Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gospel Highlife from "New Calabar"




As you may have noticed, I've been writing quite a bit lately about the music of Nigeria's "Eastern Minorities." By this I mean the non-Igbo ethnic groups that comprised about 40% of the population of the old Eastern Region of Nigeria that existed from 1954 until 1967. In 1967 the East attempted to separate and form the independent Republic of Biafra. For the most part the minorities - the Ijaws, Ogonis, Efiks, Ibibios and so forth - supported the Federal Government in that conflict, and since they occupied the coastal areas this was a decisive factor in the defeat of the Biafran cause in 1970.

One of the biggest names of classic Nigerian highlife, Erekosima Rex Lawson, was the son of an Igbo mother and an Ijaw father from Buguma, in the "New Calabar" region of present-day Rivers State, and thus is claimed as a native son by both groups. New Calabar is said to have been settled by Efiks from Calabar in present-day Cross River State, but its language, Kalabari, is in fact a dialect of Ijaw. Lawson sang in this language and Igbo, as well as other tongues of Nigeria, making him beloved across the country.

Buguma produced another highlife musician, Emperor Erasmus Jenewari.
A retiring and urbane man, Jenewari's career was somewhat overshadowed by that of the great Lawson. In the years before the Biafra war he was based in Onitsha, where he recorded numerous hits like "Abari Nyanawa," "Oteke," "Opa Iweriso," and the evergreen "Odenigbo."

Following the war Jenewari seems to have forsaken secular music altogether, and devoted himself strictly to Christian devotional music with his group the Gospel Bells (shown at the top of this post; Jenewari is in the middle of the bottom row). Here are tunes from two of his gospel albums, Tamuno Belema (Philips 6361 168, 1976) and Joy Hallelujah (Polydor POLP 081, 1982). Listening to these lovely songs takes me back to eastern Nigeria, where the sound of gospel music is omnipresent.

"Tamuno Ne-Giye Ofori" and "Ichoro Onu" from Tamuno Belema are reminiscent in so many ways of Celestine Ukwu's brilliant album Ejim Nk'onye (Philips 6361 111, 1975). It's hard to say for sure, as there are no credits on either LP, but I suspect they share a set of backup musicians. The lyrics of the first song are simplicity itself: "There's nothing greater than God," repeated in the major languages of Nigeria. I detect Ijaw, Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa in the mix and there are probably several others as well:

Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - Tamuno Ne-Giye Ofori

Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - Ichoro Onu

"O Tamuno Boma/Ona Som" and "Joy Hallelujah" are from Joy Hallelujah. "Joy Hallelujah" was the most important hit of the gospel phase of Jenewari's career:

Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells -
O Tamuno Boma/Ona Som

Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - Joy Hallelujah


I understand that Erasmus Jenewari passed on a number of years ago without much fanfare even in Rivers State, a sad commentary.

Many thanks to Eji I. Nwuke, who provided me with much of the information used in this post.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Return of The King




Note: This post was updated on December 30, 2008 and January 19, 2009.

Get ready for another blast of raw, uncompromising Ethiopian funk, courtesy of our friend Tilahun Gessesse. Etu Gela, issued in the early '80s by Ambassel Music Shop, finds the master in great form. The Ethiopian Army's First Division Band accompany him, and they really wail!

Duplicated under the difficult conditions of Derg-era Ethiopia,
the sound quality of Etu Gela is not up to contemporary standards. While I was able to remove a considerable amount of audio debris with sound restoration software, I couldn't do anything about a few irritating passages of static during track 5, "Yager Lij Neyilign." Just consider it part of your authentic Ethiopian listening experience!

Many thanks to the anonymous reader/listener who corrected my transliteration of the titles and provided translations and commentary.

