It’s all getting a bit exciting now, isn’t it? Today sees the real meaty end of the tournament kick off, as teams start to drop out of the running altogether; by close of pay on the 25th, we’ll know exactly who will contest the knockout stages and who will be joining the likes of Cameroon in flying home. In Nigeria’s case, it’s do-or-die time – nothing but a victory over South Korea and some help from Argentina against Greece will stop them from becoming the second African nation to drop out of the first African World Cup. Still, if it’s any consolation, they can boast probably the best individual performance of the tournament so far in the shape of goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama’s Messi-defying heroics in their opening fixture against Argentina.
The role played by Nigerians in the development of modern Africa’s musical consciousness simply can’t be ignored. While each African nation had its own folk forms – and with Igbo and Yoruba, Nigeria is no exception – it was Nigeria that was the first to embrace new styles and promote hybrid forms, bringing those folk sounds into a contemporary context. Nowhere was this more telling than in the development of Afrobeat, a crucial genre of music pioneering by Nigeria’s most famous son and probably African music’s most beloved figure – the legend that is Fela Kuti. This music – a blend of highlife, pyschedelia, funk, and sociopolitical fire – displays what Nigerian culture is all about.
But let’s back it up a little bit and talk about how those sounds were assimilated in the first place. Traditional Nigerian music began to morph into what we see today when electric instruments began to find their way into the country in serious quantities, during the late ’40s and ’50s, and when American records found their way onto the country’s radio stations. Before this, the exisiting fusions has largely involved techniques and instruments imported from the Islamic nations to the north-east of Africa as filtered through Algeria and Egypt, and occasionally, from Brazilian immigrants. When this melting pot (known as palm-wine music, like much of the African music of the time) was introduced to electric instrumentation, jùjú – a precursor to Afrobeat informed by reggae, funk, and rock – was born. For Westerners, the genre was crystallized by King Sunny Adé’s successful 1982 album, the simply and aptly titled Jùjú Music.
Perhaps because so much of the very best Nigerian music is based on blending other genres, most of the music popular in Nigeria has remained closely related to at least one of the above, blending either traditional or foreign influences back into the sound or removing them. The exceptions are genres that function as carbon copies of foreign sounds, reggae and hip-hop in particular; so bear in mind that I’m posting Str8 Buddah’s “The Last Stand” here for variety’s sake, and because it’s a great song, not because it’s a particularly good representation of what Nigerian music is. Then again, maybe the slavish devotion to sounding American says a lot about where we’re at these days. This copies all the right things though, in fairness – Pete Rock & CL Smooth are called to mind most strongly for me here, which makes the boast ‘this is how hip-hop supposed to sound’ ring true.