The Imperative of Promoting, Developing and Sustaining Indigenous Music in Nigeria

Towards Sustaining Indigeous Music

Scientific Essay, 2017

24 Pages





Conceptualising Music

Perspectives on Nigerian Indigenous Music

Traditional Musical Instruments

Theoretical Framework

Indigenous Music Imperialism




Until very recently, Nigerian indigenous music was silenced by its Western counterpart, following westernisation, globalisation and attrition. Music is cultural. And all Nigerian cultures have their respective music. Despite the recent promotion, development and sustenance bids of several artists, scholars and concerned authorities, the teeming Nigerian masses are yet to be roused towards and properly educated, sensitised and re-oriented on and towards indigenous music. It is against the above backdrop that this study has emerged to call for a change in these regards. The paper maintains that it is imperative to properly, constantly and adequately promote, develop and sustain our indigenous music so as to project our indigenous music, create a place for it in the globalised Western hostile village, and allow for culture continuity and national development. Music unites people(s) and allows for the showcasing of cultural identity, ethos and aesthetics. Therefore, to duly tap from the potentials/prospects of indigenous music, it is imperative to incessantly promote, develop and sustain indigenous music in Nigeria and beyond. This study is anchored on music and indigenous wholistic theories that are most suitable for it, following its nature and pursuit. It relied on both primary and secondary sources of data collection. Oral interview, participant and non-participant observation, and induction formed the oral sources, while textual library materials like journals, textbooks, etc. formed the written, secondary, sources. The qualitative approach and the descriptive methods were employed.

Keywords: Imperative, Indigenous music, Developing, Promoting, Sustaining


The erosion of our indigenous culture is also extremely made manifest and clearly evident in the music art of Nigeria and its peoples in the contemporary time. As rich as our music is, we still tend to shy away from it, believing it to be obsolete, local and so on. This is very unfortunate and worrisome. Such worry prompted this paper so as to rouse the interest of such deviants to our indigenous music. Most of them do not know that Nigeria has rich and enviable music history and achievements. Following Western mind caste, most of our peoples now underrate our indigenous music and thus bedevil it with attrition, dabbing it variously.

Describing the attitudes of many toward their indigenous cultures cum their aspects, Prah (2009:17) observes, Too often, culture is understood in Africa to mean old practices, especially of the display-type like traditional dance, music and singing, arts and the like. Such attributes and artifacts are reified and stylised recollections, which are said to typify African culture. In other words, African cultures tend to be regarded as museum pieces, arrested and fossiled in time. They are invariably displayed more in response to western taste for African exotica than a revival, renewal or reaffirmation of the African heritage …For example, since Picasso and the Cubists historically decontextualised, African traditional art has been regarded in Western circles as a revitalising stimulus for jaded Western artistic genre. What is depressing about this is that some African [Nigerian] artists latch on to such western fads as avant-garde representations which should be automatic universal appeals.

These days, the widespread negative attitudes toward everything indigenous, including music and performance arts, are made manifest mostly by indigenous government, elites, media, schools, artists and the new imported religions. The development potentials and huge prospects of indigenous music have been underplayed by these actors. It is in view of all this that Mazrui (2006) attributes the poor developmental progress and mediocrity on the African continent [in Nigeria] to the relegation of African values [arts and entire cultures], the inability of elites to harness the potentials of Western education and African values for optimal performance. African elites failed to match their Western education with their African values in both their intellectual development and continent’s progress.

Music is generally culture-universal. That is, every culture has its own peculiar music, which varies considerably in several ways from those of other cultures. The music of every culture, nation or people is unique and inherent to the culture/them. The aesthetics and cultural ethos of a culture are replicated, showcased, communicated, transmitted, appreciated and sustained through its music and other indigenous arts. Music, which usually involves singing, is accompanied with dance. It is one of the commonest means of communication by which humans express themselves and their cultures(s), thoughts, feelings, emotions, artistic talents, prowess and dexterity, sentiments, worldview (cosmology), aesthetics, values and norms. Anger, pain fear, joy, enthusiasm, behaviours, interest, satisfaction, message (tales, folklore, etc.) and so on are usually expressed through music (cf. Nwokike, in Mgbada, 2015:84; Okorie, 2016:11).

