Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ebenezer Obey On The Town!




As I promised, here is the second installment of ground-breaking classic jùjú by the great Ebenezer Obey, his LP On The Town (Decca WAPS 30, reissued as Obey WAPS), recorded in London in 1970. Here we find the Chief Commander and his International Brothers stretching out with a non-stop medley on Side 1. Side 2 features two extended cuts. I especially enjoyed the highlife "Ajoyio/Ore Mi Maje Aja." For more information on the songs click on the picture below.

Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Lagos State/Ekiti/Ife/A Omo Enia Luware O/Davies/Adebayo

Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Adupe Baba/Akunle/Tonny Anny

Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ajoyio/Ore Mi Maje Aja



Saturday, June 21, 2008

Oliver de Coque is Dead




From The Sunday Tribune (Lagos):

Highlife musician, Oliver De Coque is dead. Sunday Oliver Akanite, who hailed from Anambra State, died on Friday after an apparent heart attack.

His daughter, Uju, said her late father was rushed to July Hospital in Gbagada, Lagos, after complaining of irregular heart beat on Friday.

He suddenly started complaining that his heart was beating faster than normal, and that he had problems breathing, she said, sobbing.

When the family eventually rushed him to the hospital, Oliver was said to have vomitted ten times in ten minutes before he finally died.

Tony Okoroji, who expressed shock at the death of another friend of his, said Oliver was all fun on board Soul Flight to Imo for the NMA last month and that he couldn’t believe the guitarist is dead.

Also, King Sunny Ade expressed sadness over the death of Oliver, saying he was one of the best Nigerian guitarists he’d ever known. Same for K1 and Saka Orobo, FUMAN president. Both described Oliver’s death as the final blow to highlife music.

This is a great tragedy and loss for Nigerian music. I will shortly post my personal memories of De Coque and more news as it becomes available.

Why I'm an "Ebenezer Man"




Those of a certain age, like me, will remember when the Beatles first hit the international scene in late 1963. Within a few months
Beatlemania swept around the world like a tsunami.

We Beatlemaniacs (the male ones, anyway) soon divided ourselves into two factions: "Paul Men" and "John Men." Of course, all the girls were crazy about Paul McCartney, the "Cute Beatle," and "Paul Men" loved his bitchen' bass guitar that looked like a violin. "The Smart Beatle," John Lennon, didn't get as much attention at first. But while McCartney always had a way with the catchy melody, it was Lennon who contributed the most meaningful and insightful lyrics to the Beatles canon. He had a nuanced and cynical view of human nature that struck a chord with the youthful and rebellious. That's why, even though Lennon and McCartney complimented each other perfectly, and none of the work they did on their own ever equaled what they did together, I've always been a "John Man."

I suspect that jùjú music fans similarly divide themselves into factions following King Sunny Adé and Ebenezer Obey (just for sake of argument, we will leave out of the equation I.K. Dairo, Prince Adekunle and the like, much less the silly Shina Peters!).

King Sunny Adé was the one who brought
jùjú music out of Nigeria in 1982, when his LP Juju Music was released on Island Records, but of course he didn't create the style. Nor did Ebenezer Obey, but he'd been playing jùjú since the mid-1950s, and founded his International Brothers Band (later re-named the Inter-Reformers) in 1964. Following Sunny's initial success, there was a desultory attempt to market Obey to an international audience, and a bizarre record, Je Ka Jo (Virgin 205761) was released in 1983. A big glob of over-produced mush, Je Ka Jo had nothing to do with jùjú music as it was generally understood, and disappeared without a trace.

If Virgin Records had licensed some of Obey's great Nigerian releases like Current Affairs (Decca WAPS 488), Sound of the Moment (Decca WAPS 498) or Eyi Yato (Decca WAPS 508), they might have gotten somewhere. Those records, all released in 1980, with their soul-stirring Yoruba harmonies, mind-bending guitar work and echoes of American rhythm and blues, display the great Obey at the peak of his powers. In comparison Sunny Adé, as good as he is, is just outclassed.

That's why I'm an "Ebenezer man."

