11-20: Nigeria’s Top 50 Songs (1960-2010)

No 20: Sonny Okosun – Which Way Nigeria
1984, “Which Way Nigeria?” EMI Nigeria)

Sonny Okosun (or Okosuns), a native of the Niger Delta region was born in Enugu, Nigeria, on January 1, 1947 into a family of Musicians. Sonny Okosun towers among the giants of contemporary African music — assigning his signature fusion of reggae, highlife, Afro-funk, and traditional melodies and rhythms the catchall description “Ozziddi” (or “message”), he tackled head-on the most incendiary political and social issues gripping the African continent.

As a teen he taught himself guitar and was heavily influenced by rockers like Elvis Presley and the Beatles. He formed the band the Postmen in 1964; a year later Okosun visited London for the first time as part of a theatre group. In the wake of the early-1966 government coup d’état that led to the Biafra conflict, he and his family settled in Lagos, where he forged a career as a television actor.

Sonny Okosun returned to music in 1969 as a member of Victor Uwaifo’s Melody Maestros. He would go on to form his own psychedelic rock unit, Paperback Limited, which he dissolved in 1974. Okosun would then go on to reinvent his approach, this time infusing influences like soul, funk, and reggae – the resulting group, dubbed Ozziddi, crystallized the progressive musical and lyrical path he followed throughout the remainder of his career.

With 1976’s “Help” Ozziddi scored their first major African hit, and a year later reggae giant Eddy Grant mixed their LP “Papa’s Land”. The 1977 Follow-up “Fire in Soweto” which protested apartheid abuses in South Africa really put Okosun on the map internationally. This song was the rallying cry for many Nigerians who weren’t aware of the issues in South Africa and it led to many Nigerian citizens donating dollars to the struggle.

Okosun promoted African unity and black pride over radical broadsides. After completing work on 1978’s “Holy Wars”, Okosun toured Nigeria with reggae greats Jimmy Cliff and Toots & the Maytals.

In 1984, he asked the BIG QUESTION “Which Way Nigeria?”, a question still unanswered after 16years cos it seems the only way we can find with GPS is downwards. This song remains relevant to our plights and as you press play, please take the time to reflect on the message.

In 1985 he reached the apex of his international fame as the lone African artist to contribute to the all-star anti-apartheid album “Sun City”, and a year later his cut “Highlife” featured in the Jonathan Demme-directed feature film Something Wild. In 1994, he scored another success with the smash gospel album “Songs of Praise” which won a number of Nigerian music awards. He become the country’s top gospel musician

Sonny Okosun was one who always preached unity in his music – he was very aware of the issues of diversity and unity in Nigeria, thus, he sang in Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa and though he was Christian, sang a Muslim song. Okosun was a true Pan African who had no problem singing about issues in different regions of Africa.

He passed away on May 25, 2008 in Washington DC. May his soul rest in perfect peace.

Sonny Okosun – Which Way Nigeria

culled mostly from Sonny Okosun bio on music.msn.com

No 19: William Onyeabor – When The Going Is Smooth & Good
(1985, “Anything You Sow”, Wilfilms Records)

William Onyeabor comes from Enugu and created from scratch a rare collection of LPs & tracks on his own Wilfims label in the 70s and 80s that is unlike anything else coming from Africa or even the whole world at that time.

He studied cinematography in Russia for many years. He then returned to Nigeria in the mid-70s to start his own music label and set up a music and film production studio. He recorded a number of hit songs in Nigeria during the 70s & 80s, the biggest of which was “When the Going Is Smooth and Good” in 1985 and “Atomic Bomb” in 1978.

When the Going Is Smooth and Good” has a unique slice of stripped down spacey, lo-fi funk which is unlike any other Nigerian music that was made at the time. Under the influence of plunky spacy lo-fi funk and some fine  vocals William Onyeabor gave fans his moral advice and wisdom about Friendship and a better tomorrow that’s still to come.

