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



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, 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.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Nigeria's Golden Voice




Comb and Razor's recent post on Onyeka Onwenu has put me in mind of another exemplary Nigerian female singer. I'm referring to Nelly Uchendu, the "Golden Voice of Nigeria," who passed away on May 19, 2005. Actually, Uchendu was a bit of a musical oddity. While there has been no shortage of female "pop" singers in the Naija music scene, and women singers dominate Nigerian gospel, Nelly was one of the few female singers in the Igbo highlife genre (actually I can think of only one other, Queen Azaka).

Nelly burst upon the scene in 1977 with "Love Nwantiti," a song based on the folklore of her native Enugu, and quickly followed that up with a number of hits like "Aka Bu Eze" and "Mamausa." She had a much-praised appearance with Warrior and his Original Oriental Brothers in London in the early '80s, and recorded the soundtrack of the film adaptation of Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart." Toward the end of her life she devoted herself exclusively to Christian devotional songs.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to obtain copies of "Love Nwantiti" or "Mamausa," Nelly's two biggest hits, but I am happy to own three of Nelly's LPs, as well as Late Nite Husband, by Sonny Oti & his group, on which she sings lead vocal. Here are some tunes from them. Enjoy!

"Udo Ego" from Aka Bu Eze (Homzy HCE 012, 1977) addresses the problem of whom to marry? You love your family more than anything but you have to marry outside the family. This means that your potential spouse might not share your values or your family's values. In the song a young man states that he would like to marry a girl like his sister, Udo Ego. Actually, the song expresses, in Igbo terms, the sentiments of an old American popular tune, "I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad." If this sounds peculiar, keep in mind that the Igbo concept of incest is far more expansive than in most Western cultures - marriage between even distant relatives is considered an abomination.

Nelly Uchendu - Udo Ego

In the lively highlife tune "Elozekwanna Nwanne Gi," also from Aka Bu Eze, a mother sings to her son, "never forget your brother and sister" ("Nwanne Gi," literally "your mother's child"). "My child, remember that on the day you die, the person who will be called upon to bury you will be your brother or sister." For Africans, these family responsibilities are a blessing but also a curse, as successful family members are expected to support their ne'er-do-well relatives.


Nelly Uchendu - Elozekwanna Nwanne Gi


Compare "Elozekwanna Nwanne Gi" with the following song, from Celestine Ukwu's True Philosophy (Philips 6361 009, 1971):

Celestine Ukwu & his Philosophers National - Igede Pt. 1

"Late Nite Husband," from the LP of the same name (Homzy HCE 013, 1978) addresses the age-old problem of young women who marry "walk-abouts" who stay up at all hours drinking and chasing the ladies:

Sonny Oti & his Group w. Nelly Uchendu - Late Nite Husband

Detail from the cover of Late Nite Husband:



"Ezi Gbo Dim" ("My Good Husband") is from the album Ogadili Gi Nma (Afrodisia DWAPS 2168, 1982), as are the next two songs. Nelly sings, "My good husband, tell me what to do so you will love me? What can I do so that you will love me? I will dance for you, I will dance for you so you will continue to love me."

Nelly Uchendu - Ezi Gbo Dim

Anyone who has been in Igboland during festival season is familiar with the subject of the following song. The leader of a dance troupe calls out to the owner of a house to come out and give her money or a wrapper ("akwa") in exchange for their performance:

Nelly Uchendu - Akwa Alili

In "Nga Meji Eru Uwa" Uchendu sings to her parents, "see how much I have seen of the world." She then calls out to a succession of Nigerian musicians - Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Adé, Christy Essien Igbokwe, Warrior, Dan Satch and Bobby Benson - to "come and dance to my music":

Nelly Uchendu - Nga Meji Eru Uwa

The next two songs are taken from Uchendu's cassette of Christian devotional songs Sing Praises (Rogers All Stars RASLPS 132, early '90s). This sort of highlife/gospel music is omnipresent everywhere in Igboland. In fact, I would guess that it is the most popular genre of music by far. In "Cheta Tikue Jehova" ("Remember to Praise Jehovah") Nelly sings, "If you are sick, remember God. God is merciful and gracious. Only God can bless you."

