Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Igbo Minstrel




There is a parallel universe of popular music in Nigeria that exists mostly unknown to the international audience that listens to Fela, King Sunny Ade and other World Music™ icons. It consists of the innumerable amateur and semi-professional musicians and performing troupes who contribute so much to the richness of village and neighborhood life. While most of these artists remain unheralded outside of their own localities, enough have been recorded that traditional, or "Native Blues" music is a significant part of the Nigerian music industry.

One such artist is the legendary Igbo musician Chief Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo, who was born on August 10, 1904 in the city of Nteje near Onitsha in eastern Nigeria. He apparently died sometime in the '80s. Some years ago a friend of mine loaned me one of his LPs, which I dubbed to a 10" tape reel. Unfortunately, the record had a bad warp, and the first tracks on Side 1 and 2 were unplayable. As best I can remember (the written notations I made have been lost) the album was entitled Egwu Ogbada and was on the Melody label.

So that's where things stood until a few years ago, when I was able to digitize Egwu Ogbada and a number of other recordings. Obiligbo's music lay further neglected on my hard drive until a few months ago when my friend Ed Keazor posted a very interesting write-up about the great artiste on his Facebook page. It occurred to me that Ed could not only identify the tracks, but provide first-hand insight into their meaning and context for Likembe readers and listeners. Here are his thoughts:
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For those who are unaware, Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo was a famous minstrel (Akunwafor being his traditional Ozo title) whose career spanned the period 1940 till his death in the early 80's. Obiligbo was a master lyricist, composer, poet and exponent of the Ekpili style and master of the native thumb piano (ubo) similar to the mbira of Southern Africa, but marginally different in the flat tapered metal key arrangements and the variations in size from smaller sized version to the larger varieties used by more contemporary performers like the popular transvestite performer Area Scatter.



Ekpili was a style peculiar to the riverine area of Anambra state such as Onitsha, Nsugbe, Nteje, Umuleri, Aguleri etc. The musicians often played alone, singing along central themes of morality, praise singing, sorrow and pain- essentially reflecting the society's heartfelt thoughts. The bigger players often had a native orchestra of sorts with the native maracas, ekwe (gong) and udu (bass claypot) and backing vocals as components. Sometimes for funerals or coronations (ofala) they would add the native drums igba, which were usually employed as part of a distinct style of same name (Igba), which differed to the extent of having the oja (as the lead vocal instrument and voice as chorus). One key element of Obiligbo's Ekpili is the almost ethereal use of the backing vocals as a form of musical instrument either in bass format or even as percussion.

The main difference between Obiligbo's and Area Scatter's music was that the latter was from Owerri area, hence his style was not Ekpili. His singing style was also a faster and more syncopated, rather than melodic, style akin to Igede. His ubo playing style was very similar, however, to up-tempo Ekpili. The simple answer is that the differences were very subtle, being more based on the structural differences inherent in the dialect of the Anambra riverine area and the faster-paced Imo based dialects, which then translated into differences in the musical output.

While he was one of many native musicians, Obiligbo very quickly gained popularity via a thriving local fan-base, performing at funerals, weddings and other traditional ceremonies in and around Nsugbe. His fame grew exponentially, driven by his powerful lyrics - steeped deeply in native idiom and with hugely thought-provoking lyrics - with a fair dash of praise-singing to boot.

Obiligbo left a huge body of work, mostly in the gramophone record format, but many of his greatest works have been preserved, especially those recorded in the pioneering Nigerphone Recording Studios at Onitsha. Owned by the famous Igbo businessmen of the early 20th century, T.C. Onyekwelu, it was the most advanced (if not the only) facility available in the East of Nigeria at the time (the 30’s-50’s) and was the forebear of subsequent recording studios/companies like Rogers All Stars and Tabansi Records. The tracks were subsequently released by Onyekwelu's employee Chief Melody Okpelo through his Melody Record Company.

"Nteje Enyi No Bianya" is a mid tempo easy-listening track. It praises Obiligbo's home-town Nteje and his kinsmen, with names like Emeka Enyiogugu, Chima Mgbogu, Mayor Udenka, Apaka Udealor, Sunday Okeagu, Nweke Ijego, and ends in praise of himself - "Ezigbo Obiligbo Nwa Nteje":


"Odogwu Umuleri" is basically a story (not sure if idiomatic or factual) about Odogwu, a native of Umuleri (Anambra State, Nigeria) who impregnates his mother in furtherance of a money-making ritual. It is a mid-tempo track starting with the standard call and response chorus and quickening into a feverish up-tempo Igba.

Opening: "Ogbondu na ekwu ndi ogbu, Orimili na ekwu ndi oli" ("The waters always reveal who they have consumed") "Odogwu ebulu afo ime ya na aro ato." Chorus: "Oro Misita Odogwu [note the corrupted use of the English title "Mister," used clearly here in derogatory terms] Ewe puta ofu mbosi, ewe muta yabunwa, ewe muaya izu nabu na azu no, mama ya ewe bebe akwa." Odogwu's mother is pregnant for 2 and then 3 years and in labour for 2 weeks. She then bursts into a lament as to her plight, "Have you ever seen any one suffer the way I have?" The community discusses it. "Odogwu answer your mother," they say. "She is lamenting at the back of the house." When she delivers the child, he is asked, "What did you do to this child? Who carries a child for three years?" Odogwu essentially admits that he impregnated his mother for the purpose of a money-making ritual. The chorus then changes to “Ebenebe gbulu odogwu" ("Sacrilege has killed Odogwu.") The song tempo increases on this discovery: "Ndi Umuleri, Atu uwa bili na be unu" - "A horrible evil resides in your midst. Odogwu, the evil child who placed his hands on his mothers womb. Umuleri cleanse yourself of this evil:

"Late Chief TC Onyekwelu" is a great track epitomising once more Obiligbo's typical style. An 11 minute tribute and dirge for the late Chief T.C.Onyekwelu, it starts off with the slow ubo intro and call-and-response chorus, building up to a feverish vocal crescendo. The real power behind this track is the lyrics. The track starts with Obiligbo tracing his relationship with Onyekwelu, back to the first meeting, after Onyekwelu's return from Europe when Onyekwelu invited him to play at an occasion at a location called "Berger," (which is presumed to be a meeting of the ruling regional party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns, which Onyekwelu belonged to), ferrying him to the occasion in a chauffeur driven car and challenging him to perform "wonders with his music" by promoting consensus at the meeting, at which Obiligbo did not disappoint, even affirming that the gathering "agreed to his words." Subsequently Onyekwelu gave him two bags of money as his reward.

