, a time of celebration and wealth but, ultimately, of political oppression. The music reflected the times - a heady mix of traditional rhythms and big band highlife with the new rock, soul and jazz sounds crackling through transistor radios from Europe and the U.S. The rulebook of Nigerian musical heritage was ripped up as Santana, The Beatles and James Brown became as relevant to young players as Haruna Ishola, Victor Olaiya and E. T. Mensah. Led by the towering influence of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, established Nigerian stars and the rawest of college bands alike forged new fusions and began using their music confidently as a vehicle for new variations of traditional parables and thinly veiled social commentary.

Back in 2001, the first edition of Nigeria 70 on Strut broke the mould for African compilations, a 3CD powerhouse featuring a wide spectrum of musical styles from across the 1970s and an audio documentary tracing the music's history. For 2007, Strut delve deeper into the Lagos underground for another essential box of West African dynamite. From the heavy jazz of Peter King to Bola Johnson's scratchy Afro funk and the rolling grooves of juju legend Sir Shina Peters, this is some of the best music ever to emerge from Africa during the ‘70s.

Compiled by leading Afro archivist Duncan Brooker and Strut's Quinton Scott, NIGERIA 70 comes packaged in a deluxe digipak with full booklet featuring extensive sleeve notes by author John Collins.



Nigerian popular music can be traced back to the early 20th century when a variety of performance styles were being blended together in its southern cities. There were indigenous ethnic praise-singing and drumming styles, Yoruba "agidigbo" hand-piano music and the waka, were and later sakara music of Muslim festivals. Outside influences were already widespread, from the marches of local syncopated brass bands and the samba and carnival of freed Brazilian slaves who had settled in Lagos to the goombay and ashiko frame-drum music styles of Sierra Leone and later low-class Ghanaian or "konkoma" street parade highlife. The Liberian guitar songs of visiting Kru mariners playing at dockside joints heavily influenced the emerging "palm wine" or "native blues" music of the Lagos Jolly Orchestra, Ambrose Campbell, Julius Araba, Irewolede Denge and S.S. Peters. These guitar and mandolin styles gave way to Yoruba "juju" music by the early ‘30s, pioneered by Tunde King, Ojoge Daniels, Tunji Banjo and Ayinde Bakare; "ju-ju" itself used as an onomatopoeic word for the low-high tones of the local tambourine used as a key part of the rhythm syncopations. All of these low-class Nigerian dockside, palm wine and juju street-music styles became the catalyst for the booming "native records" industry developed by Zonophone, HMV and Odeon in 1920's/30's English-speaking West Africa.


The Second World War brought many British and American soldiers to Nigeria who introduced ballroom dance crazes such as the rumba, calypso and, perhaps most importantly, American big-band "swing" music. A thriving local nightlife scene consequently sprang up featuring bands like the Deluxe Swing Rascals, Harlem Dynamites and Bobby Benson's band that took residence at high-class venues across Lagos. These ballroom-cum-swing jazz bands considered themselves modern and prestigious and consciously distanced themselves from indigenous juju music and native blues that they associated with the city streets and rough drinking dives. The term "highlife" signified high-class, a clear musical and cultural statement. The contrast was marked in Ghana, Nigeria's next-door neighbour, whose ballroom dance orchestras, like the Cape Coast Sugar Babies (who toured Nigeria in 1937) had begun orchestrating Ghanaian street-songs as early as the mid-1920s. The most important of the wartime Ghanaian ballroom dance bands was the Tempos who, by 1948 and under the leadership of the trumpeter E.T. Mensah, developed an infectious blend of highlife and swing that became the musical symbol or "spirit of the age" for West Africa as it moved towards independence. The Tempos toured extensively across Nigeria between 1950-7, which resulted directly in Nigerian dance bands, like Bobby Benson's band and E.C Arinze's Empire Band, developing their own version of highlife using local languages and dialects. Victor Olaiya and Eddie Okonta both left Bobby Benson to form their own Cool Cats and Lido highlife bands respectively, whilst Rex Lawson broke away from the Empire Band to found the Riversmen. Other pioneering Nigerian highlife musicians included Sammy Akpabot, Bill Friday, Agu Norris, Enyang Henshaw, Charles Iwegbue, as well as Zeal Onyia and "Baby-Face" Paul Isamade who both joined the Tempos in Accra for a while. A young Victor Uwaifo from the Mid-Western (now Edo) State drew influence from the Tempos to create a unique Benin style of highlife with his Melody Maestroes band in 1965.

