Showing posts with label Nigeria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nigeria. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Voice of Arewa



A while back I posted about northern Nigeria's greatest female singer, Barmani Mai Choge. I devote today's post to Alhaji Mamman Shata, acclaimed as the greatest male singer of "Arewa," a giant who ruled the Hausa music scene for over 60 years.

Finding out more information about Dr. Mamman Shata has not been easy. He is the subject of at least one biography, "Shata Ikon Allah!" by Ibrahim Sheme (Kaduna, Infomart Publishers, 2006), and at least one doctoral dissertation, “The Role of an Oral Singer in Hausa/Fulani Society: A Case Study of Mamman Shata," by Dr. Abdulkadir Dandatti (Folklore Institute, Indiana University, 1975), neither of which I've been able to get hold of. There does seem to be a fair amount of information about him online in Hausa.

Shata was born in Rugar Kusa, Musawa Village, Northern Nigeria in 1922. Although his father disapproved of his interest in music, he began singing at the age of 13 and was soon composing his own Wakokin, traditional Hausa praise songs. He was accompanied by musicians playing kalungu, small talking drums, and travelled throughout the north of Nigeria gaining fame if not yet fortune. He once told an interviewer, “I ventured into music out of childish exuberance. I didn’t inherit it from either of my parents. I sang for a long time without collecting a penny. Even when I was given money, other praise singers collected it. I only started collecting money when I made it (music) a career." He settled down in Funtua, also the home of Barmani Mai Choge, a wild and wooly municipality that hosted many brothels. Chafing at the strictures of conservative Hausa Muslim society, he had a taste for drink and sang its praises.

It is said that Mamman Shata never rehearsed and composed his songs on the spot. I've been unable to track down much of his discography and I suspect most of his music was never pressed but recorded for broadcast. Probably much of it was not recorded at all. In addition to praise songs, his repertoire covered all manner of subjects, from agriculture to politics to the military, even food! One notable song is said to have been broadcast throughout northern Nigeria during the troubles of 1966-67 preaching peace, tolerance and national unity. He performed throughout West Africa and even made it to Britain and the United States.

Alhaji Doctor Mamman Shata passed away on June 18, 1999, leaving behind three wives, 22 children, numerous grandchildren and an immortal musical legacy. The true voice of Arewa!


Here are two cassettes by the immortal Mamman Shata.

The cassette Bakandamiyar (EMI Nigeria EMI 003), which I obtained during a visit to Kano in 1995, is a dub of a scratchy LP recorded, I suspect, some time in the '70s or earlier. I would guess the song "Garba Bichi" is in honor of Abubakar Ali Bichi, who was a prominent Northern Nigerian businessman born in 1924. There is a Garba Bichi Ahmed (possibly his son?) who is a member of the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives from Bichi, Kano State, but since he was born in 1964, it's probably not about him:

Alhaji Mamman Shata - Garba Bichi

"Bakandamiyar"is considered one of Maman Shata's greatest songs. In it he sings his own praises:

I started Bakandamiya and embraced the thing that interests me most
Alo, Alo, the singer expresses his gratitude and so do the chorus.
As for me nothing interests me except my singing,
Beat your drum carefully,
Play slowly and carefully,
For drumming is your inheritance but not mine.
I started singing as a hobby,
Certainly I started it as a hobby and outshined the professionals;
Now it is my match that they search for and have woefully failed,
Alo, Alo, the singer expresses his gratitude and so do the chorus.
It is not parting with a hero that is painful,
But filling the gap which he created....

...One day here in the city of Dabo,
 I have ever lived in the city of Dabo,
During the reign of Sanusi Mamman,
Burhan father of Habu son of Abdu,
Then I packed my belongings and left,
And returned to the city of Dikko,
Our Katsina, the city of Shehu. 
My departure pleased the Kano singers;
They ganged up against me saying:
That bastard Shata has gone,
Good riddance Shata has left,
Ha! Since he left the city of Dabo,
No doubt has lost many good things.
Go your way; I am aware I missed Kano City,
And Kano too had missed a famous singer,
And you also had missed my singing. 
After six good months I staged a comeback,
I went away for six months,
And returned to the city of Dabo,
On Friday during the princess’s wedding,
I sneaked in with my mini car,
I took a corner and parked my mini car,
I put on a veil and joined the crowd..... 
.....I pondered and groaned,
There and then I uncovered myself,
And said, You have now felt the absence of Shata, the singer.
Even among kola nuts there are marsa,
Well much more so among the singers,
Princes, I hope and think that you will lend me your ears,
And listen to my song.
It is not parting with the hero that is painful,
But filling the gap which he created.... 
......That day I rose and praised myself,
And praised God and his Messenger,
That day I outshined Hamisu, outwitted Caji and put Dabolo out of action,
They cast a spell on me but to no avail,
And had I prior knowledge,
I would have brought my billy-he goat, and my speckled fetish cock,
What! Would that I were able to know in advance,
I would have prepared for it.
I ignored banjo and guitar players,
Because they are insignificant musicians who,
Play for money clothes to wear and a few pounds to get married.
Alhaji Mamman Shata - Bakandamiyar

Download Bakandamiyar as a zipped file here.