He then extols his virtue as his benefactor from that day onwards. He describes a day when he arrives at Onyekwelu's residence to hear the sounds of wailing and sorrow, only to hear of his death, which was confirmed by the look of despair and sorrow on the face of Onyekwelu's wife, whom he describes as Amalu Uche Diya ("she who knows the thoughts of her husband"). He expresses his sorrow with the chorus: "Onyekwelu Onye Ocha, Onyekwelu Ala na zu nwa" ("Onyekwelu a white man; Onyekweku, the breast that feeds the child"). He extols the symbolism, that the burning of Otu Onitsha Market is a huge blow to the Igbos. He further extols Onyekwelu's generosity, by the saying that a stingy man dies dies poor and miserable. The song carries on to give praise to named greats of Igbo land at the time: George Mbonu, Aaron Obijiofor (my children's great-grandfather), Sunday Nwankwo, John Ibeanu and Eze Omenaka. The song then ends after a roll-call of these greats by his repeating his usual refrain- "Okwo Chukwu Ka anyi na gbalu Odibo" ("In spite of wordly wealth, we are all still slaves to God.")

Mention must be made of Melody Okpelo, who is a recurrent mention in Obiligbo's song. Apparently, Melody Okpelo was the owner of Melody Records, Obiligbo's original record company, Onyekwelu's involvement being as financier of this company:

Chief Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo & his Group - Late Chief TC Onyekwelu

"Oyi Mu Ikegbunem" appears to be a dirge, mourning the death of hi friend Godwin Nwa Ukonu (Godwin the son of Ukonu). The lyrics being thus: "Okpelo invited us to go to the town, anyone who needs the record come quickly." He then goes into a roll call of Igbo great and good, inviting them to mourn the dead man: Patrick Nwa (son of) Analiko, Nkwocha na Enugwu Ukwu (Nkwocha of Enugu-Ukwu) "Kanyi na kwa ya" ("let us mourn him") Alfred Nwa Onyiuke (A succcessful businessman of Nimo town) "bia ngwa ngwa" ("come quickly"), Angus Na Abagana (Angus of Abagana- referring to The King of Abagana- Angus Ilonze), "let us mourn him," Ejidike Bread (Mazi Ejidike was the owner of one of the most popular Bakeries in Igboland), Nwafor Orizu (Dr Nwafor Orizu was The Senate President) , Oye Aga Ufoeze, Michael Umeadi (a businessman of Nri in Anambra State):


Download Egwu Ogbada as a zipped file here.


The picture of the ubo above is from Wolfgang Bender's book Sweet Mother: Modern African Music (University of Chicago Press, 1991), which devotes several pages to Chief Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nigeria's Lady of Songs




I'll admit to being a little mystified by the current fascination with the cheesier byways of African music - '70s and '80s Afro-Rock, Afro-Disco and the like. The tracks on Frank Gossner's collection Lagos Disco Inferno, for example, strike me as cheap-sounding and derivative. But what do I know? The first pressing of LDI, released in May, has already sold out. And if you think it's just ironic hipsters in Brooklyn who are boppin' out to this stuff, check out With Comb and Razor or the many Naija message boards out there. They prove that Nigerians of a certain age are still pining for the sounds of Ofege, Harry Mosco and Doris Ebong. It all goes to show that African music, as listened to by Africans themselves, has never been as exalted or "pure" as we outsiders may have once thought.

Back in the day, Christy Essien (later Christy Essien-Igbokwe) was the queen of disco music in Nigeria. She cut her first album, Freedom (Anodisc ALPS 1015, 1976), when she was sixteen, and copies of her '70s pressings today command astronomical prices on Ebay. Essien was just one of a cohort of female singers who made a splash in Nigeria in the '70s & '80s, like Onyeka Onwenu, Patty Boulaye and Martha Ulaeto, and if you want to know more, Uchenna Ikonne discusses them extensively here. According to Uchenna, Essien's 1981 outing Ever Liked my Person? (Lagos International LIR 1), was meant to take her to the next level of international stardom, and it certainly made an impression in Nigeria, where henceforth she would be known as "Nigeria's Lady of Songs."

I present for your perusal two late '80s recordings by Essien-Igbokwe which display her mature sound. Taking my Time (Soul Train Records STR 1) showcases slick production values and plenty of influences from country-western ("Show a Little Bit of Kindness") to makossa (the Yoruba-language "Iya Mi Ranti" and Igbo "Ibu Ndum"). All in all, a pretty decent example of middle-of-the-road Nigerian pop music:











Download Taking My Time as a zipped file here. 1988's It's Time. . . (His Master's Voice HMV 066) is a little less successful in my opinion, being a little too dependent on the synthesizers for my taste. Still, it has its moments:









Download It's Time as a zipped file here. In later years Essien-Igbokwe devoted herself to acting in Nigeria's burgeoning video industry and in November celebrated her fiftieth birthday, an occasion duly noted in the Nigerian media. Here she is today:



Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Unsung Genius of African Music




In a just world, Nigeria's "Gentleman" Mike Ejeagha would be considered one of the giants of African music, accorded the same respect as, say, Congo's Franco or Tanzania's Mbaraka Mwinshehe. As it is, he is barely recognized in his own country, such is his intimate connection to the folklore and culture of his native Enugu. But make no mistake - among the Igbo people Ejeagha is a colossus indeed. His lyrics are full of the parables & shaded meanings that are the essence of Igbo culture. His arrangements & guitar work, in addition, are sublime.

