Showing posts with label Igbo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Igbo. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Dutiful Wife, An Inconsiderate Husband




Despite his great popularity back in the day, information about the late, great Igbo bard Show Promoter (Nelson Ejinduaka) is as scarce as hens' teeth. All I've been able to unearth is that he was from the city of Orlu in Imo State, spent most of his career in Ikwerreland (near Port Harcourt) and apparently passed on some time in the late '80s. His album Azu Alala (Onyeoma CY Records CYLP 043, 1987) is such an outstanding example of traditional Igbo music that I had to share it!

The title track, "Azu Alala" ("Fish is Scarce & Highly Costly"), concerns an obedient wife and the husband who is oblivious to his family's hardship. A husband gave his wife ten naira to go to the market to buy food for the family. She asked him, "Will ten naira be enough?" but he told her, "Make do with what you have."

She went to the market and spent N5 on gari (cassava meal) and N5 on yam. The money was gone. There  was no money for fish, no money to buy oha leaf (greens) or meat.

The wife came home and didn't know what to do. Her children were crying in hunger, "Please give us food." She went to the kitchen to prepare the food. The children ate, and so did she.

In the meantime her husband was down at the restaurant, drinking and living the life of an onye oriri (man about town). He told his friends, "Come home with me. I gave my wife money to prepare food for us." When they arrived home he called out to her to bring out the food she had cooked. The wife began to cry and presented the pitiful repast she had prepared.The man opened the pot to see that there was no fish, no vegetables and no meat. He jumped up and slapped his wife. She cried, "Ego i nyerem ezughi. The money you gave me was not enough to make soup. I managed with what I had to feed our children. Please don't hit me."

The chorus, "Ogiri k'am, jiri shi ofe, azu alala," means "I made the soup with stock.There is no fish."

Show Promoter & his Group - Azu Alala

In "Onye Ma Ihe Echi Gabu (Tomorrow is Pregnant. Who Knows What it will Be?)" Show Promoter sings, "My brother, who knows what tomorrow will bring? My sister, who knows what tomorrow will bring? Everybody pray to God so it will be good for us." He then proceeds to call out various local notables:

Show Promoter & his Group - Onye Ma Ihe Echi Gabu

"Onwu Ashio (The Death of Ashio)" recounts the tragic fate of a man who died in a traffic accident: "Ka mpkuru obi ya nodi nma (May his heart rest in peace). Anyi sikwa ama nnachi, mu na gi bu kwu nwa nne - a go. (We came from one place, you and I, brothers or relatives).Onwu gburu Ashio (The death that killed Ashio). Ashio a hupu la m laa (Ashio left me behind)."

Show Promoter & his Group - Onwu Ashio

Many thanks to my wife Priscilla for translating the lyrics of Azu Alala. You may download it as a zipped file here.



Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fighting Biafra




Thanks to a tip from reader/listener Zim Bida, I was able to score from Ebay an almost-mint copy of the elusive LP Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha: Drums and Chants of Fighting Biafra by the Biafran Freedom Fighters (Afro Request SRLP 5030, ca. 1968), and for a very reasonable price!

Although I've been looking for this album for some time, I would have to say after listening to it that it is of more historical than musical interest. According to the liner notes, the "Biafran Freedom Fighters" are ". . .from the ranks of young soldiers who have adapted some old Ibo folklore, that are sung at the camp fires. In addition, they are performing present day war songs." The genre is what is considered "traditional" Igbo music for voice and percussion, or "Igbo Blues." These amateur musicians are not generally of the caliber of artistes like Bob Sir Merengue, Morocco Maduka or Area Scatter who have been featured in earlier posts here. Still, as another snapsot of the Biafran war of 1967-70, Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha is well worth listening to. Enjoy!

