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.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Scooped Again!




As you may know, I've periodically been posting classic and hard-to-find music from Ethiopia here. For some time, I've wanted to make available Lebäy (Toteel Music), a 1984 cassette by Eritrean musical legend Bereket Mengisteab (and yes, Eritrea is now an independent country, but in 1984 it was part of Ethiopia, so technically it qualifies). This is the only recording by Bereket that I possess, and I've long wondered about this enigmatic singer.

Once again, I've been scooped by one of my fellow bloggers, as Matthew Lavoie of Voice of America's African Music Treasures devotes his latest post
to this iconic musician. With his usual meticulous attention to detail, Matthew supplies a wealth of background information on his subject, having interviewed the great maestro personally in the VOA studios. There's nothing more I can add, but here's a small taste:.


. . .Bereket Mengisteab was born in 1938 in the small village of Hazega, located about eighteen miles north of the Eritrean capital of Asmara, and this is where he spent the first two decades of his life farming. During these years in Hazega, Bereket taught himself the Krar (a five stringed lyre) and honed his musical skills, participating in all of the musical rituals that punctuate rural life. Then, after spending a few years in Asmara (which was part of Ethiopia at the time), Bereket moved to Addis Abeba in 1961. And it was in Addis that Bereket made his stage debut, as a member of the Haile Selassie Theater Orchestra; during the previous year he spent in Asmara he never performed outside of his circle of friends. Bereket stayed with the Haile Selassie Theater Orchestra for a little over a decade, performing with the group throughout Ethiopia, in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal (at the 1966 Festival mondial des Arts Nègres), and in Mexico (at the 1968 Summer Olympics). During these years he also made his first recordings, nine singles for the Philips label (I don't know the exact dates and have not been able to find any of these singles). . .

Francis Falceto writes, in the liner notes of his excellent compilation Ethiopiques 5: Tigrigna music Tigray/Eritrea 1970-1975 (Buda Musique 82965-2):

. . . Tigrigna music, dominent in Tigray [province] and Eritrea, is quite distinct, both rhythmically and melodically, from "Ethiopian" music, although both share the so-called "pentatonic" (or five-note) scale. The instruments and the traditional musical practices are similar, while their names may vary. The massenqo (single-corded fiddle played with a bow) and especially the krar (a six-corded lyre) remain the most prevalent instruments. In Tigrigna country, the massenqo is more commonly termed tchèrewata and the same wandering minstrel that Ethiopians of the central highlands call azmari is better known here as a wata. Ethiopians call the lepers and beggars who sing at dawn lalibèla: here they are termed hamien or arho. Sometimes the krar is even called massenqo. In a notable development over the last few decades, many Eritrean musicians have encouraged the spread of the electric krar, used here widely (far more than in Ethiopia), and many excel at the instrument. . .
Of course, you need to read Matthew's post and enjoy the musical samples he provides. For those who want more, here's Lebäy, in all of its wild, wailing wah-wahed-out glory:

"Lebäy" means "my heart." It can alternately mean "my emotions":

Bereket Mengisteab - Lebäy

"Wind of the Desert":

Bereket Mengisteab - Nefas nay Bäräkha

"Wäzzamu" = "handsome":

Bereket Mengisteab - Wäzzamu

The title of this song means "wicked flute." He is scolding the flute, probably because her sound evokes bad memories:

Bereket Mengisteab - Täkkalit Shanbeqo

A comb made of ebony, worn as adornment:

Bereket Mengisteab - Zebbä Mästära

Part of a proverb, the title of this song means "restless hyena":

Bereket Mengisteab - Hewwekh Zeb’i

"His Horse":

Bereket Mengisteab - Färäsu


"Utter Darkness":

Bereket Mengisteab - Deqdeq S’elmat

Many many thanks to Andreas Wetter for transliterating and translating the song titles. Andreas has recently started his own weblog,
Kezira, devoted to music from the Horn of Africa. Of course, it's highly recommended.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

From Congo to Kenya Pt. 2




As a follow-up to my earlier post
From Congo to Kenya Pt. 1, here are some melodies courtesy of the Congolese diaspora in East Africa. Like that post, this one is focused on the early 1980s. In 1985, President Daniel Arap Moi ordered the expulsion of foreign workers, including musicians, from Kenya, and the Congolese/Zairean musical community there scattered to the four winds.

