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

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Once More on Rex Lawson & Biafra




Once again our friend
Rainer has come through with an exceedingly rare artifact from the golden age of Nigerian highlife music, in this case a 10" pressing of Love "M" Adure Special, from which I posted some tracks June 21. This was apparently the first pressing, released in 1972. Or maybe it wasn't the first pressing! Rainer writes, ". . . the label says AGR002 etc. But the matrix number says (P)1970 and gives a Philips label number 6386004 as a reference (the Dan Satch is from 1969/70 and has 6386008) Why did they write 1972 on the label? Was this supposed to be released on Philips first back in 1970 but saw the light of day in 72 on Akpola!? Or am I just thinking too much?"

Apart from having a different cover and slightly different reference number (AGR 002 rather than AGB 002), this earlier iteration of Love "M" Adure Special, also on Akpola Records of Benin City, differs in several other respects from my copy. For one thing, it has 10 tracks instead of 12. Also, it includes the song "Gowon's Special," which was omitted from the later record, although it was listed on the sleeve. And for what it's worth, it's a much better pressing.

"Gowon's Special" is very interesting in that it marks Lawson's evolution from being a full-throated supporter of Biafran independence in 1968 to singing the praises of Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon for "keeping Nigeria one" in 1972. Listen to it here:

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Gowon's Special

I won't presume to understand Lawson's motivations for making "Gowon's Special" as well as the earlier "God Bless Colonel Ojukwu."



To help clarify things, here is the recording information for the two pressings of Love "M" Adure Special:

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men
Love "M" Adure Special

(10" LP; Akpola AGR 002, 1972)
A1. Love "M" Adure Special
A2. Gowon's Special
A3. Saturday Sop Di
A4. Yellow Sisi
A5. Nkpa Ke Da Owo
B1. Tom Kiri Site
B2. Wasenigbo Tua
B3. Akwa Abasi
B4. Nume Inye (Nume Alabo)
B5. Peri Special Mbanga II

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men
Love "M" Adure Special
(12"LP; Akpola AGB 002, 197?)
A1. Jolly Papa Special
A2. Love "M" Adure Special
A3. Saturday Sop Di
A4. Yellow Sisi
A5. Abasi Ye Enye
A6. Nkpake Da Owo
B1. Tom Kiri Site
B2. Wasenigbo Tua
B3. Ese Ayang Iso
B4. Akwa Abasi
B5. Nume Inye
B6. Peri Special
One nice thing about the original 10" LP is that it includes a listing of the musicians and summaries of the lyrics. You can download the whole album as a zipped file here.



In the comments there's been a side discussion on the question of whether records were actually pressed in Biafra during the war. I thought it was possible, even though all of the major pressing facilities were in the North and West before the war (Nigerphone may have had a plant in Onitsha). After thinking it over, and consulting the map below (click to enlarge) from John de St. Jorre's The Nigerian Civil War (Hodder & Stoughten, 1972), this seems most unlikely.

As the map shows, by October of 1968 the territory under Biafran government control had been reduced to about one sixth of what it was at Independence, and didn't include any of the major cities (Onitsha fell in March of 1968). Although the margins of the Biafran enclave changed slightly over the course of the conflict, this is where things stood until the last months before the war ended in January 1970. Therefore, any "Biafran records" would have to have been pressed outside of the country and smuggled in.



Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hailing Biafra




Note: This post was updated on October 4, 2009.

My post "Divided Loyalties" inspired an anonymous reader to make available an intriguing souvenir of the Biafran independence struggle. First Independence Anniversary Special, a 45, was issued in 1968 by the Biafra Association in the Americas, Inc. under the reference number XB-439/XB-440. The A side is "A Nation is Born," a previously-unknown-to-me song by highlife master Celestine Ukwu, while the flip side is the song
"God Bless Colonel Ojukwu" by Rex Lawson, which I featured in that earlier post under the title "Odumegwu Ojukwu (Hail Biafra)."

Anonymous poses an interesting question: While First Independence Anniversary Special was obviously pressed in the United States, were records pressed in Biafra during the war? I do know that music by Ukwu and other musicians was recorded and broadcast on Radio Biafra during the conflict, but I'm not aware of any record-pressing facilities in Biafra at the time. Of course, there is always the possibility that records were pressed abroad and smuggled into the Biafran enclave, a fraught task. Could someone shed some light on this matter for us?

Courtesy of Anonymous, here is Celestine Ukwu:

Celestine Ukwu - A Nation is Born

For some time I've been trying to get hold of another record released in the US during the war, Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha: Drums and Chants of Fighting Biafra (Afro Request SRLP 5030) by the mysterious "Biafran Freedom Fighters." If anyone out there has a copy, I'm sure we'd all love to hear it.