"Etu Gela" is an old-fashioned term of endearment for a woman. Hear another version of this song by Alemayehu Eshete here:


Tilahun Gessesse - Etu Gela

"Wejin Ola" is an Oromiffa song. Translation unavailable:

Tilahun Gessesse - Wejin Ola

"Akal Ayenshin" means "My sweet, your eyes":

Tilahun Gessesse -
Akal Ayneshin

"Yigermal" means "It's surprising" or "It's astonishing":

Tilahun Gessesse - Yigermal

"Yager Lij Neyelign" translates as
"Come to me my countrywoman":

Tilahun Gessesse - Yager Lij Neyelign

"Tirse Beredo Nat" means "What an amazing smile she has," although literally it compliments the whiteness of her teeth. The equivalent in Engilsh would be "The Smile":

Tilahun Gessesse - Tirse Beredo Nat

"Bene Des Yibelish" = "Be happy with me":

Tilahun Gessesse - Bene Des Yibelish

"Siwedish" = "When I love you":

Tilahun Gessesse - Siwedish

"You're always on my mind," although "
Astawisishalehu" literally means "I remember you," that's not the sense of the song:

Tilahun Gessesse -
Astawisishalehu

"Yachatina" means
"There she is." This song is quite memorable because it had one of the very first real Ethiopian music videos. The song is about him looking for a girl he fell in love with in the past, and he is looking for her all over Addis. The video is thus of Tilahun walking and driving across Addis looking for her. . .:

Tilahun Gessesse - Yachatina



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.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas!




A glorious Christmas to our readers and listeners who follow the Christian faith! To commemorate this joyous occasion I present Oliver de Coque's "Omumu Onye Nzoputa (Jesu Kristi)/Olu Ebube Nke Onye Nweayi," an account of the Christmas story from his 1983 LP of the same name (Ogene OGRLPS 03):

Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 Ogene Sound Super of Africa - Omumu Onye Nzoputa (Jesu Kristi)/Olu Ebube Nke Onye Nweayi

This is one of my favorite de Coque songs, thanks to his eloquent guitar work and the interplay of traditional Igbo percussion. Some listeners may notice something oddly familiar about the melody, however. Take a listen to this song, by Congolese orchestra Minzoto Wella-Wella from their LP Malembé Kidiba Chant (K-Dance/Eddy'son 4219):

Minzoto Wella-Wella - Nanu Lubutu


It's obvious that somebody copied someone else. The Minzoto LP is not dated, but I suspect that it was issued sometime before the de Coque record. Oliver no doubt, then, lifted the melody and distinctive guitar work from the Minzoto record and not the other way around. But who cares? They're both great records!

Speaking of lifting, I purloined the image at the top of this post from the BBC's site. It is from a series of Christmas cards drawn by students at Swanland School in Nairobi. Follow the link and consider buying a set of the cards. Proceeds go toward rebuilding the school.

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

Instrumental Break




Pour a tall cold one, sit back and relax with this sweet track by Moges Habte, formerly of the Wallias Band in Ethiopia. The tune is "Musicawe Silt" and it was recorded in 1994 with the Ethio-Jazz Group in Washington, DC. Don't know much about the musicians, but I suspect they're the crew that's recorded with so many Ethiopian musicians in the US. For one I recognize Abegasu Kibrework Shiota on keyboards.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Something to Listen to While Eating a Puu-Puu Platter




Uchenna over at With Comb and Razor posts a song by Uyo-based band Sunny Risky and the Vitamin Explosions, which he says is the "Best. Band Name. Ever."

I agree, that's a pretty awesome appellation. In fact, the only band name that I can think of that comes close is Brother Charlly Computer and The Gloria Kings.

Which got me to thinking about peculiar and/or unintentionally humorous band names and album titles, including the one at the top of this post, Pee Pee Special, by P.T. Foo and His Jolly Band of Nigeria (Sir Dolu Records SDR 002, 1986). Mr. Foo (Peanock Timibi) is an Ijaw musician from Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta, which has been the scene of much unrest in recent years.

