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Praise-Singing in the North

Praise-Singing in the North

, Praise-Singing in the North
Performers in Kano record a music video calling for a peaceful election. Credit: AP Photo/Ben Curtis. From

In northern Nigeria, the culture of praise-singing has persevered through time. The region’s music has always consisted largely of praise-singing in favour of politicians and traditional leaders. Singers from past generations like Dr Mamman Shata, who was known for his strong political views, used his music to galvanize support for his political party, the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU). Dan Marayan Jos also sang consistently in support of the Sardauna of Sokoto. Alhaji Dankwairo was another musician who thrived during this time and sang the praises of Sir Ahmadu Bello.

Hausa songs are often at their peak in both the year of general elections and the year preceding it, spreading like wild fire through the streets. These songs string out the politician’s virtues like Christmas lights, rendering their manifesto in an informal, relatable manner that endears them to people.

During the last gubernatorial elections in Kano State, many musicians sang in favour of both contestants, especially Abba GidaGida. It was impossible to walk through any major street in Kano at night that year and not hear music praising Abba GidaGida.

In colonial and post-colonial Nigeria, local singing was inclined towards social justice. One major proponent of this genre was Barmani Choge, from Katsina State, who was known for her songs about women empowerment and issues concerning women. At some point, she sang of politicians and was very impactful at it. Women, reportedly, were encouraged by her singing to register to vote. A popular song chronicles how Barmani Choge went to perform at a wedding ceremony and, by the time she was done, women poured out of the wedding venue and headed to the office of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) to register as members.

A verse from the song goes:

Daga gidan biki, sai ofishin PRP

From the wedding house, to the office of the PRP. . . .

These songs were usually accompanied by the beating of calabashes, stuffed with clothes, water, or even another rubber bowl, in order to produce unique sounds.

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, Praise-Singing in the North
Damilola Marcus, the founder and spokesperson of Operation Legalise Abortion (OLA). Credit: Gallery Infinity.

The male praise-singers approached sound differently: the beating of talking drums similar to the ones used by the Yoruba, tucked under their armpits; the blowing of Kakaki, locally made trumpets; the beating of wide, wooden Ganga drums; and string instruments like Goje. Sometimes, there is only the humming of background voices or choruses.

Contemporary praise singers like Adam A. Zango, who doubles as a leading actor in Kannywood, Ali Jita, whose love songs have become household lines, and Naziru Muhammad have moved towards a modern, electronic sound.

In northern Nigeria, the praise singing industry is a very influential one.

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