Showing posts with label Highlife. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Highlife. Show all posts

Monday, June 25, 2012

Birth of a Nation




If you've been around here a while you'll know that I have a major obsession with the 1967-70 war in Nigeria, when the Eastern Region of that country left to establish the independent nation of Biafra. It was a valiant struggle, but the nascent Republic went down to defeat on January 15, 1970. I suspect not everyone shares my interest, but some do, and for them I'm posting another entry in Likembe's Biafra archive - the hard-to-find LP Biafra: Birth of a Nation (Lyntone LYN 1684), issued by the Biafra Choral Society in London in 1968. This was kindly provided by Craig Taylor, and I thank him for it.

Birth of a Nation is propaganda, and I don't mean this in a pejorative sense. It was issued by the Biafran government in an effort to influence public opinion in the outside world, especially the United Kingdom, main supporter of the Federal Government in Lagos against the secessionists. In 1968, when it was released, the Biafran cause had already for all intents and purposes been lost, although this wouldn't be apparent for some time. Still, it's of considerable interest not only to historians but musically, as it contains some nice highlife tunes. Listened to in sequence the album sounds like something recorded off a shortwave radio broadcast in the wee hours of the morning, history in the making.

On January 15, 1966, Nigeria's First Republic came to an end when Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Northern Premier Amadou Bello and Western Premier Samuel Akintola were overthrown and executed in a military coup. A counter-coup led by Major-General Aguiye-Ironsi, an Igbo from the Eastern Region, managed to re-establish order, but his military government lacked legitimacy in the eyes of many Northerners, who saw it as Igbo-dominated. On July 29 a coup led by Northern officers led to the deaths of hundreds of Eastern officers as well as Ironsi himself, sparking a series of bloody events. In September and October of 1966 Northern Nigeria was swept by a series of pogroms targeting Easterners, leading to the panicky exodus of more than a million people to their ancestral homes.

In a last-ditch effort to save Nigerian unity, a meeting was held in Aburi, Ghana January 4-5, 1967 between leaders of the Federal government in Lagos and a delegation from the Eastern Region led by Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. The resulting Accord provided for restructuring Nigeria on a looser confederal basis, but soon became a dead letter as there was no unanimity regarding its interpretation:

The Aburi Declaration

An Efik song:

The Canaan Brothers - Ukaridem (Independence)

The Eastern Region of Nigeria declared its independence as the sovereign state of Biafra on May 30, 1967. It  was recognized diplomatically by only five countries: Gabon, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Zambia and Haiti. In addition it received varying levels of support from Portugal, France, China, South Africa and Israel. Britain and the Soviet Union were solidly on the Federal side, while the U.S. was officially "neutral" but tacitly supported Nigeria:

The Rev. Edmund Ilogu - Declaration of Independence

Biafra's national anthem, "Land of the Rising Sun," is based on the "Finlandia" hymn by Sibelius. The first verse is as follows:

Land of the rising sun, we love and cherish,
Beloved homeland of our brave heroes;
We must defend our lives or we shall perish,
We shall protect our hearts from all our foes;
But if the price is death for all we hold dear,
Then let us die without a shred of fear.
Land of the Rising Sun (Biafra National Anthem)

The Rev. G.E. Igwe - Prayer

Rex Lawsons's Kalabari-language "Ojukwu Imiete, Biafra Bolate" was the subject of several previous posts and some speculation. Uchenna Ikonne has unearthed a copy of this subversive song as a 45 (Nigerphone NX 412, left), ostensibly pressed in Nigeria, of all places! It has also been released under the titles "Odumegwu Ojukwu (Hail Biafra)" and "God Bless Colonel Ojukwu":

Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson and his Biafra Republicans Band - Ojukwu Imiete, Biafra Bolate (Ojukwu Thank You, Biafra has Come to Stay)

In this speech Ojukwu levels a number of accusations against Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon, most of which are exaggerated or untrue. Gowon apparently played no role in the July 1966 coup that overthrew Ironsi, nor did he "plot" the pogroms of September and October 1966. There is no doubt that the war against Biafra led to a horrendous loss of lives (over a million by conservative estimates) but as to whether it constituted genocide I refer interested parties to this Wikipedia article:

H.E. Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu - The War of Genocide

British Attitude to Nigeria/Biafra War

An Igbo song:

Abraham Onyenobia - Chukwu Zoba Anyi (God Save Us)

At Independence, approximately 40% of the population of Biafra was composed of non-Igbo "Eastern Minorites," Ijaws, Efiks and others. Fearing "Igbo domination," many of these were ambivalent about secession or even actively supported the Federal cause. However, members of minority groups were represented in the Biafran government throughout the war:

Ika Bassey - The Case of the Minorities in Biafra

H.E. Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu - Launching of the Biafran Currency and Postage Stamps


I.S. Kogbara - Excerpt from H.E.'s Address to Special Consultative Assembly, Addis Ababa


Download Biafra: Birth of a Nation as a zipped file, including liner notes, here.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Rest in Peace Jerry Hansen



Jerry Hansen, founder of Ghana's influential Ramblers International Dance Band, passed away in Accra Saturday, April 7th. He was 85. Besides leading the band and composing many of its hit songs, Hansen was a founding member and President of the Musicians Union of Ghana

The Ramblers, the last of Ghana's great "danceband highlife" orchestras, were founded in 1961 when Hansen left King Bruce's Black Beats. Their innovative sounds held them in good stead through the political upheavals of the 1970s and ínto the '80s when the band finally expired thanks to changing tastes and poor economic conditions.

