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Remembering some Nigerian music legends

Across Nigeria, from east to west, north to south, there are rich cultures that have significantly impacted the music industry locally, continentally and even globally.

From the rhythmic beats of Afrobeat to the soul-stirring melodies of Highlife, Nigerian music legends have been instrumental in shaping the diverse sounds of African music and passing on a legacy that makes the nation proud.

Among these notable legends, one name that frequently resonates with many folks is Fela Aníkúlápó Kuti.

Popularly known as Fela Kuti, the multi-talented musician, composer and human rights activist pioneered the Afrobeat genre that eventually became Africa’s topmost musical export.

His music – which is a fusion of jazz, funk and traditional African rhythms, accompanied by powerful lyrics used by him to address corruption, injustice and oppression – had often led him into trouble with the government of the day.

Fela Kuti died on August 2, 1997, and was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021.

With powerful lyrics and electrifying energy, Majek Fashek‘s soul-stirring voice and reggae-infused sounds earned him even fanatical listenership worldwide.

Majekodunmi Fasheke was his birth name, and eventually, he was dubbed the “Rainmaker”.

His album “Spirit of Love” brought him international acclaim and showcased the incredibly talented Nigerian who would eventually work with big names, like Tracy Chapman, Jimmy Cliff and Michael Jackson, among others.

Majek’s music continues to resonate with fans, with hits like “Send Down the Rain”, “Majek Fashek in a New York”, “Holy Spirit”, and “So Long”, among fans’ favorites.

Sadly, this music legend passed away on June 1, 2020, aged only 57.

From northern Nigeria, a name much-relished by the older generation is Mamman Shata, a pioneer of Hausa music and often referred to as the “Hausa griot”.

Shata – who was born in Kano in 1922 – used his music to address societal issues, such as poverty, corruption and the importance of education.

His ability to blend traditional Hausa music with contemporary influences helped popularise the genre, making it more accessible to a wider audience.

Shata died on June 18, 1999, in Kano.

Mamman Shata’s vocals most often, were accompanied by talking drums “kalangu”. His audience was primarily people of Northern Nigeria as he sang in the Hausa language.


One legend who reigned in a cryptic style, a celebrity whose face remained a secret for so long despite the huge fanbase he had locally and internationally, is ‘Lagbaja’.

Bisade Ologunde is a Nigerian afrobeat musician who is known by the name ‘Lagbaja’ – which in Yoruba can be translated to mean “somebody”, “nobody”, “anybody” and “everybody”.

Known for his masked identity and enigmatic stage presence, Lagbaja is a musician who defies categorisation due to his blend of elements of Afrobeat, highlife and jazz to create his own unique sound.

Lagbaja’s music is conscious, introspective and often politically charged.

“Konko Below”, “Nothing for You”, and “Never Far Away” are a few of his popular hits.

Christy Essien-Igbokwe

The late Christy Essien-Igbokwe, fondly called “Nigeria’s Lady of Songs”, is yet another legendary figure in Nigerian music.

Christy creatively captured the souls of her audience with her ability to effortlessly switch between various genres like highlife, reggae, disco and gospel.

Songs, like “Seun Rere” and “Ever Liked My Person,” were her typical way of conveying the messages of love, unity, and empowerment.

Christy continued to be a philanthropist and constantly championed the rights of women and children through her music and advocacy.

She died on June 30, 2011 in Lagos.

King Sunny Ade and Onyeka Onwenu in a duet. Photo: Radio Nigeria Archives

King Sunny Ade

Another name that is celebrated is King Sunny Ade, a pioneer of Juju music, a genre that emerged in the 1930s, blending traditional Yoruba music with African pop and Western influences.

Sunny Ade released several chart-topping albums and collaborated with renowned artists such as Stevie Wonder and Manu Dibango.

King Sunny Ade remains a musical icon and an inspiration to many emerging artists in the Nigerian music industry.

Sunny Ade popularised the use of the pedal steel guitar, which was relatively new at the time, and incorporated it into his music, creating a distinct sound.

This legend is still alive and continues to be a Nigerian cultural ambassador.

Onyeka Onwenu is another Nigerian singer, songwriter, and actress who rose to fame in the 80s with her captivating voice and soulful music.

She is known for her unique blend of highlife, reggae, and R&B genres, which have earned her numerous accolades and a dedicated fanbase both in Nigeria and internationally.

Aside from a successful music career, Onyeka Onwenu has also ventured into acting and has appeared in several Nigerian movies and television shows such as “Mirror in the Sun” and “Memorial Hospital.”

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe. Photo: Pan African Music

Highlife is another fine blend of Nigerian music, particularly in the southeastern parts of Nigeria, Osita Osadebe was a legendary highlife musician who popularised the genre during his career.

His soothing voice and mastery of the guitar earned him a real devoted fanbase no wonder, Songs like “Osondi Owendi” and “Ije Awele” brought him a global audience and remain evergreen and still hit the speakers even these days.

With pidgin English and the Igbo language, Osita Osadebe was able to export his highlife music transgenerationally across the world.

Other legends include; Sir Victor Uwaifo, Edna Okoli, Felix Liberty, and a host of many others.

It is not a surprise that till these days, Nigerians are setting the pace in the global music industry, this only tells that the next generation has indeed been bequeathed with with a successful musical future.

Writing by Muzha Kucha; Editing by Tony Okerafor