Conceptualising Music

Denotatively, music is described as the arrangement of sound in a pleasing sequence or combination to be changed or played on instruments. Agu (2008:12) describes it as the expression of man’s deepest self, which its effect can be tremendously profound only when its scholarship has attained certain elements of originality and nationality. This highlights the essence of indigenous music use, practise, promotion, development and sustenance. This is because Agu’s definition implies that indigenous music is the expression of deepest selves and the effects (impact) can only be felt when it has attained certain elements of originality–indigenous Black/Nigerian originality – and nationality, Nigerian diverse nations’ conglomeration.

Music is defined by Okorie (2016:11) as a sound arranged into pleasing or interesting patterns, which forms an important part of a culture that can be used for achieving sustainable national development. She adds that music is a vehicle through which human culture is shared and transmitted. Miller (1972) notes that music, like other arts, is always part of a total culture both in time and place; it is not autonomous. For Ekwueme (1988), music is the best of all art forms, which is an essential part of the Nigerian society. Nigerians are thus known to be addicted to music because they make good music genre and style of other parts of the world. However, since every Nigerian or indigenous arts or other aspects of culture is often conceived local, barbaric, archaic, inferior and dabbed variously, Nigerian rich reigning indigenous music of yesterday, incomparable in qualities and features to those of any other cultures, has been grossly and irrationally abandoned. What a great shift, a gross abandonment and abuse, and a mindless attrition of our indigenous music! The simple implication is that our music is heading towards extinction, as our generations will grow up knowing little or nothing about our indigenous music like most other eroding invaluable aspects of our cultures. All this is basically because of westernisation, Western rather than local content mentality and globalisation, which are together wiping the entirety of our indigenous cultures.

Describing Nigerian music, Nwokike in Mgbada (2005:85) writes, Music impacts positively or negatively on man’s feelings and behaviour. Traditional music is the music of the people. Music in Nigeria draws heavily from the norms of the society. It evolved as a result of the desire of various Nigerian peoples to express their feelings, emotions and sentiments. Music in Nigeria is different from Western music. While Western music is mainly concerned with music sounds and their composers, Nigerian music is concerned with the melody, song text, musical instruments and the composers, dance patterns and mode of dressing.

The above clearly highlights the nature and qualities of Nigerian music which distinctly distinguish it from the Western music that most Nigerian now crave for, including most Nigerian contemporary artistes who now sing and perform nonsensical music of no core cultural values but of high moral, ethic and aesthetic laxity in the stream of western arts and culture.

For this scholar, indigenous music describes the traditional/native music of a culture, a given people and their peculiar rhythmic performance art culture. It is the original ageing (ancestral) evolved and transmitted music of a particular people. Here, indigenous thus refers to the broad and sub-cultural music of Nigeria, both as a national entity and as nation-states– various ethnic nationalities or groups– that together make up the sovereign Nigerian nation.

Okorie (2016:14) explains, It [indigenous music] is the music of an “original” ethnic group that inhabits any geographic region. This therefore means that indigenous music is an important part of indigenous culture. Music is thus about expressing cultural belonging [sic]. It is part of ceremony, storytelling, celebration, mourning, coming together and telling of the events in indigenous people’s lives both past and present. It is therefore important to note that indigenous music can come in the form of:

i. Music and lyrics
ii. Instrumental pieces
iii. Indigenous rhythms and song cycles.

Indigenous music is an important means of expressing handed heritage for posterities, present and future. This is why it is imperative to uphold, transmit, develop, promote and sustain indigenous music, a non-material aspect of a culture that plays a pivotal role in cultural identity, promotion, socialisation and national transformation, growth and development. To this end, Okorie (2016:14) notes that for indigenous cultures, music and songs are central to identity, place and belonging and are an expression of a unique and continuing tradition.

