Sunday, June 21, 2009

Divided Loyalties

The recent dénouement of the 25-year Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka was reminiscent in many ways of the end of the Biafran war in Nigeria in January of 1970: both of them were hard-fought popular rebellions that collapsed very suddenly. In both cases the human and economic cost was horrendous.

In its time Biafra was a cause that engaged people the world over in support of its beleaguered people. The proximate reason for the start of the war was a series of pogroms across Northern Nigeria in 1966 directed at natives of the Eastern region of the country, mainly Igbos. In response, Eastern Nigeria, under the leadership of
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, seceded as the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967.

Sometime during the course of the war, Nigerian highlife star Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson recorded his song "Odumegwu Ojukwu," commonly known as "Hail Biafra." I'm told that this was released on Onitsha's Nigerphone label, although I have no more information about it. Given its controversial nature, it's not surprising that "Hail Biafra" was more or less banned in the post-war years, and was not on any of Lawson's five "official" Nigerian LPs. The song came to light again in the late 1990s when it was released as part of a compilation entitled Rex Lawson Uncensored: Hail Biafra (Mossiac MMCD 1036).

"Odumegwu Ojukwu" is apparently in Ijaw, so I can't give an exact translation of the lyrics, but in spoken English comments toward the end, Lawson clearly indicates his support for Biafra's Head of State. These sentiments are said to have earned his detention by Federal troops, to whom he is said to have told that he recorded the song "to uplift the rebels." Here's the song:

Rex Lawson - Odumegwu Ojukwu (Hail Biafra)

More interestingly, sometime later Lawson recorded a song in tribute to Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, who not only had led an earlier separatist rebellion in the Niger Delta (the so-called "Twelve-Day Revolution") but died fighting on the Federal side against the Biafran separatists. Boro was an ardent defender of the interests of his Ijaw people, and by some accounts his sentiments toward the Igbo (who predominated in Biafra) were chauvinistic bordering on racist. Such are the dynamics of ethnic politics in southeastern Nigeria! "Major Boro's Sound" was included on the album Rex Lawson's Victories Vol. 2 (Akpola AGB 003) and is also featured on Rex Lawson Uncensored: Hail Biafra:

Rex Lawson - Major Boro's Sound

If there was one thing Rex Lawson wasn't, it was a narrow-minded tribalist. A true cosmopolitan, he had an Ijaw father and and Igbo mother, and his Majors Band (later The Rivers Men) included musicians from various ethnicities. He sang in all of the languages of southeastern Nigeria. Some years ago a fellow named Ofon M. Samson emailed me with English-language summaries of some of the songs on Lawson's LP Love "M" Adure Special (Akpola AGB 002, below). I believe the original songs were all in Efik. In the first of these, "Saturday Sop Di," Lawson sings that he wants Saturday to hurry up and arrive:

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Saturday Sop Di

"Abasi Ye Enye" was supposedly written after Lawson had lost a child. He sings, "Whoever killed my child, God will see him or her":

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Abasi Ye Enye

"Tom Kiri Site" means "The World is Bad":

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Tom Kiri Site

"Ese Ayang Iso" is about a leper, about whom Lawson sings, "ese Ayang iso, kuse ikpat," meaning "look at Ayang's face not her feet because she has a disease":

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Ese Ayang Iso

"Akwa Abasi" means "Almighty God." Lawson quotes John 3:16, ". . .For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Akwa Abasi

In "Nkpa Ke Da Owo," Lawson sings about death taking someone away. During the break one of the band members asks, "Death why have you taken our master? Who is going to lead us?." A prescient question, given that Lawson would die in 1971:

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Nkpa Ke Da Owo

Friday, June 12, 2009

Another Ethiopian Songstress

If you're a fan of Aster Aweke or Kuku Sebsebe, you'll no doubt enjoy this cassette by Ethiopian vocalist Martha Ashagari.

Ärä Bakeh (Ambassel Music Shop) was released in 1993 shortly after the fall of the Derg, but Ashagari has been singing professionally since 1988 with the Abyssinia and Roha Bands, and during the '90s had her own nightclub in Addis Ababa. In 1996 she recorded the CD Child's Love/Ye-Lij Fiker, which is available online from AIT Records (I included a tune from it on my compilation African Divas Vol. 2).

Ashagari is notable for her unique vocal tone, somewhere between a sob and a wail. Side 1 of
Ärä Bakəh typifies the '80s-'90s Ethiopian style, but Martha really hits her stride with side 2 of the cassette, especially the emotional ballads "Zoma" and "Ende Näh" and the Tigrinya song "Sälam Bäluläy."

Martha Ashagari -
Ärä Bakeh

Martha Ashagari -
Feqer Näw

Martha Ashagari -

Martha Ashagari -
Bämen Yedanyal

Martha Ashagari -

Martha Ashagari -

Martha Ashagari -
Zoma (Yäbati lej)

Martha Ashagari -
Endäzzihəm Allä

Martha Ashagari - E
nde Näh

Martha Ashagari -
Sälam Bäluläy (Tigrinya)

Ärä Bakeh as a zipped file here. As usual, I'm including a scan of the original cassette inlay card if someone would care to correct my transliteration of the Ge'ez text (click to enlarge):

Update: Thanks to Andreas Wetter for his correction of my transliteration.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Welcome Back, Matt!

We're all thrilled that Matt Yanchyshyn is back on the scene and posting once more on his blog, Benn Loxo du Taccu, after a long hiatus. Of course, Matt's had pressing business - getting married, for one thing. Congratulations, Matt!

So now that Matt is rested and relaxed he's once again making available the great music we've come to expect from Benn Loxo. Do yourself a favor and check out this post of some of the latest tracks from Dakar. Matt is far more cognizant than I of what's going on in the music scene in Senegal, and writes about the current sensation:

. . . Without a doubt the biggest thing going in Dakar these days is Titi. Ask any mbalax fan in Dakar between the age of 16-30 and you’ll usually get a “Titi, j’aime titi,” which admittedly makes me laugh every time for every immature reason. Titi is a hot little mbalax number - a classically tall, thin and beautiful Dakaroise woman - who gets about as much radio play these days as Youssou’s latest Live at Bercy. I think her voice sounds a lot like Michael Jackson in his child-star, Jackson 5 days. . .

It happens that Titi features prominently in Mbeuguel Da Fa Khew Vol. 19, a "pirate" compilation by DJ Fallou & Beug Sa Reuw Productions that I picked up in Little Senegal in New York a couple of months ago. Apart from Youssou N'dour and Viviane most of the artists are unknown to me, but I see they're well represented on YouTube, for instance Pape Thiopet here, also Assane Mboup, Abdou Guite Seck and, of course, Titi herself here, here, and here.

Here then is Mbeuguel Da Fa Khew Vol. 19. It's not generally my policy to post "new" recordings in their entirety on Likembe, but since this is a pirate pressing, I think I can make an exception. . .

Titi - Tayou Mako

Assane Mboup - Aye Beugueunte La

Titi - Love You

Yousou N'dour & Viviane N'dour - Amitie

Pape Thiopet & Ass Seck - Takkal

Khadim Diaw - Moytoulma Dokhou Mbende Bi

Aida Ndiaye (Ndiole) - Diama Noir

Assane Ndiaye - Diamale

Abdou Guitte Seck - Beuss Bi

Gorgui Ndiaye - Yaaye

Youssou N'dour - Sama Gamou

Titi - Music

Youssou N'dour - Niit

Titi - Boulma Taanal

Abdou Guitte Seck - Jangaro