Saturday 30 January 2021

Three generations of evergreen Nigerian vocalists

Queen Salawa Abeni, Pic: c/o the artiste.

AS much as clear voice can be linked to successful musical career, not all vocalists of great pitching always make success of every song. However, it's important to recognise those musicians or singers, across genres and languages, whose natural vocalist chords have been of tremendous boost to the Nigerian music industry.

This list of evergreen top 10 Nigerian vocalists, include singers across generations, from independence to post-independence and 21st contemporary music. It's important to note that each song cited as example, for a given artist is not necessarily the best for such artist or the period of release of the work. The focus here is not necessarily about a chosen artist's best hit, but a song in which his or her voice type was best used.

Evergreen Nigerian vocalists can be expanded beyond this numeral of 10, but these are my choice based on trackings of the Nigerian music scene.


1. Queen Salawa Abeni

Ahead of her generation, it's doubtful if any musician had as much strong vocalist chord as Salawatu Abeni (born May 5, 1961). Abeni's genre, Waka, is a branch of Yoruba native music of regular repetitive lyrical style.

Arguably a musician with the most attractive pitch that always, would be a delight to sound engineers, especially in mixing, Abeni flaunted being a Soprano vocalist in most of her mid-career works.

Like other genres of native Yoruba music such as apala, sakara and fuji or awurebe, her choice of waka was of full percussion until late 1980s when strings were infussed. But Abeni’s voice is such of suprano vocalist heavy weight that it compensates for the lack of loud strings in the waka sphere.

 One of Abeni’s works, for example, that stands to compete for best voice is the hit track ‘Gentle Lady’, released in 1991 from the album titled Congratulation. Similarly, another of her works in that category is Experience album, which set her out into a new period of the waka music of the 1990s.

The opening track ‘Gentle Lady’ sings about her pleading that she is not a fighter but a gentle lady. Next, she praises ßGod with songs that ‘Mi o fi orin yin Oluwa’.

 Abeni had her debut album Iba Omode, Iba Agba, in 1976.


2. Timi Dakolo. Between soprano and tenor, most often, music critics place their focus in search of examples whenever relativity of good vocalists arises for each of the gender. In such bias, baritone and bass musicians always suffer critics' prejudice for the male.

It takes rare talent like Timi Dakolo as  a Baritone to get music aficionados' attention. A pride to his generation, Dakolo has proven, with baritone that Nigeria has an artiste in the like of Teddy Pendergrass, Michael Bolton and Bob Dylan, among others who have stunned the music world. From modulation to stimulation, Dakolo’s vocal of baritone can stand with the best in the world.

His 2012 hit Great Nation and 2014 classic Iyawo Mi are two songs that would go in Nigerian music history as exceptional in baritone vocalists of successful works.

Born January 20, 1981, Dakolo who started as a child artiste released Beautiful Noise as a debut album in 2011.

3. Omawumi

  Very few singers with natural soprano have the ability of smooth modulation behind the microphone. Omawumi belongs in the category of artiste whose voice of the female range pitch comes with non-friction modulating.

Not exactly a prolific singer, but with her few works behind the microphone such as Megbele, If You Ask Me and Love Nwantinti, among others, Omawumi, extensively used her natural Soprano. For example, in the last line of ‘If you Ask Me, she takes the title tune into vocal infinity.

Bornon April 13, 1982, Omawumi debuted with Wonder Woman in 2009.

4. I.K Dairo (1930-February 7, 1996)

He was one of Nigerian musicians with uncommon tenor that may even be categorised as what is described as 'countertenor' in music parlance. While his peak of career reigned as a juju musician from the 1960s till the late 1870s, Dairo’s music, his voice specifically, stood him out even among more commercially successful names of the same genre like King Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey.

Among his popular songs that still enjoy regular airtime on radio till date are E Rora Feso Jaiye, Osupa Roro and…… Interestingly, there is a sharp difference between the first and the second songs mentioned above: a thin line of tenor and countertenor exists. It’s quite remarkable coming from the same artiste.