Nigerian fans have their own favorite recordings. Board Members (Decca WAPS 38, 1972) is probably the most popular of Obey's early releases, while many swear by The Horse, The Man and His Son (Decca WAPS 98, 1973). I myself have always been partial to two albums he recorded in London in 1969 and 1970, In London (Decca WAPS 28, later reissued as Obey WAPS 28), and On the Town (Decca WAPS 30, reisued as Obey 30).
In the coming years Obey would adopt some of the innovations of the other jùjú musicians - pedal steel guitar and long, extended jams - but these albums are interesting for their blend of jùjú and highlife elements.

Here's In London. Click on the picture below to read about the songs. When I digitize it, I will post On the Town here as well.

Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Egba


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ijesha


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ibadan


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Iba Foluwa/Ajo Kodabi Ile


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ijebu


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ondo/Ogbomosho


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ori Mi Ko Ni Buru


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ore Se Rere


Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Omoba Sijuade/Moti Wa E



Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hummin' With the Bees!




My ol' buddy Ken Chitika loaned me this 45 many years ago. The Katenga Humming Bees, led by guitarist T.C. Katenga, were a popular band in Malawi during the 1970s. Other than that, I can't tell you anything about them. I love the rough and ready quality of these two tracks, issued on the Zakwathu label (MX 104) circa 1973:

Katenga Humming Bees - Musadabwe Jane


Katenga Humming Bees - Pasilya Po


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Music From the Heart of Africa




A couple of years back people were raving about "Les Jaloux Saboteurs," the tune that opened the compilation Golden Afrique Vol. 1 (Network Medien 27677).

It wasn't only that "Les Jaloux Saboteurs," which was recorded sometime in the mid-1980s, was a great song. What folks found fascinating was the fact that the musician, Maitre Gazonga, was from a country previously unheralded for its music: Chad, in central Africa.

It turns out that Chad has a small but vibrant music industry, and many of its artists are showcased on the website Ialtchad.com. As you might expect from a country located in the geographical center of Africa, the musical influences run the gamut: from soukous and hip-hop to highlife, mbalax and even Ethiopian funk. Maitre Gazonga's LP Les Jaloux Saboteurs (Tangent/Celluloid TAN LP 7003) was recorded in Abidjan, apparently utilizing musicians from several African countries.

Ialtchad indicates that Maitre Gazonga is Chad's best-known musician, whose popularity crosses tribal and regional boundaries. All of
Les Jaloux Saboteurs, not just the title track, is great. Let's give it a listen!

Maitre Gazonga - Les Jaloux Saboteurs

Maitre Gazonga - Koysse


Maitre Gazonga - Fatoumata Kante

Maitre Gazonga - Kelina



Update: Many thanks to Ronald of Vibes d'Afrique, who posts this in the comments:

Great to post all the songs of this hard to get lp. "Koyesse" has always been my favourite song.

Here's a story from 2005 and a news item I posted on my own forum sometime ago:

Maitre Gazonga and his band Chalal have found a way to tour their country and still getting paid. Gazonga knows that people in rural communities are often poor, do not have money but still want to have a good time. So when the band tour around Chad for about 3 to 4 months and give concerts in outlying villages people can get in by paying with what they have: sorgho, rice, dried fish, chickens, beans, nuts etc. His concerts turn out to be a great succes.

While the band goes from village to village 2 trucks drive back and forth to the capital N'Djaména. Most of the products are sold at the market, the money in turn is for the musicians, another part of the food is handed over directly to the families of the musicians to keep them going. From the profit they make they can rehearse for the rest of the year and compose new music.

And unfortunatly this:

Chadien singer and bandleader Hamed Gazonga died on the first of April 2006, apparently of heart failure.

Born on the 27the of May 1948 as Ahamat Salet Rougalta, Hamed studied in Fort Lamy, now Djamena, and later worked as a bookkeeper. When he was 21 he decided to become a musician and together with several others he created orchestre Saltanat Africa but before long he left them and formed his own band l'International Chalal. Hamed drew his inspiration from the folk music of all the regions in Chad.

Maitre Gazonga produced one of my all time favourite albums, Les Jaloux Saboteurs, it was recorded in the JBZ studio in Abidjan around 1984 and it is a feast from beginning to end. All the songs feature great guitar playing and nice horn work to. During the song "Koysse," Hamed says at the beginning of the sebene “Les amis, c’est pas le temps de dormir, allez tout le monde debout” and off the band goes again playing a very wild sebene.