I have an LP which was apparently put out by the same people who issued First Independence Anniversary Special. This is Biafra (Biafra Students Association in the Americas XB-149/XB-150) features an instrumental, "Hail Biafra" (the Biafran national anthem?) and a speech by Odumegwu Ojukwu on Side 1, and seven musical selections on Side 2. Unfortunately, while the song titles are given, the artists aren't credited.

I'm posting the contents of This is Biafra. "Hail Biafra" is not especially notable and the Ojukwu speech is more of a historical document, but the other tracks should be of interest to Likembe reader/listeners. I have identified "Onwu Zuri Uwa" and "So Ala Temen" as by Rex Lawson. "A Tit for Tat" is by Area Scatter, and "Onye Nwe Uwa" is by the Nkwa Wu Ite Dance Group of Afikpo (thanks to Anonymous & Vitus Jon Laurence for identifying those two). Perhaps someone could identify the other musicians:

Hail Biafra

The Struggle for Survival: H.E. Lt. Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, Governor of Biafra (November 24, 1967)

Cardinal Rex Lawson - Onwu Zuru Uwa (There's Death Everywhere)

Unknown Artists - Nkponam Isuhoke Owo (Misfortune Never Discriminates)

Nkwa Wu Ite Dance Group of Afikpo - Onye Nwe Uwa (Who Owns the World?)

Cardinal Rex Lawson - So Ala Temen (Nature Bestows Riches)

Area Scatter - A Tit for Tat

Unknown Artists - Akpasak Ibok, Idiok Udono (Vice is a Terrible Disease)

Unknown Artists - Thou Shalt Not Kill

I've written about the Biafran situation in previous posts, and I would recommend John de St. Jorre's The Nigerian Civil War (Hodder & Stoughton, 1972), long out of print, as an even-handed and detailed account of the conflict. This article from Wikipedia is also useful. I would say at the risk of sparking a controversy that I think the Biafran cause was a noble one, and had it succeeded, would have changed the course of African history in a positive direction. But I'm afraid Biafra's historical moment has come and gone; whatever the future of Africa has in store, an independent Biafran state will probably not be part of it.

Download This is Biafra as a zipped file here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Divided Loyalties




The recent dénouement of the 25-year Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka was reminiscent in many ways of the end of the Biafran war in Nigeria in January of 1970: both of them were hard-fought popular rebellions that collapsed very suddenly. In both cases the human and economic cost was horrendous.

In its time Biafra was a cause that engaged people the world over in support of its beleaguered people. The proximate reason for the start of the war was a series of pogroms across Northern Nigeria in 1966 directed at natives of the Eastern region of the country, mainly Igbos. In response, Eastern Nigeria, under the leadership of
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, seceded as the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967.

Sometime during the course of the war, Nigerian highlife star Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson recorded his song "Odumegwu Ojukwu," commonly known as "Hail Biafra." I'm told that this was released on Onitsha's Nigerphone label, although I have no more information about it. Given its controversial nature, it's not surprising that "Hail Biafra" was more or less banned in the post-war years, and was not on any of Lawson's five "official" Nigerian LPs. The song came to light again in the late 1990s when it was released as part of a compilation entitled Rex Lawson Uncensored: Hail Biafra (Mossiac MMCD 1036).

"Odumegwu Ojukwu" is apparently in Ijaw, so I can't give an exact translation of the lyrics, but in spoken English comments toward the end, Lawson clearly indicates his support for Biafra's Head of State. These sentiments are said to have earned his detention by Federal troops, to whom he is said to have told that he recorded the song "to uplift the rebels." Here's the song:

Rex Lawson - Odumegwu Ojukwu (Hail Biafra)

More interestingly, sometime later Lawson recorded a song in tribute to Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, who not only had led an earlier separatist rebellion in the Niger Delta (the so-called "Twelve-Day Revolution") but died fighting on the Federal side against the Biafran separatists. Boro was an ardent defender of the interests of his Ijaw people, and by some accounts his sentiments toward the Igbo (who predominated in Biafra) were chauvinistic bordering on racist. Such are the dynamics of ethnic politics in southeastern Nigeria! "Major Boro's Sound" was included on the album Rex Lawson's Victories Vol. 2 (Akpola AGB 003) and is also featured on Rex Lawson Uncensored: Hail Biafra:

Rex Lawson - Major Boro's Sound

If there was one thing Rex Lawson wasn't, it was a narrow-minded tribalist. A true cosmopolitan, he had an Ijaw father and and Igbo mother, and his Majors Band (later The Rivers Men) included musicians from various ethnicities. He sang in all of the languages of southeastern Nigeria. Some years ago a fellow named Ofon M. Samson emailed me with English-language summaries of some of the songs on Lawson's LP Love "M" Adure Special (Akpola AGB 002, below). I believe the original songs were all in Efik. In the first of these, "Saturday Sop Di," Lawson sings that he wants Saturday to hurry up and arrive:

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Saturday Sop Di

"Abasi Ye Enye" was supposedly written after Lawson had lost a child. He sings, "Whoever killed my child, God will see him or her":

