The Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) is one of the biggest events in the history of the country.
Apart from the loss of lives and property, the civil war altered the sound of popular music in Nigeria. Rock and roll music had started in the country in the 60s but most Nigerians dismissed it as an American fad.
“Well, the scene got started in the early 1960s, actually, when Rock Around The Clock showed in Nigeria. That” Uchenna Ikonne told NPR in 2016.
Uchenna Ikonne is a music connoisseur. His music blog ‘Comb and Razor‘ is a treasure hove for songs and albums released by Nigerian rock bands during the golden era of rock music in Nigeria. This era is post civil war.
“It seemed like these young Africans were awkwardly aping foreign artists, who were white, who were themselves copying black Americans.
“Something seemed to be lost in translation. But one thing that changed during the war was the popularity of soul music. And there was something about soul music that seemed to speak to young Africans on a very deep level.
“So the music became funkier, it became deeper, and that gave the rockers the opportunity to occupy the centre stage in the culture” he further said.
The angst, disillusion and pain that came up after the civil war warped the sound of the guitar strings, drums and keyboard.
The anguish of the Biafran war added dimensions of pain and dark soul on funkadelic and psychedelic musical arrangements.
Highlife was the leading genre of music in the country. During the 60s, live music was how Nigerians predominantly consumed music. When the civil war started, many Eastern musicians and bands moved back to the East. This created a void in the sound landscape.
This gap led to the rise of soul music. While Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was fine-tuning his rebellious Afrobeat sound, the Eastern musicians were dealing with the war in Biafra.
“Meanwhile in Biafra, musicians had fewer resources and so their sound was much more dirty and rough-edged,” says Eothen Alapatt of Now-Again Records.
Now-Again Records released a collection of songs during the golden era of rock titled “Wake Up You! The Rise and Fall of Nigerian Rock.”
The collection is a double book and album. The double book was written by Uchenna Ikonne.
In an interview with The Vinyl Factory, Alapatt spoke on how the civil war brought about a rugged sound.
“When those musicians from Biafra re-integrated into Nigeria after the war, they brought that rugged aesthetic with them. That made for a much more gleefully grungy sound than could have ever been imagined before the war” he said in 2016.
The songs were dark, ugly and rugged but they were not political. “Most of these musicians never intended for their music to be political. Especially the musicians from the east, from the erstwhile Republic of Biafra. They had just gone through almost three years of hell during which people had lost almost everything and now were just trying to pull themselves out of the wreckage and piece their lives back together. The music was just trying to ease the pain, make people feel good about themselves again” Uchenna Ikonne told The Vinyl Factory.
Some of the rock bands during this period were Funkees, The Hykkers, The Hygrades, Warhead Constriction, Tony Grey, The Doves and others.
During the war, some of these musicians were captured by Nigerian soldiers. These musicians had no option than to perform for the soldiers.
One of such bands was The Figures. According to the Renny Pearl of the group, they had to perform in refugee camps and hospitals. The group was later caught by Nigerian soldiers. After performing for the military, the soldiers renamed them The Actions.
The group went on to become the first rock group from the East to record at the EMI studios in Lagos. When the military wanted to take their profits, the band returned their instruments back to the military and dissolved the band.
With psychedelic rock and Afrobeat in full swing, the Nigerian sound in the 70s was vastly different from the highlife years. Nigerian music lovers now started consuming music by buying records rather than going to clubs to watch bands perform.
The golden era lasted from 1972-1977. By the late 70s, the rock scene had faded out. “By the middle of the 1970s, it had already started fading. By the end of the ’70s, it was mostly gone. And not only did it disappear, but it disappeared from the collective memory in many ways.
“I think the country just kind of grew out of it, decided to move in a different direction culturally. And that whole period just turns out to be a weird interstitial period that isn’t exactly the ’70s and isn’t the ’60s, either; it was just a period of transition” explains Uchenna Ikonne.
Most of these records are hard to obtain today. However, you can get them online on the Wake Up You! The Rise and Fall of Nigerian Rock” collections.
A few of the rock oldies can also be found on YouTube if you are lucky and patient.
While Nigeria is known for light pop records today there was a time that the music that ruled the airwaves was psychedelic.