Saturday, January 26, 2008


Born in the suburbs of Abidjan around 1990, Polihet is just one of a dizzying array of styles that have made that city a musical hotbed to rival Kinshasa, Dakar and Lagos. Ziglibithy, Zouglou, Zoblazo. . . all have made their mark, only to be abandoned as fickle Ivoiriens moved on to the next craze. All of these styles are characterized by criss-crossing polyrythms
and frantic, shouted vocals. About Polihet, Nick Deen over at Natari said it best: ". . . I'd love to actually see the dancing that goes with this music in action as I reckon you'd need three pairs of legs just to keep one foot on the ground!"

Gnaore Djimi was Polihet's foremost practitioner, and in response to a request from a reader over at VOA's African Music Treasures, here are some tracks by him. I've been unable to find out anything about Gnaore Djimi, and Pollihet itself seems to have faded away. Our first selection is the title tune from Djimi's 1991 cassette release Azigbo (EMI EO 241191-4):

Gnaore Djimi - Azigbo

Also from 1991, here's the opening track from Nouveau Deux (EMI 012002-4):

Gnaore Djimi et le Polihet "Plus" - Nouveau Deux

Finally, here's a scorcher from 1992's Polihet Innovation '93 (EMI EO 301192-4):

Gnaore Djimi - Zikebou

Gnaore Djimi was by no means Polihet's only representative. Olives Guede was apparently a Gnaore Djimi protegé who had a style that was maybe a bit more straightforward, with a tad less emphasis on the polyrythms and a bit more guitar. Here's the title track from 1991's Solidarite (EMI EO 15491.4):

Olives Guede et le Polihet "Plus" - Solidarite

Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Another New Blog

Please join me in welcoming to the Blogosphere our good friend Fabian Altahona Romero of Barranquilla, Colombia. His new Africolombia blog promises plenty of wall-scorchers, not only from Colombia but from Nigeria, Congo and points farther afield. Since starting the blog on January 2o, Fabian has posted: Ernesto Djedje, a cumbia remake of Fela's "Shakara" by Colombia's Pedro Beltran, a number of other killer Colombian 45s (I haven't had time to download them all yet), Nigeria's Imo Brothers, Bopol Mansiamina, and much, much more!

I check the Google Analytics statistics for Likembe every morning, and I'm amazed at the number of hits that come from Colombia, most from the Cartagena-Barranquilla area. There are some serious African music fans around those parts! If you enjoy Champeta and the other African-inflected sounds of Colombia's Caribbean coast as much as I do, and are interested in further explorations, you could do a lot worse than to check Fabian's blog out.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Elusive "Igbo Blues"

In Ronnie Graham's Stern's Guide to Contemporary African Music (Zwan Publications, 1988, published in the U.S. as The Da Capo Guide to African Music), there is an intriguing reference to something called "Igbo Blues," which he defines as
". . . basically a percussion arrangement supported by vocals and lacking even guitars. . ."

What Ronnie calls "Igbo Blues" would probably be more properly labeled Igbo Traditional or Igbo Roots Music, and this is an extremely popular and variegated genre in the Nigerian music industry, encompassing myriad styles and artists. I've never
actually seen a recording labeled "Igbo Blues," although the appellations "Igbo Native Blues" or "Igbo Native Music" are sometimes used. Below are two record labels featuring the former term, the first from Ogbogu Okoriji & his Anioma Brothers, a percussion and vocal ensemble from Delta State, the second by the fifty-member women's dance and vocal group group of the Nnewi Improvement Union (Lagos Branch). I've also seen "Igbo Native Blues" applied to solo pieces for ubo (Igbo thumb-piano) and voice, and also to straightforward Igbo guitar highlife, so who's to say what it really means?