Emir of Hadeija (Polydor POLP 121), which came out in 1985 I think, was one of Shata's last recordings, and is considered one of his best. I presume from the song titles that they are in honor of various notables. For instance, Side One honors rulers of various traditional states in Northern Nigeria, while I would guess Side Two praises business or political leaders:

Alhaji Mamman Shata -  Emir of Hadeija / Emir of Bauchi / Bella Galadima of Katagun / Emir of Daura Alhaji Maman Bashar

Alhaji Mamman Shata - Habibu Fari Elema / Wili Dan Tijani / Shehu Kasimu Sarkin Mararaba / Malam Shuaibu Gadan Gayan / B.B. Faruku Na Allah

Download Emir of Hadeja as a zipped file here.

The picture at the top of this post is from the Mamman Shata Facebook page. The translation of the lyrics of "Bakandamiyar" is from the article, "10 Years After his Death, Shata Still Lives on," from the Daily Trust (Nigeria), June 21, 2009, which provided much useful information for this post. I'm also greatly indebted to the blog Taskar Mamman Shata and the Wikipedia article "Mamman Shata."



Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Diva of Northern Nigeria



As readers may be aware, I've had a long-time interest in Nigerian music and feature it often here at Likembe. However, all of the music I've posted here has been from the southern part of the country and of this the majority has been from two ethnic groups, the Yoruba and the Igbo. Nigeria, though, is a huge country of 186 million residents, who speak over 500 languages. Of these, along with the Igbo and Yoruba, the largeest nationality is the Hausa, who predominate in the northern part of the country. Nigeria's cultural diversity, a product of British colonial rule, has been a blessing and at times a curse.

Prior to 1995, the only Hausa music I had heard was a couple of LPs of traditional music - one from the esteemed Bärenreiter Musicaphon series and another issued by the African Record Centre in Brooklyn. In December of that year, during a visit to Nigeria, I was curious to discover more, so together with my brother-in-law boarded a plane to Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria. Our cab driver directed us to a music store which had an extensive selection of cassettes, mainly featuring the ever-popular Congolese sound, but also many from Mali and other countries of the Sahel. Notably there were many cassettes from Sudan. I understand this popularity of Sudanese music is a result of pilgrims from northern Nigeria stopping off in that country on their way to and from Mecca. I regret now that I didn't purchase any of these at the time.

My main interest was Hausa music, and I was amply rewarded with about 30 cassettes by artists like Alhaji Mamman Shata, Dan Maraya Jos, Audu Waziri Danduna, Sanni Dandawo, and northern Nigeria's greatest diva, Barmani Mai Choge.


According to the article "Barmani Choge: The Last of the Strong Ones" by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Daily Trust, March 10, 2013), Choge, née Hajiya Sa’adatu Aliyu, was born in the town of Funtua in 1943 or '45 and "...soaked up the cosmopolitan nature of that place that produced the legendary Mamman Shata, and she picked up what had hitherto been a pastime for women in the confines of their houses (the beating of calabashes) and made a successful music career out of it. And all these, while having a dozen children or so along the way. A feat she celebrated in her song 'Gwanne Ikon Allah.' She reportedly married at 15...."

A publicity flyer for a 2008 performance states that "...Barmani Choge popularized the mature Hausa women genre of music called Amada (although she had precedent in the late Hajiya Uwaliya Mai Amada (1934-83)), which started as religious performance by women in their inner apartments, before later becoming secularized in public performances. Barmani Choge’s performances appeal typically to mature women in high society due to her daring – and often experimental – exploration of issues that other conventional women musicians avoid. Literally the last of her generation, she popularized the Amada genre of Hausa music which is centered around five upturned calabashes floating on water and played with the hands by rather elderly women...."

Barmani Mai Choge passed away in early 2013, leaving Nigeria a poorer place, but setting an example for the women of the North. I present here two cassettes by Choge - 1987's Mai Soso Ke Wanka (Polydor POLP 162) and A Kama Sana'a Mata (Polydor POLP 166) from 1988. I've been unable to find out much about the lyrics (Google Translate wasn't much help), but I'm passing on what I know.

From Mai Soso Ke Wanka:

"Gwarne Ikon Allah" - "The Blessings of Multiple Births"

Hajiya Barmani Mai Coge & her Group - Mai Soso Ke Wanka / Gwarne Ikon Allah / Wakar Da'a

Hajiya Barmani Mai Coge & her Group - Maras Sana'a / Sama Ruwa Kosa Huwa

Dowload Mai Soso Ke Wanka as a zipped file here. Here is A Kama Sana'a Mata:

"...The Funtua in which Barmani and Shata grew was teeming with brothels and a joie de vivre approach to life and was perhaps ripe for the lewd lyrics of her hit song “Wakar Duwai Wai”, which in contemporary Nigerian music would have taken a fitting title like “The bum bum song”. In it, Barmani praises the female physiognomy and its inherent powers, how a woman can wiggle her backside and have a man do her bidding. Women loved it, and men smiled a silent acknowledgement. And Barmani place as a social deviant was firmly established...." (Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, op. cit.)