Ijaw highlife music, called Awigiri, is almost completely unknown outside of Nigeria, but shares the sweet-and-sour vocal quality of its Ghanaian counterpart. I plan to devote a future post to a number of musicians from this area of Nigeria. Here's a tune from the album:

P.T. Foo & his Jolly Band of Nigeria - Tunisa Ebi Na Meiye

I will confess that I have listened to the records featured in this post maybe once in the ten or twelve years since Priscilla and I feretted them out of a used-records store in Ajegunle, the "Eastern" ghetto of Lagos. The musicians here are not well-known, even in Nigeria, nor even the most professional. What they lack in polish, though, they more than make up for in sheer, sloppy exuberance. They may be "no-hit wonders" but they're going to make the most of it!

When Uchenna mentioned Sunny Risky in the aforementioned post, I thought the name sounded familiar, so I dug through my collection and came up with another album by him, although the Vitamin Explosions aren't mentioned on the sleeve. It's 1988's Eti Uwem (Itiabasco ITRLP 019). The title track is a lively number in the Osadebe vein with some inspired saxophone work:

Sunny Risky - Eti Uwem



The Efik, Ibibio and Annang ethnic groups, who speak closely related languages, comprise about 3½ million people in the southeastern corner of Nigeria. No doubt there is a lively music scene in this area, but I'm not very familiar with it outside of the 4-5 LPs in my collection. Like Sunny Risky & the Vitamin Explosions, U.T. Isenem & his Black Mirrors are an Ibibio group. Their name qualifies them for attention in this post - what good would a "Black Mirror" do you?

The off-key bass line that opens "Konga," from 1976's Obio Cross River (Anodisc ALPS 1007) leads into some inspired dance-band highlife in the Inyang Henshaw/Rex Lawson vein. I don't know if the Black Mirrors made any other records, but this one is a real gem:

U.T. Isenem & his Black Mirrors - Konga



We close out this post with some Igbo highlife by Federal Emmison Papa & his Stich [sic] in Time Band of Nigeria. I don't know who Federal Emmison Papa is but the group itself is led by Chuwuemeka Okonkwo. "Onye ka Madu" from 1986's 'Anyi N'ele Uwa (Fepson FLPS 001) showcases some enthusiastic guitar and nice horn work:

Federal Emmison Papa & his Stich in Time Band of Nigeria - Onye Ka Madu

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The King of Ethiopian Music




In an earlier post I wrote of the brilliant Ethiopian singer Tilahun Gessesse, posted a couple of songs from a recent CD, and promised I'd make available some of his earlier Ethiopian recordings.

Back in the '80s I was loaned three of Gessesse's cassettes. I dubbed these onto 10" tape reels (that being the best means of preservation in that pre-digital era) and was unable to listen to them for twenty years, when I got hold of a reel-to-reel tape deck and was able to digitize two of them. The third has apparently been misplaced, and when I manage to track it down I will, of course, transfer it as well.

I present one of these recordings, Sebebena, which I believe was produced by Ambassel Music Shop in the early '80s. The original inlay card was missing, but the Ethiopian friend who loaned me the cassette transcribed the song titles for me. I believe the tunes are in Amharic and Oromo (Gessesse's parents were of both nationalities), and they pose quite an interesting contrast to the recordings I made available in my earlier post. Listen to them and understand why Tilahun Gessesse is considered ". . .a living legend, the pride of all Ethiopians, and the King of Ethiopian music":

Tilahun Gessesse - Wube Abeba

Tilahun Gessesse - Sebebena

Tilahun Gessesse - Shemunaye

Tilahun Gessesse - Nedegesh Naw

Tilahun Gessesse - Sherer Bay

Tilahun Gessesse - Mene Taragewalesh

Tilahun Gessesse - Yekerb Eruc Hono

Tilahun Gessesse - Mewdeden Lingeresh

Tilahun Gessesse - Mene Yeshalele

Tilahun Gessesse - Neyeleng