Ejeagha was born August 1932 in Imezi Owa, Eziagu LGA, present-day Enugu State, and learned to play guitar from two fellow residents of the coal-mining camps of Enugu, Moses "Moscow" Aduba and Cyprian Uzochiawa. Around the age of 18, he formed his first musical group, the Merry Makers. Soon he was performing and producing for Nigeria Broadcasting Services, and later joined the Paradise Rhythm Orchestra, a group owned by an Enugu hotelier, and the Leisure Gardens Dance Band. He founded the Rhythm Dandies in 1964, which later changed its name to the Premiers Dance Band. The group was forced to disperse during the Biafran war of independence in the late '60s, but reformed after hostilities ended in 1970.

Since the early 1970s, Mike Ejeagha's musical explorations of Igbo folklore have earned him a much-beloved place in the pantheon of modern Igbo highlife music. Some years ago I posted a discography of his recordings, which my friend Maurice O. Ene circulated among his acquaintances, eliciting these heartfelt comments:


"Let me begin by telling you that I am relieved to know that someone is considering to do a discographic project on the works of Gentleman Mike Ejeagha. I almost wrote my University of Nigeria BA thesis on Ejeagha. But, . . . well, that is a long story I'd rather not tell. To cut it short, I have a modest collection of Oga Ejeagha's songs on tapes. I also have some of his records, including Onye Nwe Ona Ebe, Onye Enwero Ana Ebe (POLP 057) and Akuko N'egwu (POLP 094). Ejeagha's music belongs to a genre of music that I call Igbo Popular Traditional as opposed to Igbo Popular Commercial. The latter to which most highlife music belongs is less faithful to Igbo tradition. That is all I can say about that for now." - JAK.

"I grew up (sort of) with Gentleman Mike Ejeagha. My father, a "master" of the Bachata guitar, taught Mike Ejeagha how to play the guitar - that is, the Spanish Guitar (so I'm told). As a four or five year old, I used to "hang out" with and enjoy them playing together for the "house" at their favorite beer joint on Gunning (Hill?) Road, Abakaliki, enjoying the free time my dad had just shortly after the Nwa-Iboko Obodo trials (my dad was one of the judges on the case at the Abakaliki High Court). Mike Ejeagha visited Abakaliki regularly in those days, spending much time with my dad as they investigated their musical interests together - for both of them it was more of a hobby than anything else. It wasn't until the middle of the sixties that Gentleman Ejeagha was talked into considering music as a profession. In the seventies, when he had become an icon of Igbo folk music, I used to visit with him at Enugu, and listen to him think out loud on the ideas he had of making Igbo folk music larger than life..." - Obi Taiwan

"The Gentleman is a very unique musician. He has been playing for a long time. He used to come and play in Ihe during Christmas festivities. I was only a kid then, but I remember some of his early tunes, 'Okuku Kwaa Uche Echebe Onye Ugwo,' 'King Solomon's Wisdom' and others. I believe these were some of his first songs... He is a phenomenal Musician and an exceptional guitarist. I am not sure he has played any thing recently, but he is still alive and well. Unfortunately, when I inquired about him last time, I was informed that he suffered glaucoma and is clinically blind. I cannot confirm this news yet, and until I do, I refuse to believe that it is true." - Hygi Chukwu
I present here a selection of tunes from several of Ejeagha's albums, with translations by my wife Priscilla Nwakaego. "Yoba Chineke" ("Pray to God") from the LP Ude Egbunam (Philips 6361 074, 1974) is a popular gospel tune in Nigeria. The chorus, "Yoba Chineke, chekwube Chineke, yoba Chineke, ogaazo yi" means "Pray to God, put your hope in God, pray to God, He will save you." Ejeagha sings, "Jesus come and hear our voice. Father who created this world, we your children are calling to you to ask for your help. Have mercy and answer our prayers." He calls on listeners to pray to Chineke (God) every morning and night:


Another song from Ude Egbunam, "Nyelu Nwa Ogbenye Aka," calls on listeners, "Always Try to Help the Poor." Ejeagha states that the poor do all the hard work in the community, and asks if there is anything that happens that they do not play a part in?


"Ikpechakwaa Kam Kpee," from 1975's Onye Ndidi (Philips 6361 110) is one of those Igbo folk songs, riddled with allegory, that almost defy literal translation. The title means "After you tell your side, let me tell my side." Ejeagha sings "Do not let the ngene [a wild animal] impugn my good name." He sings that he saw Ngene grazing on on the turf of Eleh (a deer), but that Ngene lied to Eleh about him, turning him against Ejeagha. In the spoken interlude Ejeagha says, "After the child tells his side, listen to the mother's side," and sings, "When the elephant goes, when mgbadu goes, when my turn came I didn't get what I wanted." The chorus is "Ajabula aja o ma nkwe kwa mee" - "I'm not going to let that happen."

Gentleman Mike Ejeagha & his Premiers Dance Band - Ikpechakwaa Kam Kpee

"Obiako Nnwam (Omenani No. 2)" from Akuko Na Egwu Vol. 1 (Polydor POLP 009, 1976) concerns a great chief and his conflict with his oldest son, Obiako. The chief has come to hate Obiako's mother so much that he can't even stand the sound of her voice. In return Obiako has come to resent his father so much that he has grabbed his igene (the staff that is the source of the chief's status and power) and is threatening to shatter it. The chorus:

Obiako obi nnwam,
Ngekene m igene mu,
Igene mu ji agba mgba
Obulu na be mmuo igene mu na akpa ike ya,
Obulu na be mmadu igene mu na akpa ike ya
means, "Obiako my son, give me back my igene. Even in the land of the dead it is very powerful. Even in the land of the living it is very powerful." Obiako does not understand how his father can hate his mother so much, but his father knows that if Obiako breaks the igene, he himself will die. He gathers the village together to beg him not to break the igene, but Obiako breaks it and dies. The "Omenani" in the title means Igbo folklore.