Nelly Uchendu - Cheta Tikue Jehova

"Ekwensu Adago" means "Satan is Falling." Nelly sings, "Ife Jesu a sokammu-oo," "I love Jesus's way," and continues, "ife omelu mu'erika nu'wa, O solummu kam sobe ya-oo," "What he did for me in this world is very great. That is why I praise him." The chorus, "Osoluma kam sobe ya," means "I will always follow his way."

Nelly Uchendu - Ekwensu Adago

Thanks to my wife Priscilla for interpreting these lyrics.

Discography of Nelly Uchendu

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Real Deal




A few posts back I decried the current state of Igbo music, with its lack of true musicianship and over-reliance on synthesizers and drum machines, singling out for special scorn recent recordings by Morocco Maduka. Reader/listener Tom Aernaert in Belgium promised us some vintage recordings by the great Maduka, and he's followed through.

Maduka, who I understand hails from Awka in Anambra state, is one of the great traditional Igbo praise-singers, taking his place beside such eminences as Area Scatter, Show Promoter, and Chief Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo.
Obioma Special (Sammy Sparkle All Stars SSAS 011, 1981) is the sort of album that made me fall in love with Igbo traditional music. It's all here: the traditional percussion (nary a synthesizer in earshot!), the brilliant interplay of the call-and-response vocals and the lyrics touching on contemporary concerns. Of course, there's the usual obsequious praise-singing, but that's par for the course. One thing I find quite unusual about Obioma Special is the use of talking-drum, something I've never heard in any other Igbo recording. Did there just happen to be a Yoruba musician hanging around the studio the day the recording was made, who was invited to join in?

"Obioma Special" is a song in honor of the Obioma Social Club, one of the many fraternal societies that arose in Igboland following the Biafra war. These social clubs, comprised of the upper crust of Igbo society, undertake various charitable and civic works such as financing schools and building hospitals. Maduka recites the motto of the Club, "Honesty, Love and Unity," and lists the various officers. The chorus, "Uwa Amaka Nma," means "The World is Beautiful."

Emeka Morocco Maduka & his Minstrels - Obioma Special


"Abortion Special" concerns a debate in Parliament regarding the subject of abortion. It is stated that there is a problem with young girls getting pregnant out of wedlock and resorting to the practice. How is this problem to be addressed? Maduka does not take a stand for or against abortion, although it is frowned on in traditional society and is generally illegal under Nigerian law, except to save the life of the mother. The chorus, "Agboyi Atulu Ime," means "a young girl gets pregnant."

Emeka Morocco Maduka & his Minstrels - Abortion Special

"Awka Leaders of Thought"
sings the praises of various notables ("Ndi Eze") in Maduka's home town.

Emeka Morocco Maduka & his Minstrels - Awka Leaders of Thought

Thanks once again to my wife Priscilla for interpreting the lyrics of these songs.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ogenes on Fire!


Thanx and a tip of the Hatlo Hat to Andy Healey, who alerted us to the existence of this incredible, mind-blowing sample of Igbo Roots music by Shidodo & ensemble from eastern Nigeria:



The amiri, or Igbo flute, gets things going here, soon joined by the ashakala, or calabash rattle. Especially notable is the masterly use of the ogene, the traditional Igbo double bell. I've never seen or heard ogenes used in ensemble in quite this manner - very interesting. The abia (drums) and opi (the conch-shell instrument that sounds like an ocarina) round things out beautifully.

With so many music videos out of Nigeria lately "underwhelming" (to say the least), it's a real pleasure to showcase one that really does justice to the true beauty and complexity of Igbo culture. More fascinating videos by Shidodo here, here, and here. And kudos to Codewit, who has diligently posted over a hundred videos like this on YouTube.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Elusive "Igbo Blues"




In Ronnie Graham's Stern's Guide to Contemporary African Music (Zwan Publications, 1988, published in the U.S. as The Da Capo Guide to African Music), there is an intriguing reference to something called "Igbo Blues," which he defines as
". . . basically a percussion arrangement supported by vocals and lacking even guitars. . ."

