At independence in October 1960, Nigeria had no indigenous recording company. Decca, was the only reputable recording company doing business in the country. It recorded and distributed well known highlife musicians, such as Bobby Benson, Eddy Okonta, Kula Lobito( Fela’s 1st band) and Ebenezer Obey.
However, there was a boom in the recording business in the country immediately after the civil war in early 1970s. Two prominent foreign recording companies EMI Records and Polygram Records built big pressing plants in Lagos to cater for Nigerian artistes coming out from the civil war.
EMI Records churned out many Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s albums, which were very successful not only in Nigeria but also in Europe, America and other African countries.
EMI Records also recorded and distributed Sonny Okosun, Bongos Ikwue and The Grooves, Christie Essien and Dizzy K Falola, all of whom were big stars in the 1970s and 1980s.
On the other hand, Polygram Records recorded and promoted many Nigerian musicians including Stephen Osita Osadebe, Victor Uwifo, Voice Of The Cross (a gospel duet), Onyeka Onwenu and some other afro pop artistes. It also brought reggae music to limelight in the country by recording and promoting foremost Nigerian reggae artistes such as Ras Kimono, Ortis Wiliky, and The Mandators.
An Igbo entrepreneur Chief G.A.D. Tabansi saw a great opportunity in the recording business and set up the first indigenous record company in Nigeria ‘Tabansi Records’. It was a formidable record company in the 1970s and 1980s that recorded and brought many artistes to limelight including Bony Mark, Felix Liberty, Jide Obi and Majek Fashek.
Other indigenous recording companies sprang up in quick succession in the 1970s; these include Rogers All Stars, Melody Records, Olumo Records and Polydor Records. They all made great impact in the 1970s and 1980s recording big artistes like Chris Okotie, Nico Mbarga, Chris Mba, King Sunny Ade, Oliver De Quoque and Captain Muddy Ibe.
Unfortunately, by the late 1980s, the economic fortunes of these recording companies have started to dwindle occasioned by the structural adjustment programme introduced by the military leadership in the mid 1980s, coupled with the high rate of piracy made possible by the importation of hi-tech record/cassette duplicating equipments from the Asian countries.
By early 1990s, the expatriate recording companies such as EMI Records, Polygram Records and CBS Records sold their pressing plants and left the country for other economic viable countries such as South Africa and Kenya.
However, indigenous investors that bought these record companies tried to no avail to maintain the standards set by their former owners. By 1990s, Polygram Records has metamorphosed into Premier Music, EMI Records was renamed Ivory Music while CBS Records became Sony Music.
Nevertheless, these companies recorded many artistes who made waves in the 1990s including Shina Peters, Daniel Wilson and Blacky.
Today the dice is cast; piracy has continued to affect the business of making genuine records in Nigeria. The economy is bad, and corruption has continued to increase. Most of the record companies that boosted the music industry in the 1970s and 1980s have become moribund. What is in vogue now is label owning, most artistes now have their own labels to distribute their records. However, the network of private labels are usually not wide, and so record making and selling is mostly limited to the area an artiste is able to cover here in Nigeria.
Emeka E. Okeke.