Jerry Hansen was one of the last giants of the classic highlife sound and will be sorely missed. Remember him while listening to Ramblers International (Decca WAPS 334), an album from 1976:

Ramblers International - Akwanuma Hiani

Ramblers International - Dear Si Abotar

Ramblers International - Megye Wo

Ramblers International - Inemesti

Ramblers International - Maye Maye

Ramblers International - Mbre Ofiong

Ramblers International - Awusa Dzi Mi

Ramblers International - Esa Ni Otse Ohie

Ramblers International - Dodzi

Ramblers International - Ao Danye

Ramblers International - Highlife Medley

Download Ramblers International as a zipped file here.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Unsung Genius of African Music




In a just world, Nigeria's "Gentleman" Mike Ejeagha would be considered one of the giants of African music, accorded the same respect as, say, Congo's Franco or Tanzania's Mbaraka Mwinshehe. As it is, he is barely recognized in his own country, such is his intimate connection to the folklore and culture of his native Enugu. But make no mistake - among the Igbo people Ejeagha is a colossus indeed. His lyrics are full of the parables & shaded meanings that are the essence of Igbo culture. His arrangements & guitar work, in addition, are sublime.

Ejeagha was born August 1932 in Imezi Owa, Eziagu LGA, present-day Enugu State, and learned to play guitar from two fellow residents of the coal-mining camps of Enugu, Moses "Moscow" Aduba and Cyprian Uzochiawa. Around the age of 18, he formed his first musical group, the Merry Makers. Soon he was performing and producing for Nigeria Broadcasting Services, and later joined the Paradise Rhythm Orchestra, a group owned by an Enugu hotelier, and the Leisure Gardens Dance Band. He founded the Rhythm Dandies in 1964, which later changed its name to the Premiers Dance Band. The group was forced to disperse during the Biafran war of independence in the late '60s, but reformed after hostilities ended in 1970.

Since the early 1970s, Mike Ejeagha's musical explorations of Igbo folklore have earned him a much-beloved place in the pantheon of modern Igbo highlife music. Some years ago I posted a discography of his recordings, which my friend Maurice O. Ene circulated among his acquaintances, eliciting these heartfelt comments:


"Let me begin by telling you that I am relieved to know that someone is considering to do a discographic project on the works of Gentleman Mike Ejeagha. I almost wrote my University of Nigeria BA thesis on Ejeagha. But, . . . well, that is a long story I'd rather not tell. To cut it short, I have a modest collection of Oga Ejeagha's songs on tapes. I also have some of his records, including Onye Nwe Ona Ebe, Onye Enwero Ana Ebe (POLP 057) and Akuko N'egwu (POLP 094). Ejeagha's music belongs to a genre of music that I call Igbo Popular Traditional as opposed to Igbo Popular Commercial. The latter to which most highlife music belongs is less faithful to Igbo tradition. That is all I can say about that for now." - JAK.

"I grew up (sort of) with Gentleman Mike Ejeagha. My father, a "master" of the Bachata guitar, taught Mike Ejeagha how to play the guitar - that is, the Spanish Guitar (so I'm told). As a four or five year old, I used to "hang out" with and enjoy them playing together for the "house" at their favorite beer joint on Gunning (Hill?) Road, Abakaliki, enjoying the free time my dad had just shortly after the Nwa-Iboko Obodo trials (my dad was one of the judges on the case at the Abakaliki High Court). Mike Ejeagha visited Abakaliki regularly in those days, spending much time with my dad as they investigated their musical interests together - for both of them it was more of a hobby than anything else. It wasn't until the middle of the sixties that Gentleman Ejeagha was talked into considering music as a profession. In the seventies, when he had become an icon of Igbo folk music, I used to visit with him at Enugu, and listen to him think out loud on the ideas he had of making Igbo folk music larger than life..." - Obi Taiwan

