THE HIGHLIFE OF PIDGIN
The Highlife music tradition was the first in Nigerian popular music to embrace Pidgin as a vehicle. Noted for its irresistible dance floor pull, Highlife continues to be a highly enjoyed music form in Nigeria. However, its glory days were in the decades before and just after Nigeria’s independence from Britain, whose colonizing influence anchored the development of Nigerian Pidgin, or ‘Broken,’ as it is more popularly known.
Due to its roots in jazz and military marching bands, highlife compositions were usually very well structured, being lent that extra, unique, defining flavour by Nigerian artistes to make the music all their own. Whether as the big band or the smaller ‘guitar band’ combo variety, the legacy of highlife was to produce a generation of virtuosos whose professionalism and instrumental and vocal virtuosity has probably not been equalled since then.
Captured on recordings, this generation gave us the classic evergreen songs of Highlife greats like Rex Lawson, Victor Olaiya and Eddie Okonta, which constitute the target of endless cover versions, remixes and sampling by present-day artistes. Pidgin songs like Lawson’s Sawa Sawa and Baby Pancake remain bonafide ‘earworms’ that are ever in loop in our collective musical subconscious.
Realizing that people are wont to arrive at a much quicker appreciation of a new language when they are exposed to its songs, record labels should make it standard prctice to translate artistes' songs into Standard English on CD liner notes and websites as a promotional tool for their audiences, to introduce them to Nigerian Pidgin.
No gainsaying as long as Pidgin lives, Highlife lives on.
Celestine Chukwu is the author of the first ever dictionary of Nigerian colloquialism, A Dictionary of Nigerian Pidgin & Slang [published by Poets of Africa Resource (0806-350-1793)]