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Abasi Ye Enye


"Tom Kiri Site" means "The World is Bad":

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Tom Kiri Site

"Ese Ayang Iso" is about a leper, about whom Lawson sings, "ese Ayang iso, kuse ikpat," meaning "look at Ayang's face not her feet because she has a disease":

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Ese Ayang Iso


"Akwa Abasi" means "Almighty God." Lawson quotes John 3:16, ". . .For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Akwa Abasi

In "Nkpa Ke Da Owo," Lawson sings about death taking someone away. During the break one of the band members asks, "Death why have you taken our master? Who is going to lead us?." A prescient question, given that Lawson would die in 1971:

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Nkpa Ke Da Owo


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Anioma Sound Pt. 2




As I wrote in "The Anioma Sound Pt. 1," the Anioma region comprises the Igbo-speaking areas of Delta State in Nigeria. The name is a actually an acronym derived from the regions of Aniocha, Ndokwa, Ika and Oshimili, and was coined by the late
Dennis Chukude Osadebay, one of the founders of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, and former premier of the old Mid-Western Region of Nigeria.

Continuing our look at the music of this area, we start off with a couple of old-timers of the Anioma scene, ending up with some newer artists.

Ndokwa native Charles Iwuegbe may be familiar to those who have heard the wonderful compilation Azagas & Archibogs: The Sixties Sound of Lagos Highlife (Original Music OMCD 014, 1991), now sadly out of print. As that title implies, he was a stalwart of the pre-Biafra highlife scene in Lagos, when musicians of all ethnicities kept the night alive with their wildly inventive sounds. I give my thanks to Anioma music fanatic "Ubulujaja," who passes on this classic tune, "Ejelunor," from Iwuegbe's LP of the same name (Decca West Africa DWAPS 04), as well as Eddy Okonta's "Anioma" in "The Anioma Sound Pt. 1."

Charle Iwuegbe & his Hino Sound - Ejelunor

Perhaps you remember St. Augustine from my posting of Rusted Highlife Vol. 1. Hailing from Asaba, his career took off in 1971 with the release of "Ashawo No Be Work." From a bit later in his career, namely the early '80s, here's a track from Anioma Special (Offune OFLPS 1):

St. Augustine - Evidence Special

As I promised in this post, I've got another tune for you from Aboh's incomparable Ali Chukwuma. Here's the title track from 1982's Ife Oma Dimma (Akpolla AGB 50):

Ali Chukwuma & his Peace-Makers International Band of Nigeria - Ife Oma Dimma

Guitarist Bob Fred shows up in all manner of recordings by Anioma artists, notably those of Rogana Ottah, but he's made a number of LPs on his own with his Ukwuani Brothers Band. Here's a cut from the album Egwu Amala Special (Ojikutu OJILP 032, 1982):

Bob Fred & Ukwuani Brothers Band - Ochinti



About the Mmadu Osa International Band, led by Ikechukwu Izuegbu, I know absolutely nothing, but they put out a number of LPs back in the '80s. "Ele Onye Keni" is taken from their 1983 outing Aboh Youth Progressive Union (Izuson IZULP 006)":

Mmadu Osa International Band - Ele Onye Keni

I've saved the best for last! I've heard a rumor, which I've been unable to confirm, that Rogana Ottah (picture at the top of this post) passed away a couple of years ago. What a shame that would be, as he's been the primo exemplar of the Anioma music scene. As I wrote in the introduction to my discography of him, ". . . Guitarist Isaac Rogana Ottah, 'The Oshio Super King,' a prolific artist from Akoku, Ndokwa LGA, Delta State, is one of the better-known Anioma musicians. His musical career began in the early 1970s when he played in the bands of Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe and Rex Lawson. In 1973 he joined fellow Ndokwa native Charles Iwegbue and His Hino Sound Band. Striking out on his own after Iwegbue's tragic death in 1976, Ottah scored a major hit with his first LP, Ukwani Special, in 1977. In quick succession a series of outstanding recordings, notably the 'Oshio Super series, propelled Ottah to the vanguard of the Anioma recording scene. Although his career has slowed since the 1980s, he still makes a prosperous livelihood as a touring musician and continues to make recordings. "

"Onyeluni Isu Ogaga," from the 1981 LP Oshio Super Two "Onyeloni" (Odec ODEC 003) is an absolute scorcher that showcases Ottah's brilliant guitar work to great effect.

Rogana Ottah & his Black Heroes - Onyeluni Isu Ogaga



I hope to provide translations of the lyrics of these songs in the future.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Anioma Sound Pt. 1




The Igbo people live in all parts of Nigeria, but are the big majority of the population (over 90%) in five states: Imo, Anambra, Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi. They also constitute large minorities in Rivers and Delta States.