Intro

"I Say You Don't Fear." Okwa imaregu. Ka ayin bawa egu. If you know no fear, then this is the time to prove it:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Isikwa Inara Egwu

"The Goddess." Nmebo nwo ogara nye. Oyeri Ngwa. We know you are like a goddess, so we expect you to behave like one:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Oyeri Mayo Ngwa

"Letting Down the Boss." Nye ka yo obusu ma ka no abubu kayo obubu ma. Mbebe nwo ogaranyi kayo bubuma. To let down your boss is really more than killing him:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Mbebo Nwo Ogaranyi

"Bonny Creek." Tumbi Ibani a quo eruwe ru. Ibani Creek is a very long journey. Let us try our best and paddle hard to the journey's end:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Tumbi Ibani

Biafran Freedom Fighters - The Nwatan War Drums

"The Colored Animal." Anu turu agwa gwa we eke. Ilema ayan nu zo a nuturu. Agwa gwa we ke. Be on your guard like a colored animal and adjust yourself to the surroundings:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Anu Turu Agwa Gwa

"Mosquitoes Molest Me." Atita ekwemu ni hie urura nu lo de de. Despite the arduous journey, I cannot sleep because the mosquitoes molest me:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Atita Ekemwu

"Beloved Biafra Land." Ayin ga do ala nna ayin Biafra. Let us defend our motherland Biafra to the last drop of our blood:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Ala Biafra

"Elephant Crush." Eyin mba eyin. Use the elephant's strength to crush the enemy:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Eyin Mba

"Tied Feet and Hands." Sometimes fear ties our feet and hands. So let's go forward resolutely with our leader:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Aku Ne Ke Aka

"Fight to the End." Eke le ndu uwa lu o gu ka madu. This fight is a struggle to the end. We will win:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Ekwele Ndu Uwa

"It's Time." Adama luru di na abali. Adama ni ogeru. After all this, it will be yime that Adama marries her fancy:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Adama's Ogeru

Outro

The translations are from the liner notes of Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha. To download it as a zipped file, go here.

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.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In Praise of "Mami Wata"




For many months now I've put off posting this in an effort to find out more about our featured artist, Bob Sir Merenge. Unfortunately, I can't say I've found out much. I can tell you that he is one of innumerable traditional Igbo musicians who have released recordings, sometimes to great acclaim, sometimes without making any ripples at all. I would say that Merenge's efforts have not gone totally unnoticed (I have a couple more records by him) but haven't drawn much attention outside of a small area of eastern Nigeria (and the Igbo diaspora, of course).

The second thing I can tell you about Bob Sir Merenge is that he is from the town of Uli in southern Anambra State. Uli is a fairly nondescript down on the Onitsha-Owerri Highway, but during the Biafran War (1967-70) the airstrip at Uli was literally a lifeline for the embattled rebel enclave, all sea access to the nascent Biafran republic having been lost early on (the map is from John de St. Jorre's The Nigerian Civil War [Hodder & Stoughton, 1972]):



Anyway, Bob Sir Merenge's album Eze Nwanyi (Okoli Music Co. OFC 4) is about as representative and fine an example of Igbo traditional music as you'll find (in the near future I'll be posting Show Promoter's LP Azu Alala, which is also an excellent example of the genre).

Eze Nwanyi begins with an elegy entitled "Ugbo Ezeh," "The Chief's Lorry." It tells the tale of Asampete, who was married for 20 years but was unable to conceive - the couple had money but no child. When she finally got pregnant Asampete was the object of cruel gossip by the villagers, who whispered that she was either sick or had slept with another man. When she finally gave birth to a daughter, her husband was very disappointed and beat Asampete. Finally she took her daughter and went to live with her mother.

Asampete's daughter grew up to be very beautiful, but one day the villagers came running to inform Asampete that she had been struck and killed by one of the fleet of trucks owned by the village chief. The chief told her to wait until the lorries came back from Asaba to see which one killed her daughter. Asampete wailed that she had no husband and now had no daughter. She went with a rope to the tree to hang herself but one of the villages stopped her. Asampete asked God how He could let this happen:


I wouldn't be surprised if "Ugbo Ezeh" was based on a true story, as are many songs of this type. The song, along with the others on Eze Nwanyi, also ably displays the various instruments in the arsenal of Igbo music: the opi (horn), the ogene (twin bell), udu (pottery drum), ekwe (slit drum), ashakala (beaded gourd), and samba (square drum).