"Udo Kan Mma," also from Akuko Na Egwu Vol. 1, means "Peace is Better." Ejeagha sings, "Peace is more beautiful. Sibling should not hurt sibling. Friends must not seek to hurt friends. Children of the dead should not hurt children of the living. A wife should not hurt her husband (& vice versa)."




"Onye Nwe Ona Ebe, Onye Enwero Ana Ebe (The Haves Complain, and the Have-Nots Also Complain)" from the 1982 LP Onye Nwe Ona Ebe, Onye Enwero Ana Ebe (Polydor POLP 057) is notable not only for its brilliant guitar work but for its wry social commentary. Ejeagha sings that people with children complain about the trouble they bring, while people who can't have children beg God for any progeny at all. A healthy person complains, but a sickly person wishes for health. Some people say that money is trouble, others say that money doesn't complete a household, while still others say that health is worth more than wealth (ndu ka aku).

"Uche bu akpa onye kolu nke ya, (Ogaba) (ona aga)." In other words, thoughts are like a handbag (akpa). To each their own, and you cannot read someone's mind.

Ejeagha sings that the haves complain that guarding their money is too much trouble, while the have-nots say that their worldly troubles are too much to bear. Healthy people complain that God didn't give them wealth, while the sick pray for health instead of money. He asks, "My friends, do you see how the world is? Nobody is happy where they are."

Finally Ejeagha relates the tale of a wise, wealthy chief, and a poor man who was once well-to-do. The poor man spends his days looking at the chief and his affluent friends, wishing to be like them. The chief remembers that the poor man had once been wealthy himself and had spent much of his riches on those less fortunate, and gives him a big bag of money as a reward.

Soon the formerly-poor man returns the money to the chief, saying "Since you gave me this money I can't sleep, nor eat, nor sit down and rest for worrying that someone will steal my money." The song praises the chief for his great wisdom:


"Praise my good deeds while I'm alive," is the meaning of "Ja'am Mma na Ndu" from the 1983 album of the same name ( Polydor POLP 100). This would seem to allude to the practice of having elaborate funerals for the deceased. Ejeagha sings, "If you love me, show it while I'm alive. Give me something when I'm alive, not when I'm dead. My mouth speaks what I see. I tell the truth and the truth is bitter":

Gentleman Mike Ejeagha & his Premiers Dance Band - Ja'am Mma Na Ndu


Download these songs as a zipped file here.

Thanks once again to my wife Priscilla Nwakaego for her translations, and thanks to Gilbert Hsiao for sending me a rip of Ude Egbunam many years ago. In a future post I will be discussing "Akuko n'Egwu Original," a series of recordings Ejeagha made for Anambra State Broadcasting in the 1980s. If you enjoy the music I've posted here, I would encourage you to check out some of Ejeagha's other recordings, which are available from My African Bargains. Much of the
biographical information in this post is taken from "Life at Old Age is Quite Enjoyable," an interview by Nwagbo Nnenyelike which appeared in The Sun of Lagos, Nigeria on October 15, 2004.



Saturday, October 9, 2010

Shortwave Memories



More Congo classics via Nigeria here! Music From Zaïre Vol. 3 (Soundpoint SOP 041, 1977) opens with "Ngalula Marthe" by Orchestre Elegance Jazz, a song that provokes fond memories among West Africans of a certain age. A quick scan of the internet produces numerous comments about it, including these: ". . .I dreamed of my childhood in Sierra Leone. When I board a public transport like a taxi, private bus, pick trucks travelling to the countryside, this record was the music of the time in Sierra Leone in all these public transportations. . ." ". . . This song typified my happy childhood in the good old days in Nigeria. Late 70s and early 80s, I think. Remembered it being played on the state radio's ikwokilikwo hour in Anambra back them. The best of the classic Congolese music! It's soothing!" ". . . We used to organize dancing competitions with this song back then in Cote d'Ivoire. . ."

As regards the meaning of the lyrics, another listener writes, ". . . Ngalula is the name of a girl in the Kasai culture: Ngalula is special because of her genetic makeup. So is Ntumba from the cultural perispectives. These children were concieved without sex after mother has just had another child. . ."

There's no doubt that this 1972 classic had a broad influence on West African music. Compare the guitar work at around the 3:30 mark to Prince Nico Mbarga's "Sweet Mother," released in 1976:


Here's another song evoking the feeling of something you'd hear over a shortwave radio late at night. I'm not the only one who's looked high and low for part two of "Yokolo," but according to Alistair Johnston's discography of Docteur Nico it is avaliable only on two 45s (Editions Sukisa S.500 & Ngoma DNJ 5274) issued in the late '60s. To the best of my knowledge the only album Part 1 is available on is Music From Zaïre Vol. 3. A rarity indeed!


Nyboma Mwan'dido made his musical debut in 1969 at the age of 16, and was recruited by the musician and promoter Kiamuangana Verckys to Orchestre Bella-Bella in 1971, and subsequently to Orchestre Lipua-Lipua. "Kamalé'" proved to be such a smash for Lipua-Lipua and its lead singer that in 1975 Nyboma split from Verckys to form his own band, Les Kamalé, which notched a series of hits, including the enduring classic "Doublé Doublé." You can hear a full-length version of "Kamalé" here.



