The Nigerian music industry is one of the most successful industries in Nigeria. After the petroleum industry, the agricultural industry and the industry of politics if we can add that, the Nigerian music industry is the next biggest industry.

The industry is so big, that it spans across different genres and generations. This means that it has created a host of people who has been conferred with the title of Legends; Some dead, some alive.

Well, it is a common practice in Nigeria and the world at large to celebrate the dead, leaving out the living. But we at believe that people should be celebrated while still alive.

In regards to this, this article is about honouring some people who have help put the Nigerian music industry on the global map. Specifically in the 20th century i.e before the year 2000.

To make this article much more appreciated, we will be sectioning it into two generations. The generation before the millennium and the generation after the millennium


These are artistes who rocked the industry before the year 2000 and created that legendary status for themselves. These people predominantly sang and are still singing highlife and fuji songs. They include;

1) Onyeka Onwenu

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Onwenu began her music career in 1981 while still working in NTA. She released her debut album “For the Love of You” in 1982.

I am sure you must have heard the song “one love keeps us together”, a popular song she did in 1986. After 30 years, the song still keep gracing our radio sets, indicating how much of a hit it was then. The song ”One Love”, passed a great message across, reminding us that we all needed love.

King Sunny Ade and Onyeka had been ally for a long time. They were related by marriage.

At a time when HIV/AIDS was garnering more attention, she teemed with Sunny Ade to do a powerful song ”Wait For Me”. The song wait, talked about the importance of abstinence.  It highlighted the need to avoid premarital sex.

She went on to do more powerful songs Like ”Ekwe”, songs which passed messages across all age groups. Although she didn’t quite win much award, she attained her legendary status via the powerful songs she did.

Early years as a performer

Although now predominantly into acting and politics, Onyeka continues to write and sing about issues such as; health (HIV/AIDS), peace and mutual coexistence, respect for women rights and the plight of children. Her latest collection titled, “Inspiration for Change,” focuses on the need for an attitudinal turn around in Nigeria.


2) Sir Victor Uwaifo

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Legendary Sir Uwaifo is best known for his songs, ‘Joromi” “Guitar Boy” and “Mami Water”. According to Sir Victor, “Mami Water” was inspired by an encounter with a mermaid while he was chilling at Bar Beach in Lagos. Uwaifo made history in Nigeria when he won the first Golden record in Nigeria, West Africa and Africa for his song “Joromi” in 1996.

Joromi was very popular then that it coined a slangs amongst the young ones. Joromi was such a hit that it was played in every bars, clubs and angles. No surprise, Simi and Jaywon has since copied the song and made versions of it.


Uwaifo, who has a total of 12 golden records to date courtesy Joromi , has travelled to many countries, including the United States, Russia, Japan, United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Romania, Germany, France, Hungary, Rome, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin Republic, Spain, and Canada to perform.

His song “Joromi” is appreciated among his fans and his performances are characterized by his ability to play the guitar with both his feet and also his tongue.

I wasn’t born when Victor Uwaifo rocked the music industry, but watching him perform live at the 2010 independence day dinner at Abuja, made me love him much and become my personal favourite of Nigeria music living legends of the 20th century.

3) King Sunny Ade

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King Sunny Ade began his career with Moses Olaiya’s Federal Rhythm Dandies, a highlife band. In 1967, he left to form a new band called The Green Spots. Sunny Adé’s changed its band name a couple of times, first to African Beats and then to Golden Mercury.

King Sunny was influenced by Juju pioneer and borrowed stylistic elements from Nightingale’s ‘So wa mbe’ style of juju.

He has popular songs such as Merciful God.

‘Merciful God’ is one of King Sunny Ade popular songs which of course was written by the King of Juju music himself. He released this single in Year 2000 under the Album titled ‘Seven Degrees North’.

This beautiful single is a song of thanksgiving to God Almighty even as he praises God for keeping him and his family as a merciful God will. The song also features the fine beat of Juju music as King Sunny Ade displays his famous dance steps in the Music Video.


4) Shina Peters

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Peters’ career began at a young age when he played with friends with the group name ”Olushina and His Twelve Fantastic Brothers”. After learning how to play the piano, he joined Ebenezer Obey’s Band. After a while, he left the Ebenezer’s Obey band and joined the General Prince Adekunle’s band. When Adekunle was ill, Peters sometimes acted as lead singer for the band.

He left Adekunle to form Shina Adewale, a band he formed with Juju singer, Segun Adewale.  Shina Peters released many albums with Segun Adewale through the 1980s. However, the duo soon split and Shina went on to form his own band, “Sir Shina Peters & His International Stars”.