Akpabot (2005) shares Okorie’s thought when observes that indigenous music has an important place in the transmission and survival of indigenous cultures, as it has been a primary means of renewing and teaching law and culture, ceremony, storytelling, preserving language, entertainment, recording personal stories, telling indigenous experience[s] to the wider community, and celebrating [festivals and life events]. The foregoing aptly describes indigenous music with its features and roles. It also highlights the imperative of promoting, developing and sustaining indigenous music, following its vital place in the transmission and survival of indigenous cultures, being one of the means of renewing and teaching law, norms, values, tradition and folklore (literature). Again, Okorie (2016:15) notes that the term ‘indigenous’ goes beyond just the language, as it must also reflect our local colours, philosophy, folklore and that which belongs to us which is different from the way others do theirs. She lists and briefly discusses some examples of Nigerian indigenous music to include Elioguchego, Fuji, Uta and Ekombi, Apala, Ikede, Kalangu and Juju.

Perspectives on Nigerian Indigenous Music

Nigeria is known to have a rich musical history, tradition and culture. According to Nwokike in Mgbada (2005:84/5), in Nigeria, music is deeply a functional exercise, which is heavily inspired by religion, politics, sociology, economy and education. Nigerian music has great influence on the ethos of the people. Nigerian music and its derivatives possess such socio-cultural power that to make any meaningful progress in the future or execute long term development programmes, government must come to terms with the realities of culture power. According to him (Nwokike), Nigerian traditional music functions on three main levels:

i. As part of religious ritual,
ii. As an expression of social organisation and
iii. As recreation.

We add that besides his identified three functions of traditional music, the music also functions as:

i. Oral tradition and knowledge,
ii. A means of socialisation and communication,
iii. A source of cultural presentation, transmission, promotion, development and reservation,
iv. A career and source of income as well as job and wealth creation opportunities,
v. An aspect of Nigerian indigenous literature and
vi. A means of internal and external social (international) relations.

The rich musical tradition of Nigeria expresses and reflects both the social and ceremonial functions that are connected with life cycle and religious activities (Okorie, 2016:15). Vidal (2000:4) posits that the African is born, named, initiated into manhood, warriored [sic], housed, wedded and buried with music. Nigerians thus take the lead in this gesture (art). Several scholars have confirmed his position. Robert (2015) notes that music is part parcel of the Bekwarra, his people, one of the Nigerian nations in Northern/Upper Cross River (State). Gotau (2015) also states likewise about his people, the Ngas of Plateau State, whom, he said, cannot do without music in all their activities.

Ebua (1989) has noted that Nigerian music includes many kinds of folk and popular music, some of which are known worldwide. He adds that styles of folk music are related to the multitudes of ethnic groups in the country, each with their own techniques, instruments and songs. For him, Nigerian music is of three kinds:

i. Indigenous or tribal folk music,
ii. Western influenced inter-tribal and
iii. Western music.

Accordingly, the first group includes all music that is tribally based, while the second group by nature of its name denotes a music that is Nigerian rather than rooted in a particular tribe for example Afro Calypso, Nigerian Jazz, the indigenous church music and music written by Nigerian composers based on tribal themes. The third group, Western music though not indigenous, must nevertheless be examined because of the continuous influence of this music on the other two categories in recent times, which arose as a result of globalisation (Ebua, 1989). In highlight, the first group describes all the music among Nigerian peoples that are anchored on their respective ethnic identities, which are peculiar to each tribe. The second category refers to those shared between/among the non-Western ethnic groups of colonised nations, like those of Nigeria. Such kinds of music are not peculiar to any of the groups, even though certain inherent respective indigenous musical and cultural attributes manifest. The Western music is that of the West, borrowed by these non-Western tribes, which is rather osmotic and has degenerated to music imperialism. Music imperialism is conceived here to mean an osmotic musical relationship of the West with their colonised nations in terms of music, like culture imperialism as a whole, which is gradually swallowing indigenous music, as many abruptly abandoned theirs for the Western one that leads to the endangerment and attrition of indigenous music in contemporary times. It is simply the subjugation and relegation of indigenous music by the Western one via artistes and audience, following Western superiority mentality, (neo-) colonialism, westernisation and globalisation.

