Monday, May 26, 2008

Nigeria's Golden Voice




Comb and Razor's recent post on Onyeka Onwenu has put me in mind of another exemplary Nigerian female singer. I'm referring to Nelly Uchendu, the "Golden Voice of Nigeria," who passed away on May 19, 2005. Actually, Uchendu was a bit of a musical oddity. While there has been no shortage of female "pop" singers in the Naija music scene, and women singers dominate Nigerian gospel, Nelly was one of the few female singers in the Igbo highlife genre (actually I can think of only one other, Queen Azaka).

Nelly burst upon the scene in 1977 with "Love Nwantiti," a song based on the folklore of her native Enugu, and quickly followed that up with a number of hits like "Aka Bu Eze" and "Mamausa." She had a much-praised appearance with Warrior and his Original Oriental Brothers in London in the early '80s, and recorded the soundtrack of the film adaptation of Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart." Toward the end of her life she devoted herself exclusively to Christian devotional songs.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to obtain copies of "Love Nwantiti" or "Mamausa," Nelly's two biggest hits, but I am happy to own three of Nelly's LPs, as well as Late Nite Husband, by Sonny Oti & his group, on which she sings lead vocal. Here are some tunes from them. Enjoy!

"Udo Ego" from Aka Bu Eze (Homzy HCE 012, 1977) addresses the problem of whom to marry? You love your family more than anything but you have to marry outside the family. This means that your potential spouse might not share your values or your family's values. In the song a young man states that he would like to marry a girl like his sister, Udo Ego. Actually, the song expresses, in Igbo terms, the sentiments of an old American popular tune, "I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad." If this sounds peculiar, keep in mind that the Igbo concept of incest is far more expansive than in most Western cultures - marriage between even distant relatives is considered an abomination.

Nelly Uchendu - Udo Ego

In the lively highlife tune "Elozekwanna Nwanne Gi," also from Aka Bu Eze, a mother sings to her son, "never forget your brother and sister" ("Nwanne Gi," literally "your mother's child"). "My child, remember that on the day you die, the person who will be called upon to bury you will be your brother or sister." For Africans, these family responsibilities are a blessing but also a curse, as successful family members are expected to support their ne'er-do-well relatives.


Nelly Uchendu - Elozekwanna Nwanne Gi


Compare "Elozekwanna Nwanne Gi" with the following song, from Celestine Ukwu's True Philosophy (Philips 6361 009, 1971):

Celestine Ukwu & his Philosophers National - Igede Pt. 1

"Late Nite Husband," from the LP of the same name (Homzy HCE 013, 1978) addresses the age-old problem of young women who marry "walk-abouts" who stay up at all hours drinking and chasing the ladies:

Sonny Oti & his Group w. Nelly Uchendu - Late Nite Husband

Detail from the cover of Late Nite Husband:



"Ezi Gbo Dim" ("My Good Husband") is from the album Ogadili Gi Nma (Afrodisia DWAPS 2168, 1982), as are the next two songs. Nelly sings, "My good husband, tell me what to do so you will love me? What can I do so that you will love me? I will dance for you, I will dance for you so you will continue to love me."

Nelly Uchendu - Ezi Gbo Dim

Anyone who has been in Igboland during festival season is familiar with the subject of the following song. The leader of a dance troupe calls out to the owner of a house to come out and give her money or a wrapper ("akwa") in exchange for their performance:

Nelly Uchendu - Akwa Alili

In "Nga Meji Eru Uwa" Uchendu sings to her parents, "see how much I have seen of the world." She then calls out to a succession of Nigerian musicians - Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Adé, Christy Essien Igbokwe, Warrior, Dan Satch and Bobby Benson - to "come and dance to my music":

Nelly Uchendu - Nga Meji Eru Uwa

The next two songs are taken from Uchendu's cassette of Christian devotional songs Sing Praises (Rogers All Stars RASLPS 132, early '90s). This sort of highlife/gospel music is omnipresent everywhere in Igboland. In fact, I would guess that it is the most popular genre of music by far. In "Cheta Tikue Jehova" ("Remember to Praise Jehovah") Nelly sings, "If you are sick, remember God. God is merciful and gracious. Only God can bless you."

