Northern Nigeria’s Music Legends

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Music and dance are an integral part of Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage. The diverse cultures, each with its techniques and instruments, have different kinds of music, ranging from folk to popular music, some of which is known worldwide. The period of the late 1960s through the ’70s and ’80s was an extremely fertile era for music in Nigeria, as indeed it was around the world. While Afro-juju music was making waves in the southwest with musicians the likes of Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey and Fela Anikulapo Kuti as its proponents and in the southeast Oliver de Coque, Osita Osadebe and Bright Chimezie were institutionalising Highlife music, northern Nigeria was bubbling with the functional and entertaining songs of the local Folk music genre.Bongos Ikwue, whose unique “folk-soul” style of music has enjoyed national and international acclaim, Dan Maraya-Jos, one of northern Nigeria’s most popular folklorists whose career has taken him to many countries of the world, Mamman Shatta, Barmani Choge, Aliyu Dan Kwairo and a host of others were the shining stars in the North’s music firmament. LEADERSHIP Friday presents you with a brief profile of each of these Northern Nigerian music legends, highlighting their styles and the legacies they have bequeathed to the Nigerian entertainment industry.Mamman Shata

Mamman Shata Katsina (1923-1999) was a Katsina-born Nigerian, well known as an accomplished griot among the Hausa people of West and Northeast Africa. His vocals, which were often accompanied by talking drums known as kalangu, provided a formidable source of entertainment for the people of northern Nigeria for more than half a century.

Shata built his long career in entertainment against his father’s wish for him to become an established farmer. Shata was involved in petty trading in Kola nuts and sweets (alewa) before he dumped that to embrace music full time. Many who had the privilege of encountering Shata in his day usually had the best of entertainment and relaxation times with him. This great folklorist was one of the bestselling PolyGram artistes from northern Nigeria in the ’80s.

Shata also delved a bit into politics, especially at the grassroots, serving his people in the ’70s as a councillor in Kankia local government area of Katsina State. In the Third Republic, he served as the chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Funtua local government.

Dan Maraya Jos Dan Maraya Jos (born Adamu Wayya in 1946 in Bukuru near Jos in Plateau State of Nigeria) is a Hausa griot (folklore custodian/singer) best known for playing the kuntigi, a stringed lute-like instrument used in Nigerian Hausa music. He is a living legend in the Hausa music world. His songs are mainly about life and living.

How did he come about the name Dan Maraya Jos, which literally means “the little orphan of Jos”? Well, his father, who was from Sokoto, died shortly after his birth and his mother also died while he was still an infant. So he became an orphan at a very tender age, hence the name “Dan Maraya Jos”, by which everybody knows him.

His choosing a career in folk music was not an accident. His father was a court musician for the Emir of Bukuru, who took Dan Maraya into his care following the death of his parents. Dan Maraya showed interest in the art of music at a very early age and came under the influence of local professional musicians. “I had to start music at the age of seven” was his response to a question asked him by journalists some years ago. During a trip to Maiduguri as a preteen, he was impressed by musicians there and he made a kuntigi, an instrument he has used as accompaniment ever since. In his active days, he composed over 500 songs.

The mainstay of Dan Maraya’s repertoire is praise singing, addressing his own heroes who are usually not the rich and famous. His first and perhaps still his topmost hit song is “Wak’ar Karen Mota” (Song of the Driver’s Mate), a song in praise of young men who are bus conductors and do the dirty work of changing the tyres, pushing the buses when they break down, etc.

He was taken to the battlefield during the Nigerian Civil War, to boost the morale of the men of the Federal Army with songs in which he vividly incorporated scenarios from the war.

Barmani Choge

Barmani Choge was a renowned Hausa female singer whose birth name was Sa’adatu Aliyu. She spent 52 years of her life composing and singing the Amada genre of Hausa folk music, accompanied by a water-filled calabash instrument beaten lightly like a drum. Her all-female group usually entertained women. Her themes dealt with issues like women’s empowerment and education. She also scolded jealous and lazy women, among other family issues she addressed in her songs.

The name “Barmani Choge” was only a nickname, the first courtesy of her being the only surviving child of her parents and the other because of the way she would mimic a cripple’s walk in the early days of her career. When once asked, she explained, “Choge, as I use it, is a particular dance step attached to Amada music. It was in vogue a long time ago. The name was later appended to my real name by my fans.” Born in 1945 in what is now Katsina State, Choge died at 80 in Funtua town in 2013.