It is in view of the overwhelming influence of western music and the attrition of the indigenous ones that this study rose to alert the Nigerian peoples and their like on the degenerating devastating effects of music imperialism and the dire need for immediate change– projecting, promoting and developing indigenous music for indigenous arts and culture sustenance now and later. According to Nwokike (2005:94), Nigerian traditional music has been classified into seven, based on function and context of performance. They are: ritual music, ceremonial music, recreational music, praise song, music dance patterns, high life, Juju and Afro beats. They are described briefly in what follows here.

Ritual Music: Nigerian traditional music can be used as a religious ritual. This type of music is connected with members of a particular cult groups in their performance of their religious obligation to their God through the deities. This type of music is connected with the soul of the departed ancestors and other forces. Certain ritual rites are performed and song/music sung in this practice, which may not be used in any other type. Ritual music provides the means of communication between man and the spirit world (divinity) – God. This music type has to do with litany, worship music, including libations. This is basically the earliest practise and function of music in classical (early) times. Till tomorrow, music is used during worship among the various religions. Worship and healing rituals are accompanied with music.

Ceremonial Music: Nigerian traditional music centres on the life cycle of birth, puberty, marriage and death. This entails celebrating of life events. In each of these stages, ceremonies are held to mark them. It usually marks each stage of human life. Certain music is used in festivals and chieftaincy installation, child birth and naming ceremonies, funeral, marriage, organised events/occasions and so on.

Recreation Music: Nigerian indigenous music, like those of others, entertains, enlivens and serves all leisure and relaxation purposes, including serving as a therapy. Here, our traditional music is associated with folktale and folklore. Music usually accompanies moonlight stories/tales by elders, traditional musical fiesta at village play grounds, exhibitions, competitions, traditional dance groups’ performance and rehearsals, age grades’ recreational performance, etc. On this music type, Nwokike in Mgbada (2005:95) writes, Recreational music affects children, young men and women [adults and the aged]. Under the moonlight, children usually gather to listen to folktales from adults/elders. This is another way of traditional education of children in the norms, [and] values of life. Society folktale and storytelling is both literary and musical. Apart from storytelling and counting, physical development and principles of hygiene is emphasised.

Praise Singing Music: Praise singing to us, is of three phases: religious praise, literary eulogy and socio-political sycophancy. Religious praises are sung to God for his providence, benevolence, mercy, blessings, grace, gift of life and materials, and every wonderful deed. Literary eulogy includes legend/ary, ballad, ode, dirge, epic, part of arts appreciation, among several others, across the literary genres. Socio-political sycophancy (praise singing) is that a dubious but influential or wealthy person(s), well known to have done little nothing worth such artistic praise(s). Contemporary Nigerian artistes and even writers and other artists mostly do this these days. Then, only worthwhile personalities or legends were sung about to the public for eternal remembrance (immortalisation) and appreciation. Examples of religious praise singers in modern tone are gospel (praise) musicians. All the religious sing praises to God (gods) in their distinct ways. In the course of religious rituals, the priests and priestesses propitiate (appease) God (gods) with praises.

According to Nwokike (2005:95), praise chanting and praise singing are a vital part of court music. That is music is played in honour of kings, queens and princes. Kings and nobles tend to reaffirm their greatness [as politicians, elites and the bourgeoisie do in contemporary Nigeria]. To his view here, we observe that praise music is not only played in honour of (to honour) kings, queens and princes alone. It is also sung for (in honour of) princesses, legends, activists, heroes and heroines and any other society members who have impacted positively on the society and the people, leaving/having a worthwhile legacy or achievement.

