Friday, January 30, 2009

Red Spots, Black Beats and Stargazers

Reader/listener Malam Bala, in a recent comment, reminded me that this blog is long overdue for a posting of good old Ghana highlife music. And what better way to correct this oversight than to post the LP Akom Ko (Decca WAP 281)? This fine compilation features the down-home sounds of guitar highlife on Side One, while Side Two showcases the more sophisticated danceband sound.

Back in the 1990s John Storm Roberts' Original Music label released a series of
Ghana highlife CDs that are eagerly sought out by African music aficionados, being as they are long out of print. Giants of Danceband Highlife (OMCD 011, 1990), I've Found My Love: 1960's Guitar Band Highlife of Ghana (OMCD 019, 1993) and Telephone Lobi: More Giants of Danceband Highlife (OMCD 033, 1995) cover much of the same musical territory as Akom Ko, but there is very little duplication of the music itself. So, if you are fortunate enough to own any of the Original Music compilations, consider this another volume in the series.

I suspect these recordings were made in the 1960s or at the very latest, the early 1970s, but Akom Ko itself was apparently pressed sometime in the '70s. I've tried to find out as much about the musicians as I could, but some artists, as talented as they are, dwell in obscurity. I'm passing on what information I have. If you'd like to pursue further studies, John Collins' "Musicmakers of West Africa" (3 Continents Press, 1985) is a good place to start, as well as a number of very informative articles he's written for Afropop Worldwide.

Royal Brothers - Anamon Nsiah

Boaken Stars - Medze M'awerεho Bεko

Bob Kwabena Akwaboah, founder of the band that bears his name, passed away January 2, 2004, leaving a legacy of numerous hit songs and LPs recorded during the 1960s and '70s. His son, Kwadwo Akwaboah, founded the Marriots International Band, which had a burst of popularity in the early 1990s:

Akwaboah's Band - Osu a Mesu

Awesome Tapes From Africa calls Yamoah "one of the greatest highlife singers ever," and I don't doubt it. I've been unable to find out much about this musician and his band, other than the fact that Nana Ampadu, founder of the African Brothers Band and a giant of the 1970-80s highlife scene, got his start with them:

Yamoah's Band - Nkrabea

Oppong's Band - Assaase Nkyiri Fun

Akwaboah's Band - Adeakye Abia

M.K. Manson - Nkokohwedeε Mienu

The Black Beats Dance Band was founded in 1952 by King Bruce and Saka Acquaye. Bruce, born in 1922, had already played with a number of the giants of the Ghana danceband scene like E.T. Mensah and Kofi Ghanaba, and the Black Beats were a very influential group for their time, recording innumerable hits and giving birth to several other outstanding orchestras including Jerry Hanson's Ramblers Dance Band and Acquaye's African Ensemble. A very informative article about King Bruce and the Black Beats by John Collins can be found here:

Black Beats - Medo Wo Sε Wote Yi Ara

The Red Spots, popular from the '50s through the '70s, were founded by Tommy Gripman, who got his start in E.T. Mensah's Tempo's Dance Band:

Red Spots - Oyε a Kae Me

The Broadway Dance Band, based in Sekondi-Takoradi, was led by a Nigerian trumpeter, Sammy Obot and included many great musicians like Stan Plange, Joe Mensah and Duke Duker. Following a legal dispute in 1964, it changed its name to the Uhuru Dance Band and continued to play a vital role in the Ghana music scene until the Seventies:

Broadway Dance Band - Menua

Black Beats - Anibre Sεm

Stargazers Dance Band - Owu Ayε Me Ade

Black Beats - Me Yε Ayera

Update: Akwaboah, who hosts the excellent new blog Highlife Haven, writes: ". . . please let me correct your remark about Kwabena Yamoah: he is the bandleader and guitarist, not the singer. The 'treble singer' on Yamoahs albums is the great Agyaku, who later recorded with Eric Agyeman and Smart Nkansah's Sunsum Band." Thanks, Akwaboah!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Anioma Sound Pt. 2

As I wrote in "The Anioma Sound Pt. 1," the Anioma region comprises the Igbo-speaking areas of Delta State in Nigeria. The name is a actually an acronym derived from the regions of Aniocha, Ndokwa, Ika and Oshimili, and was coined by the late
Dennis Chukude Osadebay, one of the founders of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, and former premier of the old Mid-Western Region of Nigeria.

Continuing our look at the music of this area, we start off with a couple of old-timers of the Anioma scene, ending up with some newer artists.