William has now been crowned a High Chief in Enugu, where he lives today as a successful businessman working on government contracts and running his own flour mill and picking the keys once in a while.

William Onyeabor – When The Going Is Smooth & Good

culled mostly from discog

No 18: D Banj – Tongolo
(2005, “
No Long Thing”, Mo’ Hits)

D’Banj was born in 1980 as Dapo Daniel Oyebanjo in the Northern city of Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria to an artillery Officer and a church dignitary whom hailed from Shagamu in Ogun state. Due to his father’s job, D’Banj moved several times within Nigeria as well as abroad to India.

He was sent to Nigerian military school at age 11 and was expected to enter the military like his father, but at 14 D’Banj picked up a weapon of different kind and altogether more peaceful; the harmonica. He was introduced to this instrument by his late elder brother, Femi Oyebanjo who tragically died in a plane crash at age 17 on his way en route Lagos from Nigerian Military School, Zaria. His brother’s harmonica was one of his possessions recovered after the incidence and D’Banj started to cherish it. His incredible harmonica skills are self taught; he says, “I play the harmonica like it was built for me”.

He adopted the elegant, almost French-sounding name “D’Banj” – a combination of his first name Dapo and his surname Oyebanjo.  D’Banj became more and more involved in music and he cannot see himself doing anything else with the same passion.

As a tribute to his mentor Fela, D’banj brings Afrobeat to life and into the 21st century with breathless enthusiasm as well as a good dose of humor. His songs are based on his life, often hilarious but with a deeper meaning which documents the struggle of a young African trying to achieve his dreams. He performs in Yoruba, English and Pidgin English. All his albums till date have been solely produced by Don Jazzy and himself.

D’banj’s debut album – “No Long Thing” was released in 2005, yielding several hitsingles, with “Tongolo” as the biggest single. This proved to be his breakthrough single and a hit. It also provided his Koko Master persona, with the term, koko, taking on a variety of meanings. D’banj’s debut success led to collaborations with other artists.

“Tongolo” introduces the very element and originality of D’Banj as he yarns us “De Koko” and shares his secret magic word (not spotty) for catching babes with us. Very catchy beat and chorus, guaranteed to keep you bopping. We also hear “No Long Ting” for the first time in this song. He also shows his versatility in the tight Yoruba verses he drops to emphasize the power of the magic.

He would go on to release “Rundown/Funk U Up” in 2007 and “The Entertainer” in 2008 whose singles – “Why Me?”, “Gbono Feli Feli“, “Igwe“, “Olorun Maje” and “Kimon” would go on to become runaway successes. He was part of the chart topping Mo’ Hits’ “Curriculum Vitae” album success in 2008.

He has several awards with the most notable one being the 2007’s MTV Europe Music Awards BEST AFRICAN ACT

D’banj is a founder of Koko Foundation for Youth and Peace Development. He is also Nigeria’s first United Nations Youth Ambassador for Peace

He’s dropped 3 singles already from his forthcoming album “Mr Endowed that should be released in December, 2010.

D’Banj – Tongolo

culled mostly from wiki

No 17: Majek Fashek – Send Down The Rain
(1988, “Prisoner of Conscience”, Tabansi Records)

Born to an Edo mother and a Yoruba father, Majekodumni Fasheke – popularly known as Majek Fashek – is a top Nigerian reggae singer and guitarist. Various translations of his name include “high priest who does not lie”, “powers of miracles” and “the high priest does not live”. He claims he was born with dreadlocks, the holy hairstyle of Rastafarian’s. Fashek grew up in the hither land of Benin City where he had a very tough childhood, but found solace along with his mother, brother and sister, who were all staunch members of the ‘Aladura’ church.

