Sunday, July 26, 2009

Once More on Rex Lawson & Biafra




Once again our friend
Rainer has come through with an exceedingly rare artifact from the golden age of Nigerian highlife music, in this case a 10" pressing of Love "M" Adure Special, from which I posted some tracks June 21. This was apparently the first pressing, released in 1972. Or maybe it wasn't the first pressing! Rainer writes, ". . . the label says AGR002 etc. But the matrix number says (P)1970 and gives a Philips label number 6386004 as a reference (the Dan Satch is from 1969/70 and has 6386008) Why did they write 1972 on the label? Was this supposed to be released on Philips first back in 1970 but saw the light of day in 72 on Akpola!? Or am I just thinking too much?"

Apart from having a different cover and slightly different reference number (AGR 002 rather than AGB 002), this earlier iteration of Love "M" Adure Special, also on Akpola Records of Benin City, differs in several other respects from my copy. For one thing, it has 10 tracks instead of 12. Also, it includes the song "Gowon's Special," which was omitted from the later record, although it was listed on the sleeve. And for what it's worth, it's a much better pressing.

"Gowon's Special" is very interesting in that it marks Lawson's evolution from being a full-throated supporter of Biafran independence in 1968 to singing the praises of Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon for "keeping Nigeria one" in 1972. Listen to it here:

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Gowon's Special

I won't presume to understand Lawson's motivations for making "Gowon's Special" as well as the earlier "God Bless Colonel Ojukwu."



To help clarify things, here is the recording information for the two pressings of Love "M" Adure Special:

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men
Love "M" Adure Special

(10" LP; Akpola AGR 002, 1972)
A1. Love "M" Adure Special
A2. Gowon's Special
A3. Saturday Sop Di
A4. Yellow Sisi
A5. Nkpa Ke Da Owo
B1. Tom Kiri Site
B2. Wasenigbo Tua
B3. Akwa Abasi
B4. Nume Inye (Nume Alabo)
B5. Peri Special Mbanga II

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men
Love "M" Adure Special
(12"LP; Akpola AGB 002, 197?)
A1. Jolly Papa Special
A2. Love "M" Adure Special
A3. Saturday Sop Di
A4. Yellow Sisi
A5. Abasi Ye Enye
A6. Nkpake Da Owo
B1. Tom Kiri Site
B2. Wasenigbo Tua
B3. Ese Ayang Iso
B4. Akwa Abasi
B5. Nume Inye
B6. Peri Special
One nice thing about the original 10" LP is that it includes a listing of the musicians and summaries of the lyrics. You can download the whole album as a zipped file here.



In the comments there's been a side discussion on the question of whether records were actually pressed in Biafra during the war. I thought it was possible, even though all of the major pressing facilities were in the North and West before the war (Nigerphone may have had a plant in Onitsha). After thinking it over, and consulting the map below (click to enlarge) from John de St. Jorre's The Nigerian Civil War (Hodder & Stoughten, 1972), this seems most unlikely.

As the map shows, by October of 1968 the territory under Biafran government control had been reduced to about one sixth of what it was at Independence, and didn't include any of the major cities (Onitsha fell in March of 1968). Although the margins of the Biafran enclave changed slightly over the course of the conflict, this is where things stood until the last months before the war ended in January 1970. Therefore, any "Biafran records" would have to have been pressed outside of the country and smuggled in.



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kasule




Ugandan singer/guitarist Sammy Kasule is present on many Kenyan recordings made during the 1980s. He was a member of Frantal Tabu's Orchestra Vundumuna, and as part of another group, Africa Jambo Jambo, was recruited to fill in as part of Orchestra Simba Wanyika during their 1989 European tour.

The 1984 solo LP Kasule (CBS (N) 014) was a smash, spawning three hits, "Kukupenda (Kuusudu)," "Ushirikiano" and Kasule's English-language version of Nguashi Ntimbo's "Shauri Yako," which I featured in my last post. Kasule's translation in turn formed the basis for Mbilia Bel's version of the song.

I understand Sammy Kasule is presently living in Stockholm.

Here are the complete contents of Kasule:

Sammy Kasule - Pesa Kuja

Sammy Kasule - Zongolo

Sammy Kasule - Shauri Yako

Sammy Kasule - Kukupenda (Kuusudu)

Sammy Kasule - Ushirikiano

And here are two singles that Kasule recorded around the same time that Kasule came out. "Numevumila" was on the Doromy label (DM 41), while "Niliota Ndoto" was issued on the VGA Editions Scolar label (VGA 008):

Sammy Kasule & Orchestra Samajako International - Numevumila Pts 1 & 2

Sammy Kasule & Ochila Odero - Niliota Ndoto Pts 1 & 2

Note: Tracks from the LP Kasule are no longer available for download. The album may be purchased online here.