The "Anioma" area consists of the northeastern corner of Delta State encompassing the Aniocha, Ukwuani and Ika peoples. These three ethnicities are all considered subgroups of the Igbo, as opposed to Delta's other nationalities, the Urhobo, Itskiri, Ijaw and Isoko, who speak distinct languages. Anioma Igbo are set apart from the mainstream of Ala Igbo not only by the Niger River but by varying shades of cultural influence from their neighbors to the west and south.

The idea
, if not necessarily the name, of "Anioma," as a community and a culture predates the creation of the modern Nigerian state in 1914. In the early 20th Century the area gave rise to the Ekwumekwu movement, which resisted the imposition of British colonial rule in southern Nigeria. In the early '80s, the Anioma State Movement arose to call for the carving out of a new Igbo-majority state from old Bendel State. Since 1991, when Bendel was divided into Edo and Delta States, the demand for Anioma State has continued at a low boil. The map below shows where the various ethnicities of Delta State reside (click to enlarge):



It's hard to say if there is a distinct "Anioma Sound," despite the title of this post. One might discern a certain directness to the music of the area, as opposed to the relative subtlety of Igbo music east of the Niger, but I stress the relative nature of this comparison. After all, no one would call the music of Owerri's Oriental Brothers subtle!

The best-known Anioma musician is probably Ali Chukwuma, but the area has produced numerous artists who have achieved fame across Nigeria. Eddy Okonta of Akwukwu (left) is one of the foremost of these. He got his start with Bobby Benson's band and played trumpet on the great maestro's biggest hit, "Taxi Driver," before striking out on his own. In "Anioma," from his album Page One '81 (Phonodisk PHA09), Okonta throws his lot in with the movement to create Anioma State. ". . . Ours is ours and mine is mine. . .We pray to God so that we may achieve this. . .":

Eddy Okonta - Anioma

King Ubulu (picture at the top of this post) is another name that comes up frequently when discussing Anioma music. He was born in 1949 in Amoriji-Onitcha in the Ndokwa area, and formed his Ubulu International Band in the 1970s. He died in 2004. Here is a tune from his LP Ubulu '84 Special: Anyi Bu Ofu (Isabros ISAL 026, 1984). "Ogom Egbu Madu" means "my favor for you should not kill me":

Ubulu International Band of Nigeria - Ogom Egbu Madu

I mentioned in this post that I'm aware of only two female singers in the Igbo highlife genre: Nelly Uchendu and Queen Azaka. Why this should be, I don't know, and I can tell you very little about Queen Azaka, other than that, like King Ubulu, she is from the Ndokwa area. Here's a tune from her LP Umuwa Nweni Ndidi (Odec ODB 10L). I find the rhythm on this tune and the next couple interesting. And sorry about the skipping at the beginning of the tune. Bad warp!:

Queen Azaka & her Ebologu Abusu Mma Dance Band - Ukwani Amaka



Chief John Okpor may be just another obscure musician from the recesses of Delta State, but he's made a great recording here. Side One of Ife Nunoku Na Ju Oyi (Franco Records FMCL 003) doesn't let up until about two-thirds of the way through, when the title track segues into the slower-paced "Egwu Nde Oma."

Chief John Okpor & the Golden Tones Band of Nigeria - Ife Nunoku Na Ju Oyi/Egwu Nde Oma

When Priscilla was back home in Nigeria in 1989, she saw the band members unloading boxes of this LP out of the back of a truck. Of course, she knew I'd want a copy, and what a discovery it is! Eric Obodo heads up the Reformed Eti-Oma Dance Band, and their fast-paced sound is reminiscent of the Camerounian bikutsi style exemplified by groups like Les Veterans. The album is Ogbuefi Moses Okom (Mone MRLP 008).

Reformed Eti-Oma Dance Band of Nigeria - Onyeke Muni Nwa



This post has been delayed because Priscilla and I just haven't had time to sit down and do translations of the lyrics (the fact that these songs are mainly in the Ukwuani dialect makes this more difficult), so I'm just going ahead and posting anyway. If there is time I will update it later. In "The Anioma Sound Pt. 2" I'll be posting songs by Charles Iwegbue, Roganna Ottah and others.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gospel Highlife from "New Calabar"




As you may have noticed, I've been writing quite a bit lately about the music of Nigeria's "Eastern Minorities." By this I mean the non-Igbo ethnic groups that comprised about 40% of the population of the old Eastern Region of Nigeria that existed from 1954 until 1967. In 1967 the East attempted to separate and form the independent Republic of Biafra. For the most part the minorities - the Ijaws, Ogonis, Efiks, Ibibios and so forth - supported the Federal Government in that conflict, and since they occupied the coastal areas this was a decisive factor in the defeat of the Biafran cause in 1970.

One of the biggest names of classic Nigerian highlife, Erekosima Rex Lawson, was the son of an Igbo mother and an Ijaw father from Buguma, in the "New Calabar" region of present-day Rivers State, and thus is claimed as a native son by both groups. New Calabar is said to have been settled by Efiks from Calabar in present-day Cross River State, but its language, Kalabari, is in fact a dialect of Ijaw. Lawson sang in this language and Igbo, as well as other tongues of Nigeria, making him beloved across the country.