Fashek first gained national fame on a television show in the early 1980’s as a member of Benin-based reggae group Jastix. His bandmates included Ras Kimono and Amos McRoy Gregg. They toured for many years with fellow reggae group – The Mandators. His song “Send Down The Rain” was a huge hit, and he won 6 awards at the PMAN Music Awards ceremony. After leaving Tabansi Records, he was signed to CBS Nigeria in the early nineties before moving to Island RecordsMango imprint, a label more accustomed to marketing reggae internationally. His first album for the company included a cover version of Bob Marley‘s “Redemption Song”. In 1990 he was signed by Jimmy Lovine to Interscope Records and released the critically acclaimed cd “Spirit Of Love” produced by Little Steven (Van Zandt). He has recorded several albums for various labels since, including “Rainmaker“ for Tuff Gong (1997) and “Little Patience” for Coral (2004). Flame Tree released “The Best of Majek Fashek” in 1994.

Fashek is one of the increasing number of African artists to be drawn to the music of the Caribbean, specifically reggae, rather than indigenous hybrids such as fuji, juju or highlife. Having grown up in a fervently religious and musical family, he was exposed to the imported sounds of Bob Marley at an early age, alongside the innovations of local stars such as Fela Kuti. Fashek’s major influences are Bob Marley (whom he strongly resembles vocally), Fela Kuti and Jimi Hendrix.

Majek Fashek – Send Down The Rain

culled mostly from Majek’s facebook page

No 16: Onyeka Onwenu – Ekwe
“In The Morning”, Ayollo Records)

It is doubtful if any other Nigerian female has had so much written or said about her. For close to three decades, newspapers and magazines all over Nigeria and beyond have reported, investigated, analyzed, praised, criticized, cartooned and celebrated the lady who has been an enduring face of show business in Nigeria for more than a quarter of a century.

In the history of Nigeria, no Nigerian female has engaged the entertainment industry like the multiple award winning, Onyeka Onwenu MFR. As a singer, Onyeka Onwenu has for many years lifted the spirit of the nation with some of the most memorable songs in the history of our Nigeria – “Ekwe”, “One Love”, “You and I”, “Endless Life”, “In the Morning Light”, “Alleluya, Dancing in the Sun, Am the One“, etc. As an actress, she has been an outstanding star in the Nollywood experience. Either as a broadcast journalist or a writer, Onyeka Onwenu has been nothing but special. As a performer, Onyeka has traversed the nation, spreading happiness, with uncommon personal carriage, charm and dignity.

Onyeka’s period in the Nigerian entertainment industry has indeed been a period of service and charity work. She has never shied away from serving the industry at any level. She was a key figure in the PMAN revolution of the 80’s and 90’s serving the association as Lagos State Chairman and Vice President. She gave practically everything to the birth and survival of AFem – Association of Female Musicians in Nigeria. To draw attention to the wanton infringement of the rights of Nigerian creators, Onyeka once staged a one week hunger strike in front of the premises of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), an organization of which she was later to become a Director. Wherever there is a serious discussion about the rights of creative people in Nigeria, Onyeka Onwenu is likely to be found.

When Onyeka Onwenu declared that she was going into politics as a member of the ruling PDP, most people were sure that she was on her way to becoming a cabinet minister or the governor of her state. To the shock of a lot of people, she insisted that she was not interested in any elective office beyond the Chairmanship of her native Ideato North Local Government Council of Imo State as her desire is to improve the standard of living of the people at the grassroots.

Onyeka Onwenu is a graduate of Wellesley College, Wellesley Massachusetts where she obtained a B.A in International Relations and the New School for Social Research in New York, where she gained a Masters Degree in Media Studies. Before coming home to settle in Nigeria, she worked at the United Nations in New York. Onyeka Onwenu, fondly called “the Elegant Stallion” by the Nigerian media has received various professional awards and honours including an NMA Lifetime Achievement Award. She has been conferred with the Nigerian national honour of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR). She is the Chairman of the Board of  Imo State Council for Arts & Culture.