"Ude Ndi Egwu" also concerns people who wish to become parents. A woman is praying to God to give her a child while she is still young. The singer expresses that while many wish for children, those who already have them often complain of the trouble they bring:


The title track, "Eze Nwanye," relates the "Mami Wata" legend, which, in different forms, can be found throughout Africa and the diaspora. The invocation at the beginning of the song states, "Ekene kene eze nwanyi," "Greetings to the Queen, our mother, the mother of the waters." The song further asks for her divine protection: "Great praise to the Queen, the one who lives in the ocean, the most beautiful, the lady of all ladies, we are asking for your protection sailing on oshimiri (the deep sea). When you bless us we will have a good life."

The choruses, "Onye o gaziri orie" and "Uwa e, uwa bu ogaziere onye orie" mean, respectively, "Whoever gets the blessing enjoys life" and "If you are blessed you will enjoy this world."

Bob Sir Merenge & his Igbo Cultural Singers - Eze Nwanyi

"Onwu Bu Onye Ilo" ("Death is the Enemy in this World") is a standard praise song, a tribute to those who have passed on. At the beginning a man is crying, and his comrades console him, saying "Uwa anyi no aburo nbe anyi," "This world is not our home." The singer recites the names of the fallen, preceded by the phrase "Onwu gburu ogaranya" ("Death killed a great man") and followed by the chorus "Amaghi m onye irom" ("I don't know my enemy"):

Bob Sir Merenge & his Igbo Cultural Singers - Onwu Bu Onye Ilo

Download Eze Nwanyi as a zipped file here. Many thanks to my wife Priscilla for interpreting these songs.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Igbo Minstrel




There is a parallel universe of popular music in Nigeria that exists mostly unknown to the international audience that listens to Fela, King Sunny Ade and other World Music™ icons. It consists of the innumerable amateur and semi-professional musicians and performing troupes who contribute so much to the richness of village and neighborhood life. While most of these artists remain unheralded outside of their own localities, enough have been recorded that traditional, or "Native Blues" music is a significant part of the Nigerian music industry.

One such artist is the legendary Igbo musician Chief Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo, who was born on August 10, 1904 in the city of Nteje near Onitsha in eastern Nigeria. He apparently died sometime in the '80s. Some years ago a friend of mine loaned me one of his LPs, which I dubbed to a 10" tape reel. Unfortunately, the record had a bad warp, and the first tracks on Side 1 and 2 were unplayable. As best I can remember (the written notations I made have been lost) the album was entitled Egwu Ogbada and was on the Melody label.

So that's where things stood until a few years ago, when I was able to digitize Egwu Ogbada and a number of other recordings. Obiligbo's music lay further neglected on my hard drive until a few months ago when my friend Ed Keazor posted a very interesting write-up about the great artiste on his Facebook page. It occurred to me that Ed could not only identify the tracks, but provide first-hand insight into their meaning and context for Likembe readers and listeners. Here are his thoughts:
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For those who are unaware, Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo was a famous minstrel (Akunwafor being his traditional Ozo title) whose career spanned the period 1940 till his death in the early 80's. Obiligbo was a master lyricist, composer, poet and exponent of the Ekpili style and master of the native thumb piano (ubo) similar to the mbira of Southern Africa, but marginally different in the flat tapered metal key arrangements and the variations in size from smaller sized version to the larger varieties used by more contemporary performers like the popular transvestite performer Area Scatter.



Ekpili was a style peculiar to the riverine area of Anambra state such as Onitsha, Nsugbe, Nteje, Umuleri, Aguleri etc. The musicians often played alone, singing along central themes of morality, praise singing, sorrow and pain- essentially reflecting the society's heartfelt thoughts. The bigger players often had a native orchestra of sorts with the native maracas, ekwe (gong) and udu (bass claypot) and backing vocals as components. Sometimes for funerals or coronations (ofala) they would add the native drums igba, which were usually employed as part of a distinct style of same name (Igba), which differed to the extent of having the oja (as the lead vocal instrument and voice as chorus). One key element of Obiligbo's Ekpili is the almost ethereal use of the backing vocals as a form of musical instrument either in bass format or even as percussion.