Sir Shina Peters & His International Stars released their first album Ace (Afro-Juju Series 1) in 1989. The album, which was released under CBS Records of Nigeria, went double platinum. “Ace,” produced by Laolu Akins, is a musical fusion between Juju and Afrobeat.

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Now me let me make it easier for you, remember this juju song ”Ese o, Ese o Afrojuju le fe gbo o Ese o”. That was a song from the album. The album was such a success as indicated above. That song in particular is still being played till this date. Just imagine how big it was then. The album Ace had other hits like ‘shina music’ and it was just enough to cement Sir Shina’s place in the industry and ultimately confirm his legendary status.

Sir Shina Peters currently has 16 album releases to his credit. He is the father to Superstar video director, Clarence Peters.

5) Majek Fashek

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Majek Fashek has gone through quite a trying time lately, no thanks to hard drugs. Thank God he is now in good health. Majek Fashek is the only raggae artiste on our list.

Majek Fashek started his solo career in 1988 after the band he belonged to, Jastix got disbanded. In 1988, he released the album Prisoner of Conscience which had the hit song “Send Down The Rain”.

‘Send Down The Rain’ a song of prayer, was such a hit such that it saw him quickly become Nigeria’s top reggae artist. ‘Send Down The Rain’ In 1989 won Fashek, six PMAN awards which included “Song of the Year”, “Album of the Year”, and “Reggae Artist of the Year”. Fashek ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ which won him ‘Album of the Year’ was a lesson filled album. It talked on civilian-military riff which was peculiar as at that time. In his song ‘Police Brutality’,

Fashek addressed the problem of police brutality the people faced as at that time. Sadly, in 2019 we still face this problem.  Fashek’s went on to release two albums; I & I Experience in late 1989 and ‘Spirit Of Love’ In 1992.

The album I&I Experience had songs such as Free Africa, Free Mandela; a song which addressed the unjust arrest and imprisonment of Late Nelson Mandela and the oppression of the Original South Africans in the hands of the white supremacist.

Majek Fashek has since then recorded other albums which include Rainmaker in 1997  and Little Patience in 2005. The hit song of the album ‘Little Patience’, Little patience was a song which encouraged strength, perseverance and patience in time of difficulties. It was a song well received.

Majek Fashek gained popularity and attained his legendary status primarily due to his song ‘Send Down The Rain’, a song he did at a time Nigeria was experiencing its worst drought in history. The song seemed to coax a rain storm which ended the drought.

6) Ebenezer Obey

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Ebenzer Obey began his professional career in the mid-1950s after moving to Lagos from his hometown, Idogo. He was tutored under Fatai Rolling-Dollar’s band, after which he formed a band called The International Brothers in 1964.

Ebenezer and his Inter-Reform Band released the Juju Jubilee album in 1985. The album was so good and it went platinum. At that time, he became an international performer frequently traveling overseas for shows.

Let’s not forget the song ‘Ota Mi Dehin Lehin Mi’, a song released in 1976, as at today, the audio has a youtube view of over one million. This should tell you how much of a hit it was then.

Obey is famous for songs such as Aimasiko, a song which Simi made a version for. Ebenzer Obey released Aimasiko in 1987 and it quickly populated the public. Although, King Sunny Ade started much earlier in the 1960’s the song, Aimasiko, further strengthened his legendary status.

As is characteristic of Nigerian Yoruba social-circle music, the Inter-Reformers band excel in praise-singing for rich Nigerian socialites and business tycoons. Obey, however, is also renowned for Christian spiritual themes in his music and has since the early-1990s retired into Nigerian gospel music ministry. It will be worthy of note to also say that Chief Commander as he is fondly called by his fans, has played alongside popular gospel music veteran, Pastor Kunle Ajayi during his 30 years on stage concert in Lagos.

7) Bright Chimezie

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You cannot talk about Nigerian music without mentioning Bright Chimezie. His music style became known as Zigima Sound; a genre which became popular in the Eastern part of Nigeria in the early 1980s. Bright Chimezie used it to revolutionize the musical structure in Nigeria with lyrics that focused on social issues of the country in a rather funny way.
In 1985, Bright Chimezie launched his first album titled ‘Respect Africa’ which ushered him into the limelight, same year he founded his own band he named Zigima Movement.
The album had the monstrous hit, African style, a comic song which talked about his first international trip. According to the song, he was almost arrested and accused of attempted suicide because the white counterparts saw him eating ‘Eba’. The song encouraged Africans to stay true to their roots rather than embracing western cultures to the detriments of the African cultures.
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Bright is a patriot and His music was actively focused on rejuvenating the Nigerian culture, through his music, he was able to pass across messages that revived at that time the dwindling cultural practices of the Nigerian people.
Surrounded by so many cultural practices, it is okay to say that Bright Chimezie’s  style were originated from his childhood which reflected in his life and career.

