Saturday, June 21, 2008

Why I'm an "Ebenezer Man"




Those of a certain age, like me, will remember when the Beatles first hit the international scene in late 1963. Within a few months
Beatlemania swept around the world like a tsunami.

We Beatlemaniacs (the male ones, anyway) soon divided ourselves into two factions: "Paul Men" and "John Men." Of course, all the girls were crazy about Paul McCartney, the "Cute Beatle," and "Paul Men" loved his bitchen' bass guitar that looked like a violin. "The Smart Beatle," John Lennon, didn't get as much attention at first. But while McCartney always had a way with the catchy melody, it was Lennon who contributed the most meaningful and insightful lyrics to the Beatles canon. He had a nuanced and cynical view of human nature that struck a chord with the youthful and rebellious. That's why, even though Lennon and McCartney complimented each other perfectly, and none of the work they did on their own ever equaled what they did together, I've always been a "John Man."

I suspect that jùjú music fans similarly divide themselves into factions following King Sunny Adé and Ebenezer Obey (just for sake of argument, we will leave out of the equation I.K. Dairo, Prince Adekunle and the like, much less the silly Shina Peters!).

King Sunny Adé was the one who brought
jùjú music out of Nigeria in 1982, when his LP Juju Music was released on Island Records, but of course he didn't create the style. Nor did Ebenezer Obey, but he'd been playing jùjú since the mid-1950s, and founded his International Brothers Band (later re-named the Inter-Reformers) in 1964. Following Sunny's initial success, there was a desultory attempt to market Obey to an international audience, and a bizarre record, Je Ka Jo (Virgin 205761) was released in 1983. A big glob of over-produced mush, Je Ka Jo had nothing to do with jùjú music as it was generally understood, and disappeared without a trace.

If Virgin Records had licensed some of Obey's great Nigerian releases like Current Affairs (Decca WAPS 488), Sound of the Moment (Decca WAPS 498) or Eyi Yato (Decca WAPS 508), they might have gotten somewhere. Those records, all released in 1980, with their soul-stirring Yoruba harmonies, mind-bending guitar work and echoes of American rhythm and blues, display the great Obey at the peak of his powers. In comparison Sunny Adé, as good as he is, is just outclassed.

That's why I'm an "Ebenezer man."

Nigerian fans have their own favorite recordings. Board Members (Decca WAPS 38, 1972) is probably the most popular of Obey's early releases, while many swear by The Horse, The Man and His Son (Decca WAPS 98, 1973). I myself have always been partial to two albums he recorded in London in 1969 and 1970, In London (Decca WAPS 28, later reissued as Obey WAPS 28), and On the Town (Decca WAPS 30, reisued as Obey 30).
In the coming years Obey would adopt some of the innovations of the other jùjú musicians - pedal steel guitar and long, extended jams - but these albums are interesting for their blend of jùjú and highlife elements.

Here's In London. Click on the picture below to read about the songs. When I digitize it, I will post On the Town here as well.

Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Egba


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ijesha


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ibadan


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Iba Foluwa/Ajo Kodabi Ile


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ijebu


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ondo/Ogbomosho


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ori Mi Ko Ni Buru


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ore Se Rere


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Omoba Sijuade/Moti Wa E



4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised nobody has commented on this yet. Wonderful album! I'm looking forward to "On the Town."

MOB said...

Fantastic!

This has been one of my very favorite blogs for quite some time, and posts like this are why.

jack said...

Thanks so much for this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so very much for this meticulous documentation on music that has been "off-the-screen" pretty much here in U.S., escept for some afficionados like me! I first heard this music years ago when had college friends who invited me to Igbo parties, which were really fun back then, (I suppose like everything was more enjoyable back then!)