Years ago when a lot of Nigerians were not bopping their heads to mindless lyrics and bubble gum beats, Jazz music ruled the airwaves. Jazz music originated in the US and is a mix of African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Jazz music seeped into Nigeria in the 1940’s after the Second World War with the return of expatriate Nigerians such as Bobby Benson, Tunde Amuwo, Soji Lijadu among others who arrived from Europe. Many of the pioneers of Jazz in Nigeria played a mix of Calypso, Latin-American stuff, Jive, dance and ballroom styles such as the waltz and the fox trot.
Jazz became fully established in Lagos in the 60’s with the emergence of the Fela Ransome-Kuti Quintet, led by Fela Ransome-Kuti (Later Fela Anikulapo-Kuti). This also led to the formation of the Jazz Preachers led by pianist and singer Art Alade. These groups brought about an ideal atmosphere for Jazz music. Fela Ransome-Kuti’s Quintet in its modern Jazz settings played such tunes as Bags Froove, Billy’s Bounce, But nnot for me and Errol Garner’s Misty. The Preachers who were mainstream outfit entertained with such tunes of the swing era as Pedido, C.Jam Blues. The Fela Ransome-Kuti Quintet later became the Koola Lobitos in April 1965 and finally metamorphosed into the legendary Afrobeat Empire.
However in the late 90’s and early 2000’s Jazz music kind of slipped out of the consciousness of the young and hip crowd with Hip-Hop and Afro Pop taking over the scene. Only a few artists such as Lagbaja, Yinka Davies and some others were able to compete with the overwhelming power of the new wave.
Another artist who has been able to pull through currently is Jazz artist Femi Leye who in a recent chat, believes the popularity of the Afro Pop culture is a reason why many young Nigerians are not into Jazz music. According to him:
“It is easier because if you have to be a Jazz guitarist or a Jazz musician, you have to learn an instrument, you have to be a master of an instrument and it takes years of serious dedication so you can’t be lazy.”
The singer believes the ease at which a singer can easily drop rhymes to an already existing beat is one of the major reasons why young artists now hop on the Afro Pop train. According to him
“Jazz is very complex, it’s spontaneous, and the music has to be inside of you.”
However the perceived complexity of Jazz has not stopped a growing crop of new Jazz singers as Femi claims he has met a couple of young artists who feel inspired by him and are willing to take a bold step to making their dreams come true.