For some time I had wondered who possessed the soulful voice that featured on so many 45s issued during the '80s in Kenya by such disparate groups as the Kenya Blue Stars and Bana Ngenge. Was it the same person? Along comes Alistair Johnson to clear up the puzzle in his article
Congolese/Zaïrean Musicians in East Africa. Turns out the mystery voice is Moreno Batamba (nee Batamba Wenda Morris), who was born in Kisangani in 1955 and joined Orchestre Maquis Sasa in 1971. In 1974 he hooked up with Fataki Lokassa and a number of other Congolese exiles in Uganda to form Bana Ngnege, which seems to have undergone a number of permutations and name changes over the years. Although Alistair writes that Bana Ngenge broke up in 1976, a group called Bana Ngenge Stars Popote, featuring Fataki Lokassa, released this record in Kenya (Universal Sounds USD 005) in the early '80s. Moreno is relegated to supporting vocals:

Bana Ngenge Stars Popote - Dunia Imelaniwa Pts. 1 & 2

After serving stints with Orchestra Shika-Shika, Les Noirs (both featured in
From Congo to Kenya Pt. 1) and Orchestre Virunga, Moreno started Moja One in Nairobi in 1980 and recorded "Dunia si Yako si Yangu" (CBS/ACP 702) around 1983:

Moreno & Moja One - Dunia si Yako si Yangu Pts. 1 & 2

Finally Moreno shows up as part of the pop/disco trio the Kenya Blue Stars, along with Margaret Safari & Sheila (pictured at the top of this post), who recorded this infectious little ditty (CBS/ACP 1201) in 1984:

Kenya Blue Stars - Shufa Pts. 1 & 2

Along with Jimmy Monimambo and Frantal Tabu (about whom more below), one of Moreno's colleagues in Shika-Shika was
Lovy Mokolo Longomba, whose high-pitched voice was a perfect counterpoint to Moreno's. His father was Vicky Longomba, a founding member of OK Jazz, and his brother Awilo Longomba, is one of the biggest stars of contemporary Congo music. Lovy moved from Kinshasa to Nairobi in 1978 and joined Les Kinois, a predecessor of Orchestra Virunga. His sojourn there lasted only three months, after which he left for stints with Boma Liwanza and Super Mazembe. While a part of Orchestra Shika-Shika, he also helmed his own band, which recorded under the names Orchestre Super Lovy and Bana Likasi. Sadly, Lovy Longomba died in an auto accident in Tanzania in 1996. Here he is on Editions Lovy 01:

Orchestre Super Lovy - Elee Pts. 1 & 2

Frantal Tabu (picture below), like Moreno Batamba, hails from Kisangani, and also played a role in Orchestra Shika-Shika, as well as Boma Liwanza and other bands. He formed Orchestra Vundumuna in 1984, which also featured Ugandan Sammy Kasule on vocals. Here is a recording Frantal Tabu made with Orchestre Malekesa du Zaire on the Editions du Hudson label (EDH 01):

Frantal Tabu & Orchestre Malekesa du Zaire - Asali Pts. 1 & 2




Finally, here are a couple of sides in the style made famous by Verckys & Orchestre Veve, from a group I know nothing about. I don't know for sure that Python Mas's group Zaire Success was based in East Africa, although the name gives a clue (groups that were actually based in Congo/Zaire didn't usually include "Zaire" in the name), and this 45 (sides A & B of Africa AFR 7-36) was pressed in Kenya:

Python Mas & Orchestre Zaire Success - Sofia Motema

Python Mas & Orchestre Zaire Success - Mado

For more about these artists and many more I refer you once again to Alistair Johnson's essential article
Congolese/Zaïrean Musicians in East Africa.