Edo Highlife: Culture, Politics and Progressive Traditionalism

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.