The Nigerian music industry undoubtedly has some of the most internationally recognized musicians in Africa. This is due to their uncanny ability to churn out hit songs after hit songs and the ability to make genre-bending hit songs. This post highlights top 10 Nigerian musicians with international fame.
Nigerian musicians are some of the most sought after musicians by foreign musicians who keep reaching out for collaboration. A perfect example is a viral video of Tpain doing a remix to a Wande Coal song and calling a friend to try to reach out to the afro-pop pioneer for a collaboration. These feats would have been a mere dream if not for some Nigerian musicians who laid the groundwork for these achievements.
Decades ago, Nigerian musicians like Juju music legend King Sunny Ade and Afrobeat legend and pioneer Fela Anikulapo Kuti became global superstars, selling out various event centres in other African countries, the US, and Europe. Their music broke down all musical barriers due to its uniqueness and message with King Sunny Ade becoming the first Nigerian musician to ever receive a Grammy Award nomination.
Over the years, various Nigerian musicians have also been nominated for the Grammy awards and other international awards and also won them. Because of this, I have compiled a list of the Top 10 Nigerian musicians with international fame. The criterion of this list is based on international reputation and acceptance of individual artists’ music on the international scene. Hence, if you have a contrary opinion, kindly drop a comment in the comments section below.
Below is my list of top 10 Nigerian musicians with international fame:
10. Tiwa SavageEmbed from Getty Images
Undoubtedly the biggest female musician in Africa, The pop singer broke into the Nigerian music scene in 2012 with hit songs like Kele Kele Love, Eminado, Love Me, and many other hit songs. Her debut album “Once upon a time” was released to much critical acclaim and commercial success. The album earned her an album of the year award at the 2014 Nigerian entertainment awards and an award for best R&B/pop album at the 2014 headies awards.
In 2016 Tiwa Savage signed a management and publishing deal with Jay-z’s Roc Nation. in 2018 she became the first woman to win the Best African art award at the MTV Europe music awards. Tiwa Savage is currently signed to the world-renowned record label, Universal music group under which she has released two successful music projects.
9. DbanjEmbed from Getty Images
Oladapo Oyebanjo popularly known as Dbanj is an afrobeat singer, songwriter, and harmonica player who debuted in the Nigerian music scene in 2004 alongside the iconic music producer Don Jazzy. Dbanj and Don Jazzy formed Mo Hits record and in 2005 they released Dbanj’s debut album ‘No Long Thing’. The album with smash hits like ‘Tongolo and Mobolowowon’ was a commercially successful album and ushered in a new era in the Nigerian Afrobeat era. Dbanj achieved huge popularity with his female fans, this was further boosted by his Koko Master persona.
Dbanj went on to release two more albums over the next couple of years including his third album ‘The Entertainer‘. Entertainer became Dbanj’s most successful album to date and also earned him an award for Best African art at the MTV Europe music awards in 2007.
Dbanj made his international breakthrough with his hit song Oliver Twist in 2010, the single peaked at number 2 on the U.K singles chart in 2011. The success of the single opened Dbanj up to a new fan base in the United Kingdom and America. In 2011 he signed his first international deal with Kanye West’s Good music and in 2012 he signed a record deal with Sony Music.
8. P-SquareEmbed from Getty Images
The music duo is made up of twin brothers Peter and Paul. P-Square made their debut in the Nigerian entertainment scene in 2003 with their hit single ‘Senorita’. Though they received praise for their singing, what made them very popular with the fans was their dancing and choreographed dance performances.
In 2005, the duo received more popularity with the commercially successful and critically acclaimed album ‘Get squared’. With hit songs like Busy Body, Omoge Mi, and Temptation, they won their way into the hearts of Nigerians and Africans in general.
P-Square gained international recognition after their collaboration with Senegalese American singer Akon. The success of the collaboration opened the door to more collaborations with American musicians like Rick Ross and Dave Scott.