The main difference between Obiligbo's and Area Scatter's music was that the latter was from Owerri area, hence his style was not Ekpili. His singing style was also a faster and more syncopated, rather than melodic, style akin to Igede. His ubo playing style was very similar, however, to up-tempo Ekpili. The simple answer is that the differences were very subtle, being more based on the structural differences inherent in the dialect of the Anambra riverine area and the faster-paced Imo based dialects, which then translated into differences in the musical output.

While he was one of many native musicians, Obiligbo very quickly gained popularity via a thriving local fan-base, performing at funerals, weddings and other traditional ceremonies in and around Nsugbe. His fame grew exponentially, driven by his powerful lyrics - steeped deeply in native idiom and with hugely thought-provoking lyrics - with a fair dash of praise-singing to boot.

Obiligbo left a huge body of work, mostly in the gramophone record format, but many of his greatest works have been preserved, especially those recorded in the pioneering Nigerphone Recording Studios at Onitsha. Owned by the famous Igbo businessmen of the early 20th century, T.C. Onyekwelu, it was the most advanced (if not the only) facility available in the East of Nigeria at the time (the 30’s-50’s) and was the forebear of subsequent recording studios/companies like Rogers All Stars and Tabansi Records. The tracks were subsequently released by Onyekwelu's employee Chief Melody Okpelo through his Melody Record Company.

"Nteje Enyi No Bianya" is a mid tempo easy-listening track. It praises Obiligbo's home-town Nteje and his kinsmen, with names like Emeka Enyiogugu, Chima Mgbogu, Mayor Udenka, Apaka Udealor, Sunday Okeagu, Nweke Ijego, and ends in praise of himself - "Ezigbo Obiligbo Nwa Nteje":


"Odogwu Umuleri" is basically a story (not sure if idiomatic or factual) about Odogwu, a native of Umuleri (Anambra State, Nigeria) who impregnates his mother in furtherance of a money-making ritual. It is a mid-tempo track starting with the standard call and response chorus and quickening into a feverish up-tempo Igba.

Opening: "Ogbondu na ekwu ndi ogbu, Orimili na ekwu ndi oli" ("The waters always reveal who they have consumed") "Odogwu ebulu afo ime ya na aro ato." Chorus: "Oro Misita Odogwu [note the corrupted use of the English title "Mister," used clearly here in derogatory terms] Ewe puta ofu mbosi, ewe muta yabunwa, ewe muaya izu nabu na azu no, mama ya ewe bebe akwa." Odogwu's mother is pregnant for 2 and then 3 years and in labour for 2 weeks. She then bursts into a lament as to her plight, "Have you ever seen any one suffer the way I have?" The community discusses it. "Odogwu answer your mother," they say. "She is lamenting at the back of the house." When she delivers the child, he is asked, "What did you do to this child? Who carries a child for three years?" Odogwu essentially admits that he impregnated his mother for the purpose of a money-making ritual. The chorus then changes to “Ebenebe gbulu odogwu" ("Sacrilege has killed Odogwu.") The song tempo increases on this discovery: "Ndi Umuleri, Atu uwa bili na be unu" - "A horrible evil resides in your midst. Odogwu, the evil child who placed his hands on his mothers womb. Umuleri cleanse yourself of this evil:

"Late Chief TC Onyekwelu" is a great track epitomising once more Obiligbo's typical style. An 11 minute tribute and dirge for the late Chief T.C.Onyekwelu, it starts off with the slow ubo intro and call-and-response chorus, building up to a feverish vocal crescendo. The real power behind this track is the lyrics. The track starts with Obiligbo tracing his relationship with Onyekwelu, back to the first meeting, after Onyekwelu's return from Europe when Onyekwelu invited him to play at an occasion at a location called "Berger," (which is presumed to be a meeting of the ruling regional party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns, which Onyekwelu belonged to), ferrying him to the occasion in a chauffeur driven car and challenging him to perform "wonders with his music" by promoting consensus at the meeting, at which Obiligbo did not disappoint, even affirming that the gathering "agreed to his words." Subsequently Onyekwelu gave him two bags of money as his reward.

