Juju Music: Inception and Evolution of the “Palm-wine styles” music

Best traditional African music genres Juju Music

Juju Music: Inception and Evolution of the “Palm-wine styles” music

The popularity of popular music in Nigeria has increased since its ascent among other music genres in the late 1940s. Contrary to assumptions that the genres of music that receive scholarly attention are determined by their social significance, popular music continues to be the genre of Nigerian music that has received the least amount of scholarly attention.

As “commemorative and panegyric music,” “a guitar-band music derived from the various palm-wine styles,” “a regional style of Nigerian urban popular music, developed by the Yoruba from Ghanaian-derived “palm wine” styles popular in Lagos in the 1930s and 1940s,” and “a local variant of the urban West African palm wine guitar tradition,” Juju music has been described or defined in these ways.

However it may be considered as a popular music genre of the Yoruba.

Juju music roots

Juju has its roots in “the minstrel tradition and may have sprung from the need to provide entertainment at drinking establishments.” Alaja-Browne (1985) attributed its beginnings to Tunde King and a select group of pals who met for music-making in the late afternoons at Till Nelson ‘Akamo’ David’s auto repair shop15. He was quick to add, though:

In its early years (c. 1929-33) it was not known as Juju music, but a kind of “native blues” which centred on reflective songs that are accompanied on the box guitar and struck idiophones, and which provided a means of self-expression and a basis for social interaction among a group of boys…in the area of Lagos known as Saro Town or Olowogbowo.

Alaja-Browne, 1986

Palm wine music evolved from “an earlier tradition of indigenous leisure music,” or “Abalabi,” which is a leisurely style of music and dance comparable to the Agbadza in Ghana and Togo. It is certain that Tunde King and his companion performed the “popular among guitarists in Lagos circa 1925” palm wine music. They altered it, though, by writing songs in Yoruba, grafting them onto a largely strophic and call-and-response structure, using a narrative song technique, and seasoning them with proverbs and anecdotes from Yoruba culture while playing the mandolin, banjo, ukulele, guitar, sekere, or a combination of these instruments. Palm wine songs had previously been in the languages of Kru, Fante, and Ewe.

Nonetheless, juju was not widely known in Lagos society despite the fact that Tunde King and his group made unsolicited appearances at social events. In fact, societal attitude during the period did not encourage the cultivation of music as a profession albeit popular music.

The celebration of life’s milestones, such as marriage and death, served as an opportunity for inviting Juju musicians, notably by Lagos’ Yoruba Christian community, which was often comprised of well-off individuals, in the 1940s. The Juju musicians needed to increase their clientele to enable them to support themselves through music, but the context limited the clientele and other benefits to the performers. As a result, in addition to performing at private events, they started performing publicly, performing on radio, and making recordings, all of which guaranteed them a regular income rather than the uncertain earnings from irregular and unpredictable private parties.

Evolution of Juju Music

Juju’s evolution is discussed in terms of the key influences on it as well as the changes that took place in terms of instrumentation, themes, performance context, and practice. Juju gained popularity outside of Lagos after the Second World War, but it was largely enjoyed in the Yoruba-speaking regions of south-western Nigeria, where the majority of the artists were. But in 1959, after the Western Nigeria Television held contests for Juju bands, which I.K. Dairo won, Juju gained popularity throughout south-western Nigeria. I.K. Dairo’s big songs, particularly “Salome” and “Angelina,” helped the genre quickly transition from a regional to a national one. He was the first Juju celebrity and ruled the Juju music scene from 1959 to 1965.

How Juju Music Dominated the Nigerian music scene

Juju’s rise to prominence on the Nigerian music scene came along at a fortunate time for a number of reasons. The “straw that broke the camel’s back” was the widespread departure of individuals from the eastern region. Since most highlife musicians in Lagos came from the eastern portion of the country, their departure left a need in the city’s music culture that was skillfully filled by Juju musicians. However, Juju gained popularity across the country during the extra money of the 1972–1977 oil boom.

Nigerians were becoming more and more involved in bands during this time, investing in music instruments and recordings, and by 1972, the genre of juju was well-known. Notable hits from 1972 include “Board Members” by Ebenezer Obey and “Shehindemi” by Sunny Ade, both of which contributed to Juju’s rise to prominence in the country’s music scene. Juju musicians benefited greatly from this, and some of the best ones, like Ebenezer Obey and Sunday Ade, went on to become megastars.

When Juju was in decline in the late 1980s, Shina Peters created the immensely popular album “Ace,” in which he combined an upbeat Juju with Fuji and afro beat to create a genre he dubbed “Afro-Juju.” Ijo Shina, an extremely sensuous dance he made to go with the music, had a big impact on Ace’s popularity. He released ‘Shinamania,’ another equally successful album, while still basking in the glory of ‘Ace.

It borrowed the finger-plucking guitar technique from palm wine music, and it got its strophic structure and harmonic progressions from church music. Juju is also reliant on minstrelsy custom.

The cosmopolitan makeup of Lagos starting in the middle of the 19th century led to the mingling of various musical traditions, out of which Juju evolved, as was mentioned in the discussion of the social circumstances from which it developed. Early Juju performances took place at private parties, but by the late 1940s, it was being offered to paying customers in hotels and nightclubs. Juju songs covered a wide range of topics, but eulogies and social commentary remained a constant concern. Juju’s evolution from a primarily contemplative music to a dance music provided plenty of opportunities for showmanship through dancing and stagecraft. Several juju artists gained attention, including Sunny Ade, the maestro, Ebenezer Obey, the melodist, I. K. Dairo, the neo-syncretiser, Sina Peters, the master guitarist, and Tunde King, the ultimate juju musician.

Juju musicians’ creativity and originality have recently declined, as evidenced by the level of parody, which is a sign of declining musicianship.

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