As with lots of countries, Nigerian traditional music is similar to folk. Little is known about the country’s music history prior to European contact, although bronze carvings dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries have been found depicting musicians and their instruments.
Work songs are a common type of traditional Nigerian music. They help to keep the rhythm of workers in fields, river canoes and other fields. Women use complex rhythms in housekeeping tasks, such as pounding yams to highly ornamented music. In the northern regions, farmers worked together on each other’s farms and the host was expected to supply musicians for his neighbours.
The most common format for music in Nigeria is the call and response choir, in which a lead singer and a chorus interchange verses, sometimes accompanied by instruments that either shadow the lead text or repeat and ostinato vocal phrase. The southern area features complex rhythms and solo players using melody instruments, while the north more typically features polyphonic wind ensembles. The extreme north region is associated with monolithic (i.e., single-line) music with an emphasis on drums, and tends to be more influenced by Islamic music.