Onyeka Onwenu – Ekwe

culled from COSON’s website

No 15: Fela Anikulapo  Kuti – Zombie
(1977, “Zombie”, Coconut Records/Phonogram)

All of u had started wondering when the biggest music icon to come out of Africa would appear on this list. Well don’t look no further. Here come’s the LEGEND – FELA

Fela was born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in Abeokuta, Ogun State. His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a feminist activist in the anti-colonial movement and his father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, a Protestant minister and school principal, was the first president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. His brothers, Beko Ransome-Kuti and Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, both medical doctors are well known in Nigeria. Fela was a 1st cousin to the African writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the 1st African to win a Nobel Prize for Literature.

Fela was sent to London in 1958 to study medicine but decided to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music. While there, he formed the band Koola Lobitos, playing a fusion of jazz and highlife. In 1960, Fela married his first wife, Remilekun (Remi) Taylor, with whom he would have three children (Femi, Yeni, and Sola). In 1963, Fela moved back to Nigeria, re-formed Koola Lobitos and trained as a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. He played for some time with Victor Olaiya and his All Stars. In 1967, he went to Ghana to think up a new musical direction. That was when Kuti first called his music Afrobeat. In 1969, Fela took the band to the United States. While there, Fela discovered the Black Power movement through Sandra Smith (now Izsadore)—a partisan of the Black Panther Party—which would heavily influence his music and political views and renamed the band Nigeria ’70. Soon, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was tipped off by a promoter that Fela and his band were in the U.S. without work permits. The band then performed a quick recording session in Los Angeles that would later be released as The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions.

After Fela and his band returned to Nigeria, the band was renamed to Africa ’70 and the lyrical themes changed from love to social issues. He then formed the Kalakuta Republic, a commune, a recording studio, and a home for many connected to the band that he later declared independent from the Nigerian state. Fela set up a nightclub in the Empire Hotel, named the Afro-Spot and then the Afrika Shrine, where he performed regularly. Fela also changed his middle name to Anikulapo (meaning he who carries death in his pouch), stating that his original middle name of Ransome was a slave name. The recordings continued, and the music became more politically motivated. Fela’s music became very popular among the Nigerian public and Africans in general. In fact, he made the decision to sing in Pidgin English so that his music could be enjoyed by individuals all over Africa, where the local languages spoken are very diverse and numerous.

As popular as Fela’s music had become in Nigeria and elsewhere, it was also very unpopular with the ruling government, and raids on the Kalakuta Republic were frequent. In 1977 Fela and the Afrika ’70 released the hit album “Zombie”, a scathing attack on Nigerian soldiers using the zombie metaphor to describe the methods of the Nigerian military. The album was a smash hit with the people and infuriated the government, setting off a vicious attack against the Kalakuta Republic, during which one thousand soldiers attacked the commune. Fela was severely beaten, and his elderly mother was thrown from a window, causing fatal injuries. The Kalakuta Republic was burned, and Fela’s studio, instruments, and master tapes were destroyed. Fela’s response to the attack was to deliver his mother’s coffin to the Dodan Barracks in Lagos, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s residence, and to write two songs, “Coffin for Head of State” and “Unknown Soldier“, referencing the official inquiry that claimed the commune had been destroyed by an unknown soldier.

His write-up would be tooooooooooooooo loooooooooooonnnnnnggggg to fit into here. Please refer to his Detailed Wiki entry

Fela died on Saturday August 2, 1997 after several weeks of illness at the age of 58. RIP!

Fela Lives On.

Released earlier this year, FELA! the musical on Broadway,  the true story of the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, whose soulful Afrobeat rhythms ignited a generation got 11 Tony nominations and won 3 Tony awards.

A movie is also in the works and is to be directed by Steve McQueen. Chiwetel Ejiofor is to play Fela in the Movie

Fela Kuti – Zombie

No 14: Bobby Benson – Taxi Driver

Bobby Benson was a great entertainer and musician who had a large influence on the Nigerian music scene, introducing big band and Caribbean idioms to the Highlife style of popular West African music.

