The music industry in Nigeria has for long been blessed with genres that have strong cultural infusions: Juju, Fuji, Afrobeat, and Highlife for instance. And these culturally-oriented songs remain popular till the present day. Perhaps because they are highly danceable and entertaining so to speak. And not surprisingly, they have become a medium for social and moral instruction: to question social ills, to emphasize the best ideals of our society; to praise people who have shown exemplary conduct; to exalt tradition; even as a prayer medium.
Highlife music is one such highly sought-after and evergreen variety of music native to West Africa and Nigeria – particularly the South-East and South-South regions of Nigeria. And to attest to the undying legacy of highlife music, we move to celebrate the story and songs of the Umu Obiligbo brothers of Anambra state. The music pair have taken the blend of characteristic Igbo world view and highlife to an interesting level that has commanded awards in the Nigerian music scene since 2014.
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About Highlife Music
Highlife music that recently acquired the Umu Obiligbo brothers as ambassadors, actually originated in Ghana sometime towards the later part of the 19th Century. When it first debuted, highlife was a favorite of the very creme-de-la-creme, high networth citizens who had money to spend in the clubs and entertainment arenas of colonial Ghana where the poor elite dared not enter. Hence the name ‘highlife’. The Ghanaians eagerly carried their brand of highlife along with them everywhere they went across the West African landscape – to Nigeria, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia and others.
The unmistakable blend of rhythms produced from brass wind instruments, particularly trumpets, saxophones and their cousins (typical of jazz) fused with guitars became so appealing and easy to swing to – even if you lack the zeal to dance. Proponents of highlife music in Nigeria include the likes of Stephen Osita Osadebe, Oliver de Coque, Nico Mbarga, Victor Uwaifo, Bright Chimezie, Tony Grey, Zubi Enebeli, Sonny Okosun, Sunny Neji, Chinendu Okoli (Flavour N’abania) and so many others both past and contemporary, whose endearing songs have simply refused to fade away.
Origins: Who are the Umu Obiligbo Brothers?
Ifeanyichukwu Ogbuozor Obiligbo and Chukwuebuka Akunwafor Obiligbo, both siblings, were born, bred and schooled in Nkpor-Agu area of Anambra state, but hail from Nteje community (of the same state). And no, they are not twins. As of the current year, both brothers are still single. Their birth dates are not known; however their estimated ages (which is not specific) lies somewhere between 28 and 32 years old.
Their father, Chief Akunwafor Ajana Obiligbo, an Igbo highlife musician in Eastern Nigeria, was born to Chief Ezigbo Obiligbo, a renown Ekpili musician quite famous in the 1970s. General Yakubu Gowon (the Nigerian Head of State at that time) so much adored Ezigbo Obiligbo’s music that he was reported to have gifted the talented musician a Peugeot 504 car after one epic performance – that was sometime around 1973 or 1974. At least four generations of music prowess laid the foundation for the duo’s career many decades later.
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However, Umu Obiligbo did not grow up pampered as such – they knew the streets and were raised in a middle-class home. They attest to their songs being inspired by their experiences amongst the common folk within the community where they grew up. They listened to the Ogene players of Nkpor-Agu with glee, and later joined them to perform during native festivals. The townsfolk of that time believed they were not serious kids. Nor did they make so much money at the time they started off on their own, playing a brand of Egwu Ekpili music which stood out sharply in their first Album ‘Ife Di Mma’. But their eventual collaborations with other afrobeat and highlife music icons of the present day brought them into limelight.
Their first-ever collaboration was with Flavour N’abania in their debut album ‘Awele’.Their move towards a modernized version of Egwu Ekpili music was seen by traditional Igbo music lovers as distasteful at first; but they have defended this necessary move as inevitable in a changing world. The brothers subsequently decided to showcase a combination of Highlife and Afrobeat rhythms. Rich in Igbo proverbs, cultural beliefs, admonitions, and advice for their listeners, their music also incorporates native percussion instruments such as the Ekwe (hollow drum) and Oja (wooden flute).
Umu Obiligbo: Rise to Fame
Umu Obiligbo began their musical journey in 2014 with their debut album ‘Ife Di Mma’ released in February; which was soon followed by a second album titled ‘Udo Ga Di’ in December of the same year. They went ahead to release the album ‘Awele’ in 2018; then ‘Signature (Ife Chukwu Kwulu)’ in 2020 – the ‘Signature’ album earned them the Best African Group Award at the Nigerian Musik Magazine Awards (AFRIMMA) in 2020. The talented duo have also collaborated with other music stars and celebrities like Flavour N’abania, Basketmouth, Phyno, Davido, Humble Smith, Zorro, Victor AD, and Larry Gaaga. Even more, they are talented stage performers. They have developed a penchant for releasing hit songs around December of every year – their latest song ‘Anwuli’ (Joy) released in December 2022 was a song of thanksgiving to God for their safe and successful journey so far.
They are presently signed under the Universal Music Group record label. As at 2023, they are reputed to have an estimated combined worth of at least 20 Million Naira. The Spotify music site reports their fan base and number of monthly listeners to have risen up to over 50,000.
Top 10 Umu Ogbilibo Songs so far
The music duo of Umu Obiligbo have to their credit at least 28 major albums. For a sample, here are the top 10 Umu Obiligbo songs of all time (in no particular order):
- I Pray
- Udo Ga Adi
- Egwu Ebubedike
- Ugbo Amala
- Ogu Ajoka
Here’s 5 More You’ve Gotta Listen To If You’re a Fan
- Nkasi Obi
- Fine Bobo
- Ife Di Mma
- Olisa Biko Zoba Anyi
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