His latest album was released last year and unfortunately not released anywhere in the West. Hamed leaves a wife and 6 children.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Franco in the Age of Authenticité




It's hard to believe that the great Franco, l'Okanga la Ndju Pene Luambo Makiadi, has been gone almost 20 years now (he passed on October 12, 1989). In his day he strode the scene like an elephant, or more like a Brontosaurus, really - pretty much defining modern African music, not only in his native Congo, but throughout the continent.

It just so happens that among the many hours of African 45s on tape reels that I recently digitized are thirteen tracks that le Grand Maitre recorded with his band le Tout Puissant OK Jazz in 1972-73. This era is interesting for several reasons. In October 1971 President Mobutu Sese-Seko proclaimed his policy of Authenticité, which had a number of implications. For one thing, the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo was changed to the Republic of Zaïre (it was changed back following Mobutu's overthrow in 1997). The cultural dimensions of authenticité are described by Graeme Ewens, in his essential biography Congo Colossus: the Life and Legacy of Franco & OK Jazz (Buku Press, UK, 1994):

. . . Authenticite coloured every aspect of Zaïrean culture, and Mobutu started by renaming all those places without African names, before imposing the same indigenisation on the people themselves. . . Women were prohibited from wearing miniskirts or trousers, on pain of arrest, while the approved wear was the pagne, or cloth wrapper. Taking further inspiration from the French Revolution the people were obliged to call each other 'citoyen' and 'citoyenne.'. . . Although there were no written laws on the production of music, there were constant reminders that this too should meet the criteria of Authenticity. . . (pp. 135, 137)
Mobutu, of course, was the archetype of the African kleptocratic ruler (he is said to have embezzled over $5 billion from his country), and one could argue that Authenticité was a cynical diversion meant to occupy the masses while they were being fleeced by their rulers. Perfectly reasonable, but there is a lot to be said that it had a salutary effect on the development of music in Congo/Zaïre. Musician Sam Mangwana said:

. . . I am not a politician or a fan of politics, but you can honestly say that when Mobutu spoke of the need for Authenticity it gave the musicians many ideas. Authenticity never blocked musicians from playing other music, like soul or funk if they wanted. But Zaïrean musicians are very proud of their music. They play as they feel, and they don't feel the need to change for any other people. . . (Congo Colossus, p. 140)
The songs presented here, then, show Franco at a major turning point in his career, when short, catchy melodies gave way to lengthy, more complex compositions. In a few years his style would mutate even further, toward baroque, almost orchestral pieces like "Proprietaire," "Tres Impoli" and "Attention na SIDA." While some of these tunes have been reissued on CD in recent years, I'm not sure that any of them are in print now. Others have never been reissued to my knowledge. All of these are Kenyan pressings.

"Siluvangi Wapi Accordeon" and "Casier Judiciare" are Sides A and B of ASL Records ASL 3245. Accordionist Camille Ferruzzi, featured in "Siluvangi Wapi Accordeon," was a contemporary of Antoine Wendo Kolosy and was one of the first Congolese musician to be professionally recorded in the early 1950s. This song and "Casier Judiciare" present Franco and the band in a more sensitive light than many associate them with:

Camille Ferruzzi & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Siluvangi Wapi Accordeon

Luambo Lwanzo Makiadi (Franco) & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Casier Judiciare


"Mbanda Nazali Nini" and its flip side "Likambo Ya Ngana" (ASL 7-3244) also feature Camille Ferruzzi:

Camille Ferruzzi & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Mbanda Nazali Nini

Luambo Lwanza Makiadi (Franco) & L'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Likambo Ya Ngana

In the early 1980s TPOK Jazz was actually two orchestras, one based in Brussels and led by Franco and a second team helmed by Lutumba Ndomamuendo, or "Simarro," which stayed in Kinshasa. I've been unable to find any mention of "Exodus" (ASL 2271) in Congo Colossus or in Naotaka Doi's extensive Franco discography. I suspect that it has been released under another title. It's just too good a song to dwell in obscurity! Note: See update below.