Hajiya Barmani Mai Coge & her Group - Wakar Dwaiwai / Mai Abin Dadi / Azwage Zogala

"Woman, Take Up a Trade":

Hajiya Barmani Mai Coge & her Group - A Kama Sana'a Mata

Hajiya Barmani Mai Coge & her Group - Wakar Kishiya / Wakar Mutau Misau

Download A Kama Sana'a Mata as a zipped file here.

A future post will feature the music of northern Nigeria's foremost male singer, Alhaji Mamman Shata.


One question I had at the time of my 1995 visit was whether there was any analog in northern Nigeria to the popular musical styles of the South - highlife, jùjú, fújì and so forth. There were one or two Hausa highlife ensembles back in the '60s and '70s, and southern Nigerian artists will occasionally record songs in the language, but the answer, at least in 1995, seemed to be "no." The subject matter may involve modern concerns, but the music of Choge, along with the other artists I've mentioned, is definitely within the classic framework, utilizing percussion, one-string lutes and other traditional instruments.

Unknown to me at the time, though, Hausa music was undergoing a revolution, and this was spurred by the Bollywood film industry of India, whose products have been popular throughout Nigeria for many years. The liner notes of Harafin So: Bollywood Inspired Film Music From Hausa Nigeria (Sahel Sounds SS-014, 2013) tell the story:
"...Hausa tradtional musicians began to play cover versions of popular Bollywood soundtrack music...It was not until 1990, and the introduction of VHS, that the first Hausa language films were made in Kano, and Kannywood was born. Naturally, producers turned to the influences of films they had been watching for generations. Featuring plots of forced marriages and love triangles - indeed, sometimes copying the plot directly from the original Hindi films - these new homemade creations also retained the most popular feature of Bollywood: song and dance. 
"...as in Bollywood, soon the film songs came to eclipse the films themselves. It was not long before songs began to precede the film. In these polyphonic duets, men and women often would exchange words with one another, throwing barbs or providing romantic innuendos. Stylistic elements began to emerge in Hausa popular music, with the frenetic rhythm of a drum machine and synthesizer riffs. Autotune, the pitch correcting technology, joined the toolkit, offering a chance to compete with the high octave voices of Hindi film, becoming a signature sound of the film music..."
Harafin So is highly recommended. Here is an example of Hausa film music, thoughtfully featuring English subtitles:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Jùjú-Àpàlà Roots!



Jùjú music, so popular in the 1970s and '80s, seems to have gone into eclipse in southwestern Nigeria, the land of its birth. Even fújì, which took its place for a time, has mutated into something rather removed from its origins. In their places, in the popular music arena at least, are variations on international hip-hop, heavy on auto-tuned vocals and synth.

Styles may come and go, but King Sunny Adé, the best-known jùjú musician outside of Nigeria, still keeps up a busy worldwide touring schedule. It's hard to believe he just turned 70!

Juju-Apala Live (Fortune Records, 2000) captures the King at the top of his form in front of a live audience in Lagos. Maybe it's just me, but before his fellow Nigerians, Sunny and the African Beats seem a lot more relaxed and uninhibited than they've been in front of US audiences, at least at the concerts I've been to. I suspect this CD is a bootleg recording, as it wasn't released through KSA's usual outlets. Moreover, my copy was an unauthorized rip of the original release - a pirate of a bootleg!

What's really ear-opening in this CD is the extended workout on Track 4, "Juju-Apala," with Musiliu Haruna-Ishola, son of the legendary Haruna Ishola, who perfected modern àpàlà music in the '60s and '70s. Àpàlà, a very traditional form, is one of the foundations of jùjú, fújì and other Yoruba musical styles, and Musiliu is ably carrying on his father's work.

The past and the future meet in Juju-Apala Live!

King Sunny Adé - Talking Drum

King Sunny Adé - Oro Ope Ko Ni Kase

King Sunny Adé - O Ya, O Ya Mi Bo

King Sunny Adé - Juju-Apala

Download Juju-Apala Live as a zipped file, complete with album artwork, here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Speaking of Fújì....



A few days ago I posted an album by King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal 1, one of the reigning triumvirate of fújì music in the 1980s. The other two were Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and Kollington Ayinla, whom I present today. Kollington is said to have been born as Kolawole Ayinla Ilori in Ibadan in 1953 and started recording when he was in the Nigerian Army in the '70s. By the early '80s he was giving Barrister, fújì's acknowledged king at the time, a run for his money. Until Barrister's death in 2010, the rivalry between the two was fierce and acrimonious, although it's an open question how much of this was real and how much was a marketing ploy. Today Kollington swears his undying love of the late, great maestro.

Kollington Live in America 1997 (Oracle Records AFRO 013. 1997) is truly an odd artifact: Fújì music stripped down to its bare, funky essence - organ, basic percussion and wailing Islamic vocals, uninterrupted for 73 minutes! It's very compelling. Here it is:

General Kollington Ayinla & his Fuji Eaglets - Kollington Live in America

Download Kollington Ayinla Live in America 1997 as a zipped file here, complete
with album artwork.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

I'm Glad to Be Back!