"The Gentleman is a very unique musician. He has been playing for a long time. He used to come and play in Ihe during Christmas festivities. I was only a kid then, but I remember some of his early tunes, 'Okuku Kwaa Uche Echebe Onye Ugwo,' 'King Solomon's Wisdom' and others. I believe these were some of his first songs... He is a phenomenal Musician and an exceptional guitarist. I am not sure he has played any thing recently, but he is still alive and well. Unfortunately, when I inquired about him last time, I was informed that he suffered glaucoma and is clinically blind. I cannot confirm this news yet, and until I do, I refuse to believe that it is true." - Hygi Chukwu
I present here a selection of tunes from several of Ejeagha's albums, with translations by my wife Priscilla Nwakaego. "Yoba Chineke" ("Pray to God") from the LP Ude Egbunam (Philips 6361 074, 1974) is a popular gospel tune in Nigeria. The chorus, "Yoba Chineke, chekwube Chineke, yoba Chineke, ogaazo yi" means "Pray to God, put your hope in God, pray to God, He will save you." Ejeagha sings, "Jesus come and hear our voice. Father who created this world, we your children are calling to you to ask for your help. Have mercy and answer our prayers." He calls on listeners to pray to Chineke (God) every morning and night:


Another song from Ude Egbunam, "Nyelu Nwa Ogbenye Aka," calls on listeners, "Always Try to Help the Poor." Ejeagha states that the poor do all the hard work in the community, and asks if there is anything that happens that they do not play a part in?


"Ikpechakwaa Kam Kpee," from 1975's Onye Ndidi (Philips 6361 110) is one of those Igbo folk songs, riddled with allegory, that almost defy literal translation. The title means "After you tell your side, let me tell my side." Ejeagha sings "Do not let the ngene [a wild animal] impugn my good name." He sings that he saw Ngene grazing on on the turf of Eleh (a deer), but that Ngene lied to Eleh about him, turning him against Ejeagha. In the spoken interlude Ejeagha says, "After the child tells his side, listen to the mother's side," and sings, "When the elephant goes, when mgbadu goes, when my turn came I didn't get what I wanted." The chorus is "Ajabula aja o ma nkwe kwa mee" - "I'm not going to let that happen."

Gentleman Mike Ejeagha & his Premiers Dance Band - Ikpechakwaa Kam Kpee

"Obiako Nnwam (Omenani No. 2)" from Akuko Na Egwu Vol. 1 (Polydor POLP 009, 1976) concerns a great chief and his conflict with his oldest son, Obiako. The chief has come to hate Obiako's mother so much that he can't even stand the sound of her voice. In return Obiako has come to resent his father so much that he has grabbed his igene (the staff that is the source of the chief's status and power) and is threatening to shatter it. The chorus:

Obiako obi nnwam,
Ngekene m igene mu,
Igene mu ji agba mgba
Obulu na be mmuo igene mu na akpa ike ya,
Obulu na be mmadu igene mu na akpa ike ya
means, "Obiako my son, give me back my igene. Even in the land of the dead it is very powerful. Even in the land of the living it is very powerful." Obiako does not understand how his father can hate his mother so much, but his father knows that if Obiako breaks the igene, he himself will die. He gathers the village together to beg him not to break the igene, but Obiako breaks it and dies. The "Omenani" in the title means Igbo folklore.


"Udo Kan Mma," also from Akuko Na Egwu Vol. 1, means "Peace is Better." Ejeagha sings, "Peace is more beautiful. Sibling should not hurt sibling. Friends must not seek to hurt friends. Children of the dead should not hurt children of the living. A wife should not hurt her husband (& vice versa)."




"Onye Nwe Ona Ebe, Onye Enwero Ana Ebe (The Haves Complain, and the Have-Nots Also Complain)" from the 1982 LP Onye Nwe Ona Ebe, Onye Enwero Ana Ebe (Polydor POLP 057) is notable not only for its brilliant guitar work but for its wry social commentary. Ejeagha sings that people with children complain about the trouble they bring, while people who can't have children beg God for any progeny at all. A healthy person complains, but a sickly person wishes for health. Some people say that money is trouble, others say that money doesn't complete a household, while still others say that health is worth more than wealth (ndu ka aku).

"Uche bu akpa onye kolu nke ya, (Ogaba) (ona aga)." In other words, thoughts are like a handbag (akpa). To each their own, and you cannot read someone's mind.

Ejeagha sings that the haves complain that guarding their money is too much trouble, while the have-nots say that their worldly troubles are too much to bear. Healthy people complain that God didn't give them wealth, while the sick pray for health instead of money. He asks, "My friends, do you see how the world is? Nobody is happy where they are."

Finally Ejeagha relates the tale of a wise, wealthy chief, and a poor man who was once well-to-do. The poor man spends his days looking at the chief and his affluent friends, wishing to be like them. The chief remembers that the poor man had once been wealthy himself and had spent much of his riches on those less fortunate, and gives him a big bag of money as a reward.

