Monday, September 28, 2009

Igbo Garage Bands

Sad as it is for me to report, I think the Igbo highlife sound, at least as we have known it, is dead and buried, the great stylists - Osadebe, Warrior and Oliver de Coque - having passed on in the last few years. In their places have emerged a new crew - Eke Chima, Sunny Bobo and the like - who have numerous fans but offer a synthesizer-and-drum-machine-based style that's just a pale imitation of the classic sound, at least in my humble opinion.

In a future post I'll be discussing some of those new guys, but here I want to talk about some of the lesser-known musicians of the '70s and '80s, just a few of the journeymen who made the Igbo highlife scene of the time so vital and productive. In a way they're equivalent to the "garage bands" of the 1960s in the US, who toiled away in obscurity in hopes of someday scoring a regional hit. In the Nigerian case, some of these musicians put out numerous recordings and were quite popular. They just weren't in the top tier of the Igbo music scene.

One such musician was Owerri-based Douglas Olariche, whose LP Me Soro Ibe (Fontana FTLP 109, 1980) makes inspired use of native xylophone and the Igbo ogene bell. The title track, whose title means "Let the World Let Me Follow My Mates," is basically a series of Igbo proverbs such as "a gift knows who wrapped it" strung together, while "Elele" sings the praises of various individuals such as a man who makes his living in the transport business and the Owerri highlife band the Imo Brothers:

Douglas Olariche & his International Guitar Band - Me Soro Ibe

Douglas Olariche & his International Guitar Band - Elele

Also of Owerri, the guitarist Joakin followed a similar career trajectory, scoring a number of regional hits in the mid '80s. In "Nwagbeye Ebezina," from the album of the same name (Sann SR 13, 1984), he sings "poor man's son, do not cry." The chorus is "nobody comes into this world with wealth." "Chikereuwu Buonye Ogbubbonjo," from the same LP, means "God the Creator is the Preventer of All Evils." Joakin calls on God to prevent evil. He also asks God to reveal what will happen to him:

Joakin & his Royal Guitar Band - Nwagbeye Ebezina

Joakin & his Royal Guitar Band - Chikereuwa Buonye Ogbugbonjo

Ibealaoke Chukwukeziri's Anti Concord/Apama (Nigerphone NXLP 011, 1988) was one of the outstanding highlife releases of the '80s, combining traditional Igbo percussion and agile guitar work. The song "Anti Concord" is actually about Aunty Concord, the singer's betrothed, whom he questions about her sincerity. He asks, "you can see that I have many new cars and a great mansion. Is it me you love, or my wealth?" He goes on to sing that some women are like a beautiful present that a man takes home, only to find snakes and scorpions inside:

Ibealaoke Chukwukeziri & his "Anaedonu" - Anti Concord

"Nara Ndomadu Chukwu" ("Accept God's Advice") tells the story of a young man named Augustine, a trader who has the opportunity to go abroad to buy goods to sell. He asks a prophetess at his local church for advice, who tells him not to go, then he asks a prophet, who tells him the same thing. He then goes to a traditional healer, who tells him to go abroad, but asks 1000 Naira for his advice. Augustine goes abroad and buys his goods, but when he comes home the Customs service check his parcels and find only newspapers inside. Augustine has lost all of his money. Now he sits in the village shooting small animals with a slingshot:

Ibealaoke Chukwukeziri & his "Anaedonu" - Nara Ndomadu Chukwu

Finally we listen to Elvis Nzebude of Amagu, Anambra State. In "Ije Awele" ("Good Journey"), from the album of the same name (Rogers All Stars RASLPS 124, 1992), Elvis sings, "Ganiru, ganiru ("go forward"), we go where there is love, we go where there is peace, we go where there is respect. Because where there is respect there is peace. Let no one wish others death. Let everyone live."

Elvis Nzebude & his Metalic Sound - Ije Awele

Many thanks to my wife Priscilla for her interpretation of these lyrics.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Likembe for posting these aspiring but not inspiring artists. I am glad to have them in my collection but seriously doubt the originality and quality of these acts. I left Nigeria for Europe in the mid 80s when things were a lot different, if not far better in Nigeria. Artistically, things have changed for worse, my man! I must admit that I don't rate 90s and current day acts from Nigeria because of lack of originality, quality and direction. However I think that Ibealaoke Chukwukeziri's Apama is good. I saw it in youtube. The quality of Nigerian music has declined immensely and I just can't understand these mushroom acts of these days when I compare them to great musical greats of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Do I need to mention names here? PASS. Thanks for your efforts, anyway. Bring on the 60s, 70s and 80s stuff! After that the story is finished!

John B. said...

Anon: I understand what you're saying, but these acts' lack of polish is one thing I like about them. That's why I made the comparison to the US "garage band" scene of the 1960s. These groups mostly had regional followings, and if they were lucky they might get one record on the national charts (I've included a link to the term in my post if you'd like to follow up on it).

Totally agree with you on the quality or lack thereof of some of the current acts! This is one reason (among many others) why I don't go to most Igbo social events in Milwaukee anymore. People nowadays neglect the classic sounds and are infatuated with the cheap synthesizers and rinky-dink drum machines of acts like Sunny Bobo and Eke Chima. I just don't get it!

I suspect the root of this cultural debasement is plentiful oil money & the rise of 419 culture.

I'll be posting some music by Sunny Bobo & Eke Chima in a future post, but thanks for reminding me to pay more attention to the evergreen classics.

Anonymous said...

I'm really digging the Olariche tracks you posted up here, any chance that we could also hear some of Olariche's early stuff from the seventies. Daalu-Ebere

Anonymous said...

John B,
Frankly speaking, we appreciate your great works in promoting and preserving Nigerian music and culture. As an Ibo man, I have heavily rely on your sites to acquaint myself with quite a lot of artists whom I never knew much about and those I didn't quite pay attention to when I was growing up in the musically enriched 70s Southeastern Nigeria. I appreciate the classic years of the likes of Celestine Ukwu, Joe Nez, Harcourt Whyte, Rex Lawson, Osadebe, Goddy Ezike, Obiligbo, Seven Seven, Oriental Bros, Show Promoter, Bongos Ikwue, Christy Essien Igbokwe, Fela, Obey, Okosun etc and dedicate my time now in searching for their works. I've never heard of Sunny Bobo or Eke Chima possibly because I show little interest in today's acts. I just hate the fact that we Nigerians today applaud and celebrate mediocrity! Besides, those minority of us who still hold dear what we lost will continue to rely on dedicated people like you for help. Any society without a culture and direction is doomed! Thanks for sharing and God Bless.

John B. said...

Anon 4:41: Unfortunately I only have the one Olariche album.