Nelly Uchendu - Cheta Tikue Jehova

"Ekwensu Adago" means "Satan is Falling." Nelly sings, "Ife Jesu a sokammu-oo," "I love Jesus's way," and continues, "ife omelu mu'erika nu'wa, O solummu kam sobe ya-oo," "What he did for me in this world is very great. That is why I praise him." The chorus, "Osoluma kam sobe ya," means "I will always follow his way."

Nelly Uchendu - Ekwensu Adago

Thanks to my wife Priscilla for interpreting these lyrics.

Discography of Nelly Uchendu

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Brother Charlly Computer & his Friends




Reader/listener Tim Clifford has a big interest in East African music and is responsible for two of the best installments in Matsuli's late, great "African Serenades" series. Tim's working on a detailed discography of East African music and I was happy to pass on to him a listing of titles in my collection. In response to one of these, he wrote, ". . .I can't wait for you to post the single by Brother Charlly Computer and the Gloria Kings as it just might be the best band name ever!"

Of course, I agree. I'm happy to post Brother Charlly, and why don't we listen to a few more Kenyan 45s while we're at it? Most of these are from around the same period, the early to middle '80s, and they are among the last singles pressed in that country (record piracy pretty much killed the format within a few years).

I know absolutely nothing about Brother Charlly and his band. They apparently didn't make many waves, but "Goodbye Hully!" and "Achieng Born-Zo" (Brother Charlly BRO 1) are prime examples of the benga sound, then at the peak of its popularity:

Brother Charlly Computer & the Gloria Kings -
Goodbye Hully!

Brother Charlly Computer & the Gloria Kings - Achieng Born-Zo

One thing the Victoria "B" Kings cannot be accused of is being one-hit wonders. Together with D.O. Misiani's Shirati Jazz they were the foremost proponents of benga in its salad days. The Mighty Kings of Benga (Globestyle CDORBD 079, 1993) is a great collection of their 45s. Here are two side of a single (Pamba Oluoro Chilo PAC 14) that is not on that release:

Victoria "B" Kings - Leo Odondo Mak-Awiti


Victoria "B" Kings - Wabed Gi Hera Chuth

Barrier 4's version of benga (this example being Elimu ELM 06) is somewhat more subdued than the above examples, and is also in Swahili rather than Luo:

Barrier 4 - Gharama Haihesabeki Pts. 1 & 2

I understand that the Mombasa Roots Band are one of those Kenyan groups that cater primarily to the tourist trade. Here's their infectious update of the coastal chakacha style (Polydor POL 561):

Mombasa Roots Band - Disco Cha-Ka-Cha Pts. 1 & 2

Malako, recorded by Samba Mapangala & Orchestra Virunga in the early '80s, is rightly considered an African classic (it was reissued in 1990 as Virunga Volcano [Sterns/Earthworks CDEWV 16]). Mapangala, who is originally from the Congo, had a thriving career in East Africa throughout the decade. Around 1990 he left for greener pastures abroad, first in Paris and more recently in the U.S. Sadly, his more recent efforts, recorded with Congolese expatriates, lack the spark of his earlier recordings. "Kweya" (Editions Virunga EDV 005) represents him at the peak of his Kenyan success. Even the cheap-sounding drum machine (something I normally abhor) is in good form here:

Samba Mapangala & Orchestra Virunga - Kweya Pts. 1 & 2

To close out, let's journey about ten years earlier than the previous records. Gabriel Omolo & the Apollo Komesha's record "Lunch Time" not only received a gold disc in Kenya in 1973, it was a smash throughout Africa. Here's the B-side of the Nigerian pressing (Philips West Africa APL 7-618). And if you want to hear "Lunch Time," you can get it on Kenya Dance Mania (Sterns/Earthworks STEW 24CD):

Gabriel Omolo & the Apollo Komesha - Tutakula Vya Ajabu



Update: Tim Clifford's two "African Serenades" compilations are available again, for a limited time, here. Get 'em while they're hot!