Soon the formerly-poor man returns the money to the chief, saying "Since you gave me this money I can't sleep, nor eat, nor sit down and rest for worrying that someone will steal my money." The song praises the chief for his great wisdom:


"Praise my good deeds while I'm alive," is the meaning of "Ja'am Mma na Ndu" from the 1983 album of the same name ( Polydor POLP 100). This would seem to allude to the practice of having elaborate funerals for the deceased. Ejeagha sings, "If you love me, show it while I'm alive. Give me something when I'm alive, not when I'm dead. My mouth speaks what I see. I tell the truth and the truth is bitter":

Gentleman Mike Ejeagha & his Premiers Dance Band - Ja'am Mma Na Ndu


Download these songs as a zipped file here.

Thanks once again to my wife Priscilla Nwakaego for her translations, and thanks to Gilbert Hsiao for sending me a rip of Ude Egbunam many years ago. In a future post I will be discussing "Akuko n'Egwu Original," a series of recordings Ejeagha made for Anambra State Broadcasting in the 1980s. If you enjoy the music I've posted here, I would encourage you to check out some of Ejeagha's other recordings, which are available from My African Bargains. Much of the
biographical information in this post is taken from "Life at Old Age is Quite Enjoyable," an interview by Nwagbo Nnenyelike which appeared in The Sun of Lagos, Nigeria on October 15, 2004.



Sunday, August 15, 2010

Benin (The Empire, Not the Country)




Back in Eighth Grade, my Social Studies class was given one of those typical assignments where we were supposed to pick out some country and write a report about it. Most of the kids picked well-known countries (I chose Austria), but one young lady, Susan Norman, chose the West African nation of Dahomey.

"Dahomey? Are you kidding?" our teacher Mr. Vezie sneered, no doubt thinking that Susan chose this obscure country to get out of doing a lot of work on the project, but she was adamant.

What does this have to do with the subject of today's post? Well, nothing, really, except that in 1975 the Republic of Dahomey changed its name to the Republic of Benin, after the Bight of Benin, which in turn was named after the Benin Empire, a powerful entity that existed from 1440 to 1897 in what is today Nigeria. "Benin" is a Portuguese corruption of "Ubinu," the administrative center of the Empire, which is today called Benin City, capital of Edo State.

Dahomey's rechristening in 1975 has caused no end of confusion ever since, so to clarify things: Benin City (& hence the historical Benin Empire) is approximately 250 miles east of Porto Novo, capital of the present-day Republic of Benin. The two entities have no historical connection! The map at right shows the sphere of influence of the Benin Empire at the height of its power. To further muddy the waters there was once another "Republic of Benin," which was established by retreating Biafran troops in the early days of the Nigerian civil war (see map below, from John de St. Jorre's Nigerian Civil War, Hodder & Stoughton, 1972, click to enlarge). This historical curiosity was proclaimed at 7 a.m. on September 20, 1967 and collapsed eight hours later!



The Benin Empire encompassed Ijaws, Igbos, Itsekitris and Urhobos, among other groups, but the Edo people constituted the core of the nation. Even today they are celebrated for their artwork, a sample of which is at the top of this post. Much of this was destroyed when Benin City was captured by the British in 1897, and much of the remainder was dispersed around the world. Today Benin City is renowned as a center of education and culture in Nigeria.

All of this exposition is by way of making up for the fact that I can't tell you a whole lot about today's featured artists. While Victor Uwaifo is justly famed as Benin City's foremost musical exemplar, the area has produced numerous other talents, like Patrick Idahosa, who had a similar sound. I can't say much about him, but among Edo musicians he was probably second only to Uwaifo in popularity during his heyday of the '70s and '80s. In the late '90s, Mossiac Records of New York released a CD compilation (Mossiac MMCD 0302) of his greatest hits, from which the following are taken:

Patrick Idahosa & his African Sound Makers - United Brothers

Patrick Idahosa & his African Sound Makers -
Tamoubiyememwsm

Patrick Idahosa & his African Sound Makers - Tamiyaregbe



The Amunataba Dance Band are similarly obscure to me, but what a fine album Akenzua (Mikii MAK 504, 1978) is! Sweet guitar highlife in the Peacocks mode, and isn't the front cover great?

Amunataba Dance Band - Eronmwon

Amunataba Dance Band - Akenzua



Willy Adamosa Osagiede got in touch with me many years ago, and even sent me a CD of his recent recordings. Like all of the musicians here, he was most popular in the '70s and '80s. He's presently based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you can access his MySpace page here. Here are some tracks from his 1976 LP Ukpakon (Afrodisia DWAPS 70):

Adamosa Osagiede & his International Band - Amayamwen Nue

Adamosa Osagiede & his International Band - Igho Nogie

Adamosa Osagiede & his International Band - Wa Gha Hio



Osayomore Joseph's Afro-funk sound has recently drawn some notice thanks to his contribution to the recent Soundway compilation Nigeria Special. Here's a song from his 1982 LP Ulele in Transit (Emotan EMOLP 01):

