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 "Hail Biafra" is not especially notable and the Ojukwu speech is more of a historical document, but the other tracks should be of interest to Likembe reader/listeners.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:
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, July 12, 2009
Saturday, December 20, 2008
People seemed to enjoy the Ibibio tunes I put up in a previous post, so I thought it would be fruitful to return to the area, namely the states of Cross River and Akwa Ibom in the southeastern corner of Nigeria.
Up until 1987, when Akwa Ibom was carved out of Cross River, these two entities were one, and ethnically they share some afinities: The southern part of Cross River is majority Efik and the Ibibios predominate in Akwa Ibom. I get the impression that Efik and Ibibio are mutually intelligible, basically dialects of the same language.
As I wrote earlier, I'm not very familiar with the music of this area. Cross River did produce one native son who achieved fame across Nigeria, Inyang Henshaw, who contributed two songs to the CD Rusted Highlife Vol. 1, which I posted here. Parenthetically, the state can be said to have produced one "native daughter" who is even more famous: Welsh singer Shirley Bassey, whose father was from Calabar. He, however, abandoned her when she was two, and she has had no contact with his land of birth.
Anyway, I have gone through my slim collection of Efik and Ibibio recordings, and have come up with some pretty enjoyable tunes for your listening pleasure, the most surprising of which are two tracks from the album Idim Mmoŋ Uwem (God's Will Records GWR 002, 1985), which you can see at the top of this post. I say surprising because the recording, by the St. John's African Church Choir in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, has sat neglected and unlistened to for at least twelve years in my collection. Some pretty big warps and scratches render most of it unplayable, but there were a couple of songs I was able to salvage.
Idim Mmoŋ Uwem is within the tradition of African Christian devotional music. There is quite a bit of this material available in the Western market, and much of it, Missa Luba and the like, has always struck me as a bit "twee." However, there is a huge market in Nigeria for Christian music made by Africans, for Africans. The production values are often poor and the lyrics treacly, but it's heartfelt. I don't doubt that it's the biggest-selling genre of music in southeastern Nigeria:
St. John's African Church Choir, Uyo, Akwa Ibom - Utibe Enying Jesus
St. John's African Church Choir, Uyo, Akwa Ibom - Usen Oboŋ
Cross River Nationale's LP Enim Ini (Supertone TON E001, 1976), as well as being a fine collection of great dance-band highlife, features a nice map of old Cross River State. The southwestern corner, centered on Uyo, was to become Akwa Ibom:
I asked Uchenna of With Comb and Razor if he knew anything about Cross River Nationale, and he wrote:
". . . Don't know too much about them as a band, though. . . I believe the lead singer was Darlington Duke, whose name I used to hear a lot, and I've seen him either listed as a vocalist or thanked in the credits of a few other Cross River-originating records, so I guess he was something of a big man on the scene.Cross River Nationale - Enim Ini
"[Enim Ini] was produced by Tony Essien, who went on to be a house producer at Haruna Ishola's Phonodisk Records, producing a good deal of their pop and highlife output. he was also associated, i believe, with the band Rocktown Express (though I don't know if he was actually a member)... I'm trying to figure out if he might have been associated with Wrinkars too (that's just a hunch. . .)"
Cross River Nationale - Da Abasi Dian Idem
By popular demand, here are two more songs from Sunny Risky's Eti Uwem (Itiabasco ITRLP 019, 1988), and U.T. Isenem & The Black Mirrors' Obio Cross River (Anodisc ALPS 1007, 1976):
Sunny Risky - Okuk Special
U.T. Isenem & The Black Mirrors - Nkuku Mpko YoriyoFinally, you just can't do justice to a post on Efik-Ibibio music without including a couple of tunes by the late great Inyang Henshaw, the king of Efik music. He held sway throughout the Seventies with a series of great highlife melodies in the classic dance-band mode. These songs are taken from a 1996 compilation, Top Ten Tunes (Mossiac MMCD0921):
Chief Inyang Henshaw - Sunsuly
Chief Inyang Henshaw - Ma Ekanem
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Uchenna over at With Comb and Razor posts a song by Uyo-based band Sunny Risky and the Vitamin Explosions, which he says is the "Best. Band Name. Ever."
I agree, that's a pretty awesome appellation. In fact, the only band name that I can think of that comes close is Brother Charlly Computer and The Gloria Kings.
Which got me to thinking about peculiar and/or unintentionally humorous band names and album titles, including the one at the top of this post, Pee Pee Special, by P.T. Foo and His Jolly Band of Nigeria (Sir Dolu Records SDR 002, 1986). Mr. Foo (Peanock Timibi) is an Ijaw musician from Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta, which has been the scene of much unrest in recent years.
Ijaw highlife music, called Awigiri, is almost completely unknown outside of Nigeria, but shares the sweet-and-sour vocal quality of its Ghanaian counterpart. I plan to devote a future post to a number of musicians from this area of Nigeria. Here's a tune from the album:
P.T. Foo & his Jolly Band of Nigeria - Tunisa Ebi Na Meiye
I will confess that I have listened to the records featured in this post maybe once in the ten or twelve years since Priscilla and I feretted them out of a used-records store in Ajegunle, the "Eastern" ghetto of Lagos. The musicians here are not well-known, even in Nigeria, nor even the most professional. What they lack in polish, though, they more than make up for in sheer, sloppy exuberance. They may be "no-hit wonders" but they're going to make the most of it!
When Uchenna mentioned Sunny Risky in the aforementioned post, I thought the name sounded familiar, so I dug through my collection and came up with another album by him, although the Vitamin Explosions aren't mentioned on the sleeve. It's 1988's Eti Uwem (Itiabasco ITRLP 019). The title track is a lively number in the Osadebe vein with some inspired saxophone work:
Sunny Risky - Eti Uwem
The Efik, Ibibio and Annang ethnic groups, who speak closely related languages, comprise about 3½ million people in the southeastern corner of Nigeria. No doubt there is a lively music scene in this area, but I'm not very familiar with it outside of the 4-5 LPs in my collection. Like Sunny Risky & the Vitamin Explosions, U.T. Isenem & his Black Mirrors are an Ibibio group. Their name qualifies them for attention in this post - what good would a "Black Mirror" do you?
The off-key bass line that opens "Konga," from 1976's Obio Cross River (Anodisc ALPS 1007) leads into some inspired dance-band highlife in the Inyang Henshaw/Rex Lawson vein. I don't know if the Black Mirrors made any other records, but this one is a real gem:
U.T. Isenem & his Black Mirrors - Konga
We close out this post with some Igbo highlife by Federal Emmison Papa & his Stich [sic] in Time Band of Nigeria. I don't know who Federal Emmison Papa is but the group itself is led by Chuwuemeka Okonkwo. "Onye ka Madu" from 1986's 'Anyi N'ele Uwa (Fepson FLPS 001) showcases some enthusiastic guitar and nice horn work:
Federal Emmison Papa & his Stich in Time Band of Nigeria - Onye Ka Madu