Update 2: They're already gone. Sorry!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Recent Blog Postings of Note


I've got a couple of posts in the hopper that will be ready to go in a day or two, but I wanted to bring to your attention a couple of worthy submissions over at other blogs.

At Matsuli Music Jonathan Ward of Excavated Shellac, inveterate collector of all things 78 RPM, gives us a wonderful collection of classic music from South Africa, Phata Phata: 78 rpm Records from the Birth of Mbaqanga. Amazingly, these recordings are all from the 1960s, long after 78s were phased out in most parts of the world. Well worth downloading!

I'm continually astonished at the stuff Matthew Lavoie over at African Music Treasures digs out of the Voice of America vaults. This time he's come up with some amazing 45s from early-'70s Somalia. Who would have thought such a thing existed? If you enjoyed the recordings by Iftin I put up here some time ago, hie thee over and check them out.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Greetings from Luanda




I occasionally scan the comments sections of older posts to see if anyone's dropped by that I might have missed. This post occasioned the following comment, which I pass on to you. Toke's numerous blogs are a treasure trove of Angolan music, both contemporary and classic.
Hello Mr. John B., Milwaukee from Wisconsin, USA:
greetings from Angola!

Here's Toke fingers from Luanda, Angola.

I've founded your beautiful place, with that incredible familiar sound name (Likembe), and your two articles about Angolan music.

First I would like to express my pride with the inclusion in your links of kuduro of Kuduro.podomatic.com, my junior site where Kuduro music is ready to be downloaded.

Unfortunately, all my files have recently been deleted or damaged by the server, and I'm restarting my slowly local internet process of uploading to the ftp.

I'm learning in the way, in barely two years of internet blogging, being a junior in this activity.

With all respect I would like to share with your beautiful space some of my non commercial work, devoted purely to the world wide spread of Angolan music from different ages:

#1 Kuduro.podomatic.com. Straight from CD-R street Kuduro sellers to your hard drive, the Angolan Ghetto musicians that have no commercial contract but that everybody is listening in the parties, taxis, buses, or in the street - Kuduro rules in Luanda's chaotic automobile traffic.

#2 Milongoyakissange.podomatic.com. Traditional folkloric music from Angola, sometimes mixed with urban modern angolan music that recovered traditional instruments.

#3 Muximangola.blogspot.com. The first signs of Angolan urban music from the 50's to early 70's. From an accoustic beguine to the electrification of traditional Angolan melodies. The anti-colonial-fascist singers.

#4 Trincheirafirme.podomatic.com. On 11 November 1975 the Angolan nation was born under gun shots in the south, in the north, and through the quickly abandon of former colonies by the Portuguese administration and people joining the Portuguese oillets revolution that ended 48 years of fascist dictatorship on 25 of April 1974. Between 24 April 1974 and 11 November Angolan musical production reflected the spirit of the time and was political prolific. That's what we can hear in Trincheira Firme Podcast.

#5 Radiosambilas.podomatic.com. Angolan music from the last 33 years, celebrating Angolan popular musical tastes in all genres.

#6 Menhamazumbi.blogspot.com. Mainly Angolan music with some very rare Angolan records. Other countries' music included.

#7 Vilamorena.blogspot.com. Mainly Portuguese and Angolan anti-fascist music.

#8 Afrikya.podomatic.com, Afrikyamar.podomatic.com, Afrikyaabril.podomatic.com, Afrikya.blogspot.com. Afrikya is a Sunday morning weekly radio show broadcast from Luanda's radio LAC (Luanda Antena Comercial) - the first private radio station after independence - conducted by Maria Luísa, who hosts and directs the Afrikya show from 30 years now, the last 16 years as LAC manager-director. Musical and political ways of Africa.

