Top 10 Afro (Juju) and Highlife Musicians in Nigeria

Before the advent of Hip pop which has presently taken over the whole country, Afro-juju and highlife were widely celebrated throughout Nigeria from early 1950’s until late 1990’s. In recent times, hip hop music appears to be holding sway with the electronic media in Nigeria with massive airplay. The origin of this style of music was largely attributed to Ghana which later spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia and Nigeria via Ghanaian workers, among other West African countries, by the 1930’s. The music is often performed live with groups of singers and instrumentalists called a band. Nonetheless, Sunny Adé’s musical output has continued to inspire a vast generation of other Nigerian and African musicians and music lovers who believe in the big band musical set up—which the likes of Osita Osadebe, Sunny Adé and late Fela Kuti were noted for.

So in no particular order here is the list of these musicians:

Fela without clothes during one of his performances
Fela without clothes during one of his performances
Fela Kuti
Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti

With his original name as Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, he became known widely as Fela. He was born on 15th October 1938 in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Western Nigeria. He was born into well connected Yoruba family as his father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was a Protestant minister and school principal and his mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was a feminist activist in the anti-colonial movement. He is also the first cousin to the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He played for some time with Victor Olaiya and his All Stars after which he formed his own music group called Afrika’ 70.

With his well-connected background, there is no doubt Fela became more famous and popular with his style of music as he was the pioneer of the Afrobeat music in Nigeria and Africa. He was also a human right activist and used his music to publicly criticize the (then) corrupt military government and also to fight European cultural imperialism as he supported traditional African religions and lifestyles. His famous music single was Water E No Get Enemy. His famous albums include: Shakara (1972), Confusion (1975), Zombie (1977), The Best Best of Fela Kuti (1999) with major concerts like Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense & Berliner Jazztage ’78 (Double Feature), 1984. He has been nominated for Grammy awards on three separate occasions.

In 1960, Fela married his first wife, Remilekun (Remi) Taylor, with whom he would have three children (Femi, Yeni, and Sola) and divorced all his 12 wives and concubines after release from prison in 1986.

Fela was a chronic chain smoker and died on 2 August 1997 from Kaposi’s sarcoma, an AIDS-related disease.

King Sunny Adé

His original name was Sunday Adeniyi and he was born on 22nd September 1946 in Oshogbo, Ondo State of Western Nigeria to a royal Yoruba family. His father was Church organist and his mother was a market trader. Sunny is well known to be one of the most influential Afro-juju musicians as he was also a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He formed the group called African Beats which he later changed the name to Golden Mercury whose music was characterised with the use of Yoruba talking drum

With his Afro genre of music, King Sunny became the first African to be nominated twice for a Grammy. Notable amongst his music albums are Odu (1998). In 2009 King Sunny Adé was inducted into the Afropop Hall of Fame, at the Brooklyn African Festival in the United States and he humbly dedicated the award to the Late Michael Jackson.

Currently, King Sunny Ade runs his non-profit organisation called the King Sunny Adé Foundation and is also working with the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria.

Osita Osadebe

His full name was Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, and he was born on March 1936 in Atani, Anambra located in Southeastern Nigeria. Chief Osadebe as he was popularly (because he is a titled high chief in Igboland) called is a singer-songwriter, and record producer and was also known as the father of Igbo highlife music. His music was influenced by his personal life experience, trials, and tribulations.

Chief Osadebe released his first album of his career in 1958 and later established his record label called “Polygram Records Nigeria.” He went on to write over 500 songs; half of these songs were released commercially. Notable amongst his music albums are Kedu America

On 11 May 2007, Chief Osadebe passed away in St. Mary’s Hospital Waterbury, Connecticut, USA after suffering from severe respiratory difficulties.


Dan Maraya
Dan Maraya
A Trademark Kuntigi used by Dan Maraya
A Trademark Kuntigi used by Dan Maraya

Dan Maraya Jos

His full original name was Adamu Wayya Maraya, and he was born in 1946 in Bukur, near Jos, Plateau State, located in North-central Nigeria. Dan Maraya whose name literally means “The Little Orphan of Jos” was widely known for his use of trademark Kuntigi (a small, single-stringed traditional lute normally oval-shaped sardine covered with goatskin) while performing his famous praise songs.

His songs were very famous in throughout the Hausa part of the country, as he was invited to sing in traditional gatherings, marriages and different other local and national ceremonies. His first and perhaps the most popular of his music is Wak’ar Karen Mota (meaning “Song of the Driver’s Mate). Others include Jawabin Aure (meaning Discourse on Marriage), Auren Dole (meaning Forced Marriage), and Gulma-Wuya (The Busybody). Dan Maraya died on 20 June 2015.

