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Nigeria’s Jùjú music: A genre’s centenary timeline

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Southwest Nigeria, home to millions of Yoruba people, is also home to both ancient and modern genres of music. The West African pop music known as Afrobeats, currently lighting up the global stage, began its 20-year journey from Lagos through London via New York and DC, and borrows irreverently from older musical traditions like Highlife, Jùjú and Fuji.

Although these older genres may be lost on a young population unaware of the golden age of Highlife, their significance is on display at weekly social functions, events and parties recently christened Owambe (in Yoruba ‘owambe’ can be roughly translated to mean ‘it is there’). The word ‘Owambe’ was derived from Tunde Nightingale’s music. He was one of the Jùjú music superstars, with his style featuring falsetto vocals, acoustic guitar flourishes and talking drum intermissions. At the height of his dancehall parties, he would sing the praises of his patrons, ostensibly the self-proclaimed indigenes of Lagos.

’owambe and O’wambe is a routine call and response that Nightingale used to engage his audience, referring to the waist beads (from female fans) and gifts of coins (from male fans) that he expected to be placed on his head in appreciation of the music.

Obviously, Owambe’s success outlived Tunde Nightingale, who died in 1982, but spawned a multi-billion Naira event industry supporting a mix of hospitality-based SMEs, an ostentatious culture that has become popular even in the diaspora.

 

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