Juju to Afrobeat Music

King Sunny Ade was the most influential individual for juju music. He created this unique genre of music that mixed together African roots and pop from the western culture. With both the dance beats as well as the guitar melodies, he created something new. The Nigerian musician grew up in Ondo, which is located in Nigeria. Interesting enough, he was both into a royal family where technically an Oba (which means king) of the Yoruba civilization. So, not only was he considered the king of juju, but he was actually a real king. His parents both had jobs as a church organist and a trader. During his youth, he went to University of Lagos where his career in music began. Throughout the mid 1960’s, he joined Moses Olaiya’s band called the Federal Rhythm Dandies. In 1967, he branched off and created his new band called the Green Spots. Throughout his time in the music industry thus far, he began to get unsatisfied with the treatment of the industry. Nonetheless in 1974, he created his own recording label to make it fit his personal style, specifically juju music. Ade has used his recording label to release over 100 of his songs in Nigeria. Soon after he created another band called African Beats (also known as King Sunny Ade & His African Beats). Through the Island Records and Mango Label, they made their first albums in the early 1980’s. Since he took pride in his Yoruban culture and was also a prominent figure as well, Ade would write his lyrics from traditional poetry, themes, stories and recitations from the Yoruban culture. This is the beginning of King Sunny Ade & His African Beats began to influence not only Nigeria, but the United States as well. With Island Records, they would also win numerous Grammy’s in the United States.

The genre of juju music has various important characteristics. These songs are also often long because of all the specific elements it includes. The first is call and response. There is a leader who will say a verse and then the rest of the members will repeat what the leader said. Since the music has this call and response characteristic, this genre also has a lot of vocal harmonies. Another important characteristic is the use of Yoruban drumming traditions that are polyrhythmic. This is also accompanied by other various instruments. While over time the instruments have changed, for example a banjo to a guitar. However, there has been one instrument that is unique and has continued throughout the genre. This instrument is called the talking drum, which is also known as the lya llu. The talking drum is significant in the Yoruban culture. The talking drum got its name since it allows to imitate speech since Yoruba comes from a tonal language. In other words, when the word changes its pitch, it is a new meaning. Since the talking drum holds the same concept (since it can change rhythms and pitches), it acts as a speech surrogate to someone without using a voice. It is quite remarkable that a drum can act as a buffer to communicate between people. The instrument is an hour glass shaped drum that has two drumheads which is put together with leather tension cords. To play this instrument, the musician hits the drum with a curved stick. To make different pitches, the musician can loosen or tighten the leather tension cords between the drumheads. Along with the talking drum, there many different instruments that are used and range electric instruments to acoustic. There are several other characteristics such as repetitive refrains and instrumental solos that are often short.

During this time, Nigeria was affected by the ongoing changes occurring in the world. Not only did it affect the people, but it also affected the music world as well. While juju music began in the 1920’s. The genre at that time included traditional style percussion and mixed styles of the banjo/guitar. However, later on Word War II would see change the style of music. Some would think that this would hurt the genre of music and the advances that could be made, however, it did just the opposite. Due to the technological advances of World War II, it allowed for new styles and elements to be brought in for the genre. These advances added electric instruments into the music, while still keeping that traditional polyrhythmic music. An example of this would be in the beginning of the 1950’s they would use accordions, however, by the end of the decade they would use electric guitars in this genre. Nonetheless, by the 1970’s juju would be incorporated into different genres along with other genres incorporating juju. These other genres include reggae and funk.

Another genre of music that derived from juju is Afrobeat. This style of music was created by Fela Kuti. He was born in Lagos, Nigeria into a middle class family. Is parents sent him to study in the medical education field, however, he deicded to change paths and learn about music. Kuti would attend Trinity College and study European music. Throughout college, he also studied trumpet and played traditional folk music. He traveled to the United States and Ghana, which is where his development of Afrobeat music sparked. In 1961, he decided to create his first band called the Koola Lobitos. This band had a unique sound. It would have a twist of James Browns style of singing while combining African musical roots as well. He wanted to highlight his African roots while still accommodating to the current popularized music trends during that time period. The Koola Lobitos would record several new songs in Los Angeles. This would later be known as the ’69 Los Angeles Sessions. It has been stated that this was the most pivotal time in Kuti’s career and really sparked their music. The Black Panther movement in the United States inspired him to create his own band called Afrika ’70. Throughout his childhood, he was also raised in a household where they were often vocal of the independence of Nigeria. As Kuti became older, he started to follow in there footsteps and would be vocal about his political feelings. However, instead he would create lyrics to incorporate into his music. He would often specifically sing about the military dictatorship. In fact, he became incredibly involved in politics that he would run for president after creating his own party. On the other hand, in 1984, he would be put in jail for these political reasons. When he was released from jail, he continued to tour around the world showcasing his Afrobeat music. After doing research, it is interesting that Kuti was able to have the success he had even though odds were against him. His most predominant fan base was Nigeria, however, they were also majority poor. Typically during this time period, records were a major part of an artists success. Therefore, since his main fan base was most likely unable to purchase records, it is remarkable that he was still able to have the impact he did.

While Afrobeat was created from juju music, it has several similar characteristics. Just like juju music, Afrobeat is a combination of African American and African styles. These styles include Yoruban, funk, jazz, and reggae. Afrobeat also emphasizes the rhythmic grooves, vocals that are call and response and polyrhythm. Kuti also incorporated several other styles of music after he traveled and learned about different cultures. His bands always had large numbers of people performing since it included singers, a horn section, percussionists, and dancers. The songs were normally performed in two different parts. One is the instrumental piece and the other is the vocal component. Each of these sections are about ten to twenty minutes long. Therefore, making each song about forty-five minutes. Nonetheless, Kuti has been remembered for his performances and how elaborate they were.

Both of these styles of music are quite fascinating. Between the elaborate performances and the symbolism behind the instruments, it makes the music that much more enjoyable to not only hear, but to learn about as well. It is also interesting how society can play such an imperative role in creating something new. In both of the creations of the genres, juju and Afrobeat, the current country was facing hardships. The way the artists displayed their opinions and beliefs were both through a major form of art…music. Both Ade and Kuti thrive in the Yoruban culture and began to give it a more modern twist, yet still preserving those same traditional values. It is also interesting that something so successful can be created even through tough times such as WWII. While these styles of music were created decades ago, I believe that it left a lasting impact on today’s style of music.


The video above discusses and shows the use of the talking drum and how it serves as a speech surrogate.


The video above is of King Sunny Ade & His African Beats. This also showcases juju music.



The video above is of Fela Kuti and the Afrobeat genre. This video shows how his song is made up of two sections. The first section you can tell it has a jazzy feel to it and the second section highlights the vocals.