Lutumba Ndomamuendo (Simarro) & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Exodus Pts. 1 & 2

Likewise, I've been unable to find any mention of "Tangela Ngai Mboka Bakabaka Mobali" (ASL 7-3274, side A) in any of the literature. Check out the extended instrumental break that kicks in around the 3:30 mark! The B side, "Envoutement," features Michel Boyibanda, a talented vocalist from Congo-Brazzaville who joined TPOK Jazz around 1963:

l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Tangela Ngai Mboka Bakabaka Mobali

Boyibanda & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Envoutement

"Lezi," written by Simarro, is from the Editions Populaires pressing EP 151:

Lutumba & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Lezi Pts. 1 & 2

Bassist Celi Bitshoumanou ("Bitshou"), who wrote "Mokolo ya Mpasi" (Fiesta 51.086B), joined OK Jazz around 1965 when the band was temporarily in exile in Brazzaville following a run-in with the newly-installed Mobutu regime. He was responsible for a number of OK Jazz hits, including the classic "Infidelité Mado." Bitshou left the band around 1974 with Mosese "Fan Fan" Sesengo and Youlou Mabiala to form the first incarnation of Orchestre Somo Somo. "Fifi Nazali Innocent" is the B side.

Bitshou & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Mokolo ya Mpasi


Simarro & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Fifi Nazali Innocent

Armando Antoine aka "Brazzos," who wrote "Sukola Motema Olinga" (Fiesta 51.125B), was a founding member of OK Jazz in the mid-1950s. "Andu wa Andura," another Michel Boyibanda composition, is the flip side:

Brazzos & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Sukola Motema Olinga

l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Andu wa Andura

About "AZDA" (Editions Populaires EP 140), Graeme Ewens writes in Congo Colossus, "As if to show just how good a commercial song could be, in 1973 Franco released what proved to be one of his biggest hits outside Zaïre, AZDA.' This was the advent of the full-blown big band sound which would be the trade mark of the latter-day OK Jazz. While many outsiders thought it must have a heavily romantic lyric it was, in fact, an advertisement for the national Volkswagon dealership, whose acronym made up the title. The refrain 'Veway, Veway, Veway, Veway' is the local pronunciation of 'VW.'"

Luambo Makiadi (Franco) & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - AZDA Pts. 1 & 2

Update: Reader Peter writes, ". . . As for 'Exodus,' I don't think it was written by Simaro & performed by OK Jazz. I think it's a Youlou Mabiala track from the late 1970s." Which could very well be true, although I transcribed the recording information on the label correctly. Consulting Tim Clifford's new Kenya-Tanzania 45s, it appears that "Exodus" was issued in the late '70s-early '80s, rather than in the early '7os as I had earlier thought.

Update 2: I should have mentioned this earlier but didn't. The background information in this post came from Congo Colossus, cited above. It's a great book! You can get it from Sterns or Amazon.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Another Mystery Tape




Note: This post was updated and revised on July 29, 2008 and on September 19, 2009.

I wrote this on June 15, 2008:

Here's another "mystery cassette" that I was given many years ago by a friend. All I know about it is that is supposedly by the great Ethiopian singer Alèmayèhu Eshèté and the title is Amronyali or something similar. I was told that Track 2 was "Amronyali," and I was able to identify Track 5 as "Che Belew," an old standard about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. As there was no inlay card for the cassette or even a label I can't tell you anything about the songs, when they were recorded, or even confirm that the artist is Alèmayèhu Eshèté. The sparse arrangements (synthesizer & drum machine, usually the bane of my existence) are more than compensated for by the quality of the vocals. The title track in particular is just spine-chilling!

Alèmayèhu Eshèté has been called "Ethiopia's Elvis" or "The James Brown of Ethiopia" for his musical style and manner of dress. He's been on the scene since the mid-1950s, when he revealed a talent for imitating the singers Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles. In 1956 he joined the Police Orchestra in Addis Abeba, and from 1961 onward has formed numerous bands and recorded uncounted songs that have become popular standards.

During the "Derg Years"
Eshèté seemed to drop out of sight. I heard an unconfirmed rumor that he had become a "born-again Christian" and was living in exile in Washington, DC. However, with political changes in Ethiopia he reemerged and recorded a new CD, Addis Ababa (Shanachie Records 64045, 1992). In 1998 AIT Records released The Best of Alèmayèhu Eshèté (AIT 013), featuring re-recorded versions of his hits. Most excitingly, his original classic recordings are now becoming available again through the Ethiopiques series.

