music is life, music is breath, music is us

Passion and Musical Electricity: Nigerian Jùjú Music

The music of the African continent is diverse, a result of the hundreds of ethnic groups as well as the influence of outside cultures (such as Arabic and European). One particular style from the Yoruba people of Nigeria has always stood out to me as soothing and energetic, with each performer feeding into a constant electrical current of musicality. The style I am speaking of is jùjú, a style that has had a hold on me ever since I began ethnomusicological studies.

Jùjú first made its appearance in 1932 in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. The initial ensemble consisted of a leader (which functioned as both singer and banjo player), a shekere (gourd instrument with a bead woven net), and a jùjú.  Early jùjú music was influenced by palm wine guitar music (music of such workers as sailors and truck drivers), with rhythms of asíkò (a dance with drums performed mainly in Christian boys clubs that has roots in Brazilian sámbà) laying the groundwork for all of the rhythmic ideas. The first real star of this early style of jùjú was Tunde King, who followed the rhythmic and melodic ideas highlighted earlier in this paragraph, as well as lyrically drawing from metaphorical language of the Yoruba people (specifically in ideas such as the connection between natural ideas like birds and bright colors and cultural ideas like beginnings and abundance). Such an example of King’s music is the song below (starts at 9:01) which is a very early recording (as evidenced by the mediocre audio quality, which is actually quite common in ethnomusicology field recordings).

Around the 1940’s jùjú began a series of changes that would forever alter the genre. First the introduction was added for the gángan (drum), which is credited to bandleader Akanbi Ege. Next, thanks to advancements in musical technology, amplifiers, microphones, and pickups were added to the instruments used, thus making jùjú an electronic music rather than an acoustic one. Eventually in the time after World War Two other changes were made, namely in instrumentation.  Postwar jùjú bands added the agídìgbo (piano-like lamellophone) and a variety of drums like the àkúbà and ògìdo. Eventually all of these changes evolved into jùjú bands containing up to nine musicians. By the time the 1970’s occurred, jùjú music experienced even further developments thanks to the effect oil had on Nigeria’s economy. The public (though this was uneven wealth distribution) could afford to hire musicians for various events, which was not a difficult demand for many jùjú bands as they had concurrently expanded to over 15 musicians. As jùjú moved into the 1990’s, the bands split into three different groups: singers, percussionists, and guitarists. This is now the current form of jùjú in the modern era.

Arguably the most famous musician of jùjú music is King Sunny Adé. Initially Adé played sámbà drum before branching off into his own band, the Green Spot Ensemble, in 1966 at age 20. King Sunny Adé took great musical influence from Tunde King, also using a nasal vocal timbre, electric guitar and electric bass (this was specifically added in 1970). As the years progressed, Adé developed on his ensemble form, which by 1979 (with the band performing under the name “African Beats”) contained two tenor guitars, one rhythm guitar, Hawaiian guitar, bass guitar, two “talking” drums (Yoruba language is tonal, therefore “talking drums” exist in music, but can also function in a communication context), shekere, àkúbà, drum set, synthesizer, and four singers.  Most count King Sunny Adé as one of the most influential musicians of all time, given the title of “Golden Mercury of Africa, Minister of Enjoyment.” No Nigerian musician has had the international success of Adé, take a listen below and see why.

Music from the Yoruba people has touched all parts of the globe, from the Caribbean, to the United States and beyond. Jùjú music is perfect expression of why this culture from Nigeria and their music has such a hold on people’s hearts, for it is a poetic expression, as well as a layered musical interaction among ancient instruments/ideas, as well as modern-day instruments/practices. I hope this post has given you not only insight into jùjú music, but the desire to seek out recordings of performers of this genre, as well as performers of other Nigerian styles. If this post has done this, I will be completely satisfied.

(Source: “Juju: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music” (University of Chicago Press, 1990) by Christopher A. Waterman)


8 responses

  1. Thanks for this wonderful article. I appreciate African musical tradition and had the privilege to play some years ago….

    August 20, 2012 at 1:40 am

  2. Yeah I first came into contact with Nigerian music back as a freshman in college and have loved it ever since. Thanks for stopping by-Derek

    August 20, 2012 at 3:01 am

    • thanks for following my blog. i have a lot of respect for what you do. i need more people around here to form a community people that arent just listening to portland hipster bands. very much so over it. much, much respect.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:53 am

      • And I respect you for your respect, one love bruddah-Derek

        September 18, 2012 at 7:21 am

  3. mikeslayen

    Nice job!

    August 22, 2012 at 8:37 am

  4. Thank you kindly sir 🙂

    August 22, 2012 at 9:23 am

  5. cool post and music. Needs a picture. 🙂

    September 1, 2012 at 4:04 am

  6. I have no idea how to put one on here, embarrassing I know

    September 1, 2012 at 4:05 am

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