Ndokwa native Charles Iwuegbe may be familiar to those who have heard the wonderful compilation Azagas & Archibogs: The Sixties Sound of Lagos Highlife (Original Music OMCD 014, 1991), now sadly out of print. As that title implies, he was a stalwart of the pre-Biafra highlife scene in Lagos, when musicians of all ethnicities kept the night alive with their wildly inventive sounds. I give my thanks to Anioma music fanatic "Ubulujaja," who passes on this classic tune, "Ejelunor," from Iwuegbe's LP of the same name (Decca West Africa DWAPS 04), as well as Eddy Okonta's "Anioma" in "The Anioma Sound Pt. 1."

Charle Iwuegbe & his Hino Sound - Ejelunor

Perhaps you remember St. Augustine from my posting of Rusted Highlife Vol. 1. Hailing from Asaba, his career took off in 1971 with the release of "Ashawo No Be Work." From a bit later in his career, namely the early '80s, here's a track from Anioma Special (Offune OFLPS 1):

St. Augustine - Evidence Special

As I promised in this post, I've got another tune for you from Aboh's incomparable Ali Chukwuma. Here's the title track from 1982's Ife Oma Dimma (Akpolla AGB 50):

Ali Chukwuma & his Peace-Makers International Band of Nigeria - Ife Oma Dimma

Guitarist Bob Fred shows up in all manner of recordings by Anioma artists, notably those of Rogana Ottah, but he's made a number of LPs on his own with his Ukwuani Brothers Band. Here's a cut from the album Egwu Amala Special (Ojikutu OJILP 032, 1982):

Bob Fred & Ukwuani Brothers Band - Ochinti

About the Mmadu Osa International Band, led by Ikechukwu Izuegbu, I know absolutely nothing, but they put out a number of LPs back in the '80s. "Ele Onye Keni" is taken from their 1983 outing Aboh Youth Progressive Union (Izuson IZULP 006)":

Mmadu Osa International Band - Ele Onye Keni

I've saved the best for last! I've heard a rumor, which I've been unable to confirm, that Rogana Ottah (picture at the top of this post) passed away a couple of years ago. What a shame that would be, as he's been the primo exemplar of the Anioma music scene. As I wrote in the introduction to my discography of him, ". . . Guitarist Isaac Rogana Ottah, 'The Oshio Super King,' a prolific artist from Akoku, Ndokwa LGA, Delta State, is one of the better-known Anioma musicians. His musical career began in the early 1970s when he played in the bands of Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe and Rex Lawson. In 1973 he joined fellow Ndokwa native Charles Iwegbue and His Hino Sound Band. Striking out on his own after Iwegbue's tragic death in 1976, Ottah scored a major hit with his first LP, Ukwani Special, in 1977. In quick succession a series of outstanding recordings, notably the 'Oshio Super series, propelled Ottah to the vanguard of the Anioma recording scene. Although his career has slowed since the 1980s, he still makes a prosperous livelihood as a touring musician and continues to make recordings. "

"Onyeluni Isu Ogaga," from the 1981 LP Oshio Super Two "Onyeloni" (Odec ODEC 003) is an absolute scorcher that showcases Ottah's brilliant guitar work to great effect.

Rogana Ottah & his Black Heroes - Onyeluni Isu Ogaga

I hope to provide translations of the lyrics of these songs in the future.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Anioma Sound Pt. 1

The Igbo people live in all parts of Nigeria, but are the big majority of the population (over 90%) in five states: Imo, Anambra, Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi. They also constitute large minorities in Rivers and Delta States.

The "Anioma" area consists of the northeastern corner of Delta State encompassing the Aniocha, Ukwuani and Ika peoples. These three ethnicities are all considered subgroups of the Igbo, as opposed to Delta's other nationalities, the Urhobo, Itskiri, Ijaw and Isoko, who speak distinct languages. Anioma Igbo are set apart from the mainstream of Ala Igbo not only by the Niger River but by varying shades of cultural influence from their neighbors to the west and south.

The idea
, if not necessarily the name, of "Anioma," as a community and a culture predates the creation of the modern Nigerian state in 1914. In the early 20th Century the area gave rise to the Ekwumekwu movement, which resisted the imposition of British colonial rule in southern Nigeria. In the early '80s, the Anioma State Movement arose to call for the carving out of a new Igbo-majority state from old Bendel State. Since 1991, when Bendel was divided into Edo and Delta States, the demand for Anioma State has continued at a low boil. The map below shows where the various ethnicities of Delta State reside (click to enlarge):

It's hard to say if there is a distinct "Anioma Sound," despite the title of this post. One might discern a certain directness to the music of the area, as opposed to the relative subtlety of Igbo music east of the Niger, but I stress the relative nature of this comparison. After all, no one would call the music of Owerri's Oriental Brothers subtle!