Dubious people were (are) usually not worthy of praise songs, unlike what easily obtains today. The achievements or good deeds of the legend, their legacies, are what make them qualify for praise songs (music). This point is captured by Nwokike (2005:95) thus: Praise singing is used in recasting the history of a place and [the] achievement of the ancestors. Praises are sung to ancestors, deities, persons or kings. The major achievements of these characters are heighted. Among the Yoruba, praise singers speak or recite for deities, kings, nobles, commoners, animals, plants, towns and things.

High Life Music: Although high life music is also indigenous to Nigeria, as one of Nigeria’s traditional music, it is said to have originally rose in the 1930’s Gold Coast (Ghana), even though there is no consensus to its trace to Ghana. High life musicians played mostly for the elite, the bourgeoisie, of the society associated with high living standard. Nigeria’s first highlife musician was Bobby Benson. Others include Osita Osadebe, E.C. Arinze, Victor Olaiya, Eddie Okonta, Jafaboro Ales, Eric Onuga, Bala Miller and Oliver de Coque (see Nwokike, 2005:9617).

Juju Music: This Nigerian music evolved in palm wine bars between the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Its instruments were only box guitar and other rhythmic instruments. The singer would concentrate on contemporary events in the society (Nigeria). Sooner or later, it moved away from palm-wine bars to the larger society and was well cherished by many, because of its ‘soothsayer fearless message delivery’. Most prolific Juju musicians in Nigeria were Shina Peters, Ebenezer Obey and Israel Nwoba (Njamanze).

Afro-Beat: This brand of Nigerian music was founded by Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Orlando Julius Owo, who made use of conventional European dance band instruments with completely new rhythmic beat and echoes of the Caribbean music beat. Other famous artistes here include Femi Kuti, Lagbaja and Atariwo. These musicians use Nigerian Pidgin English to satirise society ills fearlessly to the faces of their erring public figures/subjects (see Nwokike, 2005:97).

Dance patterns: Dance patterns distinctly mark out respective music and dance of the over 350 Nigerians ethnic groups. That is, when a given people dance, sing and perform in Nigeria, they are easily known by their tribe. Nwokike (2005:95-6) notes that this is because dance employs cultural pattern found in other behavioural characteristics of the community. Political organisation is very important in determining the dance pattern of an ethnic group. In the decentralised Igbo society, dance pattern is vigorous in consonance with the society. In Hausa, Yoruba, Nupe, Kanuri and thereabout, dance pattern is subtle, reflecting the centralised societies.

Although several scholars argue that there are many dance patterns of Nigerian indigenous music, many seem to agree that there are four basic dance patterns associated with Nigerian cultures. Well, one could justifiably observe that various other dance patters herein exist relegated, informally (undeveloped, non-formalised), undermined (neglected) and unstudied; neither are such unique and invaluable music with the patterns promoted, developed and formalised. The four dance patterns are:

i. Close Dance: This dance pattern basically involves waist movement. Much of the dance is done with the waist– twisting, wingding moving or swinging it. Examples of Nigerian tribes known with this dance pattern include Tiv, Ibibio, Ijaw, Bekwara maiden dance, Ikwerre, Ohafia, Owerri, Afikpo maiden dance pattern known as Nkwa Umugbaogho, etc.
ii. Stride Dance: Here, the dancers gracefully/practically move in an unhurried movement, taking a step at a time. It is common among the Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba and Onitsha Igbo royalty dancers.
iii. Leap Dance: Here, dancers lift their feet high in acrobatic manner. Examples include the Bata dancers of Yoruba, the Atilogwo dancers of the Igbo, the Bekwarra Masquerade dance, one of the Iwali Ebekwarra’s dance patterns, Ikwuma and Ogrinya dancers of Bekwarra, Edo Masquerade dance, Igede and Idoma Masquerade dancers, etc.

Stamp Dance: This involves stamping the feet hard on the ground. It is prevalent among Efik, Oban, Bekwarra, Ejagham, Mkpokiti and Odabara dancers, among others.

Nwokike in Mgbada (2005:96) notes that dance orchestra is very important in the discussion of dance patterns. Dance orchestra can be for ritual or non-ritual purposes. In Nigeria, all drums talk, but differ in the sense that some are more eloquent than others. The drummers and message contents vary and the drums shapes, build and materials as well as the dance patterns vary accordingly. Dance has usually been used along with music for rituals, ceremonies, entertainment, celebrations, including gestures. Also, one’s early use of dance is viewed to have been as a precursor to ecstatic trance states. In healing rituals, dance is used for this purpose by many cultures, from the Egyptian (African) world first cultures (civilisations) through the Brazilian rainforest to the Kalahari Desert (Guenther, 1975; Laurson, 2012; also see Wood, 1952; Wallace, 1986). Many contemporary dance forms can be traced back to ancient traditional, ceremonial and ethical dances. Thus, we cannot run (shy) away from or dab our indigenous dance cum music.

Furthermore, Nigerian music is part of its social system. The music of each of the over 350 ethnic groups vary in different ways, though with some cross-general features, just like dance, its kernel aspect and accompaniment. These differences also apply to their musical instruments, drumming styles, musical expressions, dance patterns and music types in place and practise. In the rainforest areas, string and wind instruments in combination with voice have always constituted the principal media of music making in the riverine areas. The main avenue is singing accompanied with water pots drums. In other areas, the principal media are a mixture of xylophone and wooden slit drum (Nwokike, 2005:86).

The unique characteristics of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities manifest in their respective music and dance culture in relation to linguistic, cosmological aesthetic, ethical taste and tone and artistic differences (Armstrong, 1954; Echenona, 1984; Larder, 1959). Each of them had developed its own musical tradition. As such, there are ethnic-bound music in Nigeria, such as Tiv, Hausa, Kanuri, Angas, Ibibio, Efik, Bekwarra, Ejagham, Yala, Idoma, Alagoa, Jukun, Etulo, Igede, Chamba, Igala, Igbira, Urhobo, Ijaw, Igbo, Yoruba, Boki, Mumuye, Ekoi, Edo, Koro, Birom, Nupe, etc. music respectively. They are those under the indigenous or tribal folk music category, noted earlier. These differences and variants, Nwokike (2005:86) notes, combine to give Nigeria its peculiar variety, creating rich and wealthy musical culture.

The aesthetic concept of musical sound in Nigeria is of two-dimensional nature, physical and metaphysical. Commenting on the physical aesthetic concept of musical sound and the organisation among the Southern Nigeria, Talbot quoted in Nwokike (2005:87) remarked, The best points are the wonderful rhythm, which is always is instinctively maintained, and the harmony with which the voices are blended; nearly all the people also have inborn [skills and knowledge] in the awareness of absolute pitch and an appreciation of tone distances. Discordances are very seldom evident and some of the beating melodious and sweet.

Richard Lander further compliments this harmony in tones when he states that when heard at a distance in the midst of solitary woods, the vocal music of the indigenes has a pleasing effect. Talbot and Lander thus proved their hitherto European writers, who claimed that Africa has no sense of music, otherwise. With reference to the studies and assertions of Madumere and Sowarde respectively, Okike (2005:88) observes that many ethnic groups in Nigerian sound is meaning in this context with reference to the symbolic role of the sound itself. Sound in Nigeria music is related to the mythical experiences surrounding the ancestor, divinity or event and this model arouses image that results in effective response to the designative behaviour. This results in appreciation by both active and passive participants of the musical event.


Excerpt out of 24 pages


The Imperative of Promoting, Developing and Sustaining Indigenous Music in Nigeria
Towards Sustaining Indigeous Music
Ebonyi State University  (New Frontier Ind. Research and Publications Int'l, Makurdi, Benue, Nigeria)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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The Ebonyi State University is the author's Alma-mater; the New Frontier Industries Ltd Research and Publications Int’l is his affiliation.
Imperative, Indigenous music, Developing, Promoting, Sustaining, Nigeria, Nigerian music
Quote paper
Odey Robert (Author), 2017, The Imperative of Promoting, Developing and Sustaining Indigenous Music in Nigeria, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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