During the ‘50s, a healthy record industry grew up in Nigeria for the expanding crop of highlife bands as well as the juju music and percussive apala music that had evolved out of the earlier Yoruba Islamic sakara style. In 1947, Decca launched its prolific West Africa record series and, by the late ‘50s, was pressing a quarter of a million singles a year. Shortly afterwards, Phillips/Phonogram (later PolyGram) and EMI built pressing plants in Nigeria. Reflecting this music boom, the Nigerian Musicians Union (NUM) was formed in 1958 by Bobby Benson, Chris Ajilo of the Afro-Cubanos, trumpeter Zeal Onyia and Amaefule Ikoro. Its Ghanaian Treasurer, Stan Plange, remembers the NUM organising a huge demonstration in 1960 around Nigeria's independence celebrations, when the Nigerian government slated the Latin American bandleader Edmundo Ros (a favourite with Britain's visiting Princess Margaret) to come and play at the event. The NUM protest succeeded, with Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa agreeing to feature a mass Nigerian NUM band instead.


Juju music continued to evolve in the 1950s and early ‘60s. "Highlife bands had started repeating themselves," remembers Nigerian musician and scholar, Steve Rhodes. "People became disenchanted. Juju music was an easier music to dance to and appealed to the same generation of people that had supported highlife." The new generation of artists and bands included Akanbi Wright, the Rainbow Quintet, I.K. Dairo's Blue Spots, the Abalabi Dandies, Prince Adekunle, Lady Balogun, Moses Olaiya and Dele Ojo who, having been a trumpeter with Roy Chicago and Victor Olaiya's bands, moved on to pioneer a fresh juju-highlife fusion. Until the mid-l960s, juju music was played primarily in working class bars and dance halls and was still considered a poor relation to Nigeria's dance-band highlife. The top-notch nightclubs remained in the grip of highlife fever.

Everything changed with the 1967-70 Nigerian (or Biafran) Civil War when, in western Nigeria, juju waxed and highlife waned. Many of the top highlife bands in Lagos had been run by eastern Nigerians from the breakaway Biafran Igbo ethnic groups, who were now forced to leave. The only highlife dance bands left in the Lagos area were those of Yoruba bandleaders like Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya and Roy Chicago. Juju music now had a clear run in Lagos and across western Nigeria and many juju artists rose to prominence during this time. There was Ebenezer Obey, who slowed the music of I.K. Dairo to a relaxed tempo. He had cut his teeth with Fatai Rolling Dollar's band and the Federal Rhythm Brothers before forming his own International Brothers band in 1964 (re-named the Inter-Reformers in 1970). Obey's style was adopted by Sir Skiddo & His Mountain Millionaires from Abeokuta and Oladunni Oduguwa or "Mummy Juju" and her Decency & Unity Orchestra. Sunny Ade began his rise through the ranks, playing in Victor Olaiya's highlife band before forming his own Green Spots Band in 1966.


Although the highlife scene essentially collapsed in western Nigeria during the Biafran War, it continued its hold over the east of the country. Many Lagos-based eastern musicians re-located there - E. C. Arinze quit Lagos and later set up a dance-band in Enugu. Rex Lawson also took his Riversmen out east.

Highlife changed considerably during the ‘60s. Whilst still thriving in eastern Nigeria, it moved away from the large expensive dance band format to smaller guitar line-ups, pioneered by the likes of Okonkwo Adigwe (Three Night Wizards), Stephen and Aderi Olariechi, and Stephen Amechi as they incorporated older 1950s native blues and palm wine styles from south-eastern Nigeria into their highlife mix. The newer generation simply moved from acoustic to electric versions of this music and different variations surfaced from specific cities. From Owerri in the south-east, The Peacocks Guitar Band came together in 1971 under ex-Riversmen member Raphael Amarabem and The Oriental Brothers split into two line-ups led by ace guitarist Dan Satch Opara and vocalist Warrior. Nearby, out of Onitsha, came key highlife artist Celestine Ukwu, who joined Michael Eleagha's Paradise Rhythm Orchestra of Enugu in 1962 before starting his Music Royals in 1966, later re-named the Philosophers National. From Aba in the south, Paulson Kalu & His Africana became a hugely popular Igbo guitar highlife band. Also important was Stephen Osita Osadebe who left Stephen Amechi's band in 1959 to form his own Central Dance Band and then, in 1964, the Soundmakers. "Osadebe broke away from the conventional big band format and transformed highlife into the call-and-response pattern of African music," remembers leading journalist Benson Idonije. His influence in turn touched later bands. The Nkengas formed from a breakaway group from the Soundmakers and later additions to the eastern Nigeria highlife scene (heavily spiced with neighbouring Cameroonian popular music) included Oliver de Coque and his Ogene Band, Sunny Neji, Onyeka Onwenu and the late Nicholas Mbarga's Rocafil Jazz who scored a massive hit with ‘Sweet Mother' in 1977.

