Nigerian music has evolved over the past 50 decades. From I.K Dairo, to Kayode Fashola to King Sunny Ade, Azadus, Dbanj and Davido. The growth has been tremendous and the Nigerian music industry is arguably the most popular in Africa. It has contributed quite a number of successful and decorated contemporary music acts such as TuFace, Wizkid, Davido, and the recently nominated Nigerian act to perform at the Coachella 2019, the self-acclaimed African giant, “Burna boy”.
We will be going on a quick journey on the evolution of the music itself, evaluating the musical features like mode, valence, Instrumentalness, speechiness, and the lyrics of the songs to see how these have evolved over the past 5 decades.
Looking at Nigerian artistes over the past 5 decades, Wikipedia (some names you have never heard of definitely) came to the rescue. An amazing R user has a created package called RSpotify used for accessing Spotify’s API from R. Using the /getTop endpoint in Rspotify, I extracted the top 20 songs for each of the artiste from Spotify’s database and then used the /getFeatures endpoint to collect song features for each of the songs.
To get the lyrics for each of these songs, I used an R package that provides a wrapper for the Genius API called genius. Using his query function, I was able to get the song lyrics for most of the artiste from my Wikipedia search. Obviously, you can tell I am more of a R guy than Python (I don’t do well with snakes).
1. Our Music has always been driven by Beats and Instruments
If you have listened to a lot of Nigerian songs, you will not be so surprised at the low level of speechiness in the songs. This is because across the decades, Nigerian songs are not primarily driven by poetic or spoken words. With the high instrumentalness in the older decades, to the drive in the use of filler words because in present days, we just want to dance. I do love rap music, but some may say this is not the market for it.
2. Nigerian Music seems to follow political trends
With the general depression sometimes permeating the Nigerian space, the music released seems to follow the prevailing mood. This means that the lowest positivity in Nigerian music was in 1983 and 1984 when we had a recession (you wouldn’t guess who was the president then) with a change for a more upbeat disposition in 1995 but this positivity has been on a decline from 2015 till date (with the same president).
Looking at the annual trends, August has the lowest positivity year on year in the Nigerian music space while November has the highest musical positivity which might be influenced by the upcoming Christmas season.
In a world where classical music was once considered the highest form, Nigeria has chosen its path different from this and the music in this part of the world has high vocal content as the instrulmentalness is relatively low at an average of 0.13. Nigeria experienced fluctuated high values of instrulmentalness before 1992 and after then this level reduced and became relatively low until 1994. However, there has been a slow growth in the instrulmentalness from 2014 till 2018 even though this is not a very noticeable change from what has been obtainable. This little growth might be attributed to the rising popularity in recent years, of afrobeat music which is known for its high instrumental content.
4. Nigerian songs were extremely long in 70s and 80s
If you are a fan of highlife music from the 70s as I am, you can attest to the fact that the songs were characteristically long; with some of the tracks lasting as long as 15 minutes! Instruments would play for a couple of minutes, then a few words from the artiste before the music lapsed into another session of instrumentals. With the short attention span or attention deficits of the current generation, Nigerian music has been at its lowest duration from 1983 till date at an average of 313 seconds.
5. Despite the fact, that Nigerian music has been criticized for lacking content we essentially sing about the same thing as global music — just in a different way
‘I dey love my baby’ which translated to English means ‘I love my baby’ or ‘I am loving my baby’. A post that analyzed features of the most popular songs globally noted that ‘love my baby’ was the most popular phrase in current music and Nigeria seems to be no different except that its sung in mostly pidgin English.
With the growing global interest in Nigerian music, Nigerian songs are tending towards more use of English words so it will be interesting to see the effect this will have in the next couple of years and how this will in turn affect the Nigerian culture.