Sunday, July 19, 2009

From Congo to Kenya Pt. 1




Have you seen Alastair Johnston's website Muzikifan? It's a must-go-to destination for anyone who's interested in African music or World Music™ in general. Alastair recently published A Discography of Docteur Nico (Poltroon Press, 2009), which is an outgrowth of the site. I haven't seen it yet, but it's an obvious labor of love, and a must-have for any African music fan. You can get it through the site. As of yet there doesn't seem to be any distribution through Amazon or Sterns, but hopefully there soon will be.

But that's not what this post is about. Some time ago, Alistair began a comprehensive study/discography of Congolese/Zaïrean musicians in East Africa, which over the years has grown into an impressive body of work. It turns out I have a fair number of tracks by some of these musicians, so I thought it would be worthwhile to give them a spin.

Political and economic turmoil sent Congolese/Zaïrean musicians east to Tanzania and Kenya beginning in the '60s, and the '70s through the mid '80s were the "Golden Age" of expatriate musicians in East Africa (in 1985 President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya ordered the expulsion of foreign workers, including musicians). The well-known Samba Mapangala of Malako Disco fame is part of this generation, as are Mose "Fan Fan" Se Sengo and Remmy Ongala.

Probably the most influential of these artists was Baba Gaston (1936-1997), whose picture is at the top of this post, and who ended up in Dar-es-Salaam
with his Orchestre Baba Nationale in 1971, moving to Nairobi four years later. Gaston's various orchestras comprised a veritable university of East African music owing to the numerous musicians who passed through before going on to join or establish other outfits, among them Les Mangalepa.

Here are some 45s from Gaston's career in East Africa. I suspect the first two tracks (from ASL ASL 7-1520) are from 1973 or thereabout, while "Kalai" (Yahoos YS 001) is probably from the early '80s:

Baba Nationale - Zala Reconnassant Fa Fan

Baba Nationale - F.C. Lupopo Bana Ya Tembe

Baba Gaston & Orchestre Tchondo National - Kalai Pts 1 & 2


You can download Baba Gaston's wonderful LP Condition Bi-Msum (ASL ASL 971) from Worldservice here.

Jimmy Monimambo, who features in "Amba," was one of three outstanding vocalists in Orchestra Shika-Shika, the others being Moreno Batamba and Vicky "Lovy" Longomba, who will be discussed in a future post. "Amba" (Daraja DJ 005) was one of the group's major hits:

Jimmy Monimambo & Orchestra Shika-Shika - Amba

"Shauri Yako" is a song that is well-known to many Likembe reader/listeners thanks to the version by Orchestre Super Mazembe, but it was written by Nguashi Ntimbo, a veteran of Baba Nationale for many years before starting his Orchestre Festivale du Zaire and later working for Franco's TPOK Jazz. In addition to Super Mazembe, "Shauri Yako" was recorded by Ugandan singer Sammy Kasule and Mbilia Bel, but Festival du Zaire's version (ASL ASL 3393) is arguably the best. You may have heard this one before as it's been on a couple of other blogs, but another go-round won't hurt you:

Orchestre Festival du Zaïre - Shauri Yako

"Madya" (ASL ASL 7-3351) was apparently recorded a year or two before "Shauri Yako":

Orchestre Festival du Zaïre - Madya


It's interesting how, once Congo musicians moved to East Africa, their sound opened up and became more rhythmically free and experimental. To get what I'm talking about, listen to the guitar and horn work in the next two tracks (ASL ASL 7-1145) by Les Noirs/City Five. Alastair doesn't say much about the origins of Les Noirs, but they seem to have been one of those groups that everyone was a member of at one point or another:

Les Noirs/City Five - Mungo Iko Helena

Les Noirs/City Five - Lwaki Oyomba Awatali Nsoka

Alastair Johnston's article "Congolese Bands in East Africa" was of inestimable help in preparing this post, and should be consulted for more information about these artists. I'll be discussing more Congo musicians in East Africa in a future post.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hailing Biafra




Note: This post was updated on October 4, 2009.

My post "Divided Loyalties" inspired an anonymous reader to make available an intriguing souvenir of the Biafran independence struggle. First Independence Anniversary Special, a 45, was issued in 1968 by the Biafra Association in the Americas, Inc. under the reference number XB-439/XB-440. The A side is "A Nation is Born," a previously-unknown-to-me song by highlife master Celestine Ukwu, while the flip side is the song
"God Bless Colonel Ojukwu" by Rex Lawson, which I featured in that earlier post under the title "Odumegwu Ojukwu (Hail Biafra)."

