Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cross River-Akwa Ibom Sounds




People seemed to enjoy the Ibibio tunes I put up in a previous post, so I thought it would be fruitful to return to the area, namely the states of Cross River and Akwa Ibom in the
southeastern corner of Nigeria.

Up until 1987, when Akwa Ibom was carved out of Cross River, these two entities were one, and ethnically they share some afinities: The southern part of Cross River is majority Efik and the Ibibios predominate in Akwa Ibom. I get the impression that Efik and Ibibio are mutually intelligible, basically dialects of the same language.

As I wrote earlier, I'm not very familiar with the music of this area. Cross River did produce one native son who achieved fame across Nigeria, Inyang Henshaw, who contributed two songs to the CD Rusted Highlife Vol. 1, which I posted here. Parenthetically, the state can be said to have produced one "native daughter" who is even more famous: Welsh singer Shirley Bassey, whose father was from Calabar. He, however, abandoned her when she was two, and she has had no contact with his land of birth.

Anyway, I have gone through my slim collection of Efik and Ibibio recordings, and have come up with some pretty enjoyable tunes for your listening pleasure, the most surprising of which are two tracks from the album Idim Mmoŋ Uwem (God's Will Records GWR 002, 1985), which you can see at the top of this post. I say surprising because the recording, by the St. John's African Church Choir in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, has sat neglected and unlistened to for at least twelve years in my collection. Some pretty big warps and scratches render most of it unplayable, but there were a couple of songs I was able to salvage.

Idim Mmoŋ Uwem is within the tradition of African Christian devotional music. There is quite a bit of this material available in the Western market, and much of it, Missa Luba and the like, has always struck me as a bit "twee." However, there is a huge market in Nigeria for Christian music made by Africans, for Africans. The production values are often poor and the lyrics treacly, but it's heartfelt. I don't doubt that it's the biggest-selling genre of music in southeastern Nigeria:

St. John's African Church Choir, Uyo, Akwa Ibom - Utibe Enying Jesus

St. John's African Church Choir, Uyo, Akwa Ibom - Usen Oboŋ

Cross River Nationale's LP Enim Ini (Supertone TON E001, 1976), as well as being a fine collection of great dance-band highlife, features a nice map of old Cross River State. The southwestern corner, centered on Uyo, was to become Akwa Ibom:



I asked Uchenna of With Comb and Razor if he knew anything about Cross River Nationale, and he wrote:

". . . Don't know too much about them as a band, though. . . I believe the lead singer was Darlington Duke, whose name I used to hear a lot, and I've seen him either listed as a vocalist or thanked in the credits of a few other Cross River-originating records, so I guess he was something of a big man on the scene.

"[Enim Ini] was produced by Tony Essien, who went on to be a house producer at Haruna Ishola's Phonodisk Records, producing a good deal of their pop and highlife output. he was also associated, i believe, with the band Rocktown Express (though I don't know if he was actually a member)... I'm trying to figure out if he might have been associated with Wrinkars Experience too (that's just a hunch. . .)"
Cross River Nationale - Enim Ini

Cross River Nationale - Da Abasi Dian Idem

By popular demand, here are two more songs from Sunny Risky's Eti Uwem (Itiabasco ITRLP 019, 1988), and U.T. Isenem & The Black Mirrors' Obio Cross River (Anodisc ALPS 1007, 1976):

Sunny Risky - Okuk Special


U.T. Isenem & The Black Mirrors - Nkuku Mpko Yoriyo
Finally, you just can't do justice to a post on Efik-Ibibio music without including a couple of tunes by the late great Inyang Henshaw, the king of Efik music. He held sway throughout the Seventies with a series of great highlife melodies in the classic dance-band mode. These songs are taken from a 1996 compilation, Top Ten Tunes (Mossiac MMCD0921):

Chief Inyang Henshaw - Sunsuly

Chief Inyang Henshaw - Ma Ekanem

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

nice nice tracks
big thanks

Comb & Razor said...

ha! i like the way you took the time to render the "ŋ" in Idim Mmoŋ Uwem... that's a distinctly Cross Riverian sound!

John B. said...

Ha! Yes, I was surprised to find that character is available in the Century font. Unfortunately I couldn't find the "backwards c" character, and had to render it as "o."

How exactly is "ŋ" pronounced? I had assumed as "ng" in English, but is there something more?

Comb & Razor said...

technically it is "ng" .... but when pronounced correctly, the "g" isn't hard; it's a more glottal sound.

Bellemskey said...

Oh my God.... just listen to Mma Ekamen.... listen to the voice, the arrangement and instrumentals....Ah.... i cant hold myself, even though i dont understand a single word of the Calabar language... John thanks a great deal.....

simon said...

love that cross river nationale artwork!

idara said...

I want to thank you again for Cross River Nationale!
this album makes it's way to my ears regularly, especially on days with nice weather!
dancing music :-)