When Kiamuangana Verckys left OK Jazz in 1969, he soon developed a recording empire and a raucous sound to rival those of his mentor Franco and the other giant of Congo music at the time, Tabu Ley Rochereau. I've been unable to locate Part One of "Dona," the wild horns, biting guitar licks and over-the-top vocals of which showcase the "Verckys Sound" at its best:


Part One of Bella-Bella's great "Mbuta" has also eluded me. You can hear Nyboma singing backup here:


"Infidelité Mado," also known as "Mado," realeased in 1972, was a great hit for Franco and Orchestre TPOK Jazz. I apologize for the poor sound quality of the version here, indeed of the last four tracks on Music from Zaïre Vol. 3 (Side Two of the LP is slightly off-center). You can hear a better version of "Mado," courtesy of Worldservice, here:


Founded in 1953, Joseph Kabasele's African Jazz was the first "modern" Congolese orchestra:


Download Music From Zaïre Vol. 3 as a zipped file here.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

More Desert Island Music




Given that he's one of the most illustrious Congolese musicians of his generation, information about Côme Moutouari, better known as Kosmos, is a bit hard to come by. I know that he's one of a trio of musical brothers (the others being Michel and Pierre Moutouari), that he got started in the '60s with the legendary Bantous de la Capitale in Brazzaville, that he left that congregation in the '70s with Pamelo Mounk'a and Celio to form Trio Ce.Pa.Kos and Orchestre le Peuple, and that in the '80s he recorded a series of solo LPs that are some of finest Congo recordings of that golden decade.

Of these, Ba Camarades (Safari Sound SAS 040, ca. 1983) is true "desert island music" that stands as a distillation of all that was great about '80s Congo music: the sweeping guitar filigrees, the understated horns and above all, Kosmos's lovely voice. They sure don't make records like this any more!





Download Ba Camarades as a zipped file here. Here are some earlier recordings by Kosmos that I took from the compilation CD Best of Kosmos Vol. 2 (Glenn Music GM 324008, 1995). The song translations are from the liner notes. "Miléna," recorded with Bantous de la Capitale, is one of Kosmos' best loved songs. In it the singer recounts the pain his love for Miléna is causing him: "They make me suffer for loving you. I didn't know that my mother-in-law was a merchant of children. She wants me to give her all of the money I make. Oh mother-in-law, please don't tell Miléna to give my child to a man richer than me":


In "Kamwiya" Kosmos and Pamelo Mounk'a sing, "You are losing your way. Bring your heart back to its place. I love you but don't come to me because of bad advice. Don't lose the light of my love. I'm fed up with that suffering":


"Milla, I've heard something horrible. Tomorrow you're flying to a foreign country. Where you are going there are a lot of men. I am afraid you will forget me. I am crying. You leave me with a wound that can only be healed by your return":


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Another Rockin' One-Off




Roaring out of Kinshasa by way of Paris with drum machine in tow, it's Rigo Star and Josky Kiambukuta with Jotongo (Mayala MA4005, 1986), a platter that can best be described as "soukous rock."

Josky Kiambukuta is the honey-voiced vocalist who joined Franco's legendary TPOK Jazz in 1973 and composed many of its greatest songs. Rigo Star made his mark in Papa Wemba's Viva la Musica before decamping to Paris and recording with the likes of Sam Mangwana and Kanda Bongo Man, later becoming a much-sought arranger and producer. Like Uhuru Aiye by Bob Ohiri and his Uhuru Sounds, posted in this space earlier, Jotongo is an apparent one-time studio collaboration that was never repeated. Similarly, its somewhat deracinated sound has a "hard rock" edge that sets it apart from some of the more mainstream sounds of the day. As no other musicians are credited on the sleeve, I suspect all of the musical contributions were provided by Kiambukuta and Star via overdubbing.






Download Jotongo as a zipped file here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Still Another Re-Up




I've been unable to find out much about Congo's Bobongo Stars, but their unique blend of funk, rock & roll, Soukous and Mutuashi made them stand out in the crowded '80s Kinshasa music scene. They had their own night club, made commercial jingles, played backup for the Angolan singer Diana, and achieved a measure of renown in Europe before fading from sight.

Some time ago I posted the Bobongo Stars album Makasi (Celluloid CEL 6627, 1983) over on Uchenna Ikonne's blog With Comb & Razor, and as it's since gone offline, I thought now was a propitious moment to make it available again.


The above photograph of the Bobongo Stars was taken by Chris Stapleton and appeared in his article "Kinshasa Diary: Zaïre," which was in the Summer 1986 issue of Africa Beat (London). Here are the songs from Makasi, and you can download them as a zipped file here:

Bobongo Stars - Mbati

Bobongo Stars - Joyce

Bobongo Stars - La Vie Ya Lelo

Bobongo Stars - Nazangi Yo

Bobongo Stars - Koteja

Bobongo Stars - Simba Moto


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Disco Benga!




Those listening to the album Muungwana (CBS ACP-CBS 1203), by Kenya's Sylvester Odhiambo & the Ambira Boys, may be reminded of the 1973 smash "Lunch Time" and other hit records by Gabriel Omolo & his Apollo Komesha. That's not surprising, as according to the liner notes Mr. Odhiambo sang on many of those recordings.

I have no idea what Mr. Odhiambo is singing about here (no doubt in keeping with Kenyan fashion the lyrics are pithy and ironic), but Muungwana is an infectious example of mid-'80s Swahili benga - propulsive, fast-moving, the synthesizer giving the music a sophisticated "disco" sheen. Enjoy!






Download Muungwana as a zipped file here. "Lunch Time" and other recordings by Gabriel Omolo & the Apollo Komesha, featuring Sylvester Odhiambo on vocals, may be found on the compilation Kenya Dance Mania (Sterns/Earthworks STEW 24CD), and I posted the flip side of "Lunch Time" here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

From Congo via Nigeria




Priscilla tells me that in the 1970s, when she was a girl in Awo-Omamma, Nigeria, the family used to sit around the short-wave radio almost every night to catch the broadcasts from Radio Brazzaville. I imagine the music they heard sounded an awful lot like the contents of Music from Zaire Vol. 6 (Soundpoint SOP 044, 1978), today's featured recording.

