Nigeria’s Forgotten Era of Psychedelia

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Nigeria’s Forgotten Era of Psychedelia

In the 1960’s, the world saw an explosion of a new and exciting genre of music: psychedelic rock. Influenced by the effect it’s named after, the genre combined the use of synthesizers, elements of non-Western music, electric guitars and surreal lyrics to recreate the effects of hallucinogens. This era of psychedelic music gave rise to prominent musicians like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Tame Impala, Jimi Hendrix and so on.  However, in the late 60’s, the genre’s popularity started to wane and the world moved on to newer fascinations.

My first introduction to psychedelic rock in Nigeria was through Funk. The year was 2017 and the internet was going wild because William Onyeabor’s music had been featured in an ad for Apple. Onyeabor, who had just recently passed away, was a funk and disco musician who was known for his heavy use of synthesizers and his mysterious persona. In wanting to know more about his life and his music, I stumbled upon Nigeria’s forgotten era of psychedelic rock.

Psychedelic rock took Nigeria by storm in the 1970’s. The country was reeling from the carnage of the Biafra War and was still trying to find its bearings as a newly-independent nation. Naturally, the Nigerian youth took to the rough sound and lyrics of psychedelic music to provide an escape from the harsh realities that they were facing. While psychedelia was quickly being overshadowed in the West, musicians like the Lijadu Sisters, Monomono, and the Funkees sang their hearts out to an eager and hungry audience. While the Western era of psychedelia was fueled by mind-altering drugs, Nigeria’s was fueled by desperate hope. This era was short-lived; glossed over in favor of the more stylish and appealing sounds of Afrobeats and, later, Afropop.

In Nigeria, psychedelic rock falls into the tragically broad category of alternative music along with genres ranging from folk music to neo-soul — all genres that do not fit the restrictive mold of popular music. This category is usually reserved for any genre that is not related to what is vastly considered the Nigerian sound: Afrobeats. The genres that populate the alternative category usually experience brief mainstream popularity before fading into the back of our minds.

Popular genres such as Juju, Fuji, Fela’s Afrobeat, Highlife are exalted in the public eye and their artists are widely regarded as elders in the music industry, mostly due to their longevity. Our artists prostrate to them during their shows, they sample their music and continue to feature them in new songs. We hold them in high esteem, we call them our idols while the less popular artists of old languish in relative obscurity. There are no dazzling tributes to the artists of the forgotten rock era. Even with the surge of nostalgia in recent years and a growing appreciation of older music, Nigeria’s era of funk, rock and psychedelic rock remain largely unspoken of like the shameful offspring of an ill-fated romance.

The good news is our era of psychedelic rock has not completely been erased from our past; the echoes of its influence can still be felt in Nigeria’s blossoming alternative scene through artists that continue to push the envelope like Falana, Santi, Odunsi the Engine and so on. Psychedelic rock itself continues to survive through efforts to document the forgotten era such as “Wake Up You!: The Rise & Fall of Nigerian Rock 1972-1977”: a vinyl compilation (with two volumes and accompanying books) that features and documents the music of various artists of the psychedelic rock era.

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