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.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Sunday, January 25, 2009
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.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Some years ago an acquaintance passed on a cassette of a Nigerian musician who was previously unknown to me; the tape was simply labeled "Ali Chuks." "He's an Igbo, and he's a Muslim," my friend explained. Which caught my attention, because if there's one thing that would seem to be hard-wired into the DNA of every Igbo man, woman and child, it is an abiding allegiance to the Christian faith. The reasons for this are rooted in history. Suffice it to say that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Igbo embraced Christianity with a vengeance after stubbornly adhering to their traditional religion from time immemorial, and this identification was only strengthened during the privations of the Biafran war. An Igbo Muslim? Who had heard of such a thing?
As a matter of fact, there are small communities of Igbo Muslims, not only in the Islamic north of Nigeria but in Igboland itself. My friend Maurice O. Ene of Kwenu magazine describes the efforts of one Suleiman Onyeama, scion of a prominent Igbo family, who established an Islamic school in his home town of Eke.
Which is all beside the point, really, because as far as I've been able to find out, Ali Chuks, better known as Ali Chukwuma (his LPs also tag him "Ali Chukumah" and "Ali Chukus"), was a true-blue Igbo Christian and not a Muslim at all. Apparently he took his name from Ali Baba, a famous African wrestler of the sixties and seventies (and if you want to learn about yet another African "Ali Baba," go here.)
I have heard varying accounts of Chukwuma's origins and activities before he became a well-known musician, but he was apparently from Aboh in the "Anioma," or Igbo-speaking area of present-day Delta State. He is said to have moved to Atani near Onitsha following the death of his father and made the acquaintance there of native son Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe. He spent some time in the great master's Nigeria Sound Makers band and later left to form his own Nigeria Peace Makers.
Chukwuma died of liver failure in the mid-'80s, leaving a legacy of much-loved highlife music.
I had wanted to showcase selections here from various points in Chukwuma's career, but listening to the different recordings, one album stands out: Club 25 (Editions Namaco ENLPS 54), recorded sometime in the late 1970s. Therefore, I'm offering it to you in its entirety, and in future posts I'll present other recordings by this master of Igbo roots music.
"Club 25" is another typical praise song about one of the many Igbo social and charitable clubs. Chukwuma recites the names of and praises the various officers and notable of the organization:
Ali Chukwuma & his Peace Makers International - Club 25
"Henrietta" apparently is addressed to a demanding young woman who thinks she can do better than the narrator. "Henrietta, onye d'imma n'azu:" "Who is beautiful behind their back? Who has everything they want or need in this world?"
Ali Chukwuma & his Peace Makers International - Henrietta
"Onye Melu Ogo Amazi" means "The person I did a favor for doesn't realize it." Chukwuma sings, "What you don't know won't kill you. The good that I do for someone will not kill me." He further sings that no one will carry this world on their back when they die. In other words, your wealth won't do you any good in the afterlife:
Ali Chukwuma & his Peace Makers International - Onye Melu Ogo Amazi
"Ezi Okwu Bu Ndu" means "A truthful word is life." Truthfulness leads to a perfect life. Truthfulness is worth more than money. Further, "Nkem fulu n'anya, bu ezi okwu, nkem nulu n'nti bu asi," or "What I saw with my eyes is true, but what I heard with my ears is lies." In other words, don't believe it unless you see it yourself. Chukwuma further sings that a very good friend is better than family. He recounts that when he first started making music everyone said he was a fool, but now that he is famous they all want him to sing their praises. He sings that he went to Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto and Nnewi and mentions various individuals. "Asi na Chinedu nwa ogbenye. Asi na ifeyi nwa": "They say that God guides the poor man's child. They say that a child is priceless":
Ali Chukwuma & his Peace Makers International - Ezi Okwu Bu Ndu
Discography of Ali Chukwuma
Thanks to my wife Priscilla for her help translating these songs. Any errors in transcription are my own.