“I’m pumped!” says 25-year-old Kingsley Okorie of Nigerian highlife duo The Cavemen when I ask him how he’s feeling. It’s unsurprising: following their official debut in 2020, there has been consistent cause for excitement for him and his brother (and bandmate) Benjamin James.
The duo has garnered critical acclaim, embarked on their first headline tour across major cities in Nigeria, played shows in Ghana and London, and built a fiercely dedicated fanbase. Yet what is most important to them is that they have successfully introduced a new generation to their contemporary form of 1950s Nigerian highlife music. “Now it feels cool to say that you are listening to The Cavemen. This level of recognition [for highlife music] would not have been the same a few years back,” says Kingsley over Zoom from “The Cave,” a nickname for the band’s home in Lagos, Nigeria.
Highlife is a music genre that merges local West African dialects and fusions with uptempo synths and elements of jazz, funk, and rock. Though it originates in 19th century Ghana, the nomadic style arrived on Nigeria’s music scene in the 1950s, swiftly joining Juju music as a prominent genre thanks to stars like Bobby Benson, Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson, and Roy Chicago. On the one hand, the sound formed a significant part of social life at the time due to its impact on nightlife culture. On the other, its increasing popularity paralleled one of the country’s most pivotal periods in history. Essentially, it was the soundtrack against which Nigeria’s revolution and evolution took place.