Congo music, of course, was huge in the 1970s all over Africa, and especially in Eastern Nigeria, where it sparked the development of a whole new genre of guitar-based highlife music exemplified by Oliver de Coque, the Oriental Brothers and their many imitators and camp-followers. The numerous Nigerian pressings of Congo music that were made in the '70s feature the musicians that influenced this trend, in the case of Music From Zaire Vol. 6 the artists in Kiamuangana Verckys' stable like Orchestres Kiam, Lipua-Lipua and Cavacha. The music echoes down through the years. I was amazed, on viewing a video of my father-in-law's funeral, made in 1998, to hear an Igbo-language version of Lipua-Lipua's "Nouvelle Generation" played by one of the local bands. No doubt you could hear the same thing in Yaoundé or the backwoods of Kenya - truly it's one of the most influential African songs of all time.

As much of this music is already available through many reissues and postings on the internet, I was hesitant to tack it up here. But recently both Worldservice and Global Groove posted Stars From Zaire Vol. 4 (Soundpoint SOP 042), another installment in the series. That got me to thinking: Is there something about these particular Nigerian pressings that makes them unique? I think so. For one thing, as Worldservice points out, there is a tendency to not include the slower "A" sides of the various recordings and go directly to the big payoff: the "sebene," the faster, more improvisatory second half. This structure is typical of Igbo guitar highlife recordings of the '70s and '80s as well. Just listen to Oliver de Coque or Kabaka and compare them to Music From Zaire Vol. 6 and see what I mean!

The picture of the Yoruba drummers on the back of the record is also interesting:



Here, then, is the music. Just sit back and imagine you're listening to a shortwave radio in Awo-Omamma, Nigeria in the '70s . . .







I believe track 6, "Mwana Yoka Toli," was misattributed on the album sleeve. I'm following the liner notes of Jeunes Orchestres Zaïrois 1971/1973/1974/1975 (Sonodisc CD 36517, 1992) and crediting it to Orchestre Bella-Bella. To download Music from Zaire Vol. 6 as a zipped file go here, and following Worldservice's example, I'm making the "complete" versions of "Baya-Baya," "Mombasa" and "Shama Shama" available here. I'll probably be posting more of these Nigerian pressings of Congo music in the future.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Benin (The Empire, Not the Country)




Back in Eighth Grade, my Social Studies class was given one of those typical assignments where we were supposed to pick out some country and write a report about it. Most of the kids picked well-known countries (I chose Austria), but one young lady, Susan Norman, chose the West African nation of Dahomey.

"Dahomey? Are you kidding?" our teacher Mr. Vezie sneered, no doubt thinking that Susan chose this obscure country to get out of doing a lot of work on the project, but she was adamant.

What does this have to do with the subject of today's post? Well, nothing, really, except that in 1975 the Republic of Dahomey changed its name to the Republic of Benin, after the Bight of Benin, which in turn was named after the Benin Empire, a powerful entity that existed from 1440 to 1897 in what is today Nigeria. "Benin" is a Portuguese corruption of "Ubinu," the administrative center of the Empire, which is today called Benin City, capital of Edo State.

Dahomey's rechristening in 1975 has caused no end of confusion ever since, so to clarify things: Benin City (& hence the historical Benin Empire) is approximately 250 miles east of Porto Novo, capital of the present-day Republic of Benin. The two entities have no historical connection! The map at right shows the sphere of influence of the Benin Empire at the height of its power. To further muddy the waters there was once another "Republic of Benin," which was established by retreating Biafran troops in the early days of the Nigerian civil war (see map below, from John de St. Jorre's Nigerian Civil War, Hodder & Stoughton, 1972, click to enlarge). This historical curiosity was proclaimed at 7 a.m. on September 20, 1967 and collapsed eight hours later!



The Benin Empire encompassed Ijaws, Igbos, Itsekitris and Urhobos, among other groups, but the Edo people constituted the core of the nation. Even today they are celebrated for their artwork, a sample of which is at the top of this post. Much of this was destroyed when Benin City was captured by the British in 1897, and much of the remainder was dispersed around the world. Today Benin City is renowned as a center of education and culture in Nigeria.

All of this exposition is by way of making up for the fact that I can't tell you a whole lot about today's featured artists. While Victor Uwaifo is justly famed as Benin City's foremost musical exemplar, the area has produced numerous other talents, like Patrick Idahosa, who had a similar sound. I can't say much about him, but among Edo musicians he was probably second only to Uwaifo in popularity during his heyday of the '70s and '80s. In the late '90s, Mossiac Records of New York released a CD compilation (Mossiac MMCD 0302) of his greatest hits, from which the following are taken:

Patrick Idahosa & his African Sound Makers - United Brothers

Patrick Idahosa & his African Sound Makers -
Tamoubiyememwsm

Patrick Idahosa & his African Sound Makers - Tamiyaregbe



The Amunataba Dance Band are similarly obscure to me, but what a fine album Akenzua (Mikii MAK 504, 1978) is! Sweet guitar highlife in the Peacocks mode, and isn't the front cover great?

