No sooner had I mentioned that I was lacking two of Nelly Uchendu's legendary recordings, Love Nwantinti (Homzy HCE 005, 1976) and Mamausa (Afrodisia DWAPS 2066, 1978), than Uchenna of With Comb and Razor mailed me copies of both that he had located in Nigeria. If that weren't enough, he also enclosed a copy of Hosanna (Homzy HCE 039, 1979), a previously-unknown-to-me gospel album by the State City Singers, a trio featuring Nelly and her sister Bridget. Thanks, Uchenna! I owe you one (or two, or three).
Not only do all of these LPs differ in "feel," they contrast interestingly to the recordings featured in my previous post. The one constant is Nelly's glorious voice, an instrument that earned her the appellation "Nigeria's Golden Voice." I'm more than happy to devote another post to this great Igbo chanteuse, who was woefully neglected outside of Nigeria during her lifetime, and is in danger of being forgotten completely now that she has departed this world.
Love Nwantinti, Uchendu's first LP, is the recording that put her on the map after some years of celebrity in her native Enugu. It is actually credited to Nelly Uchendu and pianist/organist Mike Obianwu, and what a combination it is! Love Nwantinti is one of the few African records I've heard that feature piano prominently, a very interesting effect. The liner notes state that Obianwu had 45 years of experience under his belt as of 1976. Indeed, I'm wondering if he is the uncredited pianist featured on Celestine Ukwu's classic LP True Philosophy (Philips 6361 009, 1971). Producer H.N. Nnamchi writes, ". . . As some of these evergreen tunes gradually fading away hence I called Nelly and 'Uncle' Mike Obianwu to make this evergreen, exciting, top hits into an album for me and you to own in our own individual record library. . ."
We open up with a medley of three tunes, actually part of a six-song medley that comprises Side 1 of Love Nwantinti. In "Love Nwantinti" ("Small Love"), Nelly sings "My life's journey of love ("ije love") needs just a little more time." In "Ada Eze" ("The Chief's Daughter") she beseeches her best friend, "Ada Eze, come tell me what I should do in this world. What you have in your heart is love. . ." The chorus, "onyi mu oma,' means "my best friend." Finally, in "Onye Nwulu Ozuluike" ("When Somebody Dies, They Rest"), she sings "A bus has taken Joy to Sokoto in the North ["ugwu Hausa"]. A guest has no enemies. If another animal sees a monkey jumping and tries to jump himself he will be hurt. When somebody dies, they rest":
Nelly Uchendu & Mike Obianwu - Love Nwantinti/Ada Eze/Onye Nwulu Ozuluike
"Chukwu Onye Okike" ("God Our Creator") from Side 2 of Love Nwantinti, is basically a prayer: "God our creator, God our Lord, God who loves us, please help us. Please save us." I love the instrumental break & Obianwu's sharp piano work:
Nelly Uchendu & Mike Obianwu - Chukwu Onye Okike
Sharp-eyed readers will note that the track titles and recording information given on the label differ somewhat from the cover and titles given here (click the image to enlarge). I don't know why this is, but I have a hypothesis: After Nelly's smash debut at FESTAC '77, the original LP by "Uncle Obianwu and Nelly Uchendu" was reissued credited to Nelly Uchendu and Mike Obianwu with a new title and cover. As there were no doubt copies of the original pressing around, only the cover was reprinted. It's as good an explanation as any.
I had heard of Mamausa, but was unprepared for what greeted my ears after actually putting it on the turntable. Who would have thought that in 1978, after a tidal wave of soul and R&B had swept over Nigeria, people there would still be making first-rate dance-band highlife? Interesting also is the presence in the lineup of Ken Okulolo, who has been a respected purveyor of African music in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years now.
"Mamausa" seems to be a nickname, perhaps referring to someone from the North of Nigeria (the song is sometimes referred to as "Mama Hausa," and since the hard "h" sound is not usually pronounced in Igbo, this seems plausible), probably an older lady. Nelly sings to her friend, ". . . I'm so very lost, I'm so much in love. Mamausa, beautiful woman, I'm telling you I'm lost. The journey of love ("ije love" once again) has killed me":
Nelly Uchendu - Mamausa Pts. 1 & 2
On the album, "Mamausa" is actually parts 1 and 4 of a four-song medley. the track listing is: Mamausa Pt. 1/Jesu Chelum/Ugbo Ndi Oma/Mamausa Pt. 2. For convenience I've combined the two parts of the song, but if you'd like to hear the whole medley, click here.
"Okwu Di Nlo" ("A Soft Voice") from Side 2 of Mamausa, preaches the virtues of moderation: "A soft voice brings down anger. That's how a person succeeds in life. A soft voice brings peace, it brings happiness. . .":
Nelly Uchendu - Okwu Di Nlo
The final song on Mamausa, "Kpokube Olisa," ("Call on the Lord") is another hymn. Nelly sings that today people can't even trust their own relatives: ". . . The world has changed. The world has gotten bad. Call on the Lord so we can survive":
Nelly Uchendu - Kpokube Olisa
I wanted to include a couple of tracks from Hosanna in this post, but I just haven't had time to do the necessary audio restoration (as you can tell, these records have all been much-loved and much-played!) Perhaps another time. And many thanks, as usual, to my wife Priscilla for her interpretations of these lyrics.
Discography of Nelly Uchendu
Update: Cheeku Bidani confirms my suspicions regarding the two issues of Love Nwantinti. At above right is the original cover (click to enlarge). It is currently offered on Ebay here.