Unbelievably, my last post here on Likembe was on April 23, 2013 - more than four years ago! There's no one explanation for the hiatus - I've had other interests, other things going on. Thankfully, there have been no personal crises, no major medical issues (and thanks to the many who've inquired over the years for your thoughtful concerns). But I'm back now, and I'm going to try to post on a more consistent basis - at least once a week from now on.

The African music blogosphere has changed a lot in the last four years, mostly not for the better. Old friends - With Comb & RazorOroWorld Service and Electric Jive among others, have gone dormant or post infrequently. Others have disappeared altogether. I see Moos over at Global Groove is still hanging in there, and newer outlets like Mangue MusicMy Passion for Ethiopian Music and Ndiakass have stepped into the breach. Needless to say, none of us is making any money doing this - it's all for the love. Maybe together we can bring about a revival of the African music scene online!
For Likembe's relaunching I'm posting King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal 1's Consolidation (The Ultimate Music TUMLP 001, 1994)  which was pretty ubiquitous in Lagos, Nigeria during my first visit there in '94 - blaring, it seemed, from every other market stall and taxi. To me, the opening bars of  "Show Colour" will always epitomize that wild, frustrating and fascinating city. I picked up the cassette back then, but the sound quality left a lot to be desired. What should I find, though, during a visit to Dusty Groove in Chicago a couple of months ago, but an almost-new copy of the LP version. Of course I had to share!

The style of music here is fújì, which had its heyday in the Yoruba areas of Nigeria in the 1980s, when it overtook the better-known (in the West) jùjú music popularized by King Sunny Adé and Ebenezer Obey. Fújì derives from earlier Yoruba Muslim styles like àpàlà and like them eschews most non-percussion instruments (although more recent recordings utilize synthesizers and the like). Think of it this way: jùjú musicians are mainly Christian and the music is often influenced by church hyms, while f'újì is performed mainly by Muslims and hearkens back to the sort of music performed at Yoruba Islamic religious festivals. The vocal styles as much as anything else set the two genres apart. But I don't want to create an unnecessary dichotomy here - fújì and jùjú are popular in both communities!

For those interested in further exploring Yoruba Muslim music, I've written two previous posts, "The Alasa of Ibadanland" and "Yoruba Muslim Women's Music."

King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal 1 (b. Wasiu Ayinde Adewale Omogbolahan Anifowsha, 1957) got his start in the Supreme Fuji Commanders of Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, one of the founders of the modern f'újì style in the '70s, and broke out on his own in the early '80s with the confusing moniker Wasiu Ayinde Barrister and a number of smash hit LPs. By the nineties he'd changed his stage name to King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal 1 (later to KWAM I and later still to K1 De Ultimate) and was at the top of his game. He's continued to innovate within the fújì genre, adding new instruments and drawing upon influences like rock and hip-hop. Check out this medley of recent tunes that mostly can barely be described as fújì at all - the percussion section is almost overpowered by saxophone, guitar and synth!



For those interested in exploring further online, the Nigerian media is rife with tales of KWAM 1's acheivements, his controversies with other musicians, and descriptions of his opulent palace in Ijebu Ode, complete with snakes and crocodiles. But for now, let the music speak for itself!

King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal 1 - Show Colour

King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal 1 - Ayinde No Go Die/Consolidation/Cruise Control/Hip-Hop

King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal 1 - Orin Eyo

King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal 1 - Power to the People/Ayinde Lagbade Fun/Late Prince Tunde Ojurongbe/Tulampa/Bosun Olaku of London/Kunle Fayemi/Ade Bendel/Alhaji Rasaq Okoya/Eleganza

Download Consolidation as a zipped file, complete with cover and label art, here.



Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Dutiful Wife, An Inconsiderate Husband




Despite his great popularity back in the day, information about the late, great Igbo bard Show Promoter (Nelson Ejinduaka) is as scarce as hens' teeth. All I've been able to unearth is that he was from the city of Orlu in Imo State, spent most of his career in Ikwerreland (near Port Harcourt) and apparently passed on some time in the late '80s. His album Azu Alala (Onyeoma CY Records CYLP 043, 1987) is such an outstanding example of traditional Igbo music that I had to share it!

The title track, "Azu Alala" ("Fish is Scarce & Highly Costly"), concerns an obedient wife and the husband who is oblivious to his family's hardship. A husband gave his wife ten naira to go to the market to buy food for the family. She asked him, "Will ten naira be enough?" but he told her, "Make do with what you have."

She went to the market and spent N5 on gari (cassava meal) and N5 on yam. The money was gone. There  was no money for fish, no money to buy oha leaf (greens) or meat.

The wife came home and didn't know what to do. Her children were crying in hunger, "Please give us food." She went to the kitchen to prepare the food. The children ate, and so did she.