Anonymous poses an interesting question: While First Independence Anniversary Special was obviously pressed in the United States, were records pressed in Biafra during the war? I do know that music by Ukwu and other musicians was recorded and broadcast on Radio Biafra during the conflict, but I'm not aware of any record-pressing facilities in Biafra at the time. Of course, there is always the possibility that records were pressed abroad and smuggled into the Biafran enclave, a fraught task. Could someone shed some light on this matter for us?

Courtesy of Anonymous, here is Celestine Ukwu:

Celestine Ukwu - A Nation is Born

For some time I've been trying to get hold of another record released in the US during the war, Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha: Drums and Chants of Fighting Biafra (Afro Request SRLP 5030) by the mysterious "Biafran Freedom Fighters." If anyone out there has a copy, I'm sure we'd all love to hear it.

I have an LP which was apparently put out by the same people who issued First Independence Anniversary Special. This is Biafra (Biafra Students Association in the Americas XB-149/XB-150) features an instrumental, "Hail Biafra" (the Biafran national anthem?) and a speech by Odumegwu Ojukwu on Side 1, and seven musical selections on Side 2. Unfortunately, while the song titles are given, the artists aren't credited.

I'm posting the contents of This is Biafra. "Hail Biafra" is not especially notable and the Ojukwu speech is more of a historical document, but the other tracks should be of interest to Likembe reader/listeners. I have identified "Onwu Zuri Uwa" and "So Ala Temen" as by Rex Lawson. "A Tit for Tat" is by Area Scatter, and "Onye Nwe Uwa" is by the Nkwa Wu Ite Dance Group of Afikpo (thanks to Anonymous & Vitus Jon Laurence for identifying those two). Perhaps someone could identify the other musicians:

Hail Biafra

The Struggle for Survival: H.E. Lt. Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, Governor of Biafra (November 24, 1967)

Cardinal Rex Lawson - Onwu Zuru Uwa (There's Death Everywhere)

Unknown Artists - Nkponam Isuhoke Owo (Misfortune Never Discriminates)

Nkwa Wu Ite Dance Group of Afikpo - Onye Nwe Uwa (Who Owns the World?)

Cardinal Rex Lawson - So Ala Temen (Nature Bestows Riches)

Area Scatter - A Tit for Tat

Unknown Artists - Akpasak Ibok, Idiok Udono (Vice is a Terrible Disease)

Unknown Artists - Thou Shalt Not Kill

I've written about the Biafran situation in previous posts, and I would recommend John de St. Jorre's The Nigerian Civil War (Hodder & Stoughton, 1972), long out of print, as an even-handed and detailed account of the conflict. This article from Wikipedia is also useful. I would say at the risk of sparking a controversy that I think the Biafran cause was a noble one, and had it succeeded, would have changed the course of African history in a positive direction. But I'm afraid Biafra's historical moment has come and gone; whatever the future of Africa has in store, an independent Biafran state will probably not be part of it.

Download This is Biafra as a zipped file here.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Kamba Sounds




I've written here before that twenty years ago I accumulated an archive of about 24 hours worth of East African music on 10" tape reels that I finally got around to digitizing a year and a half ago. These records were loaned to me by friends from that part of the world, most of whom have moved on to other cities, and cover a gamut of languages and styles.

Digitizing this material was fairly straightforward, but actually processing, organizing and making sense of the collection has been a daunting task, one that I've pursued in whatever spare time I've had. It's complicated by the fact that the various genres and artists are scattered among the tapes willy-nilly.

Some of the more refreshing of these tracks have been the ones recorded by Kamba musicians. The Akamba, related to the Kikuyu, are said to number about four million and live in the south-central region of Kenya just east of Nairobi (refer to the map on the right; click to enlarge). While contemporary Kamba music is often labeled "Benga" or "Cavacha," it's characterized by its relative simplicity and straightforwardness. Doug Paterson had this to say in World Music: The Rough Guide (Rough Guides, 1994):

. . . Although distinctive melodies distinguish Kamba pop from other styles of benga, there are other special Kamba features. One is the delicate, flowing, merry-go-round-like rythm guitar that underlies many Kamba arrangements. While the primary guitar plays chords in the lower range, the second guitar plays a fast pattern of notes that mesh with the rest of the instrumentation to fill in the holes. This gentle presence is discernible in many of the recordings of the three most famous Kamba groups: The Kalambya Boys & Kalambya Sisters, Peter Mwambi and his Kyanganga Boys and Les Kilimambogo Brothers Band, led, until 1987, by Kakai Kilonzo.
It turns out that I have quite a few tracks by the Kilimambogos, almost none of which are on the two recent compilations Best of Kakai Vol. 1 and Best of Kakai Vol. 2, so you can assume I'll be devoting a future post exclusively to them. Tunes by various other Kamba musicians (most recorded around 1983) add up to about three hours' worth of music, and the ones I'm posting here are a representative sample. If you like these I'll be happy to post more in the future.

