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Tribal Languages, Economic Woes Inspire Nigerian Music

  • Heather Murdock

Nigerian bands like Heroes Band International hope to break out of local circuits with pop songs inspired by traditional tribal music. Besides ambitions of stardom and financial security, these musicians say they also hope to use modern entertainment to preserve ancient values and boost the economy.
Success in the arts may be a long shot, but in a country where most people live in poverty, Nigerian musicians say it could be their best and only shot.
Ifeyinwa Samuel Ndukwu, known to her fans as Ify De Diva, is the lead singer with Heroes Band International, an Afro-Pop band in the Nigerian capital, where the impoverished live side-by-side with the enormously wealthy. She says young artists make guest appearances with her in order to pick up new gigs.
“As they are featuring with my band, maybe they are engaged on a show. Somebody may see them to engage them for a performance. Maybe people will give them something, a reasonable thing. But it’s better than to steal," she said.
Like many musicians, bass player Olawale Akinduro needs a second job to survive. He plays with Heroes Band International using the name Waleman and says the music business in Nigeria is changing, with new role models emerging like the hip-hop Afro beat sensation 2Face Idibia.
Traditionally, he says, Nigerian parents discouraged their children from going into the music business.
“They don’t believe music is something you can make money with so they can put food on your table. Or that music is something that can make you achieve anything. Except these days that we now see people like 2Face, like the new guys that are coming up," he said.
Other artists say modern music is dual-purpose in Nigeria.
Babatunde Ayodare, known professionally as Dare Darela is one of Ify De Diva’s regular guests. He says his music, called "contemporary highlife/juju" is ethnic Yoruba with a modern Nigerian flare. He hopes it will keep his ancient culture alive and may one day help his economy grow.
“I want to use this music to help a lot of people, promote a lot of things and assist people even not from the music field," he said.
These musicians say it’s not just about the money. With songs written in some of Nigeria’s hundreds of native languages, and dances said to be as old as Africa itself, these artists say, for them, it’s also about the love of music and their love for their country.