He then extols his virtue as his benefactor from that day onwards. He describes a day when he arrives at Onyekwelu's residence to hear the sounds of wailing and sorrow, only to hear of his death, which was confirmed by the look of despair and sorrow on the face of Onyekwelu's wife, whom he describes as Amalu Uche Diya ("she who knows the thoughts of her husband"). He expresses his sorrow with the chorus: "Onyekwelu Onye Ocha, Onyekwelu Ala na zu nwa" ("Onyekwelu a white man; Onyekweku, the breast that feeds the child"). He extols the symbolism, that the burning of Otu Onitsha Market is a huge blow to the Igbos. He further extols Onyekwelu's generosity, by the saying that a stingy man dies dies poor and miserable. The song carries on to give praise to named greats of Igbo land at the time: George Mbonu, Aaron Obijiofor (my children's great-grandfather), Sunday Nwankwo, John Ibeanu and Eze Omenaka. The song then ends after a roll-call of these greats by his repeating his usual refrain- "Okwo Chukwu Ka anyi na gbalu Odibo" ("In spite of wordly wealth, we are all still slaves to God.")

Mention must be made of Melody Okpelo, who is a recurrent mention in Obiligbo's song. Apparently, Melody Okpelo was the owner of Melody Records, Obiligbo's original record company, Onyekwelu's involvement being as financier of this company:

Chief Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo & his Group - Late Chief TC Onyekwelu

"Oyi Mu Ikegbunem" appears to be a dirge, mourning the death of hi friend Godwin Nwa Ukonu (Godwin the son of Ukonu). The lyrics being thus: "Okpelo invited us to go to the town, anyone who needs the record come quickly." He then goes into a roll call of Igbo great and good, inviting them to mourn the dead man: Patrick Nwa (son of) Analiko, Nkwocha na Enugwu Ukwu (Nkwocha of Enugu-Ukwu) "Kanyi na kwa ya" ("let us mourn him") Alfred Nwa Onyiuke (A succcessful businessman of Nimo town) "bia ngwa ngwa" ("come quickly"), Angus Na Abagana (Angus of Abagana- referring to The King of Abagana- Angus Ilonze), "let us mourn him," Ejidike Bread (Mazi Ejidike was the owner of one of the most popular Bakeries in Igboland), Nwafor Orizu (Dr Nwafor Orizu was The Senate President) , Oye Aga Ufoeze, Michael Umeadi (a businessman of Nri in Anambra State):


Download Egwu Ogbada as a zipped file here.


The picture of the ubo above is from Wolfgang Bender's book Sweet Mother: Modern African Music (University of Chicago Press, 1991), which devotes several pages to Chief Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nigeria's Lady of Songs




I'll admit to being a little mystified by the current fascination with the cheesier byways of African music - '70s and '80s Afro-Rock, Afro-Disco and the like. The tracks on Frank Gossner's collection Lagos Disco Inferno, for example, strike me as cheap-sounding and derivative. But what do I know? The first pressing of LDI, released in May, has already sold out. And if you think it's just ironic hipsters in Brooklyn who are boppin' out to this stuff, check out With Comb and Razor or the many Naija message boards out there. They prove that Nigerians of a certain age are still pining for the sounds of Ofege, Harry Mosco and Doris Ebong. It all goes to show that African music, as listened to by Africans themselves, has never been as exalted or "pure" as we outsiders may have once thought.

Back in the day, Christy Essien (later Christy Essien-Igbokwe) was the queen of disco music in Nigeria. She cut her first album, Freedom (Anodisc ALPS 1015, 1976), when she was sixteen, and copies of her '70s pressings today command astronomical prices on Ebay. Essien was just one of a cohort of female singers who made a splash in Nigeria in the '70s & '80s, like Onyeka Onwenu, Patty Boulaye and Martha Ulaeto, and if you want to know more, Uchenna Ikonne discusses them extensively here. According to Uchenna, Essien's 1981 outing Ever Liked my Person? (Lagos International LIR 1), was meant to take her to the next level of international stardom, and it certainly made an impression in Nigeria, where henceforth she would be known as "Nigeria's Lady of Songs."