AFRO-POP IN THE 1960s AND ‘70s

During the ‘60s, western pop music started coming into vogue with the youth of Nigeria, beginning with rock ‘n' roll and the twist, then Jamaican ska and American soul and funk. The first Nigerian pop bands were student rock outfits that appeared in Nigeria in the early ‘60s, like the Blue Knights and the Cyclops Of Lagos. They were given impetus by mid-‘60s Nigerian visits by the Jamaican singer Millicent Small (Millie) and Chubby Checker when the highlife musician Kennytone became Nigeria's twist ‘King'. By 1968, soul hit Nigeria with a visit by James Brown and the arrival of West Africa's first soul band, Geraldo Pino's Heartbeats of Sierra Leone, brought to Lagos by Chris Okotie from Ghana where they had been based for two years. The Heartbeats dominated the Nigerian pop scene for several years until they split. The band members who stayed in Lagos with percussionist Francis Fuster formed Baranta, whilst Pino went to Kano where he formed the New Heartbeats with the Plastic Jims (formerly called the Triffis) from Ghana. By the late 1960s, Nigerian pop bands like the Clusters and Hykkers were going overboard for soul. Joni Haastrup became acclaimed as Nigeria's ‘James Brown', whilst Tony Benson (Bobby Benson's son) set up his Strangers band. Another Nigerian soul fanatic was the excellent Segun Bucknor who, in 1968, teamed up with the Nelson Cole brothers and formed the Soul Assembly.

By the turn of the decade, a great change was occurring in the popular music of Nigeria as, under the impact of jazz, progressive rock and soul music, many young musicians began to move away from imitative Western pop towards various forms of Afro-fusion. Afro-jazz was the first to surface. Highlife saxman Orlando Julius (trained in Eddie Okonta's band) jammed with Louis Armstrong on his 1960 Nigeria trip before forming his Modern Aces band in 1963 that fused highlife and jazz. During the 1960s, percussionist Bayo Martins and trumpeters Peter King and Mike Falan set up the UK-based African Messengers Afro-jazz outfit, with King returning to Lagos in 1968 to form his Voices Of Africa. This band sometimes played at Fela Anikulapo Kuti's Afro-Spot club, whose mid-‘60s Koola Lobitos highlife band was also experimenting with jazz.

Afro-jazz was followed from the late 1960s by Afro-rock, pioneered by the London-based Ghanaian super-group, Osibisa, and Afro-soul, later known as Afrobeat. Soul, funk and their associated ‘Afro' fashions were particularly important in turning African musicians back to their roots as they took James Brown messages of "doing your own thing" and "black and proud" to heart. Victor Uwaifo developed his soul-related "mutaba" beat whilst Afro-soul and Afrobeat were pioneered by Orlando Julius, Segun Bucknor and most importantly, Fela Kuti. In 1967, Julius changed the name of his Modern Aces highlife-jazz outfit to the Afro-Sounders, reflecting a funkier direction. In 1969, Bucknor formed his Revolution band that released Afro-soul hits like ‘Pocket Your Bigmanism'. Fela then launched his Africa 70 band after returning from a life-changing trip to the US where he had been exposed to the black nationalist writing of Dubois and Marcus Garvey. With this band, including influential drummer Tony Allen, he projected his socially militant lyrics and a sprawling, polyrhythmic "Afrobeat" sound (a name he coined in 1968), combining traditional Yoruba call-and-response chants with freestyle jazz, Latin music and soul. Afrobeat subsequently influenced a multitude of Nigerian bands, like Sonny Okosun (ex-Melody Maestroes) whose Ozzidi Band developed "jungle-rock" in 1972, a combination of Victor Uwaifo-type highlife rhythms, Afrobeat and Santana-style guitar. From Kaduna came the Northern Pyramids with their Hausa Afrobeat, whilst the Ghanaian members of Geraldo Pino's Kano-based New Heartbeats formed the Big Beats.

