Saturday, December 27, 2008

Awijiri: Ijaw Music from the Niger River Delta




The Ijaw people, who number close to ten million people, are the fourth largest nationality in Nigeria. They are a majority in Bayelsa State and constitute large minorities in Rivers and Delta States.

Ijaws have a long history of resistance against various central governments. Under British colonial rule this took the form of agitation for a separate Ijaw-majority "Rivers State," and this advocacy continued following independence in 196o. In 1966 Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro led an armed rebellion against the governments of Nigeria and the Eastern Region, declaring a Niger Delta Republic on February 23 of that year. When it was suppressed after twelve days, Boro was jailed, only to be pardoned in May 1967 on the outbreak of the Biafran war of independence. Boro fought on the side of the Federal government in that conflict and died a year later in battle near Okrika.

The creation of Rivers State in 1967, separating it from the old Eastern Region, delivered a death-blow to the nascent Biafran Republic, rallying the Ijaws and other nationalities of the Delta to the side of the Federal government. Bayelsa was carved out of Rivers State in 1996. In recent years Ijaw youths have taken up arms against the government to demand a bigger share of the oil revenue which comes from facilities in the Niger Delta.

Looking at the map below, the Ijaw inhabit an area roughly south of a line leading from Warri in Delta State, through Patani and Port Harcourt, ending around Opobo:



The Ijaw have their own indigenous form of highlife music, called awigiri. It is almost completely unknown outside of Nigeria, but has produced many popular musicians and recordings over the years. In a recent post I featured a song by Ijaw musician Peanock Timibi, and a further exploration of this music seemed like a good idea.

Anthony Cockson, from Tarakiri, Bayelsa State, is a popular musician in the Delta, judging by the number of recordings he has released, but I know nothing else about him. Here's a tune from his LP Edogbo Special (Cockson Records CR 01, 1984). "Late Brother Iddo" is compelling not only for the oddly poetic lyrics, the saga of the business tycoon Mr. Iddo, murdered in his sleep, ". . .slaughtered with an axe like a cattle in an abattoir. . . like a tale told by an idiot. . .war war, blood blood, rent the air. . . " but for the hypnotic bassline, which creates an otherworldly atmosphere:

Anthony Cockson & his Oyadonghan Dance Band of Tarakiri - Late Brother Iddo



A.S. Eseduwo, of Angalabri, Bayelsa State, likewise has released a number of records, but is also difficult to find information about. The lovely highlife "Aki-Kiri Mele-Mele," from 1984's Late Ebizimor of Okumbri (Croseide CKLP 001), showcases nimble guitar work and keyboard and the vocal contributions of two young boys, apparently Mr. Eseduwo's younger brothers:

A.S. Eseduwo & his Top Stars Dance Band of Angalabri - Aki-Kiri Mele-Mele



King Robert Ebizimor, from Alabiri in Bayelsa State, is probably the best-known Ijaw musician living today. He started out in 1973 with the Professional Seagulls Dance Band in Port Harcourt, the former backup group of Rex Lawson led by David Bull, and has recorded over 20 albums. "Ebi-Ere Ke Bede Egbe" is taken from his 1990 LP Arekedoumene Ogbo of Endoro (Iwa-Lewa IWA 018):

King Robert Ebizimor - Ebi-Ere Ke Bede Egbe



Barrister S. Smooth of Enekorogha, Delta State has a number of videos on the internet, including this one. "Seikeme Tabbe Bofa Ekpe" is taken from the album Young Choppers Union of Warri (Felix FERLP 030, 1991), apparently a tribute to an all-women's charitable society. Don't you just love that title?

Barrister S. Smooth & his Young Heroes Dance Band of Enekorogha - Seikeme Tagbe Bofa Ekpe



Next up, a couple of extended tracks that are not really awigiri per se, but could be described at "Ijaw Native Blues." First, Birifou & his Ama-Ebimo Group of Gbekebor, Delta State. This is from their LP Mr. Dolokwei R. Kenekodo (Coconut COLP 240, 1979):

Birifou & his Ama-Ebimo Group of Gbekebor - Mr. Dolokowei R. Kenekodo/Alotabobor Oru



Chief Bukka & his Cultural Group of Okrika bring things to a close with this wild set of explosive percussion and haunting vocals. Okrika, in Rivers State, is a historically significant Niger Delta town. In the 17th Century it was the capital of the Kingdom of Okrika and was a center of the slave trade and later of the palm oil trade. Presently it is important in the petroleum industry. This is side 1 of the LP Owolo Wolo (Willisco WMSLP 1024, 1980):

Chief Bukka & his Cultural Group of Okrika - Owolo Wolo/Tubo Pumbo Ba/Akumaya/Owu Ama Pu/Bukka Bo Iwa Owuti/Toku Bie



By the way, the picture at the top of the post is apropos of nothing in particular. I just took it off the back of one of these albums and thought it was cool.

9 comments:

Rico said...

Hi John, thanks for this new post. Didn't listen to it yet, but I noticed a little mistake of yours : the link to "Birifou & his Ama-Ebimo Group of Gbekebor - Mr. Dolokowei R. Kenekodo/Alotabobor Oru" leads to the file "Ebi-Ere Ke Bede Egbe" of the former in the list, King Robert Ebizimor ... Can you fix this up ? Happy new year

John B. said...

Thanks for pointing that out to me, Rico. It's been corrected.

Comb & Razor said...

wow... lots of great stuff here. can't wait to check it out!

Frederikse said...

This is a wonderful selection of music I was totally unaware of before now. More please!

Anonymous said...

Great post & great tunes!

Thank you!

bathmate said...

As always an excellent posting.The
way you write is awesome.Thanks. Adding more information will be more useful.

Bathmate

Anonymous said...

Hi - I am really glad to discover this. cool job!

Anonymous said...

Late Brother Iddo is a killer track...I've just listened to it several times in a row. Incredible. I've never heard it before...I won't soon forget it.

Thank you so much for your work on this blog (which I just discovered).

It's fantastic to get beyond the Top 1 or 2 artists per country we get here in the US and hear what else is out there.

Anonymous said...

Major post--thank you! Thanks for keeping it up.