What Ronnie calls "Igbo Blues" would probably be more properly labeled Igbo Traditional or Igbo Roots Music, and this is an extremely popular and variegated genre in the Nigerian music industry, encompassing myriad styles and artists. I've never
actually seen a recording labeled "Igbo Blues," although the appellations "Igbo Native Blues" or "Igbo Native Music" are sometimes used. Below are two record labels featuring the former term, the first from Ogbogu Okoriji & his Anioma Brothers, a percussion and vocal ensemble from Delta State, the second by the fifty-member women's dance and vocal group group of the Nnewi Improvement Union (Lagos Branch). I've also seen "Igbo Native Blues" applied to solo pieces for ubo (Igbo thumb-piano) and voice, and also to straightforward Igbo guitar highlife, so who's to say what it really means?



As an example of an "Igbo Blues" artist, Ronnie cites the musician Morocco Maduka. Morocco's recent recordings feature the sort of stale arrangements, cheap synthesizers and ticky-tacky drum machines that currently blight the Igbo music scene. An artist with a similar, but superior, sound is Chief Akunwata Ozoemena Nsugbe (right), who places more emphasis on the traditional Igbo percussion line-up of drums and bells. Here's a track from his cassette Ifunanya (Olumo Records ORPS 1034). "Chief John Nnebeolisa" is the sort of obsequious praise song that is rife in Nigerian music. The honoree is lauded for his great success in life, his charitable works, and his tendency to give away cars as gifts. Mr. Nsugbe asks the great Chief if he could get a gift also:

Chief Akunwata Ozoemena Nsugbe & his Oliokata Singing Party - Chief John Nnebeolisa

Another popular version of Igbo traditional music is performed by amateur and semi-professional percussion and dance troupes. Around Christmastime or during village celebrations, such as the Iri Ji, or New Yam festival, these groups are ubiquitous in Ala Igbo, traveling from house to house and compound to compound to perform for money. During my first visit to Nigeria in December 1994 I made a number of videos of groups such as these, which I really should post on YouTube some day. From the cassette Chukwunna Njieme Onu (EMI Nigeria NEMI 0692), here is a tune by the Ifediora Mma Egedege Cultural Dance Group of Uga, which is a noteworthy examplar of this style.

Here the full panoply of Igbo traditional instruments is displayed to great effect. The amiri (reed flute) leads off, to be joined in succession by the ekwe (wooden slit drum), ogene (two-headed bell) and oyo (rattle). The title, "Chukwunna Njieme Onu," means "My God that I Brag About." Lead singer Ann Ezeh addresses God in a very personal way: "God, please bless us, God that we rejoice in, God give us your grace, God that is all-good, God in heaven ('Olisa din'igwe') make our way easier."

Ifediora Mma Egedege Cultural Dance Group of Uga - Chukwunna Njieme Onu

One of the outstanding Nigerian releases of the 1980s was Anti-Concord/Apama (Nigerphone NXLP 011, 1988) by Ibealaoke Chukwukeziri & his Anaedonu (right). Side 1 featured sparkling guitar highlife, while side 2 was devoted to some great Igbo cultural roots music, including this song, "Apama," or "carry me," which addresses the burning issue of Igbo women not being as tall as they used to be! You can see a video of it here.

Ibealaoke Chukwukeziri & his Anaedonu - Apama

Finally, any discussion of Igbo roots music would be incomplete without an example of women's choral music. There are literally thousands and thousands of Igbo female singing groups throughout Nigeria, and many have made recordings. One of the more popular ensembles in the '80s was the Okwuamara Women's Dance Group of Umuoforolo, Nkwerre in Imo State. "Nkwerre Imenyi Anyi Abiala" is from their LP Okwuamara '88 (SIL 001), and serves as an introduction to the group: "Nkwerre Imenyi [the group's home village], we have come, the beautiful ones have come." The chorus then replies "yes, we have come." Greetings are then given to the people of Nigeria, of Imo State, etc., etc.

Okwuamara Women's Dance Group of Umuoforolo, Nkwerre - Nkwerre Imenyi Anyi Abiala

Thanks once again to my wife, Priscilla, for interpreting the lyrics. Please let me know if you've enjoyed these tracks. I have tons of music like this, and I'd love to make it better known.
I like to give "shout-outs" to other African music sites whenever I can, and it occurred to me yesterday that I've never mentioned Matt Yanchyshin's excellent blog Ben Loxo du Taccu. This was the first serious African music blog, and it's been the inspiration for many others. If you're reading this, you've probably seen Ben Loxo already. If you haven't, though, do yourself a favor and drop by now. It's an excellent way to find out about and sample the latest sounds out of Africa. It's "Eritrea Week" at Ben Loxo right now, and Matt's got a platterful of musical treats from that country for your listening enjoyment.