In the meantime her husband was down at the restaurant, drinking and living the life of an onye oriri (man about town). He told his friends, "Come home with me. I gave my wife money to prepare food for us." When they arrived home he called out to her to bring out the food she had cooked. The wife began to cry and presented the pitiful repast she had prepared.The man opened the pot to see that there was no fish, no vegetables and no meat. He jumped up and slapped his wife. She cried, "Ego i nyerem ezughi. The money you gave me was not enough to make soup. I managed with what I had to feed our children. Please don't hit me."

The chorus, "Ogiri k'am, jiri shi ofe, azu alala," means "I made the soup with stock.There is no fish."

Show Promoter & his Group - Azu Alala

In "Onye Ma Ihe Echi Gabu (Tomorrow is Pregnant. Who Knows What it will Be?)" Show Promoter sings, "My brother, who knows what tomorrow will bring? My sister, who knows what tomorrow will bring? Everybody pray to God so it will be good for us." He then proceeds to call out various local notables:

Show Promoter & his Group - Onye Ma Ihe Echi Gabu

"Onwu Ashio (The Death of Ashio)" recounts the tragic fate of a man who died in a traffic accident: "Ka mpkuru obi ya nodi nma (May his heart rest in peace). Anyi sikwa ama nnachi, mu na gi bu kwu nwa nne - a go. (We came from one place, you and I, brothers or relatives).Onwu gburu Ashio (The death that killed Ashio). Ashio a hupu la m laa (Ashio left me behind)."

Show Promoter & his Group - Onwu Ashio

Many thanks to my wife Priscilla for translating the lyrics of Azu Alala. You may download it as a zipped file here.



Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fighting Biafra




Thanks to a tip from reader/listener Zim Bida, I was able to score from Ebay an almost-mint copy of the elusive LP Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha: Drums and Chants of Fighting Biafra by the Biafran Freedom Fighters (Afro Request SRLP 5030, ca. 1968), and for a very reasonable price!

Although I've been looking for this album for some time, I would have to say after listening to it that it is of more historical than musical interest. According to the liner notes, the "Biafran Freedom Fighters" are ". . .from the ranks of young soldiers who have adapted some old Ibo folklore, that are sung at the camp fires. In addition, they are performing present day war songs." The genre is what is considered "traditional" Igbo music for voice and percussion, or "Igbo Blues." These amateur musicians are not generally of the caliber of artistes like Bob Sir Merengue, Morocco Maduka or Area Scatter who have been featured in earlier posts here. Still, as another snapsot of the Biafran war of 1967-70, Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha is well worth listening to. Enjoy!

Intro

"I Say You Don't Fear." Okwa imaregu. Ka ayin bawa egu. If you know no fear, then this is the time to prove it:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Isikwa Inara Egwu

"The Goddess." Nmebo nwo ogara nye. Oyeri Ngwa. We know you are like a goddess, so we expect you to behave like one:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Oyeri Mayo Ngwa

"Letting Down the Boss." Nye ka yo obusu ma ka no abubu kayo obubu ma. Mbebe nwo ogaranyi kayo bubuma. To let down your boss is really more than killing him:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Mbebo Nwo Ogaranyi

"Bonny Creek." Tumbi Ibani a quo eruwe ru. Ibani Creek is a very long journey. Let us try our best and paddle hard to the journey's end:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Tumbi Ibani

Biafran Freedom Fighters - The Nwatan War Drums

"The Colored Animal." Anu turu agwa gwa we eke. Ilema ayan nu zo a nuturu. Agwa gwa we ke. Be on your guard like a colored animal and adjust yourself to the surroundings:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Anu Turu Agwa Gwa

"Mosquitoes Molest Me." Atita ekwemu ni hie urura nu lo de de. Despite the arduous journey, I cannot sleep because the mosquitoes molest me:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Atita Ekemwu

"Beloved Biafra Land." Ayin ga do ala nna ayin Biafra. Let us defend our motherland Biafra to the last drop of our blood:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Ala Biafra

"Elephant Crush." Eyin mba eyin. Use the elephant's strength to crush the enemy:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Eyin Mba

"Tied Feet and Hands." Sometimes fear ties our feet and hands. So let's go forward resolutely with our leader:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Aku Ne Ke Aka

"Fight to the End." Eke le ndu uwa lu o gu ka madu. This fight is a struggle to the end. We will win:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Ekwele Ndu Uwa

"It's Time." Adama luru di na abali. Adama ni ogeru. After all this, it will be yime that Adama marries her fancy:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Adama's Ogeru

Outro

The translations are from the liner notes of Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha. To download it as a zipped file, go here.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

That Old-Time Jùjú Music




Like a lot of people, I got into Nigerian jùjú music in 1982 when King Sunny Adé hit the international scene. In short order Ebenezer Obey, Dele Abiodun and Segun Adewale were introduced to world audiences, with varying degrees of success. Before them, though, I.K. Dairo was the true king of jùjú .