As an example of an "Igbo Blues" artist, Ronnie cites the musician Morocco Maduka. Morocco's recent recordings feature the sort of stale arrangements, cheap synthesizers and ticky-tacky drum machines that currently blight the Igbo music scene. An artist with a similar, but superior, sound is Chief Akunwata Ozoemena Nsugbe (right), who places more emphasis on the traditional Igbo percussion line-up of drums and bells. Here's a track from his cassette Ifunanya (Olumo Records ORPS 1034). "Chief John Nnebeolisa" is the sort of obsequious praise song that is rife in Nigerian music. The honoree is lauded for his great success in life, his charitable works, and his tendency to give away cars as gifts. Mr. Nsugbe asks the great Chief if he could get a gift also:

Chief Akunwata Ozoemena Nsugbe & his Oliokata Singing Party - Chief John Nnebeolisa

Another popular version of Igbo traditional music is performed by amateur and semi-professional percussion and dance troupes. Around Christmastime or during village celebrations, such as the Iri Ji, or New Yam festival, these groups are ubiquitous in Ala Igbo, traveling from house to house and compound to compound to perform for money. During my first visit to Nigeria in December 1994 I made a number of videos of groups such as these, which I really should post on YouTube some day. From the cassette Chukwunna Njieme Onu (EMI Nigeria NEMI 0692), here is a tune by the Ifediora Mma Egedege Cultural Dance Group of Uga, which is a noteworthy examplar of this style.

Here the full panoply of Igbo traditional instruments is displayed to great effect. The amiri (reed flute) leads off, to be joined in succession by the ekwe (wooden slit drum), ogene (two-headed bell) and oyo (rattle). The title, "Chukwunna Njieme Onu," means "My God that I Brag About." Lead singer Ann Ezeh addresses God in a very personal way: "God, please bless us, God that we rejoice in, God give us your grace, God that is all-good, God in heaven ('Olisa din'igwe') make our way easier."

Ifediora Mma Egedege Cultural Dance Group of Uga - Chukwunna Njieme Onu

One of the outstanding Nigerian releases of the 1980s was Anti-Concord/Apama (Nigerphone NXLP 011, 1988) by Ibealaoke Chukwukeziri & his Anaedonu (right). Side 1 featured sparkling guitar highlife, while side 2 was devoted to some great Igbo cultural roots music, including this song, "Apama," or "carry me," which addresses the burning issue of Igbo women not being as tall as they used to be! You can see a video of it here.

Ibealaoke Chukwukeziri & his Anaedonu - Apama

Finally, any discussion of Igbo roots music would be incomplete without an example of women's choral music. There are literally thousands and thousands of Igbo female singing groups throughout Nigeria, and many have made recordings. One of the more popular ensembles in the '80s was the Okwuamara Women's Dance Group of Umuoforolo, Nkwerre in Imo State. "Nkwerre Imenyi Anyi Abiala" is from their LP Okwuamara '88 (SIL 001), and serves as an introduction to the group: "Nkwerre Imenyi [the group's home village], we have come, the beautiful ones have come." The chorus then replies "yes, we have come." Greetings are then given to the people of Nigeria, of Imo State, etc., etc.

Okwuamara Women's Dance Group of Umuoforolo, Nkwerre - Nkwerre Imenyi Anyi Abiala

Thanks once again to my wife, Priscilla, for interpreting the lyrics. Please let me know if you've enjoyed these tracks. I have tons of music like this, and I'd love to make it better known.
I like to give "shout-outs" to other African music sites whenever I can, and it occurred to me yesterday that I've never mentioned Matt Yanchyshin's excellent blog Ben Loxo du Taccu. This was the first serious African music blog, and it's been the inspiration for many others. If you're reading this, you've probably seen Ben Loxo already. If you haven't, though, do yourself a favor and drop by now. It's an excellent way to find out about and sample the latest sounds out of Africa. It's "Eritrea Week" at Ben Loxo right now, and Matt's got a platterful of musical treats from that country for your listening enjoyment.

I'm indebted to Matt in a number of ways. Not only did he directly inspire this blog, he personally advised me on some of the technical issues involved, and has been generous in his praise and encouragement ever since.

Friday, January 11, 2008

More Ethiopian Honey

Here's another long-lost cassette from the "Derg years" in Ethiopia. Bati (Ambassel Music Shop, ca. the early '80s), by Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh, was apparently quite popular in its day, and
perfectly illustrates the confluence of the ancient and modern that is so typical of contemporary Ethiopian music.