Osayomore Joseph & the Ulele Power Sound - Efewedo



And here's one from another 1982 album Over the Bar. . . I Beg You . . . (Emotan EMOLP 02):

Osayomore Joseph & his Ulele Power Sound - Alele




Winding things down in style with Idemudia Cole's Talents of Benin, whose Talents of Benin Vol. 5 (Shanu Olu SOS 127, 1981) is as wonderful an example of Edo highlife as you'll ever find:

The Talents of Benin - Ovbiokhokho



Sunday, March 28, 2010

One Man Thousand




The 1976 album Asaase Asa (Brobisco KBL 016) was a breakthrough hit for Alex Konadu, establishing him as Ghana's foremost exponent of "roots highlife." The title song is based on a true story about Mr. Asaase Asa, who lost both his wife and sister when they were killed by a falling tree. It is dedicated to all who have lost their loved ones.

Konadu had been singing since an early age, and became a leader of the Kantamanto Bosco Group before moving on to the band of the well-known Kwabena Akwaboah for three years and then to the Happy Brothers Band. After going solo he was discovered by the producer A.K. Brobbey and the rest, as they say, is history.

His ability to draw crowds wherever he goes has given Konadu the appellation "One Man Thousand." Withstanding the vicissitudes of fame and fashion, and staying true to his vision of pure, unadulterated highlife music, he has been an inspiration to Ghanaian musicians for years. While Konadu has issued many wonderful recordings over the decades, Asaase Asa is still considered one of his most noteworthy achievements. Enjoy!

Alex Konadu's Band - Obi Aware Wo

Alex Konadu's Band - Me Ne Me Aserene


Alex Konadu's Band - Obiri Pajampram

Alex Konadu's Band - Owuo Mpe Sika

Alex Konadu's Band - Emum Aso Dae

Alex Konadu's Band - Asem Ne Me Ara

Alex Konadu's Band - Asaase Asa

Alex Konadu's Band - W'awu Da Ho No

Download Asaase Asa as a zipped file here. For a taste of Alex Konadu recorded before a live audience,
be sure to check out his album One Man Thousand Live in London.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Heads Up




A big "thank you" to Zim Bida, who tipped me off to this great mix of classic Nigerian highlife (and one track from Ghana's Professional Uhuru Dance Band) from the Washington City Paper here. It's awfully tasty! The tracklisting:


1. Easy Life Dandies – “Oko Dotunla”
2. Godwin Ezike & The Ambassadors – “Gboli We”
3. The Magnificent Zeinians – “Ngozi Chukwu Ka”
4. Oriental Brothers International – “Ihe-Che-Nyerem”
5. Anyamel & His Okuato Band – “Uwa Ka Njo”
6. Eastern Minstrels Guitar Band – “Akwa Onwu”
7. Celestine Obiakor & His Entertainment Group – “Echendu Nwa Eze”
8. Godwin Ezike & The Ambassadors – “Mini Gown”
9. Eastern Minstrels Guitar Band – “Ogbu Nwa Ya Ogu Agarala Ya”
10. Easy Life Dandies – “Gbami Gbami Baba Gbogbo Oni”
11. Anyamel & His Okuato Band – “Jumbo Kedi Nnegi”
12. Professional Uhuru Dance Band – “Ewu Ngyadze”
13. Eastern Minstrels Guitar Band – “Aka Kpara Ngaji Uregbue Onu”
14. Celestine Obiakor & His Entertainment Group – “Piter Mighasi Nma Na Obo”
15. Cardinal Rex Lawson & His Majors Band of Nigeria – “Abasi Ye Enye”
16. Oriental Brothers International – “Uwa-Atualamujo”
17. Eastern Minstrels Guitar Band – “Echehula Nwa Nne Gi”
18. Easy Life Dandies – “Iyawo Madale”
19. The Magnificent Zeinians – “Good Luck To You My Girl”

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Carrying on the Family Business


Eugene de Coque, brother of the late Nigerian highlife master Oliver de Coque, has been based in Los Angeles since the early '90s, and along with his group the Igede Band, played backup for Oliver during his U.S. tours. They've recorded at least four albums on their own, the first of which, Egwu-Igede (Victory Productions VP 001, ca. 1992) is featured here today.

Egwu-Igede, which apparently was released only on cassette, ably continues Oliver's Ogene Sound legacy and takes it to new heights. The integration of traditional Igbo folk elements and modern studio techniques is particularly deft. Enjoy!

Eugene de Coque & Igede Band International - Ojinbe-Eyimegwu

Eugene de Coque & Igede Band International - Egwu-Igede

Eugene de Coque & Igede Band International - Asi Si Jebe

Download Egwu-Igede as a zipped file here.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Roots of "Art Music"




I didn't know what to expect when I posted a recording of Fela Sowande's African Suite a couple of weeks ago, but the reaction has been surprisingly positive, not only in comments and emails but in the the number of downloads.