Isaiah Kehinde Dairo (b. January 6, 1931), the son of a carpenter, performed with many of the greats of the Ibadan jùjú scene while working days in a variety of odd jobs. He launched his first professional group, the Morning Star Orchestra, in 1954, changing their name to the Blue Spots in the early '60s. Dairo introduced the accordion to jùjú music and was responsible for many of the innovations, including Latin American and Christian choral influences and the use of various dialects, that are hallmarks of the mature jùjú style.

Dairo and the Blue Spots went into eclipse during the '70s with the ascension of younger stars, but made a comeback in the '80s, achieving international recognition with several CD reissues and new recordings. Ma F'owuro Sere (Ibukun Orisun Iye MOLPS 112, 1987), presented here, is an excellent example of I.K. Dairo's late style (I apologize for a bit of unfortunate "wow" on Side 1, apparently caused by a spindle hole that is slightly off-center).

Dairo died February 7, 1996 of renal failure. His wake-keeping, beginning on April 15, went on for five days and was attended by tens of thousands. In addition all Nigerian musicians refrained from performing during that time and Radio Nigeria played nothing but his music. Truly a fitting tribute to a giant of Nigerian music!

I.K. Dairo & his Blue Spots Band - Ise Aje Ma Le/Eniyan Boni Lara/Ore Mura

I.K. Dairo & his Blue Spots Band - Ba Wa Segun Ota a Mbere/Olorun Oba Kan Na La Npe/Ka Wo Ehin Wo/E Ma F'etu Sere/Ija O Yewa

Download Ma F'owuro Sere as a zipped file here. Information for this post was derived from the liner notes of two excellent recordings, Definitive Dairo (Xenophile XENO 4045, 1997) and I Remember (Music of the World CDC-212, 1991), as well as Christopher Waterman's definitive Jùjú: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music (University of Chicago Press, 1990). These are all available for purchase or download (just click on the links)!


Monday, June 25, 2012

Birth of a Nation




If you've been around here a while you'll know that I have a major obsession with the 1967-70 war in Nigeria, when the Eastern Region of that country left to establish the independent nation of Biafra. It was a valiant struggle, but the nascent Republic went down to defeat on January 15, 1970. I suspect not everyone shares my interest, but some do, and for them I'm posting another entry in Likembe's Biafra archive - the hard-to-find LP Biafra: Birth of a Nation (Lyntone LYN 1684), issued by the Biafra Choral Society in London in 1968. This was kindly provided by Craig Taylor, and I thank him for it.

Birth of a Nation is propaganda, and I don't mean this in a pejorative sense. It was issued by the Biafran government in an effort to influence public opinion in the outside world, especially the United Kingdom, main supporter of the Federal Government in Lagos against the secessionists. In 1968, when it was released, the Biafran cause had already for all intents and purposes been lost, although this wouldn't be apparent for some time. Still, it's of considerable interest not only to historians but musically, as it contains some nice highlife tunes. Listened to in sequence the album sounds like something recorded off a shortwave radio broadcast in the wee hours of the morning, history in the making.

On January 15, 1966, Nigeria's First Republic came to an end when Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Northern Premier Amadou Bello and Western Premier Samuel Akintola were overthrown and executed in a military coup. A counter-coup led by Major-General Aguiye-Ironsi, an Igbo from the Eastern Region, managed to re-establish order, but his military government lacked legitimacy in the eyes of many Northerners, who saw it as Igbo-dominated. On July 29 a coup led by Northern officers led to the deaths of hundreds of Eastern officers as well as Ironsi himself, sparking a series of bloody events. In September and October of 1966 Northern Nigeria was swept by a series of pogroms targeting Easterners, leading to the panicky exodus of more than a million people to their ancestral homes.

In a last-ditch effort to save Nigerian unity, a meeting was held in Aburi, Ghana January 4-5, 1967 between leaders of the Federal government in Lagos and a delegation from the Eastern Region led by Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. The resulting Accord provided for restructuring Nigeria on a looser confederal basis, but soon became a dead letter as there was no unanimity regarding its interpretation:

The Aburi Declaration

An Efik song:

The Canaan Brothers - Ukaridem (Independence)

The Eastern Region of Nigeria declared its independence as the sovereign state of Biafra on May 30, 1967. It  was recognized diplomatically by only five countries: Gabon, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Zambia and Haiti. In addition it received varying levels of support from Portugal, France, China, South Africa and Israel. Britain and the Soviet Union were solidly on the Federal side, while the U.S. was officially "neutral" but tacitly supported Nigeria:

The Rev. Edmund Ilogu - Declaration of Independence

Biafra's national anthem, "Land of the Rising Sun," is based on the "Finlandia" hymn by Sibelius. The first verse is as follows:

Land of the rising sun, we love and cherish,
Beloved homeland of our brave heroes;
We must defend our lives or we shall perish,
We shall protect our hearts from all our foes;
But if the price is death for all we hold dear,
Then let us die without a shred of fear.
Land of the Rising Sun (Biafra National Anthem)