Bernard Olabinjo Benson was born in April 11, 1922 in Ikorodu, Lagos State. While at secondary school he also learned tailoring, but after leaving school he became a boxer for a brief period, and then a sailor in the Merchant Navy. In 1944, he left his ship in London, where he made his entertainment debut with the Negro ballet, touring several European capitals. He met his wife, Cassandra (half Scottish and half Caribbean in origin), while in Britain, and on return to Nigeria in 1947 they established the Bobby Benson and Cassandra Theatrical Party.

Their performances included serious music, where he played guitar and saxophone while his wife danced. Based on the popularity of his music, he formed the Bobby Benson Jam Session, a dance band that played swing, jive, sambas and calypsos. In the 1950s, he expanded his band to eleven members, including a trumpet section, and began playing in the popular highlife style. Their first big hit was “Taxi Driver” followed by several others. It became a classic hit in West Africa, covered by several other musicians, blending Caribbean and Jazz styles. Other hits were “Gentleman Bobby”, “Iyawo se wo lose mi”, “Mafe”, “Nylon Dress” and “Niger Mambo”.

“Taxi Driver,” his biggest hit, and “Niger Mambo” an African melody with the Latin beat, were covered with different interpretations by American artists such as Stanley Turrentine and Jackie Mclean. Randy Weston covered “Niger Mambo” in a solo performance on his 1978 album “Rhythms-Sounds Piano“, describing the piece as representing exactly what is called “high life style” in West Africa.

Various prominent musicians started out playing in Benson’s band, including Roy Chicago, Sir Victor Uwaifo, Bayo Martins and Zeal Onyia. Victor Olaiya started as a trumpeter with Bobby Benson’s band, and became one of the first Nigerian musicians to play highlife with his group the Cool Cats. Another player with Benson’s band who moved into highlife was Eddie Okonta, with his Lido Band. Benson’s innovations in musical style also influenced the evolution of popular Jùjú music.

Bobby was an entertainer and a comedian as well as a singer, a great performer. He had a show on NTA in the 1970s, where he performed as a stand-up comedian and magician as well as playing and singing. He became a friend of music legends B.B. King and Hugh Masakela. He established the Caban Bamboo, a popular nightclub later converted into the Hotel Bobby.

He had several wives, and ten children. Benson died in Lagos on Saturday May 14, 1983.

Sidenote: Hotel Bobby still stands but is a shadow of itself acting as a refuge to destitutes and junkies. The Governement needs to make it an edifice since the family still can’t settle on what to do with it. SAD

Bobby Benson – Taxi Driver

No 13: Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey – Board Members
(1972, “Board Members”, Decca)

“Chief Commander” Ebenezer Obey, the originator of  the Miliki style of juju music, a dance hall version of juju, born in Idogo (Western Nigeria) in 1942. As a child, Obey was quick to learn and understand music, and was leading his school band and church choir while still in elementary school. In 1964, he formed his first band, the International Brothers, which produced his first juju single, “Ewa Wowun Ojumi Ri.”

Obey added to the original juju template of sound by adding as many new instruments (his band could reach 20 to 30 members for any given performance, largely dependent on stage size) as he could, throwing in some funky Yoruba drumming, western electric guitars and drum kit, creating an fresh, original sound that was ahead of its time. He is famously quoted as saying “It’s like cooking a soup. If you put in many different ingredients, it tastes richer and better.”

Lyrically, Obey used the praise song as his format, singing about Christianity or any political leader he was playing for. A traditionalist, Obey created songs that praise Christianity, and his eventual transformation into a gospel singer was perhaps inevitable.

As conservative as his lyrics were, his music was anything but traditional. Besides adding immensely to the size of his band, he extended the form of recorded juju songs to create 20-minute tracks that would take up large portions of his LPs.