Sir Victor Uwaifo
Sir Victor Uwaifo

Sir Victor Uwaifo

Victor Abimbola Olaiya was born on 31st December 1930 in Calabar, Cross River State located in Southern Nigeria. His Yoruba parents were Alfred Omolona Olaiya and Bathsheba Owolabi Motajo, who hailed from Ijesha-Ishu in Ekiti State. He was regarded as one of the pioneers of Highlife music in Nigeria as Alhaji Alade Odunewu of the Daily Times described him as “The Evil Genius of Highlife” has collaborated with the likes of Ghanaian highlife musicians including E. T. Mensah. Victor is also a trumpeter and group leader

Sir Victor is highly educated and formed his own band called the Cool Cats in 1954 and renamed the group to All Stars Band in 1963, which once had and trained some popular music icons like the drummer Tony Allen and vocalist Fela Kuti in his group. Popular of his music albums include Odale Ore b/w Mofe Muyon (1958), Olaiya’s Victories (1961), Highlife Reincarnation(1981), Baby Jowo(Baby Mi Da)with 2face (2013).

Olaiya married many wives. He has children and grandchildren. One of his daughters, Moji Olaiya is an actress and his son Bayode Olaiya currently sings with him.

Video of Joromi

Fatai Rolling Dollar

Prince Olayiwola Fatai Olagunju was born on 22 July 1927 in Ede, Oyo State of Western Nigeria. He is a foremost Nigeria Juju and highlife musician whose trademark music was characterised by the use of guitar. He formed his eight-man band group called African Rhythm Band in 1957 and together they produced one of his greatest hit tracks called “Won Kere Si Number Wa.” He once had the famous Ebenezer Obey in his band group and mentored him.

Rolling Dollar was married to three wives and had 16 children. He died at the age of 86 on 12 June 2103 after he was diagnosed with a lung cancer and was buried in his home at Ikorodu, Lagos.

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Ebenezer Obey

Ebenezer Remilekun Aremu Olasupo Obey-Fabiyi was born on April 3, 1942, in Idogo L.G.A of Ogun State located in Western part of Nigeria. He is also amongst the pioneer Juju musicians in Nigeria as he was popularly nicknamed the “Chief Commander”. Ebenezer formed his own band called International Brothers in 1964 whose playing style is characterised by Yoruba percussion style and use of more drum kits, guitars, and Yoruba talking drums. However, Ebenezer somehow got converted and switched to full gospel music in the early 1980’s.

His popular songs include Ewa Wo Ohun Ojuri (1964), Ija Pari I (1971), Joy of Salvation (What God Has Joined Together) 1981, Count Your Blessing (On the Rock) 1990, Good News (1993) and others.

Ebenezer got married to his wife Lady Evangelist Juliana Obey-Fabiyi in 1963, who later died at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital on 23 August 2011 at 67years and together they have several children and grandchildren.

Oliver de Coque in 1979
Oliver de Coque in 1979
Oliver De Coque's song for People's Club of Nigeria
Oliver De Coque’s song for People’s Club of Nigeria

Oliver De Coque

The man who people normally say he resembles the great Ikemba, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu (who lead the Biafran Army during the Nigeria Civil War), was born on April 14, 1947, in Ezinifite, Anambra State in Eastern Nigeria to Igbo parents. He is one of the most famous Nigeria’s Igbo Highlife singers, songwriters, musicians or guitarists whose songs are praise songs for individuals and social clubs. He formed his band group called Ogene sound super of Africa, which blended modern highlife and traditional Igbo music. His famous songs include a song dedicated to a powerful and popular club called People’s Club of Nigeria which consists of the richest men in Igboland, Appreciation, Egwu anyi Si Na Mmiri, Baby Don’t Cry, Odiri (2002), Nwa bu Nwa (1976) and others.

Oliver De Coque married many wives with many children and his 32-year-old son, Darlington nicknamed Safin De Coque is also a musician but unlike his father, he does Hip Pop. Oliver died on June 21, 2008, at the age of 61.

I.K Dairo performing with his trademark amplified accordion
I.K Dairo performing with his trademark amplified accordion

I.K Dairo

Isaiah Kehinde Dairo was born in 1930 in Offa, Kwara State in Western Nigeria. Dairo rose to fame shortly after he formed his musical group called the Morning Star Orchestra in 1957. His band made use of unique musical instruments like the double toy, akuba, ogido, clips, maracas, agogo(bell), samba (a square shaped drum) and an amplified accordion, which was played by Dairo making him the first high-profile musician to play the accordion.

His popular music includes Mo ti yege, Yoruba Solidarity, Erora Feso Jaiye, Salome 92, Ashiko (1994). Dairo died in the year 1996 at a tender age of 39.

Sir Shina Peters
Sir Shina Peters

Sir Shina Peters

Oluwashina Akanbi Peter was born on May 30, 1958, in Ogun State, western Nigeria. Sir Shina Peters as he was commonly known is an afro-juju musician whose style of play is described as a rhythmic collaboration of both Afrobeat and juju with the use of guitars and other local musical instruments which pierced Ethnic, Cultural and language barriers in Nigeria. He was said to have changed and revolutionised the Juju Music scene in Africa with his band group called International Stars which he formed in the late 1980’s. He has over 16 music albums which have led him to tour the shores of South Africa, Europe, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy and United States. Notable among them are Ace, an Afro-Juju Series 1 (1989), Shinamania (1990), Dancing Time (1991), Kilode (1995), Pay Back Time (2005).

Sir Peters is currently signed to Orbit Entertainment, a USA agency in New York that he co-owns.

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