Igbo Highlife artists have done greatly to the entertainment sector, and as well promote the language and culture through music.
Before the coming of the British colonists, we had our ways of expressing our innermost happiness through songs. The whites didn't teach us how to sing. Singing is a natural gift. You need not be educated before you start singing. Babies began to sing as soon as they arrived from their mother's womb. Yes, when the baby cries, "ụwa ee ụwa ee" to show the kind of world it has landed into, it is a song. Even when people cry, it is a song because it has rhythm. Hahahahaha (my philosophy).
Background Information on Igbo Highlife Artists
All the highlife exponents of Igbo did not attend various universities where they studied Igbo before making use of it in songs and thereby projecting Igbo culture and voices to the world. As Igbo scholars were busy fighting about orthography and how to write Igbo in Owere, Ụmụahịa, Ọnịcha, later in Nsụka; Igbo musicians singing in Igbo were busy singing, producing albums, performing in England, USA, Australia, etc making their money and becoming more famous.
Yes, I always tell my fellow linguists that studying a language without its application is akin to life with no purpose. No need to bother yourself to go to school when you know you can’t do anything with it. The controversy in which our language has been immersed was caused by so-called Igbo educationists who have nothing to give or produce rather than bringing confusion to the Igbo language.
Our musicians who did not study Igbo did greater than some so-called scholars. They sang in different voices, and the instruments used were all authentic and naturally awesome. Despite the variations in the dialectal voices they used to sing, we understood them all. We nod to the rhythmic patterns and directions of their songs. The variant medium of lects which they sang with, in turn, exposed the ingredients and sweetness of our language.
Their songs are philosophical, didactic, and directional unlike the present-day depiction of immorality in songs. Everywhere you go, you will hear “Ukwu Nwaanyị Owere” (The waist of an Owere woman) “Ara dara ada adago” (the sagging breast has fallen) “Ukwu” here and there. “Nwata nwaanyị ka anyị laba n’ụlọ” (Young lady let’s go to the room) I don’t blame anyone, it is contextualism and the interests of this generational audience.
Who Are the Outstanding Igbo Highlife Artists?
Chief Stephen Osita Ọsadebe: Born in Atani, Anambra State 1936-may 11, 2007. His record labels: Polygram Records Nigeria. He started his career fully in Lagos in 1956 and went on to write over 500 songs. His musical styles are calypso, samba, bolero, rumba, jazz, and waltz. He is popularly known as Ọsankwa. I love “Ebezina” and “Kedụ America”.
Sunday Oliver Akanite (Oliver De Coque): From Ezinifite, Nnewi South, 1947-2008. Oliver started playing music at the age of 17 with ekpili. He recorded 73 albums and became the most popular Highlife King of Africa. Oliver learned how to play guitar and lead from Congo. Gotcha, his way of playing is second to none. His musical band is known as Ogene Sound Super of Africa. Oliver had toured the world with his band to sing not in English but in Igbo. “Nwa bụ nnwa” is bae. If you want to learn Igbo proverbs, listen to Oliver’s songs.
Christogonus Ezebuiro Obinna (Dr. Sir Warrior): Born in Owere (1947-1999) was the leader of Oriental Brothers International Band. He joined the Oriental in 1970.
Oriental Brothers International Band: It comprised the following musicians who later long separated and formed their musical bands and record labels:
–Ferdinand Emeka Opara
–Dr. Sir Warrior.
Bright Chimezie: Born on the 1st of October 1960. His musical style is known as Zigima which was popular in the early 1980s. It is a mixture of traditional Nigerian music and Igbo highlife fused with chanted vocals. My favorite song of his is “Because of English”…(Onye nkuzi apịa m ụtarị oo!)
Prince Nico Mbarga (I January 1950-24 June 1997) was born in Abakaliki to a Nigerian mother and a Cameroonian father. He recorded Sweet Mother with his band Rocafil Jazz. He was an Igbo highlife singer.
Celestine Ukwu (1940-1977) born in Enugwu. His songs are philosophical. It pierced and shed the broken souls. “Ije enu” is my favorite.
Mike Ejeagha: Born in Enugwu in 1932 is a Nigerian/Igbo folklorist. Akụkọ ifo/folklore is his method of singing. His first hit was in 1960. He sang “Onye ori ụtaba”, “ome ka agụ”, etc.
King Oge Nwamma is an Igbo highlife singer born in Ụmụahịa, Abịa State.
Sir Erico is an Igbo highlife singer from Enugwu. His hit album “Agha dị njọ” (war is bad) is a didactic song that our youths should listen to.
Prince Morocco Maduka is from Anambra State. He is the king of Eze Ekpili.
Okonkwo Asaa/ Seven Seven is an Igbo singer who incorporates stories and comics into his songs. As you listen to his songs you must laugh.
Chief Pericoma Mesuo Okoye born in 1935-2017 in Arondizuogu, Imo State is known as “Arụsị Ndịzuọgụ (deity/oracle of Ndịzuọgụ. He had a supernatural exhibition to his songs. His songs stand on concrete culture and supernatural powers.