Generally regarded as a juju musician, but some critics have argued that Dairo’s music leaned more towards highlife.   

5. Wasiu Ayinde (KI The Ultimate)

 Clearly of countertenor voice, Wasiu Ayinde has been one of the most successful musicians of the fuji music genre. Apart from his depth of composition in streets language lyrics, that always give him big hits, his voice stands among list of unique vocalists on the Nigerian music scene.

From his Talazo Fuji megahit years of the 1980s to Consolidation era of 1990s and several hits of recent, Ayinde (born 1957) has sustained that countertenor. However, his latest Ade Ori Okin exposed an aging musician whose voice is gradually shifting to bass. Even at aging and slipping to bass voice range, KI De Ultimate, surprisingly pulled big followership with Fuji the Sound in August 2020, featuring  Ade Ori Okin, a popular track in the EP.

Born, March 3, 1957, Ayinde started as packer crew member of the legendary fuji music star, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister band and released his debut album Iba, in 1980.

Omawumi. Pic c/o iamomawumi (2020).

6. Rex Jim Lawson (1935-January 1971)

As one of the greatest voices of the bass texture to have emerged on the Nigerian music scene, Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson left a strong mark. However, he seemed to possess a dual vocals of bass and tenor so suggest some of his songs.

In Sawale Asewo, for example, a tenor vocal was not disputable while in Yellow Sisi, Love Mu Adure, for examples, it was more of bass.

7. Simi

A contralto vocalist, Simi who belongs in the 21st century Nigerian music of highly rhythmic tunes seems to be lending strength to the soft family of voices. Yes, hers is even softer against heavy percussions, such as going into the owambe style of which she has made hits of recent.

The seeming fragility of her voice, no doubt, has proven to be a strength, particularly in songs such as  Duduke Mi, Ayo, With more of juju music tune flavoured in subtle owambe percussion, Simi’s contralto vocal in her 2017 work titled Owambe appeared to further confirmed the enormous vigour of vocal in her. Yes, her Jamb Question (2015) song seemed to have exposed the  artiste’s great talent, but Owambe showed a more matured voicalist.

Born as Simisola Ogunleye on April 19, 1988 , Simi made her debut Ogaju in 2008.

8. Prince Nico Mbarga (January 1, 1950- June 23, 1997)

In 1977 when Prince Nico Mbarga released the super hit Sweet Mother, it was doubtful if any other Nigerian musician had his range of countertenor voice previously.  The pitch of his vocal was such a high range that the sound engineers must have had a tough time mixing it with a music of high pitch strings as the highlife genre.

Interestingly, ten years after, the artiste released Aki (1987), asserting that his countertenor vocal was as natural as it was over a decade earlier.  He left a voice on the echo of Nigerian music scene worth giving musicology much to chew and digest.

9. Ebenezer Obey

Known as Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey in his active music years, the juju music superstar also belongs in the bass vocalists category. He was very consistent in that of family of voice type for nearly 30 years before he gradually slipped into pseudo baritone much later in the late 1990s, then as a gospel singerH1

His 1970s hits such as E Da To Mose Okunku, E ni Ri Nkan Re, among others would remain case studies in vocalism of Nigerian music.

Born on April 3, 1942, he released his first album E wa Wo Ohun Oju Ri in 1964.

10. Mike Okri

Among different generations of Nigerian musicians, it seemed that those who came into the scene from the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s were not so blessed with exceptional vocalist chord.

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Sniffing through that period of Nigerian music to detect one strong vocalist, unearthed Mike Okri, whose Omoge hit and Time Na Money showed that, indeed, Okri saved his generation of musicians from not producing any exceptional vocalist.

 Clearly a bass vocalist, Okri, sometimes, in his modulation flaunts the ability to move slightly deeper than bass.

Okri made his debut titled Concert Fever, with hit song Omoge in 1988.

 -Tajudeen Sowole is a Lagos-based Arts writer and Art Advisor.

Find My Way - Bravolu

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