I say "surprisingly positive" because I didn't know what people would make of this effort to fuse African traditional music with European classical forms. Turns out that African "Art Music" isn't the obscure back ally that I thought it was. Not only is there a lot of it out there, it is the subject of a surprising amount of scholarship. Andreas Wetter directs us to two articles on his website Ntama, and the internet offers up considerable analysis for those who are interested.

Reader/listener

George Williams Aingo - Akuko Nu Bonto

Ghanaian composer Ephraim Kwaku Amu was a trail-blazer in the field of transcription of traditional African songs. He was born in 1899 and began teaching in 1920, contemporaneously with his musical education under the Rev. Allotey-Pappoe.

Soon he had composed a number of popular songs, including "Mawo do na Yesu" ("I Shall Work for Jesus"), "Onipa," "Da Wo So" and "Yen Ara Asase Ni." His cultural nationalist tendencies led to a break with the Church, and he left for London in 1937 to study at the Royal College of Music. It was here that he learned to fuse African polyphony with European forms of music. In the late '60s Amu was the director of the University of Ghana Chorus, which recorded the LP Ghana Asuafo Reto Dwom (Ghanaian Students Sing) for Afro Request Records (SPLP 5027). Amu's composition "Ennye Ye Angye Da," included on the album, was the basis for "Joyful Day" in Sowande's African Suite. From the liner notes, the lyrics are as follows:


This is a joyful day.
Why be sad, when all around is happy and merry?
Work and merrymaking alternate each other to make life enjoyable.
We pledge to engage in both, work and merrymaking, each in its appropriate time to make life happy and merry.
University of Ghana Chorus - Ennye Ye Angye Da



Miles Cleret of Soundway Records asked my wife Priscilla to translate some Igbo-language songs for inclusion on the upcoming Volume 2 of the amazing Nigeria Special. Interestingly, in light of our subject matter, one of those songs, "Egwu Umuagboho" ("The Young Maidens' Dance") is by Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko (above), one of the leading lights of Nigerian Art Music. Ms. Nwosu was born in 1940 and has lived in the United States since 1996. In 1961 she journeyed to Rome on an Eastern Nigerian Government scholarship with the ambition of becoming an opera singer. Here she studied in several conservatories for ten years. Returning to Nigeria in 1972, she became Producer of Musical Programs for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and became a Musical Lecturer at the University of Lagos in 1975, holding a number of posts in that institution until 1992.

Ms. Nwosu has recorded several LPs in Nigeria and is responsible for numerous popular compositions. "Egwu Umuagboho," recorded with Dan Satch Joseph's band, is quite unusual for an Igbo song, reflecting her operatic training. It is based on the traditional girls' dance of Nwosu's Enugu region. Lyrically it is more of a "tone poem" than a straight narrative, adress to a girl named Agnes: "Beautiful Agnes. . . what slight is done to another person? . . . peace, peace Udoegwu. . . anger and quarrel. . . Agnes, it's me talking, Agnes, it's me calling:

Joy Nwosu & Dan Satch Joseph - Egwu Umuagboho

"Egwu Umuagboho" is unavailable for download at this time. Many thanks again to

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The "New" Igbo Thing




How to explain the dire state of the Nigerian music scene? Judging by what's being spun at parties in Milwaukee these days, it's beset by a plague of cheapo synthesizers and ticky-tacky drum machines, and the less said about the derivative sludge known as "Naija Hip-Hop" the better!

The trend toward artifice and away from artistry is well exemplified by two Igbo musicians, Sunny Bobo and Eke Chima, whose recordings - copied, pirated and distributed from hand to hand - have been ever-present in the Igbo diaspora the last few years. Both singers are said to be masters of the Owerri dialect, which may well be, but judging by their recordings, Old Skool, Obareze, and the many sequels, one can't help but feel sadness at the decline of that city's music scene since the glory days of the Oriental Brothers and their colleagues. I suppose economics are behind the sparse production values of these releases, but it's a regrettable situation still.

Sunny Bobo burst upon the scene a few years ago with Old Skool, and the sequels have followed fast and furious. The first volume of Old Skool reworks a number of classic songs from the Golden Age of Nigerian highlife. In typical Igbo fashion, Bobo sings that a meeting of the minds works best with one's own siblings. He describes a problem he is having with one of his kindred. He goes to the market, or public square ("nkworji") to settle the problem.

In "Willie Willie," a rework of the Peacocks' "Mary Meriamam," he sings about a beautiful girl named Mary, with whom he is quite infatuated. The main theme of the song is to not lose your head: "Elewe ukwu egbuo ewu - look at nyash kill a goat." In other words, don't be so crazy looking at your love's behind that you will do anything for her. Sunny recounts that he and Mary were wed, but that things haven't really worked out. He asks his brothers, "What am I going to do? Love has wounded me!"

