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Best Music Albums in Nigeria: Exploring the Top Releases That Define Nigerian Music Culture

Fela Kuti

Nigeria is a country well known for its musical prowess and talents. Music in Nigeria goes as far back as the pre-colonial period, and the different means of expression have evolved in the same vein toward many diverse genres that have now become popular. These vibrant sounds and genres include Afrobeat, hip-hop, pop, Afro-pop, Juju, and Fuji, amongst many others. 

The popularity of music tracks and albums in Nigeria has always been a mark of achievement amongst Nigerian music legends and their listeners, as it directly impacts the fan base, income, and influence of musicians. Following this popularity, this article is set to showcase the best music albums that have left a lasting impact on the Nigerian music scene and beyond. This will be achieved by evaluating criteria like musical excellence, cultural relevance, commercial success, and critical acclaim. 

Top Music Albums in Nigeria

Below is a list of top music albums in Nigeria.

1. Unknown Soldier by Fela Kuti

This is one of the best music albums in Nigeria and it falls into the category of Afrobeats. It was recorded and released in 1979 at the Phonodisk Studio, Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun, Nigeria by Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a composer, bandleader, activist and multi-instrumentalist. The album contains only one track which is titled Unknown Soldier, a song of 31 minutes. 

As is typical of Fela’s songs, the first 16 and half minutes of the song is made up of different instrumental sounds which serve as a prelude introducing the vocal part of the song. This album is seen as a tribute to Fela’s dead mother as the song vividly describes the manner in which his mother died the night before the Kalakuta raid. The music is lyrically descriptive, leaving no room for guesswork while providing all the details that listeners need.

Unknown Soldier in Nigeria gave people the power and permission to speak up and rebel against the people in power. The album is a good example of Fela’s activism as even till the day he died, he never for once stopped speaking up about the ills of the Nigerian society and the corruption of Nigeria’s government. 

It is quite ironic that those in power are now beloved fans of Fela and his music when, in fact, Fela spent his whole career speaking against dictators, colonial masters, oppression, and censorship. Regardless of this, people in power, like the then-French President Emmanuel Macron, recognize Fela and even pay their tributes to the music composer. This phenomenon of celebrating the music icon has become quite popular all over the world. 

2. Juju Music by King Sunny Ade

The album Juju Music is a classic by King Sunny Ade, a renowned Nigerian juju musician, songwriter, and instrumentalist. As the name implies, it is a piece of Juju music. This album was released in 1982 and produced by Martin Meissonnier, a French keyboard player. 

Juju Music contains 7 tracks composed by King Sunny Ade himself and some of them are "Ja Funmi", "Eje Nlo Gba Ara Mi", "Mo Beru Agba", "Sunny Ti de Ariya". The album was critiqued as eclectic, with a mic of Jamaican sounds by Westerners, serving as a bridge between a celebration of the traditional Yoruba culture and pop music.

This was the first music album by King Sunny Ade that made it to a global audience at the time, cementing its spot as one of the best music albums in Nigeria. The album was commercially and critically successful, appearing at #111 on the Billboard chart for Pop albums in 1990; it was also known to have kickstarted the world beat movement in the United States. There was also an international tour for Juju Music, which further created massive publicity for the album and drew many more listeners. 

Globally, the song was known to be relatable to people, especially those with some Yoruba heritage.

3. Aṣha by Asa

By Bukola Elemide, popularly known as Asa, Aṣha as a musical album was released in 2007 as the singer and songwriter’s debut. It is also one of the best music albums in Nigeria, and it contains 10 tracks produced by Cobhams Asuquo, some of which are Jailer, So Beautiful, Eye Adaba, and Subway. The album incorporates the use of both English and Yoruba language as a means of expression, making it culturally relevant and lyrically pleasing. 

Aṣha, as an introductory album, the first of the singers’ does a thorough and thoughtful examination of societal ills and the human condition. Asa achieves this by blending folk music, R&B, jazz, and reggae into different tracks in the album. The respective moods of each track differ even though they seemingly entertain the same theme as a whole. 

Subway is presented as a ballad, Jailer as a song with a socio-political focus, and Eye Adaba as a poetic and hopeful track meant to uplift listeners. Critically and commercially, the album succeeded as it quickly made its way to the international market. In 2008, it won the Prix Constantine French Award for New Talent alongside three Headies awards.

Internationally, Aṣha was a great success, gaining popularity amongst the French people and other people who love the uniqueness of the album's use of culture.

Conclusion

Nigerians take pride in the manner in which musicians like Wizkid, Davido, and Burna Boy have released albums that have made it to the global market today and have become commercially successful, but they forget that this excellence in Nigerian music did not just start today. 

The best music albums in Nigeria, like Unknown Soldier, Aṣha, and Juju Music, vividly represent Nigeria's musical talent and how far the country has come globally. 

In your leisure time, listen and re-listen to these albums to get a taste of what it was like in the Nigerian musical space decades ago. You can never truly go wrong with oldies. Aṣha, Unknown Soldier and Juju Music are top tier picks, so do yourself a favour by immersing yourself in the rich tapestry of their rhythms.

What are some other albums you would consider your favourites, what other albums have you found yourself listening to again and again over the years? And why? Let's have you in the comment section.