Bongos Ikwue

One of the most popular singers on the Nigerian music scene back in the day was Bongos Ikwue, whose personalised style of music made him a unique artiste. The music maestro, who is from Otukpo local government area of Benue State, North-central Nigeria, could be viewed as an intimate, earthy singer-songwriter, who delivered home truths with soulful, unpretentious vocals. Bongos was one of the very few Africans whose album hit platinum under PolyGram records in Europe. His career peaked in the 1970s through ’80s, a period when most of his hit tracks were released.

Bongos’ light, however, could not shine on through the 1990s, but his numerous fans, who he won for himself through the rich messages of his folk-soul songs, still miss his stage performances. He is most remembered as the voice in the signature tune of famous television series “Cock Crow at Dawn”, as well as for numerous hits including Mariama, Teardrops, Still Searching, What’s Gonna Be and his vernacular tracks Eche w’ Une (Life Is a Swing) and Ihotu (Love), among others.

Abubakar Ladan

A famous poet well known for his songs and music on African unity, Alhaji Abubakar Ladan was born in 1935 at Kwarbai in Zaria City, Kaduna State in northern Nigeria. After graduating from Alhudahuda Middle School (now Alhudahuda College) in the 1950s, Ladan started working as a veterinary officer in Malunfashi (now in Katsina State).

He was inspired into music by reading the songs of other Hausa singers like Sa’adu Zungur, Muazu Hadija and a singer from Sudan called Abubakar Al-Kabirun.

Abubakar Ladan has travelled widely across the African continent, visiting countries like Sudan, Morocco, Ethiopia, Somalia, Congo, Niger and Eritrea, among others. The honour of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR) was conferred on him by Shehu Shagari’s government.

Alhaji Musa Dankwairo

Another famous classical Hausa folklore singer in modern times is Alhaji Musa Dankwairo. Dankwairo’s career in music was inherited; his father, Usman Dankwanda, served as a singer for the Emir of Maradun. Dankwairo grew up to know his father as a singer and at the age of seven, he began to accompany his father as he went around singing. After his father’s death, Dankwairo continued to go with and assist his brother, Aliyu Kurna, who directly inherited the father’s possessions. He got the name “Dankwairo” from a man by that name who happened to be a boy with lovely vocals in his father’s ensemble. The then young Dankwairo began to imitate him and gradually picked up in the art and rose to fame, and people began to call him Dankwairo.

He served as a personal singer for the Sardauna of Sokoto. The first song he sang for the sardauna was Mai Dubun Nasara.

Sanni Aliyu Dandawo

Sanni Aliyu Dandawo, born about 67 years ago in Argungu in Kebbi State, is one northern musician who has touched the lives of many through his music. Dandawo’s father, the late Alhaji Aliyu Dandawo, was also a popular musician.

Dandawo began his musical career in 1964. His praise music concentrates on traditional rulers, whom he eulogises in his songs. In traditional Hausa culture, he belongs to the class of singers known as mawakinfada (singers for traditional rulers).

As time went on, he also sang for politicians and the wealthy in society. He sang many songs for the late premier of the Northern Region and Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello. Despite the advent of modern musical instruments, Dandawo still clings to his old traditional instruments, because according to him, they are what he inherited from his forefathers.

His songs include Manir Jafaru, Sarkin Sudan Kontagora, Shehu Kangiwa, Ahmadu Aruwa, among others.

Haruna Uji

Alhaji Haruna Uji is a popular Hausa musician, who endeared himself to the hearts of the rich and the poor alike, as well as the young and the old through his music.

Uji was born in Unguwar Gandun Quarters in Hadejia, present day Jigawa State in 1946. His father was an Islamic cleric.

At the age of six, Uji was enrolled into a Qur’anic school and graduated five years later. A highly intelligent student, while in school, he would take charge and teach the class whenever the teacher was absent. Before his debut in music, he was a hunter, a farmer and also a driver. He gave up driving entirely when he became prominent as a musician.

Uji was inspired into music after meeting a musician named Dan Mato in Kano, who played the gurmi (a traditional instrument) that Uji also played. He went into music for the love of it and not for money, as he often rejected financial offers.

Hajiya Fatima Lolo

Hajiya Fatima Lolo was one of the traditional singers from northern Nigeria. She was a Nupe folklorist from Niger State. Hajia Lolo was reputed to have brought Nupe music to national and international recognition.

Lolo was a delight to watch, a sonorous vocalist to listen to. She, no doubt, brought beauty and glamour into Nupe music with her spectacular performances at various national and international festivals. Some of the events at which she performed include the Kaduna Durbar and Festac ’77 cultural and arts exhibition.

This great and admirable folksong icon is late and will continue to be greatly missed by the world, especially music lovers in Northern Nigeria and her admirers in particular.

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