7. Femi KutiEmbed from Getty Images
The Afrobeat singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and son of Afrobeat pioneer, Fela Kuti, started his musical career playing as a backup saxophonist in his father’s band. After the death of his father, he became the leader of the Egypt 80 and decided to carry on his father’s legacy. However, in 1980 he created his own band called positive force. His fifth album titled Fight to Win features American rap legends Mos def and common. With four Grammy nominations, Femi Kuti has the most Grammy nominations for any Nigerian musician.
6. 2face IdibiaEmbed from Getty Images
Innocent Idibia popularly known as 2face or 2baba is a Nigerian R&B singer and songwriter and one-third of the defunct Plantashun boyz. The singer began his solo career after leaving Plantashun boyz in 2004. 2face released his debut single as a solo artist. The song titled African Queen became a National hit and is still Nigeria’s biggest and most successful R&B song.
Building on the success of “African Queen”, he released his debut album titled Face to Face to commercial success and critical acclaim. The album became a hit in Africa, the US, and Europe due to the success of the single “African Queen”. In 2005, he became the first African musician to win the MTV Europe music awards for best African art. This opened the door for other Nigerian and African musicians, making African pop songs more internationally acceptable.
In 2010, 2face once again broke international barriers with his album ‘The Unstoppable’ international edition. He won a Channel O music video award and two awards for best male art and artist of the year at the MTV Africa Music Awards.
5. King Sunny AdeEmbed from Getty Images
Juju pioneer and legend King Sunny Ade is a Nigerian singer, songwriter, and guitarist who made his professional debut as a solo musician in 1967 and became a household name by 1970. His album ‘Synchro System’ released in 1983 under the international label Island Records featured the hit single ‘Motimo’. It earned him his first Grammy award nominations and also Nigeria’s first-ever Grammy nomination.
In 1998 he released his ‘Odu’ which featured the hit songs ‘Aye Nreti Eleya Mi and ‘Eri Okan’ to critical acclaim and commercial success. The album earned him his second Grammy nomination, he also became the first African artist to be nominated for the award twice. Dubbed as one of the greatest band leaders ever in a New York times publication, King Sunny Ade has performed all over Europe and America and remains one of the most prolific musicians out of the African continent.
4. Fela Anikulapo KutiEmbed from Getty Images
Number four Nigerian musician with international recognition is the Afrobeat creator and pioneer Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He was an Afrobeat singer, songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and activist. Renowned for his eclectic performance and skill with the saxophone, the singer became a national sensation with his band, ‘Koola Lobitos’, in the early 60s performing a fusion of highlife and jazz music.
However, in the 70s, his musical direction changed after forming his new band called Africa 70. He began to perform a fusion of various genres of music which he called afrobeat. Fela’s music, mainly sang in pidgin English and Yoruba, contained lyrics that heavily criticized social ills, the government and promoted Africanism. Although his music was popular amongst the people, Fela became a target of the Nigerian government and was arrested and jailed multiple times.
Fela’s album, ‘Zombie’, released in 1977 caused him and his family to receive heavy backlash from the Nigerian military government due to the heavy criticism they received from the song. In Zombie, Fela practically likened those who were in the military to zombies because they had no mind of their own and just followed orders. The song caused the military to invade and destroy Fela’s home, arresting and beating up the musician and other occupants of the residence.
The attack also led to Fela’s mother Mrs Funmi Ransome Kuti from being thrown over a story building. She died as a result of injuries sustained from the fall. Fela never forgave the Nigerian government and blamed them for his mother’s death. He continued to release music heavily criticizing and insulting the government. He became an international sensation touring various countries in America and Europe. Fela also inspired a new generation of Nigerian musicians and influenced the Afrobeats style of music. He is heavily regarded as the most influential musician to ever come out of Nigeria.