I present for your perusal two late '80s recordings by Essien-Igbokwe which display her mature sound. Taking my Time (Soul Train Records STR 1) showcases slick production values and plenty of influences from country-western ("Show a Little Bit of Kindness") to makossa (the Yoruba-language "Iya Mi Ranti" and Igbo "Ibu Ndum"). All in all, a pretty decent example of middle-of-the-road Nigerian pop music:











Download Taking My Time as a zipped file here. 1988's It's Time. . . (His Master's Voice HMV 066) is a little less successful in my opinion, being a little too dependent on the synthesizers for my taste. Still, it has its moments:









Download It's Time as a zipped file here. In later years Essien-Igbokwe devoted herself to acting in Nigeria's burgeoning video industry and in November celebrated her fiftieth birthday, an occasion duly noted in the Nigerian media. Here she is today:



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.



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, January 24, 2010

The Ladies of Ihiagwa-Owerri




I've been meaning to post this recording for a while. Nwanyi Ma Obi Diya (Onyeoma C.Y. Records CYLP 016, 1984) by the Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group of Ihiagwa-Owerri is guaranteed to fill the dance-floor at any Igbo party it's played.

The vocal stylings of Rose Nzuruike
(above) were what made Nwanyi Ma Obi Diya stand out amid a torrent of similar releases during the '80s, and what sends Igbos, and especially Owerri indigenes, into a swoon. Which is not to short-change the talents of the group itself (below) and especially its leader, Madam Maria Anokwuru. Released on an obscure Onitsha record label, it became one of the biggest-selling Igbo records of all time.



The title tune, opening up the medley on Side One of the album, means "A Woman That Knows her Husband's Heart." The ladies sing that good behavior is better than beauty and that a woman who knows her husband's heart will work with him when times are tough. "Ego Kirikiri" literally means rattling money and refers to the olden days when commerce was conducted with cowrie shells. The group sings "Igbo je akpo ya ojo mma - Igbos called it good money" and "Owerri nnu ahuna onwu ozigbo mmadu bara uba - Owerri, you see that not everyone was rich." Furthermore, "Onye ogazirila nya nwe mmeri - If you are rich you win." Side One concludes with a paean to Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the leader of the separatist state of Biafra, who was pardoned by Nigeria's president at the time, Shehu Shagari, and allowed to return to Nigeria in 1980. The group welcomes Ojukwu back to the land of his birth and sing that they are overjoyed at his return:

Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group of Ihiagwa-Owerri - Nwanyi Ma Obi Diya/Ego Kirikiri (Cowries)/Onye Ije Nno-Ezennadi

On Side Two, the group sing that they are called Obi Wuru Otu - "One Heart for All." They entreat everyone to be careful, because God's way is where humans prove their value. "Ezuru Ezu Baa? Olu - Is everyone rich? No." "Omumu si na Chukwu - To have children is a gift from God." "Ochu Okuko Nwe Ada" is a typical Igbo parable. The lyrics explain that a person who chases a chicken will always fall but the chicken will never fall. If you plot against an innocent person you'll hurt yourself in the end. "Nwa nkpe ya na Eze gbaru mkpe, nwa mkpe atagbuela onye ya na afufu - If a widow gets into a conflict with a King, she will suffer much." The song calls on the Messiah, the one who made a blind person to see and a cripple to walk. Finally, the song "Elu Uwa Were Obi Oma" calls on the people of the world to be kind to get their just rewards:

Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group of Ihiagwa-Owerri - Olum Ado Ogu-Ezuruezuba/Ochu Okuko Nwe Ada/Elu Uwa Were Obi Oma-AFA Nna Na Nwa

Many thanks to my wife Priscilla for translating the lyrics of this record. Download Nwanyi Ma Obi Diya, complete with scans of the album sleeve, here. I have a couple more albums by the Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group, and will probably post them in the future.

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