Queen Theresa Onuora is the leader of Egedege Dance founded in Unubi in 1985. Egedege stems from a local slang for richness and bravery. Her musical patterns go with cultural exhibitions.
Onyeka Onwenu was born on the 17th of May 1952 in Obosi, but her hometown is in Arondizuogu, Imo State. Upon her return to Nigeria from the United States in 1980/81 her musical hits in Igbo exploded. My favorite song of hers is “Odenigbo”.
Prof. Goddy Ezike: His musical brand is Goddy Ezike &Black Brothers. His songs include: “A lụa N’anwụ E lie Na Ndo”, “Onye Akwuchina Ibe ya Ụzọ”, Kanayọ Chukwu, “Ụwa Amaka Mma”. His record label is Rogers All Stars Nig. Ltd. I love all his songs.
Nelly Uzoma Edith Uchendu (1950-2005) born in Umuchu Aguata, Anambra State. She is revered for modernizing traditional Igbo folk music. She sang “Love Nwantịntị” in 1976. Her musical instruments are vocals. She performed in London and other places. Her record labels are Homzy and Afrodisia.
Ali Chukwuma: He was born in Aboh Ndokwa East L.G.A. of Delta State. He left Osadebe’s musical band and formed his own in the 70s. One of his best hits is “Ego ji ọrụ”.
Okey Jakota: His albums include: Onye nwere ego, Afụlụ Ego, Chukwu Ebuka, Boys Bụ Ukwu Nkụ, etc. His Record labels are Vinosco Music Ltd and C. Meks Music Int’l Ltd.
Christy-Essien Igbokwe: (1960-2011) Born in Okat Onna L.G.A Akwa Ibom State. She grew up in Aba, Abia State where she joined different musical clubs like “Ụka ọnụ’s Club” and “Unikoko”. Her musical career sprang there as she performed for NTA Abia. Later she became a famous musician who sang in Igbo, Ibibio, Efik, Hausa, Yoruba, and English. One of her Igbo songs is entitled: “Tetanụ n’Ụla”.
Bro Okwey: He sang “Ihe Emebiwo”, ” Ọchịchị”. His songs touch on gospel and societal issues.
Chika Ọkpara: His songs include: “Ndị amụma ụgha”, “Ije Ụwa”, etc. The record labels he used are Omannia Music Nigeria and Vinosco Music.
Obi Igwe: He sang “Amaghị m”, “Ndị ọchịchị”, “Saboteur- Ụwa Ajọka”. Though the genre of his song is gospel he touches on societal issues in Igbo.
Patrick Obasi (Patty Obasi): Born on the 15th May 1951 in Ọgụ (Awgu) and died on 16 October 2012, in Enugu. He rose to prominence in 1980 when he released “Nwa Mamịwọta”. Other of his songs include: “Mkpụrụ Obi m”, “Ezinwaanyị Dị Ụkọ”, etc.
Peacocks International Band: It was founded in the 1970s by Raphael Amarebem. The members of this band and the songs written by them are:
–Sambola Mama written by Ejike Anyanwu
–Ịnya Akpa Akọ written by Bon Nkwopara
–Nne wụ nne written by Ralph Amarebem
–Ọchọ Mma written by Ralph Amarebem
–Ụmụ nnụnụ written by Bon Nkwopara; Ejike Anyanwụ
–Ndị Ọrụ Ụzọ written by Bon Nkwopara
Other hit songs apart from Sambola Mama are Ọjị Onyike, Egbu Arụrụ, etc.
Skylarks International Band: Founded by Dan Orji in 1976. The songs produced by this include Ọchọmma Kpara Akụ, Akpa Akọ, Ọrụ m Eru La m, etc. Dan Orji also founded Bongo Music which paved the way for Sunny Bobo, Sharma Melody, etc.
Imo Brothers International Band: It was led by Fiddey Onwuneme. The songs produced by them include Ama Onye Bụ Onye, Ije Love, Ole Gị Ọnwụ, Ọkangana Ori, Agbabam N’ime Jehova, etc.
Paulson Kalu: Born in Ọhafịa, Abia State. His songs include: Okwudili, Ji ehele, Onye dị mma n’azụ, etc.
Rex Jim Lawson: (1935-1971) Born in Kalabari, present-day River State. He became famous in the 1960s when he released “Ibi Na Bo”.
Ozoemena Nsugbe: He was born in Anambra State. His songs include: Ka Udoji Si Gbu John, Efio Onyeagwanam, Alụsị Bịa Kuru m, etc. He died, in February 2014 (diabetics) These great people mentioned have promoted Igbo to many places. Not just them, many more others here are limited to be mentioned. They sang in various voices, various tongues, and various dialects they all turned to be Igbo. We understood them. They touched the lives of many. Every young Igbo woman would love to play Osadebe’s songs in her traditional marriage ceremony. Though some of them have died, their voices are still in circulation.
These and many more made Igbo music an interesting genre for entertainment.