“Exploring the Exceptional in Local Contexts of Music Making: A Study of Ethnic Minority Musicians in South-South Nigeria”

Among the Edo, a cluster of ethnic minorities in South- South Nigeria, there is a rich tradition of guitar bands that grew from and still has strong attachments to local music roots. This guitar band tradition has produced several musicians; some very remarkable and successful, others typical. Yet, the status of these musicians and their musical typologies fall out of line: They are not part of mainstream pop stars playing specific genres that fall in line; they are not cover bands and they are not local musicians in the narrow sense of the word. Rather, these musicians exist as celebrities within local and Diasporic contexts. This paper, which derives from a recent ethnographic research among the Edo asks: What constitutes the framework of the exceptional in the music of these musicians? How is this outlier group represented in the history of Nigerian music and by extension, the history of African music? Is ethnic minority or majority status a factor in determining the exceptional? The paper attempts to answer these questions with specific reference to the three main musicians of this tradition.


Dr. Austin Emielu holds a Ph.D. degree in the Performing Arts with music as area of emphasis. He began his academic career at the Department of the Performing Arts, University of Ilorin, Nigeria in 2001. He worked there as a tenured faculty for fifteen years until his appointment in 2015 as Associate Professor of music at the School of Visual and Performing Arts, Kwara State University, Malete, Nigeria. Dr. Austin teaches courses in African music, Afro-American music, popular music and music production. His research interests are in African popular music and music education. He has written and published extensively in international journals like Popular Music, British Journal of Music Education (published by Cambridge University Press) and African Music (published by the International Library of African Music, Rhodes University). He is the author of the book Nigerian Highlife Music which was published by the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization in 2013. He is a Fellow of the African Humanities Program (AHP) of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and member of several learned societies including the Society for Ethnomusicology, Association of Nigerian Musicologists and the African Studies Association.