Buguma produced another highlife musician, Emperor Erasmus Jenewari.
A retiring and urbane man, Jenewari's career was somewhat overshadowed by that of the great Lawson. In the years before the Biafra war he was based in Onitsha, where he recorded numerous hits like "Abari Nyanawa," "Oteke," "Opa Iweriso," and the evergreen "Odenigbo."

Following the war Jenewari seems to have forsaken secular music altogether, and devoted himself strictly to Christian devotional music with his group the Gospel Bells (shown at the top of this post; Jenewari is in the middle of the bottom row). Here are tunes from two of his gospel albums, Tamuno Belema (Philips 6361 168, 1976) and Joy Hallelujah (Polydor POLP 081, 1982). Listening to these lovely songs takes me back to eastern Nigeria, where the sound of gospel music is omnipresent.

"Tamuno Ne-Giye Ofori" and "Ichoro Onu" from Tamuno Belema are reminiscent in so many ways of Celestine Ukwu's brilliant album Ejim Nk'onye (Philips 6361 111, 1975). It's hard to say for sure, as there are no credits on either LP, but I suspect they share a set of backup musicians. The lyrics of the first song are simplicity itself: "There's nothing greater than God," repeated in the major languages of Nigeria. I detect Ijaw, Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa in the mix and there are probably several others as well:

Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - Tamuno Ne-Giye Ofori

Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - Ichoro Onu

"O Tamuno Boma/Ona Som" and "Joy Hallelujah" are from Joy Hallelujah. "Joy Hallelujah" was the most important hit of the gospel phase of Jenewari's career:

Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells -
O Tamuno Boma/Ona Som

Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - Joy Hallelujah


I understand that Erasmus Jenewari passed on a number of years ago without much fanfare even in Rivers State, a sad commentary.

Many thanks to Eji I. Nwuke, who provided me with much of the information used in this post.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas!




A glorious Christmas to our readers and listeners who follow the Christian faith! To commemorate this joyous occasion I present Oliver de Coque's "Omumu Onye Nzoputa (Jesu Kristi)/Olu Ebube Nke Onye Nweayi," an account of the Christmas story from his 1983 LP of the same name (Ogene OGRLPS 03):

Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 Ogene Sound Super of Africa - Omumu Onye Nzoputa (Jesu Kristi)/Olu Ebube Nke Onye Nweayi

This is one of my favorite de Coque songs, thanks to his eloquent guitar work and the interplay of traditional Igbo percussion. Some listeners may notice something oddly familiar about the melody, however. Take a listen to this song, by Congolese orchestra Minzoto Wella-Wella from their LP Malembé Kidiba Chant (K-Dance/Eddy'son 4219):

Minzoto Wella-Wella - Nanu Lubutu


It's obvious that somebody copied someone else. The Minzoto LP is not dated, but I suspect that it was issued sometime before the de Coque record. Oliver no doubt, then, lifted the melody and distinctive guitar work from the Minzoto record and not the other way around. But who cares? They're both great records!

Speaking of lifting, I purloined the image at the top of this post from the BBC's site. It is from a series of Christmas cards drawn by students at Swanland School in Nairobi. Follow the link and consider buying a set of the cards. Proceeds go toward rebuilding the school.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Something to Listen to While Eating a Puu-Puu Platter




Uchenna over at With Comb and Razor posts a song by Uyo-based band Sunny Risky and the Vitamin Explosions, which he says is the "Best. Band Name. Ever."

I agree, that's a pretty awesome appellation. In fact, the only band name that I can think of that comes close is Brother Charlly Computer and The Gloria Kings.

Which got me to thinking about peculiar and/or unintentionally humorous band names and album titles, including the one at the top of this post, Pee Pee Special, by P.T. Foo and His Jolly Band of Nigeria (Sir Dolu Records SDR 002, 1986). Mr. Foo (Peanock Timibi) is an Ijaw musician from Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta, which has been the scene of much unrest in recent years.

Ijaw highlife music, called Awigiri, is almost completely unknown outside of Nigeria, but shares the sweet-and-sour vocal quality of its Ghanaian counterpart. I plan to devote a future post to a number of musicians from this area of Nigeria. Here's a tune from the album:

P.T. Foo & his Jolly Band of Nigeria - Tunisa Ebi Na Meiye

I will confess that I have listened to the records featured in this post maybe once in the ten or twelve years since Priscilla and I feretted them out of a used-records store in Ajegunle, the "Eastern" ghetto of Lagos. The musicians here are not well-known, even in Nigeria, nor even the most professional. What they lack in polish, though, they more than make up for in sheer, sloppy exuberance. They may be "no-hit wonders" but they're going to make the most of it!