#9 Animadao.podomatic.com. Angolan and non-Angolan music that can be danced at the discos, now days, every nights, by the almost five millions Luanda's inhabitants.

#10 Neblinametal.podomatic.com, Neblinametal.blogspot.com. Neblina is the first and only Angolan rock band to feature a commercial independent rock CD at 26 January 2006, called Innocence Falls In Decay.

#11 Mptyhead.podomatic.com, Mptyhead.blogspot.com. M'pty Head is the second most prominent Angolan rock band with conceptual internet releases and extraordinary live shows).

#12 Letmikesing.podomatic.com, tessalonia.blogspot.com. Tessalonissenses is the name of the great and only Angolan techno wired band that matters.

I've anothers podocast shows that are not in this subject: Angolan music. But please, try these two ones: Timothyleary.podomatic.com/ and Bluewave.podomatic.com.

I would like to make an article presenting your accurate articles over Angolans music to Angolan Portuguese readers. Hope your agreement.

By the way: that's right! You're right. Since 2002 Angolan nation is in stable military peace and Angolans are proud that they achieved this goal by themselves, after long years of foreign interference. So, national pride, both for the nation and for the tribal origin, is the general feeling.

And 110 $110US per gallon is not hurting. No, it isn't. It provides a 25% economic growth per year.

Thank you for your time and excuses for the length of the explanation in these non corrected almost English words.

All the best to you,
hope everything's going right.
;)
Toke
Luanda-Angola

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Real Deal




A few posts back I decried the current state of Igbo music, with its lack of true musicianship and over-reliance on synthesizers and drum machines, singling out for special scorn recent recordings by Morocco Maduka. Reader/listener Tom Aernaert in Belgium promised us some vintage recordings by the great Maduka, and he's followed through.

Maduka, who I understand hails from Awka in Anambra state, is one of the great traditional Igbo praise-singers, taking his place beside such eminences as Area Scatter, Show Promoter, and Chief Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo.
Obioma Special (Sammy Sparkle All Stars SSAS 011, 1981) is the sort of album that made me fall in love with Igbo traditional music. It's all here: the traditional percussion (nary a synthesizer in earshot!), the brilliant interplay of the call-and-response vocals and the lyrics touching on contemporary concerns. Of course, there's the usual obsequious praise-singing, but that's par for the course. One thing I find quite unusual about Obioma Special is the use of talking-drum, something I've never heard in any other Igbo recording. Did there just happen to be a Yoruba musician hanging around the studio the day the recording was made, who was invited to join in?

"Obioma Special" is a song in honor of the Obioma Social Club, one of the many fraternal societies that arose in Igboland following the Biafra war. These social clubs, comprised of the upper crust of Igbo society, undertake various charitable and civic works such as financing schools and building hospitals. Maduka recites the motto of the Club, "Honesty, Love and Unity," and lists the various officers. The chorus, "Uwa Amaka Nma," means "The World is Beautiful."

Emeka Morocco Maduka & his Minstrels - Obioma Special

"Abortion Special" concerns a debate in Parliament regarding the subject of abortion. It is stated that there is a problem with young girls getting pregnant out of wedlock and resorting to the practice. How is this problem to be addressed? Maduka does not take a stand for or against abortion, although it is frowned on in traditional society and is generally illegal under Nigerian law, except to save the life of the mother. The chorus, "Agboyi Atulu Ime," means "a young girl gets pregnant."

Emeka Morocco Maduka & his Minstrels - Abortion Special
"Awka Leaders of Thought"
sings the praises of various notables ("Ndi Eze") in Maduka's home town.

Emeka Morocco Maduka & his Minstrels - Awka Leaders of Thought

Thanks once again to my wife Priscilla for interpreting the lyrics of these songs.