After the success of Fela's Afrobeat and Osibisa's Afro-rock, a large number of Nigerian bands surfaced in the early to mid-‘70s that played various blends of Afro-pop. Typical were the trippy, psychedelic stylings of BLO and The Immortals and the crossover sounds of Johnny Haastrup's Mono Mono and Jake Solo's Funkees. Then came Ofo & The Black Company, the resident band at Ginger Johnson's Iroku Club in London with a heavier Afro rock sound. Their ‘Allah Wakhbarr' was more recently featured in the hit film, ‘The Last King Of Scotland'. There were experimental artists like Twin Seven Seven, a musician and a painter, with his Black Ghosts band fusing Yoruba drumming and Afro-American music. Other Nigerian Afro-pop groups/artists included the Shango Babies, Easy Kabaka, the Gondoliers, the Granadians, Bongos Ikwue, the Lijadu Sisters, Cicada and percussionist Remi Kabaka. Francis Fuster's Baranta became based at the Lagos Can-Can Club, and the Afro Collection of flautist Tee Mac with Joni Haastrup and BLO members Berkeley Jones, Laolu Akins and Mike Odumosu existed as a short-lived Afro super-group. This group also included bassist Tunde Kuboye who, after playing with Charles Mingus in Munich, switched to Afro-jazz. Throughout this time, western rock stars were also coming Nigeria; British rock drummer Ginger Baker fell in love with Nigeria, guesting with Fela and Afro Collection. Paul McCartney recorded the Wings album ‘Band On The Run' at EMI's studio in Lagos towards the end of 1973.

During the 1970s, numerous juju musicians also infused pop and Afro-beat into their sounds and systems. There was the high-speed "Afro juju" of Sir Shina Peters, the "sedico system" of Thony Adex and the "adawa system" of Prince Dele Abiodun's Top Hitters. Juju artists who were particularly affected by Fela's Afrobeat were Sunny Ade, Prince Adekunle (Western State Brothers) and Pick Peters. Another was Bob Alendeniyi, who split away from Sunny Ade's African Beats in 1975 to form his own Jungle Rock Stars who recruited some of Fela Kuti's musicians. Sunny Ade was particularly important in the mid-‘70's, creating a blend of juju and Afrobeat called "synchro system" that became one of the first successes of the emerging early-1980's international "World Music" market when he was managed by Island Records. Segun Adewale's "Yo-pop" (Yoruba pop) also broke through under Sterns Records in London during the mid-‘80s.


During the 1970s and early ‘80s, the Nigerian music scene was flourishing both artistically and economically. Highlife was alive and well in the eastern and mid-western part of the country; juju, apala music and the newer fuji music dominated the Yoruba west; whilst the urban youth favoured Afro-pop bands. Solo artists Mike Okri, Dora Ifudu, Felix Lebarty, Patti Boulaye and Christine Essien would add a disco slant to their music towards the late ‘70s.

By 1979, Nigeria was pressing twelve million albums a year and there were numerous locally owned pressing plants and multi-track recording studios; in Lagos, there was the joint Nigerian/Decca studio and the 16-track ARC studios established in 1970 with Ginger Baker's help. Apala music pioneer Haruna Ishola ran a record pressing plant in Ibadan whilst the Tabansi and Roger All Stars companies were located in eastern Nigeria. Indeed, by the late seventies Nigeria's record industry was so advanced that it was the first country in Black Africa to have its own pop magazine (‘Africa Music') and its own Top Ten chart. Many of the nightclubs were conversely owned by artists. In Lagos there were Bobby Benson's Caban Bamboo, Victor Olaiya's Papingo Club, Fela's Shrine, Sunny Ade's Ariya Club, Ebenezer Obey's Miliki Spot, Tunde Kuboye's Jazz 38 Club and Art Alade's Place. Victor Uwaifo was operating his Joromi Hotel and Club 400 in Benin City, whilst in eastern Nigeria, Nico Mbarga and Stephen Osadebe were running their hotel clubs-cum-recording studios. The 1970s high point of the Nigerian music scene is best symbolised by FESTAC 77, the biggest Black Arts Festival ever to be held in Africa that was attended by black delegations from sixty-two countries and involved hundreds of musical and dramatic performances from home and abroad.

John Collins

John Collins is a prolific journalist and is the author of the acclaimed book ‘West African Pop Roots'. As a musician, has played with E.T. Mensah, Fela Kuti, Victor Uwaifo and more. During the ‘70s, he ran his own Bokoor highlife guitar band and has run his own Bokoor Recording Studio north Of Accra in Ghana since 1982. He is an Associate Professor of the Music Department of the University Of Ghana in Legon.