When Uchenna mentioned Sunny Risky in the aforementioned post, I thought the name sounded familiar, so I dug through my collection and came up with another album by him, although the Vitamin Explosions aren't mentioned on the sleeve. It's 1988's Eti Uwem (Itiabasco ITRLP 019). The title track is a lively number in the Osadebe vein with some inspired saxophone work:

Sunny Risky - Eti Uwem



The Efik, Ibibio and Annang ethnic groups, who speak closely related languages, comprise about 3½ million people in the southeastern corner of Nigeria. No doubt there is a lively music scene in this area, but I'm not very familiar with it outside of the 4-5 LPs in my collection. Like Sunny Risky & the Vitamin Explosions, U.T. Isenem & his Black Mirrors are an Ibibio group. Their name qualifies them for attention in this post - what good would a "Black Mirror" do you?

The off-key bass line that opens "Konga," from 1976's Obio Cross River (Anodisc ALPS 1007) leads into some inspired dance-band highlife in the Inyang Henshaw/Rex Lawson vein. I don't know if the Black Mirrors made any other records, but this one is a real gem:

U.T. Isenem & his Black Mirrors - Konga



We close out this post with some Igbo highlife by Federal Emmison Papa & his Stich [sic] in Time Band of Nigeria. I don't know who Federal Emmison Papa is but the group itself is led by Chuwuemeka Okonkwo. "Onye ka Madu" from 1986's 'Anyi N'ele Uwa (Fepson FLPS 001) showcases some enthusiastic guitar and nice horn work:

Federal Emmison Papa & his Stich in Time Band of Nigeria - Onye Ka Madu

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Mysterious Ali Chuks




Some years ago an acquaintance passed on a cassette of a Nigerian musician who was previously unknown to me; the tape was simply labeled "Ali Chuks." "He's an Igbo, and he's a Muslim," my friend explained. Which caught my attention, because if there's one thing that would seem to be hard-wired into the DNA of every Igbo man, woman and child, it is an abiding allegiance to the Christian faith. The reasons for this are rooted in history. Suffice it to say that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Igbo embraced Christianity with a vengeance after stubbornly adhering to their traditional religion from time immemorial, and this identification was only strengthened during the privations of the Biafran war. An Igbo Muslim? Who had heard of such a thing?

As a matter of fact, there are small communities of Igbo Muslims, not only in the Islamic north of Nigeria but in Igboland itself. My friend Maurice O. Ene of Kwenu magazine describes the efforts of one Suleiman Onyeama, scion of a prominent Igbo family, who established an Islamic school in his home town of Eke.

Which is all beside the point, really, because as far as I've been able to find out, Ali Chuks, better known as Ali Chukwuma (his LPs also tag him "Ali Chukumah" and "Ali Chukus"), was a true-blue Igbo Christian and not a Muslim at all. Apparently he took his name from Ali Baba, a famous African wrestler of the sixties and seventies (and if you want to learn about yet another African "Ali Baba," go here.)

I have heard varying accounts of Chukwuma's origins and activities before he became a well-known musician, but he was apparently from Aboh in the "Anioma," or Igbo-speaking area of present-day Delta State. He is said to have moved to Atani near Onitsha following the death of his father and made the acquaintance there of native son Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe. He spent some time in the great master's Nigeria Sound Makers band and later left to form his own Nigeria Peace Makers.

Chukwuma died of liver failure in the mid-'80s, leaving a legacy of much-loved highlife music.

I had wanted to showcase selections here from various points in Chukwuma's career, but listening to the different recordings, one album stands out: Club 25 (Editions Namaco ENLPS 54), recorded sometime in the late 1970s. Therefore, I'm offering it to you in its entirety, and in future posts I'll present other recordings by this master of Igbo roots music.

"Club 25" is another typical praise song about one of the many Igbo social and charitable clubs. Chukwuma recites the names of and praises the various officers and notable of the organization:

Ali Chukwuma & his Peace Makers International - Club 25

"Henrietta" apparently is addressed to a demanding young woman who thinks she can do better than the narrator. "Henrietta, onye d'imma n'azu:" "Who is beautiful behind their back? Who has everything they want or need in this world?"

Ali Chukwuma & his Peace Makers International - Henrietta

"Onye Melu Ogo Amazi" means "The person I did a favor for doesn't realize it." Chukwuma sings, "What you don't know won't kill you. The good that I do for someone will not kill me." He further sings that no one will carry this world on their back when they die. In other words, your wealth won't do you any good in the afterlife:

Ali Chukwuma & his Peace Makers International - Onye Melu Ogo Amazi

"Ezi Okwu Bu Ndu" means "A truthful word is life." Truthfulness leads to a perfect life. Truthfulness is worth more than money. Further, "Nkem fulu n'anya, bu ezi okwu, nkem nulu n'nti bu asi," or "What I saw with my eyes is true, but what I heard with my ears is lies." In other words, don't believe it unless you see it yourself. Chukwuma further sings that a very good friend is better than family. He recounts that when he first started making music everyone said he was a fool, but now that he is famous they all want him to sing their praises. He sings that he went to Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto and Nnewi and mentions various individuals. "Asi na Chinedu nwa ogbenye. Asi na ifeyi nwa": "They say that God guides the poor man's child. They say that a child is priceless":

