Garhe Osiebe

Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

PhD title: The evolution of popular political music culture in postcolonial Nigeria
Supervisor: Professor Karin Barber
PhD African Studies


The postmodern condition is such that the mass media and indeed music industries across the world have labored to no avail on how to distinguish popular musicians and their works from one another in terms of genres. The indistinct, overlapping, yet inconsistent sounds of most popular musicians tend to make this the more cumbersome. Some of these popular musicians have in turn taken advantage of the confusion to the extent that there are now those who proclaim their own names prefixing ‘-music’ as the genre of music they make when asked. The question to be asked therefore is: how sustainable is a culture where it is the responsibility of popular musicians to define the genre of popular music they believe they produce?

My research argues against the disorderliness in popular music branding, and advocates a genre of ‘political music’. It set out to put forward a theory wherein ‘national’ equates the otherwise fluid category of ‘popular culture’. By so doing it defines the utilitarian advantage of the ‘political music’ genre over the traditional genres of popular music. With the methods of con-textual, performance, and audience (CPA) analyses; the research delineated three subgenres of ‘political music’ namely ‘protest music’, ‘unity music’, and ‘terrestrial praise music’. It demonstrated that a nation’s political history is realizable through a critical documentation of her national political music culture.

The research contributes to the growing body of knowledge on popular music audiences following the advent of modern recording technology. Indeed Will Straw’s underdeveloped and much maligned model of the ‘music scene’ (1991) is enhanced through the conceptualization of ‘popular political music culture as the national music scene’: ‘The evolution of popular political music culture in postcolonial Nigeria’ has thus brought about some measure of order to popular music classification and discourses. Within political science as a discipline, if ever there was a chronicle of the ideologies that obtained over the course of a nation’s existence; this study offered that in its communication of political culture’s advancement through popular music. It has also introduced a workable methodology that extends meanings across both interdisciplinary fields of cultural studies and postcolonial theory.

The research proffered a reasoned account for the dearth of protest music in colonially-governed Nigeria based on the non-violence of the nation’s decolonization. It proceeded to offer an outline for the postcolonial state guided by specific peculiarities. As such, post-independence Nigeria is presented through two political historical periods of ‘pre-1999 postcolonial Nigeria’ and ‘post-1999 Nigeria’. The study established that protest music makers of pre-1999 postcolonial Nigeria did protest music as a core art with ‘moments’ of non-protest material in their body of work which spanned military and civil administrations. It further revealed that the patronage of popular musicians by political leaders was a practice that obtained correspondingly before the country’s democratization in 1999. Crucially, it was observed that the texts of these protest songs and unity songs inform political sound bites of the post-1999 years.

A critical assessment of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic - through an encore of the CPA on political music’s triple heritage for post-1999 Nigeria - unraveled a tendency of popular musicians in Nigeria to record protest-mono-moments and unity-mono-moments; that is, solitary protest songs and solitary unity songs recorded in careers dominated by secular music material. A similar trend of terrestrial praise-mono-moments was apparent, and the focus therefore shifted to the ‘people’s arts’ (Barber, 1987: 7). This proved to be of more historical insight for it not only looked at Nigeria’s national political leadership, but also the people’s electoral mannerisms. Having established the symbolism of naming in contemporary Nigerian life, the research advocated an alternative to the praise singing and dancing that characterize electoral seasons in Nigeria.

Through the thesis, a representation of the Nigerian youth materialized in light of the perennially problematic construct of the ‘African youth’. The thesis proceeded to examine its conceptualization of genre-switching by popular musicians in post-1999 Nigeria by deconstructing the electoral paranoia of a persecuted popular musician. Therein, it was observed that paranoia is catalyst for metamorphosis and creativity. Indeed that an artist’s latest work may assume paranoid reflection of the societal situation as at the time of production, and of the reception to a previous work or activity by the artist. The study showed that protest music against the local media institution is not only possible but obtainable, and that contrary to the notion of flagrant genre-switching by seemingly apolitical music makers, a deeper scrutiny of their previous works reveals the presence of substantial political content.

The thesis also considered the oil-subsidy issue at the heart of the Occupy Nigeria 2012 protests; and attempted to place the federal government’s position over the subsidy implementation in perspective. Audiences featured actively through each stage of the thesis and were the subjects of a quantitatively conducted comparative content experiment to test the hypothesis that electoral music constitutes pollution in the Nigerian political space. The ensuing analysis however disproved the assumption and evolved to reassess the overriding thrust on ethnicity within the existing literature of prebendalism.

Notwithstanding the multi-ethnic nature of Nigeria, a political music journal of her nationalism and nationality materialized.