Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and the birthplace of some of its most enduring music styles: juju, fuji, Afrobeat, Naija pop, and some would say, highlife—though don’t tell that to a Ghanaian! Today’s Nigerian popular music unquestionably dominates the airwaves and dancehalls of the continent, and its overall entertainment industry—film, television, literature, fashion and more—is a model of achievement studied and emulated by African entrepreneurs everywhere.
Afropop Worldwide launched on American public radio in 1988, after its creator Sean Barlow experienced Nigerian juju star King Sunny Ade full force in concert in 1983. In 2017, the program comes full circle with an in-depth, five-part series delving deeply into music, history, art, politics, religion and life in four regions of this vast and varied nation.
In the fall of 2016 and winter 2017, three Afropop producers spent over two months gathering music and interviewing artists, activists, scholars and other players in the music scenes of Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and Edo State. The result is Afropop’s most ambitious undertaking to date, a set of radio documentaries and Web offerings that add up to a profound musical portrait of Nigeria.
In March, Afropop produced the program “Hip Deep in Nigeria Preview,” a lively, wide-ranging journey hosted by Georges Collinet and the three series producers, Banning Eyre, Sean Barlow and Morgan Greenstreet.
Highlife—West Africa’s pioneer popular music of the late colonial and independence periods—has mostly faded from popularity in 21st century Nigeria. However, highlife is alive and well in Edo State, 300 kilometers east of Lagos, and the center of the former Benin Empire. Edo highlife musicians fill the role of traditional musicians by animating community ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, and praising prominent members of the community, in exchange for “financial love.” This traditionalism is also progressive: Edo highlife music draws on traditional genres like asonogun, ojeke, agbi, ivbiagogo, and ekassa, and musicians continue to incorporate instruments and styles from neighboring Yoruba communities and Western popular music. In this Hip Deep program, we’ll hear how Edo highlife musicians have found sustainable careers by simultaneously rooting their music in their local communities and appealing to diasporic enclaves in Europe and the United States. Their local support has even allowed certain musicians to broach political themes, singing in support or in critique of specific politicians, a rare occurrence in contemporary Nigeria. We’ll hear from legends and innovators including Sir Victor Uwaifo, Ambassador Osayomore Joseph, and Alhaji Waziri Oshomah, as well as current stars including Dr. Afile, Akobeghian and Johnbull Obakpolor. Produced by Morgan Greenstreet and Austin ‘Maro Emielu.
The massive Niger River Delta is a fantastically rich cultural region and ecosystem. Unfortunately, it has been laid low by the brutal Biafran War (1967-70) and by decades of destructive and mismanaged oil exploration. This program offers a portrait of the region in two stories. First, we chronicle the Biafran War through the timeless highlife music of Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson, perhaps the most popular musician in Nigeria at the time. Then we spend time with contemporary musical activists in Port Harcourt’s waterfront communities and in oil-ravaged Ogoniland to hear how music is providing hope for these profoundly challenged communities. The program features new and classic music, the words of Nigerian scholars, musicians, activists and veterans of the Biafran War, concluding with an inspiring live highlife concert on the Port Harcourt waterfront in which rappers and highlife graybeards come together to imagine a better road ahead. Produced by Banning Eyre.
Kano State in northwest Nigeria is a land of paradox. The ancient home of the Hausa people, it has ties back to the oldest civilizations in West Africa. Muslim since around the 12th century, the region remained largely self-administered during the era of British colonialism, and never significantly adapted Christianity or Western culture and values as in other parts of Nigeria. In 2000, Kano instituted Shariah law. But by that time, the city of Kano was also the center of a large and active film industry, dubbed Kannywood. And it would soon be home to a nascent coterie of hip-hop artists. There have been a series of high-profile conflicts and crises between these forces of religion, politics and art in the years since. But as the Afropop crew discovered, Kano has achieved a delicate balance that allows film and music to continue apace under the watchful eye of clerics and a censorship board. We visit studios producing local nanaye music, with its echoes of Hausa tradition and Indian film music. We also meet young Hausa hip-hop artists striving to develop careers under uniquely challenging circumstances.