Ali Chukwuma & his Peace Makers International - Ezi Okwu Bu Ndu

Discography of Ali Chukwuma

Thanks to my wife Priscilla for her help translating these songs. Any errors in transcription are my own.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Small Love and a Soft Voice




No sooner had I mentioned that I was lacking two of Nelly Uchendu's legendary recordings, Love Nwantinti (Homzy HCE 005, 1976) and Mamausa (Afrodisia DWAPS 2066, 1978), than Uchenna of With Comb and Razor mailed me copies of both that he had located in Nigeria. If that weren't enough, he also enclosed a copy of Hosanna (Homzy HCE 039, 1979), a previously-unknown-to-me gospel album by the State City Singers, a trio featuring Nelly and her sister Bridget. Thanks, Uchenna! I owe you one (or two, or three).

Not only do all of these LPs differ in "feel," they contrast interestingly to the recordings featured in my previous post. The one constant is Nelly's glorious voice, an instrument that earned her the appellation "Nigeria's Golden Voice." I'm more than happy to devote another post to this great Igbo chanteuse, who was woefully neglected outside of Nigeria during her lifetime, and is in danger of being forgotten completely now that she has departed this world.

Love Nwantinti, Uchendu's first LP, is the recording that put her on the map after some years of celebrity in her native Enugu. It is actually credited to Nelly Uchendu and pianist/organist Mike Obianwu, and what a combination it is! Love Nwantinti is one of the few African records I've heard that feature piano prominently, a very interesting effect. The liner notes state that Obianwu had 45 years of experience under his belt as of 1976. Indeed, I'm wondering if he is the uncredited pianist featured on Celestine Ukwu's classic LP True Philosophy (Philips 6361 009, 1971). Producer H.N. Nnamchi writes, ". . . As some of these evergreen tunes gradually fading away hence I called Nelly and 'Uncle' Mike Obianwu to make this evergreen, exciting, top hits into an album for me and you to own in our own individual record library. . ."

We open up with a medley of three tunes, actually part of a six-song medley that comprises Side 1 of Love Nwantinti. In "Love Nwantinti" ("Small Love"), Nelly sings "My life's journey of love ("ije love") needs just a little more time." In "Ada Eze" ("The Chief's Daughter") she beseeches her best friend, "Ada Eze, come tell me what I should do in this world. What you have in your heart is love. . ." The chorus, "onyi mu oma,' means "my best friend." Finally, in "Onye Nwulu Ozuluike" ("When Somebody Dies, They Rest"), she sings "A bus has taken Joy to Sokoto in the North ["ugwu Hausa"]. A guest has no enemies. If another animal sees a monkey jumping and tries to jump himself he will be hurt. When somebody dies, they rest":

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

"Chukwu Onye Okike" ("God Our Creator") from Side 2 of
Love Nwantinti, is basically a prayer: "God our creator, God our Lord, God who loves us, please help us. Please save us." I love the instrumental break & Obianwu's sharp piano work:

Nelly Uchendu & Mike Obianwu - Chukwu Onye Okike



Sharp-eyed readers will note that the track titles and recording information given on the label differ somewhat from the cover and titles given here (click the image to enlarge). I don't know why this is, but I have a hypothesis: After Nelly's smash debut at FESTAC '77, the original LP by "Uncle Obianwu and Nelly Uchendu" was reissued credited to Nelly Uchendu and Mike Obianwu with a new title and cover. As there were no doubt copies of the original pressing around, only the cover was reprinted. It's as good an explanation as any.

I had heard of Mamausa, but was unprepared for what greeted my ears after actually putting it on the turntable. Who would have thought that in 1978, after a tidal wave of soul and R&B had swept over Nigeria, people there would still be making first-rate dance-band highlife? Interesting also is the presence in the lineup of Ken Okulolo, who has been a respected purveyor of African music in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years now.

"Mamausa" seems to be a nickname, perhaps referring to someone from the North of Nigeria (the song is sometimes referred to as "Mama Hausa," and since the hard "h" sound is not usually pronounced in Igbo, this seems plausible), probably an older lady. Nelly sings to her friend, ". . . I'm so very lost, I'm so much in love. Mamausa, beautiful woman, I'm telling you I'm lost. The journey of love ("ije love" once again) has killed me":

Nelly Uchendu - Mamausa Pts. 1 & 2

On the album, "Mamausa" is actually parts 1 and 4 of a four-song medley. the track listing is: Mamausa Pt. 1/Jesu Chelum/Ugbo Ndi Oma/Mamausa Pt. 2. For convenience I've combined the two parts of the song, but if you'd like to hear the whole medley, click here.