I'm indebted to Matt in a number of ways. Not only did he directly inspire this blog, he personally advised me on some of the technical issues involved, and has been generous in his praise and encouragement ever since.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Cross-Dressing Fun with Area Scatter




I've recently learned that several years ago the Igbo traditional musician Area Scatter was killed in an auto accident. Area was a performer who achieved renown throughout Ala Igbo, and even drew some international notice. One of the more memorable sequences in the acclaimed television documentary series Beats of the Heart came during "Konkombe," the segment on Nigerian music. It featured Area Scatter, who had a performing style that was unique, or unique for Nigeria, anyway. Let's read the description of him in the book Beats of the Heart (Pantheon Books, NYC, 1985):

". . . we headed off into the forests to the hut of an infamous 'witch doctor," or shaman, called Area Scatter. His home was filled with bones and skulls and paintings of the power of good and evil. A muscular, humorous man, he explained how, after living through the civil war, he had gone into the wilderness for seven months and seven days and had reappeared transformed into a woman. The day we visited him he headed off, dressed in white smock, polka-dot skirt and a shamanist bone necklace, to the residence of his Royal Highness Eonunnoke to play for the local king and queen.

"Area Scatter was a highly accomplished performer on his thumb piano which was decorated with a distinctive skull and crossbones. When the king and his wife ceremonially entered and seated themselves on their thrones, Area Scatter bowed deeply and started to sing in a soft, rich voice. . ."
Of course, in the United States there are well-known transvestite performers like Ru Paul or Divine, but I understand that this sort of thing is rather odd for Nigeria, at least among the Igbo. I'm not aware of any tradition of theatrical cross-dressing in Nigeria (as for instance in Chinese opera or during Shakespearean days), nor should we assume that Area was gay. While homosexuality in Nigeria is certainly not unheard of (a reading of Hints or any of the other Nigerian "True Confessions" - type magazines should dispel that notion!), it is surrounded by so many layers of scandal and condemnation that the idea that any Nigerian would flaunt his or her gayness is, frankly, mind-boggling. So let's just say that Area Scatter was a guy who literally marched to his or her own drummer, and leave it at that.

Uchenna, from With Comb and Razor, was kind enough to rip that segment from Beats of the Heart for us, and here it is:



When my wife, Priscilla, returned from Nigeria a few years ago, she brought back an actual Area Scatter LP, Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter (Namaco ENLPS 56), excavated from a used-records shop in Ajegunle. The name of the group, "Ugwu Anya Engbulam" means roughly "The Evil Eye Will Not Kill Me." I was originally going to put up just one track from it, then decided that posting the whole album would give listeners a better feel for the talent of this unique artist, Area Scatter.

In the first song, "Uwa Marala Okaa Ome Nwachukwu," or "the well-known Nwachukwu does what he says he'll do," Area Scatter sings the praises of a certain Mr. Nwachukwu, who built a big house, who helps widows, and who pays the tuition for needy students, among other things:

Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter - Uwa Marala Okaa Ome Nwachukwu

The title and refrain of this song, "Nwa Nnem Uwam Gbulam," means "my brother, my sister ["nwa nnem," literally "my mother's child"], I am just fed up with this world":

Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter - Nwa Nnem Uwam Gbulam

This is a long testimonial to the "Great Chief" ("Eze Ukwu") of Ngwa-Ukwu, a township near Aba. The final part of the song apparently deals with a love triangle - there was a struggle, police were called, etc:

Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter - Ajelele Eze Ukwu of Ngwa-Ukwu / Akwa Goddy Uwalalula

Many thanks to Priscilla for interpreting the lyrics. Albums of Nigerian traditional music like this are not rare - thousands of recordings of Igbo traditional music alone were issued during the '60s, '70s and '80s. What is unusual is to find any of them outside of Nigeria. To be honest, I just love the stuff, so I will be posting more of it in the future.

If you would like to see "Konkombe," or any of the other episodes of Beats of the Heart, you can order the DVD here.