Rahel Yohannes (right) began her career not as a singer but as an entrepreneur. In Addis Ababa she managed a restaurant and often entertained the customers with impromptu a capella vocal performances. This led to her introduction to the late Ketema Mekonnen, a singer and player of traditional musical instruments. A professional career, and ten albums, soon followed. To this day she is both a performer and a restaurateur, entertaining audiences at her Fasika Restaurant & Nightclub in Addis.

Shambel Belayneh (left) is a master of the Masinko, the traditional one-string Ethiopian violin. He has performed with the greats of Ethiopian music, including Aster Aweke, Mahmoud Ahmed and the Roha Band, among many others. He currently lives in the United States.

Rahel Yohannes and Shambel Belayneh both have CDs available from AIT Records.

As I discussed in my last post on Ethiopian music, music distribution in Ethiopia during the '80s was a "do-it-yourself" affair, cassettes being duplicated one-by-one by various music shops. Bati is no exception, and it shows in the recording quality. The musical quality is another matter. I'm sure you'll agree with me that this is an outstanding work of art.

Our opening tune, "Bati," is one of the standards of the Ethiopian repertoire, and has been recorded by innumerable artists. An exceptional version opened 2001's Éthiopiques 15: Jump to Addis (Buda Musique 82264-2). From the liner notes of that disc I got these lyrics:

Like the road to Bati, deep in the gorge,
I wonder if your love will last,
He ate a fruit in Dèssié and went crazy,
He saw a beauty in Kombolcha and went crazy,
I want to leave him before he gets what he deserves.
Unfortunately I have no idea what the other songs on Bati are about. If anyone out there knows Amharic, I'm sure we'd all like to know.

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Bati (Bähäbrät)

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Änta Aynama

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Endenäu (Bähäbrät)

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Leqerbwe Leraqwe

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Änaznegahe Hody

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Bale Dere (Bähäbrät)

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Zenay (Bamebele)

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Klelelaye

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Yedaoo

The tracklist on the cassette lists ten tunes in all. The ninth, "Anejetyne Balakewe," is missing. The song titles were transliterated by myself from a photocopy of the cassette inlay card (below) using the Geez syllabary, so I can't vouch for their accuracy. Anyone with a knowledge of Amharic is invited to correct any errors.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Exciting News! New African Music Blog from the VOA

I just had to share this with you as soon as I got it. Matthew's new blog is just incredible. It's great news for African music lovers and I'm proud that I played some small part in bringing it about. Check it out here.
Dear John,

Hello, I hope this message finds you in good spirits. My name is Matthew Lavoie. I am a music broadcaster and producer for the Africa service of the Voice of America. We broadcast throughout Africa in English, French, Portuguese, Amharic, Tigrigna, Oromo, Hausa, Swahili, Ndebele, Shona, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, and Somali.

I have consulted the discographies of African music that you helped put together for many years, and for the last three months I have been a regular visitor to your Likembe blog. Likembe is one of the most informative and diverse African music blogs I've read. Thanks for all of your efforts!! I especially enjoyed the Daro Mbaye entry, and your recent postings about Somali funk ... great sound files, great videos, and I appreciate the effort you made to talk in detail about particular songs.

Reading Likembe convinced me that blogs can sustain serious discussions of African music. In fact ... I was inspired enough to start a blog of my own to feature recordings from our (the VOA's) African music archives. We have got a collection of over 10,000 audio reels, several thousand lps and 45s, thousands of cassettes and cds. Our collection includes music from every country on the continent and includes rare unreleased recordings that were made for VOA programs (for e.g. unreleased recordings of Fela and the Koola Lobitos, Cardinal Rex Lawson, and many Apala recordings from the mid 1960s - I know you love Nigerian music). Our radio programs, however, are broadcast exclusively in Africa and there are many potentially interested African music lovers who never get to enjoy the recordings we have. I thought a blog might be a nice way to share some of this music. Here is the link...

I am just getting this thing rolling and will add new entries weekly.

I am also hoping that you can help me! The first entry I posted featured the Rwandan musician Bizimungu Dieudonne. I love his music but have not been able to learn much about him. Do you know anything about him? his career? his discography?

Thanks again for all of the great music at Likembe!!