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The Golden Years Of Nigerian Boogie

Art from the cover of <em>Brand New Wayo: Funk, Fast Times and Nigerian Boogie Badness 1979-1983</em>.
Courtesy of Comb & Razor Sound
Art from the cover of Brand New Wayo: Funk, Fast Times and Nigerian Boogie Badness 1979-1983.

Between 1979 and 1983, Nigeria experienced a handful of watershed moments: an oil boom, the return of democracy after years of military dictatorship, and a lot of money flooding into the country. Creative industries — music in particular — responded in kind, and suddenly Nigeria was the right place to be at the right time for musicians all over Africa.

"There was this notion that Nigeria was a place where you could actually make it," says Uchenna Ikonne. "If you had the right degree, or you came up with the right hustle, you could be living in the fast lane just like all the other big cats."

Ikonne is the producer of a new compilation called Brand New Wayo: Funk, Fast Times and Nigerian Boogie Badness 1979-1983. The album is a snapshot of the commercial sound that dominated that era in Nigerian music — a slick, modern dance groove, which synthesized elements of afrobeat, disco, jazz and funk. Ikkone tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz that the album's title is in part a reference to the economic climate in which the music was made.

"'Wayo' means trickery, hustle, swindles. There was this mad rush for wealth at the time," he says. "The '70s in general are often considered an era of excess."

Not everyone in the country was enjoying such decadence. Ikkone says the distribution of wealth remained unequal, and that oil profits were often grossly mismanaged. But while some artists, most notably Fela Kuti, did address social and political issues in their music, Ikkone says, most preferred to keep the focus on fun.

"On one hand you could say they were scared because they had seen the treatment that Fela had gotten: Fela's house was burned down, his mother was killed, he was beaten, shot at. So a lot of people didn't want to go through that same ordeal," says Ikonne. "At the same time, as you go toward the end of the '70s and into the '80s, [Fela's] music almost became a sideline to his career as a professional eccentric and rabble-rouser. A lot of the musicians who came after just didn't want to get into that."

In 1983, Nigeria underwent another military coup. Ikonne says that, among other sobering developments, spelled the end of Nigerian boogie's golden age.

"There was a bit of a belt-tightening after 1983, and a return to more conservative values. The flashiness, the flamboyance, the glitziness — all of those things were just swept under the rug by the mid-'80s. You saw religion becoming more of a force in society, taking the place pop music and film and art had held earlier in the decade," he says. "Most of this music has been completely forgotten."

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