Over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, Ebenezer Obey was easily one of the most popular and well-loved musicians in Nigeria, but he would not achieve external success until the 1980 release of his album Current Affairs, which turned him into an international star. The album “Board Members” is said to be Obey’s best work to date. In 1992, Obey left the secular music world, after releasing over 100 albums, for evangelism, and has been a gospel singer ever since.

Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey – Board Members

culled mostly from afropop

No 12: Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson – Love Me Adure
(1972, “Love M Adure“, Akpola)

Cardinal Rex Lawson was born March 4, 1935 by a Kalabari father and an Igbo mother. Until his untimely death in the 1970s, Erekosima (Rex Jim) Lawson was a standard-bearer of the Nigerian highlife scene whose tunes achieved popularity across Africa. Of mixed Kalabari and Igbo parentage, he was born in the town of New Kalabar in present-day Rivers State, and got his start in Port Harcourt’s Starlite Melody Orchestra, led by “Lord” Eddyson.

By 1960 he was leading his own group, the Nigeraphone Studio Orchestra of Onitsha and had played with the “big names” of Nigerian highlife – Bobby Benson, Roy Chicago, Victor Olaiya and others. With his second group, the Majors Band of Nigeria (variously called the “Mayors Band,” and in later years the Rivers Men), he scored innumerable hits over the sixties and early seventies, notably “Jolly Papa” “Sawale” “Ibi na Bo,” and many others. Of these, the biggest was “Love Mi Adure,” sang in Ibo which has become an African music standard and been remade numerous times by various artists. Lawson’s fluency in various languages and dialects has only enhanced his appeal across class and ethnic lines in West Africa.

After Lawson’s death, his backup group The Rivers Men reestablished themselves as the Professional Seagulls Dance Band and recorded several LP’s of their own in the 1980s – “Soko Soko” was a big hit.

Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson – Love Me Adure

culled mostly from Likembe

No 11: Lagbaja – Konko Below
(2001, “We Before Me”, Lagbaja)

Lagbaja (born Bisade Ologunde in Lagos) is a Nigerian Afrobeat musician. A singer-songwriter and instrumentalist, according to Lagbaja, his mask is used as an icon of man’s facelessness. Lagbaja is a Yoruba word that means somebody, nobody, anybody or everybody. It depicts the anonymity of the so-called “common man”.

The mask and the name symbolize the faceless, the voiceless in the society, particularly in Africa. He is also known as “Omo baba mu’ko mu’ko”.

Though the concept was developed long before that, his first album (entitled “Lagbaja”) was released to national acclaim in 1993. Over the years and more albums later, the music continues to fascinate with its unique focus on a core of African drums. His music is a product of various influences ranging from traditional Yoruba music to Jazz. Often the music is purely instrumental, an interplay between traditional Yoruba percussions, drums, chants, and western instruments, especially the saxophone.

When there are lyrics, they are primarily sung in Yoruba, English or a blend of the two, colloquially spoken in Yoruba cities. Many of his songs dwell on serious social issues, while others simply entertain. Some are dance inducing, while others pass serious messages in humorous ways.

One thing that links all the songs together is his use of traditional African drums. The ensemble of drummers constitute the larger part of the band. Vocalists and western instrumentalists make up the rest. Lagbaja’s groovy fusion has been referred to as afrojazz, afrobeat, highlife and afropop until now that he himself has christened the music AFRICANO, alluding mostly to the central role of African drums and grooves in his music.

In March 1997, Lagbaja established his club, Motherland in the heart of Ikeja in Lagos. Motherland’s design is influenced by the traditional African town or market square, where people gather under the moonlight for ceremonies and artistic events like dance, music, storytelling, wrestling

The song “Konko Below” needs no introduction …so PA DE MI NI SA LE!

Lagbaja – Konko Below

culled mostly from Lagbaja’s website