A remake of Rex Lawson's classic "Love Adure" keeps things moving. Bobo sings, "Owerri land, please forgive my sins, because love has destroyed me. I am mesmerized by Adure's beauty. O tukwusa m'ukwu odika pillow. O tukwasa m'ishi odika pillow. When Adure places her leg on me it is like a pillow. When Adure places her head on me it is like a pillow." He then calls to an old girlfriend whom he has rejected for Adure, "Rosanna, please forgive me."

"Kinkana," another old song by the Peacocks, refers to native gin, which unlike palm wine, doesn't go bad: "Kinkana no dey sour." Here the singer is proclaiming that, unlike some flashier fellows with their money and fancy clothes, he is for real. There is a reference to Osadebe's classic song "Baby Kwanangida": "Kwanangida no go marry."

"Echendu" descibes a man who goes on a journey and doesn't come back: "Please come home. My heart is broken by your loss." "Bottom Belle," the final song in the Old Skool medley, is a classic tune from the early days of Nigerian independence.

Sunny Bobo - Nkworji-Willie Willie-Love Adure-Kinkana-Echendu-Bottom Belle

Eke Chima's offering here is similarly "Owerri-centric." As this is from a copied CD-R I'm not sure of the exact title of the medley or which CD it is taken from, only that it is from one of his numerous Obareze recordings. Chima sings that people say they don't like Owerri, and in rebuttal offers the names of many prominent Owerri families and individuals: "Ole nde onwe Owerri? Who are Owerri people?," naming among others the Amanzes, the Njokus, Chief Onukaogu and Headmaster Boniface Oha.

He then sings that someday everybody will account for their behavior in life: "Eshi ahu omenjo ga ahu njo ya, omenma ga ahu nma ya. The sinner will see his sins and the good person will see the good he has done. Ole onye ozuru oke? Who on this Earth will say that everything is complete for him?" He then calls out to a friend, "Ahu shiele m'anya - I have seen many troubles." Chima admonishes those who have taken a child's thing to raise their hand and give it back. In other words, don't mistreat another person, especially the helpless. He states once again that all will account some day for how they lived on Earth.

Family relations are a prominent theme in Igbo music. Chima asks if a person doesn't have kin by the same mother (this is presumably referring to relations within a polygamous household) will he kill himself? Of course not. He states that since he has no other siblings by his mother he works very hard and hopes that God will be there for him: "Ebe mu onwehu onye inye aka, agam ime uwam nkpo ole."

Eke Chima & his New Generation Band - Owerri



In the interests of fairness I should present evidence that things may not be so dire for Nigerian music after all: two artists, both scions of musical families, who would seem to refute my thesis that Igbo highlife is on its deathbed, if not already departed. Emperor Teddy Obinna is billed as "Junior Warrior," but he's actually the half-brother of Owerri's favorite son, the late Christogonous Ezebuiro Obinna, better known as Warrior. Ogidi's Amobi Richard Onyenze is the nephew of highlife legend Stehen Osita Osadebe, who passed away in 2007.

Obinna not only has taken up his brother's legacy, but in the CD Uwa Shekiga e Shekiga (C. Meks Music CMS 114, 2004) takes it in bold new directions, incorporating elements of Congo music to great effect. The title song ("The World is Very Shaky") takes up current events, advising that because of the world's instability, everybody should do their best. He sings that he is doing all he can for his family, but that if they are going to be irresponsible and not do for themselves in return, it's not his problem ("Onye zuzuo n'elu uwu ya aka ya aka - if you are stupid in this world it is your own fault.") He says that even in America, people are afraid because of Osama Bin Laden ("Osama bin Bomb Bomb") and mentions the war in "Iraqi land." Even old women have confirmed that the world is not as it used to be. Obinna calls on Nigeria's leaders to help make things better:

Emeror Teddy Obinna - Uwa Shekiga e Shekiga

The Emperor seems to spend a lot of time outside of Nigeria performing for the Igbo diaspora. He certainly has a feeling for their problems and concerns. In "Onye Nchem" he decries lazy Nigerians who take advantage of their hard-working relatives abroad. The song itself is about God's concern for the world. Obinna sings that without God's protection all of the guns and all of the armies in the world are useless. All of the people who bear grudges need God's blessing because he will judge them: "Let the Lord not protect an evil plotter." The chorus is "Make sure you are doing right."

Emperor Teddy Obinna - Onye Nchem



Judging by his eighth release Livin' Dey Highlife, available from Akwaaba Music, Amobi Onyenze is capably carrying on the Osadebe legacy, but one hopes that in the future he will strike out into fresh territory rather than continue to till the old man's field. In "Akachukwu di Ya" ("God's Hand"), Oyenze sings, "In everything we do in life we must seek God's hand to make it success. With God's hand our success is guaranteed. Whoever God's hand beholds shall never fall nor fail. God's hand is in my life, in my family. That's why I'm a success."