The best-known Anioma musician is probably Ali Chukwuma, but the area has produced numerous artists who have achieved fame across Nigeria. Eddy Okonta of Akwukwu (left) is one of the foremost of these. He got his start with Bobby Benson's band and played trumpet on the great maestro's biggest hit, "Taxi Driver," before striking out on his own. In "Anioma," from his album Page One '81 (Phonodisk PHA09), Okonta throws his lot in with the movement to create Anioma State. ". . . Ours is ours and mine is mine. . .We pray to God so that we may achieve this. . .":

Eddy Okonta - Anioma

King Ubulu (picture at the top of this post) is another name that comes up frequently when discussing Anioma music. He was born in 1949 in Amoriji-Onitcha in the Ndokwa area, and formed his Ubulu International Band in the 1970s. He died in 2004. Here is a tune from his LP Ubulu '84 Special: Anyi Bu Ofu (Isabros ISAL 026, 1984). "Ogom Egbu Madu" means "my favor for you should not kill me":

Ubulu International Band of Nigeria - Ogom Egbu Madu

I mentioned in this post that I'm aware of only two female singers in the Igbo highlife genre: Nelly Uchendu and Queen Azaka. Why this should be, I don't know, and I can tell you very little about Queen Azaka, other than that, like King Ubulu, she is from the Ndokwa area. Here's a tune from her LP Umuwa Nweni Ndidi (Odec ODB 10L). I find the rhythm on this tune and the next couple interesting. And sorry about the skipping at the beginning of the tune. Bad warp!:

Queen Azaka & her Ebologu Abusu Mma Dance Band - Ukwani Amaka

Chief John Okpor may be just another obscure musician from the recesses of Delta State, but he's made a great recording here. Side One of Ife Nunoku Na Ju Oyi (Franco Records FMCL 003) doesn't let up until about two-thirds of the way through, when the title track segues into the slower-paced "Egwu Nde Oma."

Chief John Okpor & the Golden Tones Band of Nigeria - Ife Nunoku Na Ju Oyi/Egwu Nde Oma

When Priscilla was back home in Nigeria in 1989, she saw the band members unloading boxes of this LP out of the back of a truck. Of course, she knew I'd want a copy, and what a discovery it is! Eric Obodo heads up the Reformed Eti-Oma Dance Band, and their fast-paced sound is reminiscent of the Camerounian bikutsi style exemplified by groups like Les Veterans. The album is Ogbuefi Moses Okom (Mone MRLP 008).

Reformed Eti-Oma Dance Band of Nigeria - Onyeke Muni Nwa

This post has been delayed because Priscilla and I just haven't had time to sit down and do translations of the lyrics (the fact that these songs are mainly in the Ukwuani dialect makes this more difficult), so I'm just going ahead and posting anyway. If there is time I will update it later. In "The Anioma Sound Pt. 2" I'll be posting songs by Charles Iwegbue, Roganna Ottah and others.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Spear of the Nation

What a shame that South African saxophonist Dudu Pukwana died in exile on June 30, 1990, four years before the coming of democracy to his homeland and the end of the hated apartheid system. Perhaps he took some solace, on February 11 of that year, in seeing the release of freedom fighter Nelson Mandela after 27 years of incarceration.

Born on July 18, 1938, Pukwana was a titan of the South African jazz scene who played a critical role in the Blue Notes and Jazz Giants in South Africa, and in exile with Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath. He later co-founded the Afro-rock group Assagai and Spear, which recorded the influential In The Townships (Virgin C1504) in 1973.

I was inspired to post Pukwana's live recording Life in Bracknell & Willisau (Jika Records ZL 2, 1983) by Matsuli Music's recent post of the wonderful South African jazz LP Armitage Road by the Heshoo Beshoo Group. Released on Pukwana's own label, Life didn't achieve wide circulation, which is unfortunate, as it features some inspired performances, especially the vocals of Pinise Saul.

If you'd like to invesitigate more of Pukwana's music, In The Townships is out of print, but available
here. Another popular album of his, Diamond Express (Arista/Freedom FLP 41041, 1975), is also out of print, and available here.

Dudu Pukwana & Zila w. Pinise Saul - Hug Pine (Bambelela)

Dudu Pukwana & Zila w. Pinise Saul - Mahlomole (Lament)/Lafente (Ntabeni-In the Mountains)

Dudu Pukwana & Zila w. Pinise Saul - Baqanga Bay

Dudu Pukwana & Zila w. Pinise Saul - Freely

Dudu Pukwana & Zila w. Pinise Saul - Funk Them Up to Eriko

Dudu Pukwana & Zila w. Pinise Saul - Ziyekeleni (Let Them Be)

Dudu Pukwana & Zila w. Pinise Saul - The Big (Pine)Apple

Dudu Pukwana & Zila w. Pinise Saul - Zama Khwalo (Try Again)