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Author: Alan Waters
Title: Juju
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library

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Source: Juju
Alan Waters

Evanston, IL: Program of African Studies, Northwestern University
no. 3, pp. 14, 1992
Author Biography: Alan Waters is a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study and Research in the African Humanities at Northwestern University, a graduate student in the Committe on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, and a freelance musician living in Chicago.



Christopher Waterman, Juju: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990, 277 pp.

Christopher Waterman's study of the juju music of Nigeria gives an account of the historical development of this expressive idiom in relation to the complex of social, religious, political, economic and musical forces that have shaped it. It also provides a description—based on fieldwork within the Ibadan music scene during the early 1980s—of the way of life, the aesthetic consciousness, and the local environment of working juju bands and musicians. This musicological study combines a social-historical approach with ethnographic-interpretive considerations in its treatment of a modern, urban African musical form. It should be of interest to anyone concerned with Nigerian history, Yoruba aesthetics, or the popular culture of contemporary West Africa. Waterman's approach exercises a type of materialist ethnomusicology; he is advising us to relate aesthetic experiences and musical processes to the specific social formations and historical moments in which they occur.

The first half of the book explains how juju music emerged from a cluster of styles that converged in Lagos in the 1920s and 1930s, including ashiko, apala, highlife, brass band music, sakara, and the palm wine genre. Lagos was economically linked to Europe, North America, and other African commercial centers; its growing class of immigrant laborers constituted a religiously and culturally diverse population; the city was a center for the dissemination of syncretic musical ideas and practices. Repatriated Afro-Brazilians and Afro-Cubans brought instruments, rhythmic ideas, and other musical concepts that were already comprised of various African and some Western elements. Islamicized musical cultures reached Lagos from the North. Styles that were precursors of juju developed to fit the musical needs of this mixed and fluctuating populace.

Waterman's historical chapters provide perspective on the form in which juju music first gained access to a broad international market outside of Africa. Waterman's description of the evolution of juju from these earlier styles through its formative period of the 1940s and 1950s shows that juju performances only gradually became the high-powered, spectacular events that we recognize today. The early juju music of such artists as Tunde King and Ayinde Bakare was made by small groups of three or four musicians who played banjo, tambourine, and a shaker or rattle. Over time the instrumentation came to include the accordion and the square-framed samba drum, and, as bands became bigger, the traditional Yoruba iron bell, a beer bottle, or a type of bongos called 'double toy' supplied additional rhythms. The Yoruba talking drum (dundun) and the line of multiple guitars did not come about until the late 1950s and 1960s. Juju took over Christian hymns, Yoruba praise songs, fishermen's tunes, and palm wine guitar techniques, fusing them together within a recreational genre that was adapted to such situations as urban bars, weddings, namings, funerals, housewarmings, and social parties for either the colonial ruling class or the black elite of Lagos. It was crucial for artists to develop patronage networks, and yet, when they succeeded, few were able to move beyond semi-professional music-making. Waterman describes the founding generations of juju musicians as "cultural brokers in a heterogeneous urban environment" and credits them with helping to devise a pan-Yoruba culture centered in Lagos. The tape that accompanies this book gives some excellent examples of what these groups sounded like.

In 1982, King Sunny Ade began his recording contract with Island Records of London. His band was large, with fifteen or more members; the music was dominated by electric guitars and talking drums; the talking drums were mic-ed closely and were loud; Hawaiian steel guitar, a battery of supporting percussion, and the rhythm section of drum-set and bass guitar gave an impression of a vast, sprawling entourage of dancers, musicians, and singers. Waterman characterizes juju music as melding the old and the new. One of its distinctive traits is the incorporation of new and foreign elements—King Sunny now tours using a Roland DX-7 keyboard and a percussion set-up including timbales and splash cymbals, using them not only musically but also to add to the prestige and social standing of the band leader. Innovations in juju freshen the music and enhance the reputation of the leader as original and exploratory.

The second half of Juju (chapters 5-7) takes a close look at juju bands and musicians in Ibadan during the 1980s. Waterman discusses bands as business and social enterprises. He observes that juju bands function economically as a type of specialized craft-group. He describes the venues and social settings in which juju bands perform, and makes some suggestive remarks about how juju music feeds into a "nocturnal ethos" that pervades urban nightlife. Waterman provides a dramatic minute-by-minute breakdown of what happens during a band's performance at a funeral in Ogbomoso. (The audio cassette contains the sound recording of this very segment of the performance.) He correlates chord changes, rhythmic variations, the intertwining of sung and drummed messages, with audience response, the 'spraying' of money, excitement on the dance floor, and with the smooth exhibition of status and wealth on the part of the party's sponsor and host. Here he demonstrates how a juju performance is also an instance of economic redistribution.

One of Waterman's central themes is that the aural and bodily appeal of the music stems from its power "to create distinctive domains of experiential time." It does this through polyrhythms, multiple textures, open-ended song formats, and through the musicians' "skilled control over the temporal elasticities that make rhythms roll." He argues that the music generates social contexts and meanings as much as it occurs within these contexts and is derived from them. Waterman also observes the music's ideological function—in which Yoruba values are linked with a nascent bourgeois aspiration for wealth and accumulation. He ties the burgeoning of modern juju music to Nigeria's oil boom, and argues that a juju performance enacts values that are illusory and unattainable for the majority of people in contemporary Nigeria. The social meaning of juju music, according to this view, is directly linked to middle class images of opulence and upward mobility. In the last chapter, he contrasts the acceptance of economic inequality displayed in juju music with Fela's confrontational and rebellious afro-beat style.

Waterman combines the sensibility of a musician with that of an ethnographer. The chapters on Ibadan are musician-centered and based on Waterman's direct involvement with bandleaders, promoters, drummers, bandsmen, etc. But Juju is also a critique of the social conditions that have given rise to and have sustained juju music. While Waterman often achieves a subtlety in conjoining these aims, at certain points they merely sit side-by-side as two unintegrated intentions. Waterman's book fits with John Nunley's study of art and politics in Freetown, Moving With the Face of the Devil (1987), with David Coplan's work on South African theater and music, In Township Tonight! (1985), and with Karin Barber's monograph, "Popular Arts in Africa" (African Studies Review, 1987). Waterman succeeds in developing this new domain of research. His book remains responsible toward those who make and use the music while addressing broader issues of power, history, and economics. It is an important contribution to the merger of musicology and social theory.

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