If anyone can tell us more about this recording, or what the song titles are, please comment, and I will update this post accordingly.
Thanks to reader/listener "Ethio Jazz" I can report that this recording is not by Alèmayèhu Eshèté, but by Wubeshet Fisseha (picture at top of post). Ethio also writes: ". . . he is on Keyboard as well. This was probably recorded in the mid to latter '8o's in Washington, DC. Sadly, Wubeshet passed away in 1997." I can confirm that this tape was made in 1985 or earlier, as it was given to me in summer of that year. I've been unable to find any information about Wubeshet Fisseha, but I will keep trying.

I have changed the track titles to reflect the new information Ethio Jazz has given us. Tracks 3 and 4 are in Orimiffa and Tigrinya respectively. The other tracks are in Amharinya. A warning about the song "Shemunmunaye": At several points (4:55, 9:36, 15:30 and 16:10) the sound drops out. The defect is on the original cassette, not in your internet connection!

Wubeshet Fisseha - Abesha Nat

Wubeshet Fisseha - Shemunmunaye

Wubeshet Fisseha - Hali Meru Meru

Wubeshet Fisseha - Kab Semay Fiqri

Wubeshet Fisseha - Che Belew

Wubeshet Fisseha - Belashew

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Classic Makossa




Back in the mid-1980s if there was one musical style that rivaled Congo music in the hearts of Africans, it was
makossa out of Cameroun. Given that Cameroun is a country of numerous ethnic groups, there is a constellation of musical styles there competing for attention: tchamassi, bikutsi, ashiko and mangambe among them. The music of Cameroun's largest city, Douala, makossa's international popularity can be attributed partly to one man, Manu Dibango. His record "Soul Makossa" (a song that is not even true makossa!) was a smash hit in 1972, but makossa the genre reached its apogee in the mid-1980s thanks to the hard work of another, producer/musician Aladji Touré, whose Touré Jim's Records launched numerous careers and revived many others.

In those days more often than not it was one of Touré's slick Paris productions that graced my turntable or tape deck, but I've always loved the less-sophisticated version of makossa that was popular in the late 1970s as well. About ten years ago some anonymous individual gathered together a number of these tracks in two CDs: Makossa: The Classics (A.C.F. Productions) and The Classics II (A.C.F. Productions AFC96). I present here six tunes from them. Much of the biographical information on the artists I gleaned from the liner notes of the 3-LP compilation
Fleurs Musicales du Cameroun (Afrovision FMC 001/002/003, 1983).

Pierre de Moussy's fast-paced variation of makossa was a huge hit in the '80s although like many in the scene he's faded away in recent years:

Pierre de Moussy - Djomba Djomba


Jacky Doumbe likewise is a bit of a mystery to me, although also very popular:

Jacky Doumbé - Tonton a Meya


Jean Mandengue was a star of the early makossa scene who seems to have been eclipsed by the time of the mid-'80s boom. At least, I haven't been able to find out anything else about him:

Jean Mandengue - Muna Munyenge


François Missé Ngoh was born July 17, 1949 in the village of Mbonjo and was a major architect of the makossa sound as a member of the group Los Calvinos, where he replaced Nelle Eyoum. The liner notes of Fleurs Musicales du Cameroun state, "He was one of the first musicians to adopt the makossa rhythm and worked hard to escape from the three classic chords system which made makossa monotonous in the long term. He introduced other modulations."

Missé Ngoh - La Vie C'est Terrible

Eko Roosevelt was born Louis Roosevelt Eko on November 13, 1946 in Lobé-Kribi, Ocean Division, Cameroun.
Fleurs Musicales du Cameroun writes, "Eko is a great pianist, an excellent organist, an accomplished guitarist and a firts-class conductor and musical arranger. And if that were not enough, he also sings."

Eko Roosevelt - Me 2 I De Try My Own


The pre-eminent "musician's musician" of Cameroun, Toto Guillaume (b. August 25, 1955, Douala) is responsible for at least two certified classic LPs, Makossa Digital (Disques Esperance ESP 8404, 1983) and Elimbi na Ngomo (Production TN TN 591, 1985). Moreover, he is an extremely popular session musician and arranger, appearing on too many recordings to count:

Toto Guillaume - Isokoloko



Makossa seems to have declined in recent years, but still has its loyal following. For your information, there are some profiles of popular Camerounian musicians here. The painting at the top of this post is taken from the LP Africa Oumba No. 1 (Blue Silver 8260, 1987).