Amunataba Dance Band - Eronmwon

Amunataba Dance Band - Akenzua



Willy Adamosa Osagiede got in touch with me many years ago, and even sent me a CD of his recent recordings. Like all of the musicians here, he was most popular in the '70s and '80s. He's presently based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you can access his MySpace page here. Here are some tracks from his 1976 LP Ukpakon (Afrodisia DWAPS 70):

Adamosa Osagiede & his International Band - Amayamwen Nue

Adamosa Osagiede & his International Band - Igho Nogie

Adamosa Osagiede & his International Band - Wa Gha Hio



Osayomore Joseph's Afro-funk sound has recently drawn some notice thanks to his contribution to the recent Soundway compilation Nigeria Special. Here's a song from his 1982 LP Ulele in Transit (Emotan EMOLP 01):

Osayomore Joseph & the Ulele Power Sound - Efewedo



And here's one from another 1982 album Over the Bar. . . I Beg You . . . (Emotan EMOLP 02):

Osayomore Joseph & his Ulele Power Sound - Alele




Winding things down in style with Idemudia Cole's Talents of Benin, whose Talents of Benin Vol. 5 (Shanu Olu SOS 127, 1981) is as wonderful an example of Edo highlife as you'll ever find:

The Talents of Benin - Ovbiokhokho



Saturday, August 7, 2010

Somali Songs of the "New Era"




Thanks to Roskow Kretschmann of Black Pearl Records for passing on a unique historical recording, the LP Somalia Sings Songs of the New Era (Radio Mogadishu SBSLP-100) issued in 1972 in the first flush of Somalia's "Scientific Socialist Revolution."

Mohammad Siad Barre (right) came to power in Somalia on October 21, 1969 as the result of a coup d'etat following the assassination of Abdirachid Ali Shermarke, Somalia's second president. The governing Somali Revolutionary Council undertook a number of arguably progressive tasks such as standardizing the Somali language and making efforts to lessen the role of clans in Somali society.

Close ties with the Soviet Union, the adoption of "Marxism-Leninism" as the ruling ideology and the development of a Stalinoid "personality cult" around Siad Barre obscured what was basically an old-fashioned military dictatorship with grievous violations of human rights and mounting popular opposition from the mid-1970s on. Following Somalia's defeat by Ethiopian and Cuban troops during the Ogaden War of 1977-78, Somalia broke with the Eastern bloc and aligned itself with the United States. Subsequently the banner of "Scientific Socialism" in the Horn of Africa would be borne by Ethiopia under Mengistu Haile Mariam's Dergue.

Opposition to Siad Barre's regime had reached a fever pitch by the late 1980s and he was overthrown by Mohammad Farah Aidid's United Somali Congress on January 26, 1991. The resulting chaos in Somalia is well-known, with various armed groups jockeying for power in the years since. Siad Barre died in Lagos on January 2, 1995.

Not only are vinyl recordings of any kind from Somalia hard to come by, I'm fascinated by
Somalia Sings Songs of the New Era as a historical artifact. I asked our friend Sanaag, who was so helpful in the posts "Somali Mystery Funk" and "More Somali Funk," for his insights. Here are his thoughts:
. . . As you've already noticed, the tracks on the album are mainly contemptible praise songs for Siad Barre's ego. The lyrics are very poetic but, the anti-apartheid song and parts of "Gobanimo" and "Soomaalida Maanta" excepted, they are further devoid of any praiseworthy substance. So, I won't dwell long on their content. Instead, I'll try to shed some light on the context.

Since time immemorial, poetry has been the primary means of mass communication and cultural expression in Somali society. It's highly valued and has a tremendous impact on all walks of life. So much so that, according to an Amnesty International report dating from early 90's, poetry (and not the warlords) was the foremost weapon that tumbled the Somali military regime from it's high and haughty throne!

Siad Barre and his Jaalleyaal (comrades) understood the power of that tool all too well and tried to exploit it to promote their cause. They had initially a progressive agenda and rhetoric based on justice, socio-economic development, equal opportunities for all, protection and promotion of women's and minorities' rights etc. The political discourse was pregnant with noble promises and the expectations were high. Gutted by the corruption and nepotism rampant during the preceding civilian governments, many Somalis were enthusiastic about the new 'revolutionary course' and many artists lauded Siad Barre's initial goodwill and positive intentions. Unfortunately, it didn't take long before oppression, fear and mutual distrust were all the midwife could announce to the parturient crowds.

The artists on this series were all members of Waaberi, the house-band of the Ministry of Information and National Guidance. The name says it all: Propaganda and indoctrination! It was a large troupe with hundreds of members embracing dramaturgy, folklore dance and music.

It seems the ones on this album were carefully selected to rally support for the military regime. They were among the most popular in that period and, equally or maybe even more important, they came from practically all regions and clans. Their incipient stance in favour of the military regime, as depicted in these songs, may be genuine, fake, forced ... or all three at the same time, as dictatorial schizo-paranoia has its unfathomable ways. However, poet and playwright Sangub (composer of "Soomalida Maanta" & "Midab Gumeysi Diida") is to my knowledge the only one in this bunch who never disavowed Siad Barre's atrocities. That's why he's strongly despised across the board, notwithstanding his impressive and diverse body of literary work. The other protagonists in this album spoke their mind in subsequent songs and were, along with many others, arrested and/or exiled.

For instance, Abdi Muhumud Amin (composer of "Aynaanka Hay" & "Ha Iilan") was a prolific songwriter and a highly respected poet-playwright. A teenage member of the anti-colonial Somali Youth League (SYL) in the 40's and 50's, he composed many patriotic songs geared towards fighting against colonialism. Disenchanted with the post-independence civilian authorities, dominated by depraved SYL stalwarts, he soon switched into instigating the masses to rise up against the homegrown neo-colonialists. When the Armed Forces toppled the civilians in 1969, he sided with them and composed revolutionary songs. Only to realize within a few years that Siad Barre's regime was as nefarious as the ones it replaced and his criticism was ubiquitous and fierce. He later joined the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), the first armed opposition to Siad Barre's reign. Given his courageous and hapless track record, It's no wonder that Abdi was repeatedly imprisoned by the successive colonial, civilian and military administrations in Somalia. He died in 2008 in exile in Kenya where his funeral was attended by thousands of mourners, friends and foes alike.

Speaking of exile, Abdi was the composer of a song you previously asked about that I've already mailed to you - "Dalkeygow!" (Oh, my land!) by Faadumo Qaasim:

Faadumo Qaasim - Dalkeygow!