3. DavidoEmbed from Getty Images
David Adeleke popularly called Davido is an afrobeat singer, songwriter, and music producer. Davido broke into the Nigerian music industry at the young age of 18 with his hit single, ‘Back When’, featuring Nigerian veteran rapper Naeto C. He followed up the release of the single with a more successful hit song titled Dami Duro. The fast tempo dance tune became a national hit and launched the young musician into superstardom.
Davido released his commercially successful debut album ‘OBO’ in 2012 and won the award for next-rated artist at the Headies Awards. He signed a record deal with Sony Music in 2016 and assumed creative control of his music in 2016. He released his first single after taking a hiatus from the music scene for a year. The song titled “If” became an instant hit and won the song of the year award at the Headies.
Davido followed it with another hit single ‘Fall’ just a few months after. Both singles charted both nationally and internationally with ‘Fall’ charting for months on the Billboard charts. The song became the first Nigerian song to be certified gold in the US.
He continued dominating the charts with his third and fourth studio albums ‘A good time’ and ‘A better time’. He sold out the O2 Arena in the UK in 2019. He has also collaborated with several American artists, amongst which are Chris Brown, Nas, Nicki Minaj, Yung Thug, and Dababy.
2. Burna BoyEmbed from Getty Images
Damini Ogulu, popularly known as Burna Boy, made his professional debut in the Nigerian music scene in 2012 with his breakout single ‘Like to Party’. It became a hit song immediately after it was premiered. Burna Boy received praise for the song for bringing a fresh style of R&B sound to the Nigerian music industry mainly dominated by the Afrobeats style of music.
In his subsequent musical releases, Burna Boy established himself as a versatile musician with hit songs like Tonight, Run My Race, and Yawa Dey. He released his debut album titled ‘L.I.F.E’ in 2013 to commercial success and critical acclaim. He was praised for his unique style and ability to blend different genres of music together. Burna Boy successfully fused R&B, dancehall, and afrobeat styles of music.
In 2017, Burna Boy signed a contract with Universal Music and Warner Music Group and released his sophomore album and first major international release. The album, titled ‘Outside’, became a major success mostly due to the popularity of its third promotional single ‘Ye’. The song became a big hit and was covered by different musicians all over the world. It debuted at number 3 on the Billboards reggae album chart. It earned him an album of the year award at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards.
Burna Boy also won the BET award for the best international act. More international success came with the singer’s third and fourth albums which were both nominated for the Grammy awards. Burna boy has gone on to sell out and tour major stages in the US, United Kingdom, and Europe. He has also performed at the prestigious Coachella concert.
My number one Nigerian musician with international recognition is one truly worthy of note, Ayo Balogun, popularly known as Wizkid. He came to the limelight in 2010 with his debut single ‘Holla at Your Boy”. The song became popular among teenagers and girls, making Wizkid a household name from the get-go. Wizkid released two more singles, ‘Don’t Dull’ and ‘Tease Me’, under Nigerian record label EME Records, which further launched him into stardom.
Upon the release of his fourth single ‘Pakurumo’ and debut album ‘Superstar’, Wizkid had already become the biggest young superstar in Nigeria. His fan base grew from teenagers and girls to adult men and women and even parents. The album won him an award for album of the year at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards. He also won the award for next rated artist at the headies award.
Wizkid remains a household name, dropping hits after hits and touring the United Kingdom and America. His collaboration with Drake further established him as an international act. The song ‘One dance’ peaked at number one on the Billboard charts, making it Wizkid’s first appearance on the Billboard charts.
Wizkid released his third studio album ‘Sound From the Other Side’, under American record label RCA Records, featuring various American musicians. Though the album wasn’t well-received, it laid the groundwork for his album ‘Made in Lagos’.
Wizkid’s song, Essence, featuring Nigerian singer and producer Tems became the first Nigerian song to chart on the Billboard charts. It has also become an international hit with a remix of the song featuring Justin Bieber released on the Deluxe version of the album. Wizkid also featured on Beyonce’s song, ‘Brown Skin Girl’, which earned him his first Grammy award.