The Rev. G.E. Igwe - Prayer

Rex Lawsons's Kalabari-language "Ojukwu Imiete, Biafra Bolate" was the subject of several previous posts and some speculation. Uchenna Ikonne has unearthed a copy of this subversive song as a 45 (Nigerphone NX 412, left), ostensibly pressed in Nigeria, of all places! It has also been released under the titles "Odumegwu Ojukwu (Hail Biafra)" and "God Bless Colonel Ojukwu":

Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson and his Biafra Republicans Band - Ojukwu Imiete, Biafra Bolate (Ojukwu Thank You, Biafra has Come to Stay)

In this speech Ojukwu levels a number of accusations against Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon, most of which are exaggerated or untrue. Gowon apparently played no role in the July 1966 coup that overthrew Ironsi, nor did he "plot" the pogroms of September and October 1966. There is no doubt that the war against Biafra led to a horrendous loss of lives (over a million by conservative estimates) but as to whether it constituted genocide I refer interested parties to this Wikipedia article:

H.E. Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu - The War of Genocide

British Attitude to Nigeria/Biafra War

An Igbo song:

Abraham Onyenobia - Chukwu Zoba Anyi (God Save Us)

At Independence, approximately 40% of the population of Biafra was composed of non-Igbo "Eastern Minorites," Ijaws, Efiks and others. Fearing "Igbo domination," many of these were ambivalent about secession or even actively supported the Federal cause. However, members of minority groups were represented in the Biafran government throughout the war:

Ika Bassey - The Case of the Minorities in Biafra

H.E. Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu - Launching of the Biafran Currency and Postage Stamps


I.S. Kogbara - Excerpt from H.E.'s Address to Special Consultative Assembly, Addis Ababa


Download Biafra: Birth of a Nation as a zipped file, including liner notes, here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Alasa of Ibadanland




To an outsider, Lanrewaju Adepoju's Èwì would seem to be just another one of the many Yoruba percussion styles that are so popular in the southwestern corner of Nigeria: Fújì, Wákà, Àpàlà and the like. I've come to find out that èwì, properly understood, is not "music" at all but a chanted form of epic poetry, and that Adepoju is considered one of its greatest practitioners.

This by way of a fascinating essay, "Lanrewaju Adepoju and the Making of Modern Yoruba Poetry," by Oyeniyi Okunoye, which you can read in its entirety here. Okunoye marks the development of modern  èwì  around the time of Independence in 1960 and the broadcast of poetry in Western Nigeria. In 1964 Adepoju, who is proud of his status as a "self-made man" despite his lack of a formal education, began reading his poetry on Tiwa n Tiwa, a program on the Western Nigeria Broadcast Service in Ibadan, and went on to produce such programs as Kaaaro o o Jiire? ("Good Morning"), Barika ("Blessing/Greetings") and Ijinji Akewi ("The Poet at Dawn").

Born into a Muslim family, Adepoju dabbled for a time in mystical doctrines, associating with a group called the Servers of Cosmic Light for some years, returning to mainstream Sunni Islam in 1985. Okunoye writes:

Although Adepoju has emphasized the impact of his return to a conservative form of Islam on his poetic imagination, it is projected only superficially within the broader theistic vision that emerges in his work as a whole. With the obvious exception of poems in which he sets out to propagate particular Islamic doctrines, the vision that pervades his work constantly shifts between the Islamic and the ecumenical, blending Christian, Islamic and traditional Yoruba outlooks. This suggests either a split consciousness underlying Adepoju's work or a deliberate strategy aimed at popularity and relevance in a multi-religious society. His "Oriki Olodumare," a work that conceptually integrates Islamic, Christian and traditional Yoruba theistic visions, testifies to this.
The 1993 cassette Ìrònúpìwàdà ("Repentance," Lanrad LALPS 150), which I present here, is apparently one of Adepoju's works in a more "orthodox" Islamic vein. If anyone out there would care to provide a translation of the lyrics, I'm sure we'd all be interested:


Chief Lanrewaju Adepoju - Àsà Burúkú  

Download Ìrònúpìwàdà as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In Praise of "Mami Wata"




For many months now I've put off posting this in an effort to find out more about our featured artist, Bob Sir Merenge. Unfortunately, I can't say I've found out much. I can tell you that he is one of innumerable traditional Igbo musicians who have released recordings, sometimes to great acclaim, sometimes without making any ripples at all. I would say that Merenge's efforts have not gone totally unnoticed (I have a couple more records by him) but haven't drawn much attention outside of a small area of eastern Nigeria (and the Igbo diaspora, of course).

The second thing I can tell you about Bob Sir Merenge is that he is from the town of Uli in southern Anambra State. Uli is a fairly nondescript down on the Onitsha-Owerri Highway, but during the Biafran War (1967-70) the airstrip at Uli was literally a lifeline for the embattled rebel enclave, all sea access to the nascent Biafran republic having been lost early on (the map is from John de St. Jorre's The Nigerian Civil War [Hodder & Stoughton, 1972]):



Anyway, Bob Sir Merenge's album Eze Nwanyi (Okoli Music Co. OFC 4) is about as representative and fine an example of Igbo traditional music as you'll find (in the near future I'll be posting Show Promoter's LP Azu Alala, which is also an excellent example of the genre).