Back in the early '80s Kenya was under the sway of the imported Congolese musicians, Virunga, Baba Gaston and the like, and the various Swahili "big bands" like Mlimani Park and the Wanyika groups. Kamba music and the other "vernacular" styles were part of an older, less-sophisticated tradition that had its roots in the '60s and earlier, as described by John Storm Roberts in the liner notes to his compilation Before Benga Vol. 2: The Nairobi Sound (Original Music OMCD 022):

. . .I soon found that this was very much a people's music. The hip young Kenyans moving into government and the professions were uneasy with its reminder of the Swahili-speaking, makeshift past, more happy with the sophistication of Zaïrean music and English-language pop and rock 'n' roll. True, compared with the work of the great names of Kinshasa, the discs cranked out of the scruffy record stores of River Road, down near the country bus station, were simple and sometimes seemed naïvely optimistic. But for the majority of Kenyans whose English was functional at best, they reflected day-to-day life with a plain-man exuberance that was very like their audience: lacking the glamour of West or Central Africa, but in their own way wholly admirable. . .
In this light I regret that I've been unable to find anyone to translate the lyrics of these records for us. I'm sure they would be even more pleasurable if we knew what they were about! As it is there's plenty of wonderful singing and guitar-picking for our musical enjoyment.

The Kalambya Boys, led by Onesmus Musyoki and Joseph Mutaiti, were one of the primary Kamba bands of the 1980s. Unfortunately I have nothing by the naughty Kalambya Sisters, the Boys' female auxiliary, who caused a sensation with their 1983 release "Katelina," but there is a good track by them on the compilation The Nairobi Beat: Kenyan Pop Music Today (Rounder CD 5030). Here are the A & B sides of Utanu UTA 108 by the Kalambya Boys:

Onesmus Musyoki & Kalambya Boys - Katelesa

Onesmus Musyoki & Kalambya Boys - Kyonzi Kya Aka

And here are sides A & B of Utanu UTA 113:

The Kalambya Boys - Eka Nzasu


The Kalambya Boys - Mwendwa Losi

The Kyanganga Boys Band, led by Peter Mwambi, have also been quite popular. Doug Paterson writes that Mwambi's ". . . musically simple, 'pound 'em out,' pulsing-bass drum style may not have enough musical variation to keep non-Kamba speakers interested." Listen to these sides from Boxer BX 018 and judge for yourself:

Peter Mwambi, Charles Mutiso & Kyanganga Boys Band - Beatrice


Peter Mwambi, Charles Mutiso & Kyanganga Boys Band - Mwenyenyo


From Mwambi BIMA 002, here are two sides that Mwambi apparently recorded without the Kyanganga Boys:

Peter Mwambi - Matatu

Peter Mwambi - Mueni


Of course, the Kamba music scene has produced nuemerous other artists, including the Kaiti Brothers, who give us these refreshing tunes (from Kaiti Bro's KAITI 04):

Kaiti Brothers - Ndungata

Kaiti Brothers - Nau Wakwa "J"

The Ngoleni Brothers, led by Dickson Mulwa, a Kalambya Boys alumnus, also produced numerous hits, including these, side A & B of the Ngoleni Brothers Boys single DICK 02:

Professor Dick Mutuku Mulwa & Ngoleni Brothers Band - Kavinda Kakwa


Professor Dick Mutuku Mulwa & Ngoleni Brothers Band - Ngilesi


"Kibushi" was a dance craze imported from Congo/Zaire, the most important exponent of which was the Orchestre Hi-Fives. Here's a Kamba version of Kibushi which doesn't bear much resemblence to the original style. These tracks are the A & B sides of Akamba AS 801. I know nothing of Fadhili Mundi & the Ithanga Brothers, but these are certainly enjoyable tunes, especially the delightful "Wakwa Sabethi."

Fadhili Mundi & Ithanga Brothers - Mzee Tamaa

Fadhili Mundi & Ithanga Brothers - Wakwa Sabethi

Fans of East African 45s know that looking at their colorful labels is almost as much fun as listening to them. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to provide you with scans of these recordings, but KenTanza Vinyl has an excellent gallery for your enjoyment. The picture at the top of this post is entitled "My Neighborhood" and is by a Tanzanian artist named Mkumba. Explore more of his work and that of a number of other excellent East African artists here.