This is the passage telling why (s)he chose to live as a refugee:


. . . Oh, my land!
I didn't leave you as a tourist
No paradise on earth can replace you
In my body and soul
In my head and heart
Why am I roaming about in foreign countries?
Why am I obliged to beg and hold my hands up for strangers?
Why did I choose to live like a damned stateless person?
Why is it in my interest to opt for the status of a cursed refugee?
Oh, my land!
When clans and factions attacked each other
When relatives, friends and neighbours
Stabbed each other in the back and belly
When peace was denied and denigrated
When elders were not spared
When children were sent to the front
When all it belched was concentrated poison
That is when I had no choice
But to cross the borders
To seek a safe haven
To save my life . . .
Check out the oud solo starting at about 3:30; it summarizes this sad story pretty well.Here is Somalia Sings Songs of the New Era, with explanations of the songs from the liner notes:

"This song is one of the highly valued and widely spread songs of the New Era composed by the nationalist artist, Abdi Muhumud and sung by himself with the help of the Waaberi chorus.
This widely admired song which met international recognition of many artists from friendly countries is dedicated to the beloved leader and Father of the Nation, Jaalle Maj. Mohamed Siad Barre. Its main theme goes: 'The right path you have shown us; Our beloved leader march on; Our triumphant cause be its maintainer; Towards ultimate victory lead us ever":


"The composer of this number, Hussein Aw Farah, is one of the outstanding Revolutionary and patriotic songs composers in the Somali Democratic Republic. In this song he points out the reason why the Armed Forces, with the overwhelming support of the Somali people, took over the power from the corrupt civilian regimes who misruled the country for nine years. He explains that our sovereignty was in danger of total collapse, but the Armed Forces are now ready to defend it at the cost of their lives":


"These are the first words of the song: 'A Revolution dawned in Somalia today - October 21st - and is taking gigantic strides toward progress every year, every day, every hour and every wink.' This song, composed by the talented composer Mohamoud Abdillahi Singub, marks the international cause of the Revolution in Somalia as can be observed in the first few words. It also emphasizes Somalia's call for equality for the whole of mankind without arrogance and domination by some over others, for the elimination of colonialism; for international effort toward such elimination and for the execution of the human principles asserting the right of self-`determination of various peoples in every part of the world":


"This is one of the numerous Revolutionary songs aimed at encouraging the Father of the Nation, Jaalle Maj. General Mohamed Siad Barre, to hold high the banner of the blessed Revolution and to fight against colonialism and all its traces. The composer Abdi M. Amin, who has been honoured for his Revolutionary thoughts, again puts more emphasis in his words which goes: "Forward ever, Backward Never!":


"This song was composed by Mohamoud Abdillahi Singub & sung by Waaberi Artists with Abdi Ali Baalwan & Daleis in the leading role. the composer calls the African leaders to be united against the evils of colonialism, imperialism and Apartheid. The first words of this song point out why colonialism finds its way in Africa. 'Without strong bulwark, Ian Smith would have not dared to snatch off Rhodesia, nor Portugal tried to stay in Angola and Mozambique and to perpetuate genocide against African people, not the memory of the invisible knives to kill the freedom of Guinea in the dark faded away yet. We are also aware of the plight of Africans in South Africa":


Download Somalia Sings Songs of the New Era, complete with cover & liner notes, here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Return of Toguy




Here, as promised, is Elimbi na Ngomo (Production TN, TN 591), Toto Guillaume's 1985 LP that is rightly considered a monument of the makossa genre. I agree that it's a masterpiece, but pride of place as Guillaume's "best" recording belongs, in my humble opinion, to Makossa Digital
(Disques Esperance ESP 8404, 1983), which I posted here earlier. That said, there's little doubt that the title track, "Elimbi na Ngomo," is one of Toguy's most popular songs, remembered fondly by all Camerounians of a certain age.

Elimbi na Ngomo, makossa for the ages. Enjoy!

Toto Guillaume - Elimbi na Ngomo

Toto Guillaume - Bulu

Toto Guillaume - Raison

Toto Guillaume - Eh Oa

Toto Guillaume - Mulalo

Toto Guillaume - Ngila Nama

Download Elimbi na Ngomo as a zipped file here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Another Re-Up




Occupying a location somewhere near the intersection of Afrobeat, Juju and garage rock, the album Uhuru Aiye by Bob Ohiri and his Uhuru Sounds (Ashiko Records AR 001, ca. 1985) is often rumored but seldom heard. A track from it appears on the new collection Nigeria Afrobeat Special (Soundway SNWCD021), so it's worth taking a closer look.

Bob Ohiri was a guitarist with Sunny Adé's African Beats and is said to have briefly played with Fela's Africa '70, although I can't confirm that. The "Uhuru Sounds" were apparently a one-off - basically just some guys jamming in the recording studio. The only members credited on the sleeve are "Prince," "Bob" and "Shegun."

So what to make of the music? Uhuru Aiye is truly an odd and idiosyncratic amalgam - like no "World Music™" or "Afrobeat" or "Afrofunk" you've ever heard. It doesn't always succeed, but when it does it works very well.

Like my previous posts "Unknown Fela," Uhuru Aiye was originally contributed by me to Uchenna Ikonne's blog
With Comb and Razor. It went off-line a while back, so I thought I'd make it available again.

Bob Ohiri & his Uhuru Sounds - Ariwo Yaa

Bob Ohiri & his Uhuru Sounds - Obhiha

Bob Ohiri & his Uhuru Sounds - Aiye


Bob Ohiri & his Uhuru Sounds - Nigeria London na Lagos


Bob Ohiri & his Uhuru Sounds - Imo State Express


Bob Ohiri & his Uhuru Sounds - Africa is Free for Us

Bob Ohiri & his Uhuru Sounds - I Like to Be Free

Download Uhuru Aiye as a zipped file here.