Eze Nwanyi begins with an elegy entitled "Ugbo Ezeh," "The Chief's Lorry." It tells the tale of Asampete, who was married for 20 years but was unable to conceive - the couple had money but no child. When she finally got pregnant Asampete was the object of cruel gossip by the villagers, who whispered that she was either sick or had slept with another man. When she finally gave birth to a daughter, her husband was very disappointed and beat Asampete. Finally she took her daughter and went to live with her mother.

Asampete's daughter grew up to be very beautiful, but one day the villagers came running to inform Asampete that she had been struck and killed by one of the fleet of trucks owned by the village chief. The chief told her to wait until the lorries came back from Asaba to see which one killed her daughter. Asampete wailed that she had no husband and now had no daughter. She went with a rope to the tree to hang herself but one of the villages stopped her. Asampete asked God how He could let this happen:


I wouldn't be surprised if "Ugbo Ezeh" was based on a true story, as are many songs of this type. The song, along with the others on Eze Nwanyi, also ably displays the various instruments in the arsenal of Igbo music: the opi (horn), the ogene (twin bell), udu (pottery drum), ekwe (slit drum), ashakala (beaded gourd), and samba (square drum).

"Ude Ndi Egwu" also concerns people who wish to become parents. A woman is praying to God to give her a child while she is still young. The singer expresses that while many wish for children, those who already have them often complain of the trouble they bring:


The title track, "Eze Nwanye," relates the "Mami Wata" legend, which, in different forms, can be found throughout Africa and the diaspora. The invocation at the beginning of the song states, "Ekene kene eze nwanyi," "Greetings to the Queen, our mother, the mother of the waters." The song further asks for her divine protection: "Great praise to the Queen, the one who lives in the ocean, the most beautiful, the lady of all ladies, we are asking for your protection sailing on oshimiri (the deep sea). When you bless us we will have a good life."

The choruses, "Onye o gaziri orie" and "Uwa e, uwa bu ogaziere onye orie" mean, respectively, "Whoever gets the blessing enjoys life" and "If you are blessed you will enjoy this world."

Bob Sir Merenge & his Igbo Cultural Singers - Eze Nwanyi

"Onwu Bu Onye Ilo" ("Death is the Enemy in this World") is a standard praise song, a tribute to those who have passed on. At the beginning a man is crying, and his comrades console him, saying "Uwa anyi no aburo nbe anyi," "This world is not our home." The singer recites the names of the fallen, preceded by the phrase "Onwu gburu ogaranya" ("Death killed a great man") and followed by the chorus "Amaghi m onye irom" ("I don't know my enemy"):

Bob Sir Merenge & his Igbo Cultural Singers - Onwu Bu Onye Ilo

Download Eze Nwanyi as a zipped file here. Many thanks to my wife Priscilla for interpreting these songs.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Adventures in Angularity




I hate to say this, but it's been ages since Ebenezer Obey has waxed anything worth listening to. For the last twenty years he's been devoting himself to spreading the Gospel, only occasionally setting foot in a studio to record something of a religious nature. Not that I'm putting that sort of thing down, of course. It's just that I miss the days when the Chief Commander was on the cutting edge of jùjú music, notably with a series of LPs in the early '80s that combined deep Yoruba roots music and funky R&B influences.

I'm going to post the 1980 LP Current Affairs here (Decca DWAPS 488, released in the UK as Oti OTI 488), not because it's my favorite of these recordings (that honor goes to Eyi Yato, also released in 1980, which I'll probably make available in the future) but because more than any other record it displays the brilliant blend of Yoruba harmonies, off-beat blue notes and discordant, "angular" sounds that defines the '80s Obey style. As an illustration of what I mean, check out the passage in "Oba Sijuade" that begins at the 6:35 mark:

Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey & his Inter-Reformers Band - Oba Sijuade

"Oba Sijuade" comemmorates the coronation in 1980 of Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade as the Ooni of Ifè, one of the foremost traditional leaders of the Yoruba people. Legend has it that at the site of the present-day city of Ile-Ifè the supreme being Olódùmarè directed the creation of the world. The god Obàtálá created human beings out of clay, while the god Oduduwa became the first leader of the Yoruba nation. It is said that all of the succeeding Oonis are direct descendents of Oduduwa. In his 1969 release On the Town (Decca WAPS 28), Obey also paid tribute to then-prince Sijuade.

The great Ibadan Flood Disaster of 1980, in which the Ogunpa River overflowed, killing at least 100 people and laying a good part of the city waste, is commemorated on side 2 of Current Affairs. It is ironic that on August 26 of this year, five days short of the 31st anniversary of that calamity, and despite many years of attempts to channelize the Ogunpa, the river overwhelmed its banks again, exacting a similar toll in lives and property:


Download Current Affairs as a zipped file here. In the course of researching this post, I was saddened to read of the death on August 23 of Juliana Olaide Obey-Fabiyi, Ebenezer Obey's wife of 48 years. I'm sure everyone reading this will join me in offering Mr. Obey their deepest condolences.

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: