A look back at the funky, psychedelic, soulful 70s in Nigeria
August 18, 2014 9:00 PM   Subscribe

According to the Daptone Gold compilation liner notes (auto-playing music, click on "Biography"to read the notes), written by Pitchfork contributor Douglas Wolk, "the world capital of soul" has moved from the US ("between Memphis and Detroit, with occasional stopovers in New Orleans, Cincinnati and elsewhere") in the 1960, to Lagos in the 1970s, then it went into hiding, finally reappearing in Brooklyn, with Daptone Records. Let's go back - why Lagos in the 1970s?

On 1 October 1960, Nigeria gained its independence from the United Kingdom, though it not be until three years later that the First Nigerian Republic was formed, truly marking the country's independence. This was followed by the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War, which lasted from 6 July 1967 to 15 January 1970, as an ethnic and political conflict caused by the attempted secession of the southeastern provinces of Nigeria as the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra. And then oil was discovered.

Though oil in commercial quantity was discovered in the mid-1950s, the real oil boom came from the Arab oil embargo on the USA in 1973, and there was a significant rural-to-urban migration as people attempted to capitalize on the oil boom. During the 1970s Nigeria had possibly the fastest urbanization growth rate in the world. Unfortunately, by the 1980s, the Nigerian economy fell victim to a strain of what economists call Dutch Disease, a precipitous decline following a windfall boom from exploiting a natural resource, brought on not by tulips but by oil.

But at its peak, Nigerian culture bloomed, as visually captured in some of these images of Lagos in the early 1970s, and throughout the Nigeria Nostalgia tumblr. Music companies came to Nigeria after the Civil War, hoping to capture some of the highlife sound from the region, as well as Fela Kuti's afrobeat style that was popular not only in Nigeria, but also elsewhere in Africa, Europe and North America.

Decca was the first Western label to really capture West Africa with the Decca West Africa Limited label, and though they were focused on Ghana, Nigeria was by no means ignored. But after 1970, there was a music label boom, with EMI Records (Discogs label listings one and two) and Polygram Records setting up pressing plants in Lagos to capture the local scene for wider distribution. And there were numerous local labels: Tabansi, RAS (Rogers All-Stars), and Olumo Records, to name a few.

Ginger Baker (formerly of Cream) found his way to Lagos, where he came at just the right time to be a player in a larger scene, setting up the first 16 track recording studio and tried to get ex-Beatle Paul McCartney to record at his own studio when he arrived in Lagos with Wings. But McCartney ended up recording ‘Band on The Run’ in Nigeria’s EMI studio. After that, Baker got involved with Fela Kuti and Africa 70, learning local percussion from such masters as Tony Allen.

In the early 2000s, crate diggers discovered the vast amount of wealth in Africa's recent musical past, as detailed in Africa 100: The Indestructible Beat, an article by Joe Tangari. A number of compilations have been released that highlight Nigeria and Lagos specifically, including: You might already know that a ton of Fela Kuti's music is on Bandcamp, and you might have previously caught the Highlife sounds of Dr. Sir Warrior and the Oriental Brothers International Band (YouTube auto-playlist), but did you know Soundway Records is on Bandcamp, meaning you can stream so much soulful, funky, goodness that you might not sleep for days? We'll, consider yourself warned. You can get a hold of so much of the Strut back catalog so easily, but there's their Soundcloud page, and you can find partial (compilations) on Grooveshark: Nigeria 70 Discc 1, some of Disc 2, Lagos Jump and Sweet Times.

If you don't know who or what to look for, here's a guide to the music and musicians of Nigeria, as well as the Wikipedia page on the music of Nigeria.

All this musical nostalgia is not to say that Peak Nigeria was in the 1970s. Nigeria Films has a section devoted to Nigerian music, and P.M. News has a less information-dense section devoted to musical news from Nigeria. Face2Face Africa has an article, "Notes on the New Nigerian Music Scene,", and The Guardian covered "The Rise of Nigerian pop music." You might have even heard a bit about jazz artist and singer Somi, who spent 18 months in Nigeria, to record her latest album, The Lagos Music Salon (more info, plus streaming album sampler).

With that, I'll let you get to digging - there's a lot more out there to discover, even if your only tools are your fingers and a computer.
posted by filthy light thief (10 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
Epic post.

Love Daptone, especially Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.
posted by gen at 9:44 PM on August 18, 2014

This is excellent, lots of stuff to read and listen to! (Also, Daptone is the best radio station in Sleeping Dogs. More games should have one.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:59 PM on August 18, 2014

Great post. One of the reasons I've lurked here for so many years is posts like this. Bravo!
posted by Zedcaster at 10:01 PM on August 18, 2014

listening to the Budos Band this very moment.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:13 PM on August 18, 2014

The World Passport podcast may also be of interest.
posted by snofoam at 3:24 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Flagging this post as fantastic doesn't quite cut it. Thanks FLT!
posted by ouke at 3:53 AM on August 19, 2014

posted by glasseyes at 6:21 AM on August 19, 2014

This is a truly epic post that I will be combing through for weeks.

If you are a fan of Sharon Jones (and everybody should be) you owe it to yourself to check out Charles Bradley. His albums are turntable glue and the documentary about his life and art is both heartbreaking and completely inspiring.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:07 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh man, I was just working on a post about Nigerian rock---Ofege! William Onyeabor! The Wings! Have I been scooped? Mmmmaybe.... Perhaps I'll just do it next year.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:48 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

ThatFuzzyBastard, this is more of a crazy scattershot coverage of the whole amazing Nigerian scene from decades past. I think there is space for more coverage of specific genres and artists.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:17 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

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