8) Femi Kuti

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Femi Kuti is son to the Late Afro beat meastro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and as such is supposed to be a legend just like his father. Femi started playing the saxophone at the age of 15 and eventually became a member of his father’s band. Like his father, Femi has commitment to social and political causes throughout his career. His international career began in 1988 when he was invited by the French Cultural Centre in Lagos and Christian Mousset to perform at the Festival d’Angoulême in France, the New Morning Club in Paris and the Moers Festival in Germany.

In 1995, he released the album ‘FUNK’ an album which talked about societal ills and military oppression faced especially during the Late Sani Abacha regime. The album was quickly accepted by the public. From the album, the song ‘Wonder Wonder’, was a hit through the nation and it further strengthened his status as a legend. ‘Wonder Wonder was a song that talked about the disunity in Africa and the religious differences and fraud carried out religious leaders.

In 1998, Femi Kuti stepped up his game and did the unthinkable with his “Shoki” album. The album had hits like ‘Sorry Sorry’, a song which clearly talked about the pitiable state of Nigeria prior to Abacha’s death. The song talked about meetings politicians were holding with corrupt military rulers who as at that time plunged the country to a terrible state. He got plaudits and backlashes for it. However, Sorry Sorry reminded us of the late Fela which Femi had successfully filled in for.

The album also had the monstrous hit ”beng beng beng”, a song which rocked all clubs and parties. Beng Beng Beng, showed how versatile Femi was and how much lucky we are to have him.

In 2001, Femi collaborated on his album ‘Fight to Win’ with a number of US musicians, including Common, Mos Def, and Jaguar Wright. Also in 2002, Femi contributed a remake of his father’s classic song “Water No Get Enemy” and all proceeds from the CD were donated to charities dedicated to raising AIDS awareness or fighting the disease.

Like his father Fela, Femi has faced criticism over his choice of lyrics as it was a direct shade at Nigeria and government of the day, specifically in the songs “Sorry Sorry”, “What Will Tomorrow Bring” and “97”.

Femi has been nominated for a Grammy award four times in the world music category in 2003, 2010, 2012 and 2013 but has never won it.


9) Adewale Ayuba

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Adewale Ayuba made his first album IBERE ‘Beginning’ at the age of 17. In early 1990, Ayuba was signed on by Sony Music to record an album, Bubble. Bubble was released in 1991, and brought Ayuba into international prominence. For the first time in history, a Fuji Music album dominated the scene, topping musical charts for six consecutive months, winning multiple awards at the Nigerian Music Awards. It bagged Ayuba the coveted Artiste of the Year Awards, including the Album of the Year Award, Song of the Year Award and Best Fuji Album of the Year Award.  It sold beyond expectations and made Ayuba a mega-star artiste.

Let me make you understand better, if you hear this line, ‘we are happy people, we make you happy’, please note that it came from the song Bubble. Bubble was such a vibe, no wonder it won many awards

With the success of Bubble, it become obvious that Ayuba had hit the pinnacle of his career in Nigeria. After the success of Bubble, Ayuba released a follow-up album, ”Mr Johnson Play For Me” and this also became an instant success in 1992. The song ”Mr Johnson Play For Me” was a catchy tune which blasted speakers and rocked parties in every corner you find a Yoruba person.

In 1993, Ayuba was signed to Premier Music before embarking on his first West Africa coast tour, performing in several African countries. The success of this tour led to his first United States of America Tour also in 1993. Mr Ayuba went on release more hits and garner more records and awards.

10) K1 De Ultimate

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K1 De Ultimate released his first solo album Titled Iba Special track ‘Abode Mecca’ in 1980. He released his most successful album Talazo 84′ in 1984 and it won him many titles and several music awards.

Talazo 84′ had hits such as ‘Wasiu Ayinde’, a song which occupied all musical sounds in the southwest.

In 1994 he released the album ‘Consolidation’ and album which had the song ‘solo Makinde’, a song which was widely accepted across all age groups.

K1 the ultimate has since done other songs since then and they have been great, reminding us of a legend in our midst.



The truth is there are very many more great musicians who have made the Nigerian music industry what it is today. If we are to write about every single one we know, we would have written a book instead. The musicians on our list are just a minute fraction of the great men and woman that have done so well in the industry.

These artistes have done marvelous things in and outside the country, putting Nigeria in the world map and as such attained the legendary status. Please note, this article is not to belittle anybody or any fan zone. It is an article to celebrate a few great men and women who have done the industry proud.


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