Onyenze - Akachukwu di Ya



Thanks once again to my wife Priscilla Nwakaego for interpreting these lyrics. The translation of "Akachukwu di Ya" was provided by Akwaaba Music.

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, August 8, 2009

The Man Behind the Music




One of the fringe benefits of doing this blog is that I occasionally hear from the musicians I write about, and their relatives. Thursday I got an email from Anthony Obianwu, the son of "Uncle" Mike Obianwu, whom I wrote about briefly in this post, reporting his death on July 20th. He was 93 years old.

Uncle Mike was not a well-known musician. He is remembered mainly for his stellar piano work on Nelly Uchendu's famous LP Love Nwantinti (Homzy HCE 005, 1976), and the great irony of this achievement is that the album was originally credited to Obianwu himself, with Uchendu playing only a supporting role. After Uchendu's acclaimed debut at FESTAC '77 in Lagos, the album was reissued with a new cover credited to "Nelly Uchendu and Mike Obianwu." Anthony tells me that his father released one other album in his own name, Crashes in Love, and I suspect he was present on other recordings as well. The other members of his band were Bassey Edim on bass and Willie Udor on drums, with Nelly Uchendu supplying vocals until her death in 2005.

Let's take a moment to remember Uncle Mike and the many other unsung heroes of African music. Here is a touching tribute in his honor by his family:

Ezennia Michael Davidson Obianwu, God saw you getting tired as your youthfulness turned gray. The days flew by as you celebrated your well lived 93years of aging memories. You were our ROCK and you will forever live in us, a befitting metaphor is your name OBIANWU. Your name will never die for we your children will carry on your legacy with every breath we draw. Your heart was so beautiful and pure, so meek and gentle, so loving and very forgiving. We became greedy, wishing you could hang around for another 93. We can now see that your every awakening and perseverance, is your way of hanging around to protect your loving family. The Almighty God knew this too, so HE wrapped his arms around you, and whispered, "COME TO ME."

You went through a journey very few can only dream about, you married your beloved wife and our mother Victoria Obianwu on December 26, 1949, and you were both rewarded with beautiful children: Chinwe, (ADA) Obianwu, Okechukwu (Diokpa) Obianwu, Ebelechukwu Obianwu, Nnamdi Obianwu, Anthony Obianwu and the most supporting group of in-laws: Amaechi Mbanefo, Cecilia Obianwu and Chilo Obianwu. Our Daddy Ezennia was also blessed with many grand children: Uchenna Obianwu, Jane Mbanefo, Patrick Mbanefo, George Mbanefo, Ifeoma Mbanefo, Adaobi Obianwu, Osita Obianwu, Nnenna Obianwu, Ebelechukwu Obianwu Jr., Odiakosa Obianwu, and Adaeze Obianwu. Ezennia is also survived by a long chain of brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins and a sea of friends and well wishers. It goes without saying that you have led a fulfilled life.

After serving proudly, fighting as a soldier in Burma during the 2nd World War with sustained injuries to show for it, you worked at the Federal Ministry of Information in Lagos and retired proudly as a senior civil service worker. Despite all this, your love for music kept shinning through. You played music at famous hotels in Lagos like Gondola and the Federal Palace, including the Presidential and Hotel Metropole in Enugu, Nigeria. You became very famous in music and touched many hearts. Your genius earned you the name "Uncle Mike Obianwu" and you recorded two albums including the award winning folk song "Love Nwantinti". You became one of the respected Agbalanze of Onitsha and was crowned with the title; EZENNIA and for this we salute you.

Daddy, you were truly an accomplished man of God. He only takes the best. This is why He has called you home to give you rest. God's garden must be beautiful, and there must be a beautiful white Grand Piano, waiting for you in heaven, to strike beautiful melodies for God's listening pleasure and for the Angels to dance to. It was no surprise that on the day of your passing, you were jovial as usual and you told us how much you loved us. You then said "Tell 'V' I love her" (meaning Mom) and asked to let you rest. Your Doctor asked if you were ready to be discharged, your answer was "YES, I AM READY TO GO HOME" and home you went, drifting gently like the wind. When we saw you sleeping so peaceful and free from pain, we could not wish you back because the Lord needs you more now than we do.

"For YOUR gift O'LORD, we will rejoice and be glad."

Rest in perfect peace, Good Bye, All Our Love is with you.

On Behalf of All of Your Children,
Chinwe, (ADA) Obianwu, Okechukwu (Diokpa) Obianwu, Ebelechukwu Mbanefo, Nnamdi Obianwu & Anthony Obianwu
Wake will be kept for Mike Obianwu August 15th at 18351 Queen Anne Road, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, 20774, and his final resting place will be Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria on August 29. In Uncle Mike's memory let's listen to "Love Nwantinti":

Nelly Uchendu & Mike Obianwu - Love Nwantinti/Ada Eze/Onye Nwulu Ozuluike

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.



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.

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