Audio Atlas is our monthly series exploring different music from around the world. This month we're looking at the most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria. Bordered by rainforests to the south and the Sahara to the North, the country is a boisterous melting pot of cultures, religions and ideologies.
Traditional Nigerian music, similarly to a vast array of other African styles, pins the spotlight on drumming. Complex polyrhythms are common, pitched percussion such as xylophones are also fairly present, however regional and tribal variations are extreme: the Hausa tribe utilises strong vocals, Arabic scales and call-and-response structures, whereas the Igbo frequently use a kind of zither. Nigerian music is incredibly varied, but the most prevalent theme throughout most genres is the focus on rhythms, used mainly for either dance, storytelling or in work songs as a kind of metronome.
Times have changed, as with every culture, and the music of today is influenced by neighbouring Sierra Leone and Ghana, as well as Brazilian, Portuguese and Caribbean sounds. Genres like jújú, Afrobeat and palm-wine were all popular in the 20th Century, infusing brass, some strings and new percussive instruments into the fray. Soul and funk were very popular in the '60s, and due to Westernisation, other styles such as hip-hop soon began to permeate Nigerian culture.
Modern Nigerian music has found popularity outside of the country. Azonto gained fame in Australia, Positif did so in France, and D'Banj's track 'Oliver Twist' was apparently pretty hot in Romania and even made waves in clubs in the UK. The video features Kanye West, truly appalling dance moves from an oversized Oliver Twist and copious booty shaking. It's nu-house meets chart-stalking pop – the track feels a bit like a hypnotic 'Mambo No.5' as D'Banj lists all the women he wants to bang, however, unlike Lou Bega's finest moment, 'Oliver Twist' features carnival rhythms, rampaging drums and a staggeringly simple (yet agonizing) synth earworm, akin to the chief offender in 'Riverside (Let's Go)'. The pop in Nigeria, though often more rhythmically advanced than Western counterparts, is essentially indistinguishable.
The passion for hip-hop has rapidly grown in Nigeria since the '80s, with groups and artists spilling out into America: Eedris Abdulkareem has a simmering feud with 50 Cent after a scuffle on board an aeroplane, and Kanye West has been snapping up musicians for his G.O.O.D. Music label (including the aforemention D'Banj). The burst of popularity for rap music came in the '90s, when groups like The Trybesmen and The Remedies began hitting it big. Nowadays there are scores of rappers all clamouring for the limelight – and as with any scene, some are great, some are less so. However, what many rap scenes lack is an adorable mini bad boy who raps about drugs and bedding 18 year old girls, whilst only being tweenage. Lil Jojo (nothing to do with Chief Keef) is that young man – he's actually pretty coy about how old he is – and when his voice breaks, he might be a formidable force.
Nigerian music and musicians are growing in popularity at a surprising pace. The pop and rap can easily contend with the material available in any European chart, and with Kanye dipping his busy little fingers into the mix, we're sure to see much more talent coming from the country. But it's not just those genres emanating from the nation: Kele Okereke of Bloc Party is of Igbo heritage, and Sade was born in Nigeria. This rise in cultural significance goes hand in hand with their economic rise and growing status on the world stage – Nigeria is part of the 'Next 11' nations deemed to become vital powers – and with a population that has tripled to over 150m in forty years, it's little wonder that we've had this recent influx of sounds; but expect this to be only the tip of the iceberg.