"Okwu Di Nlo" ("A Soft Voice") from Side 2 of Mamausa, preaches the virtues of moderation: "A soft voice brings down anger. That's how a person succeeds in life. A soft voice brings peace, it brings happiness. . .":

Nelly Uchendu - Okwu Di Nlo


The final song on
Mamausa, "Kpokube Olisa," ("Call on the Lord") is another hymn. Nelly sings that today people can't even trust their own relatives: ". . . The world has changed. The world has gotten bad. Call on the Lord so we can survive":

Nelly Uchendu - Kpokube Olisa



I wanted to include a couple of tracks from Hosanna in this post, but I just haven't had time to do the necessary audio restoration (as you can tell, these records have all been much-loved and much-played!) Perhaps another time. And many thanks, as usual, to my wife Priscilla for her interpretations of these lyrics.

Discography of Nelly Uchendu

Update: Cheeku Bidani confirms my suspicions regarding the two issues of Love Nwantinti. At above right is the original cover (click to enlarge). It is currently offered on Ebay here.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Highlife Obscurities




Note: This post was updated and corrected on January 4, 2009.

Back in the early '90s I got it into my head that I would like to become a record mogul and release my own series of African discs. So on the occasion of my second visit to Nigeria in December of 1995 it seemed like a good idea to visit some record companies there to propose licensing some music to release in the U.S.

In Lagos I met with
A.J. Ejuichie of Premier Music (successor to Polygram Nigeria) and Femi Dairo of Ivory Music (successor to EMI Nigeria). They are pictured below, left and right. Executives at Leader Records and Ibukun Orisun Iye were out of town, although I purchased a lot of great music at their retail stores. Ditto for Rogers All Stars in Onitsha.



Truth be told, I have no business sense so the record company idea was basically a pipe dream. I suspect Mr. Dairo & Mr. Ejuichie realized I had no idea what I was doing although they were exceedingly friendly and gracious.
Mr. Ejuichie informed me that the rights to the entire Polygram Nigeria catalog had been licensed to a company called Mossiac Music in New York City.

Mossiac issued upwards of 30 CDs in the late '90s; not only classic highlife from the old Polygram catalog but recordings by the Oriental Brothers, Igbo traditional music, even a four-CD Best of Osadebe set! Unfortunately Mossiac went under without a trace. It seems to have had zero distribution outside of the Nigerian community, not even through Sterns! I suspect that whoever was behind the mysterious "Mossiac Music" lost serious coin. Well, better him than me!

I myself have been able to obtain only a few Mossiac releases. One of these is Rusted Highlife Vol. 1 (Mossiac Music MMCD 1812), which boldly departs from the usual fare of recent
highlife reissues to showcase some obscure but wonderful tracks from the late '60s and early '70s, when the old danceband paradigm was yielding to the harder, stripped-down guitar highlife style.

I haven't had time to sit down with Priscilla and do translations of the song lyrics. I'll try to do so and update this post later.

The Professional Seagulls Dance Band of Port Harcourt, led by David Bull, were formerly the Rivers Men, the backup band of highlife superstar Rex Lawson. Following his death in 1971, they struck out on their own, and scored a number of major hits, including "Afro Baby" and "Atabala Woman." An earlier posting, following the incorrect liner notes of Rusted Highlife Vol. 1, credited these tracks to Emmanuel Vita & the Eastern Stars Dance Band.
The liner notes also transpose the song titles:

Professional Seagulls Dance Band - Afro Baby (Baby Wayo)

Professional Seagulls Dance Band - Atabala Woman

The late Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe was the last great exemplar of the danceband highlife sound before his death on May 11, 2007. Here are two tracks by him that have never appeared on any of his LPs to my knowledge.

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound-Makers - Uwa Bu Egwu

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound-Makers - Amala

Of course, you're familiar with Dan Satch & his Atomic 8 Dance Band of Aba from this post. Dan Satch Joseph (not Dan Satch Opara of the Oriental Brothers!), a former sideman in Bobby Benson's band, formed the Atomic 8 Dance Band in 1962. Although the Atomics were known to dabble in Afrobeat, "Baby Pay My Money" and "Take Your Notice" show them in classic danceband highlife mode.

Dan Satch & his Atomic 8 Dance Band of Aba - Baby Pay My Money

Dan Satch & his Atomic 8 Dance Band of Aba - Take Your Notice

The Eastern Ministers Guitar Band, like the Oriental Brothers and their various offshoots, hailed from the Owerri area. The Eastern Ministers had several huge hits, including "Nwa Ka Ego" and "Uwa Tutu Uwa Fufu [The World is Sweet and Painful]." The melody and guitar work of "Ihe-Chi-Nyerem," the Orientals' first record, were obviously inspired by the spare, rough-and-ready sound of "Nwa Ka Ego," recorded a couple of years earlier. The two groups' vocal styles are quite different, however.

Eastern Ministers Guitar Band - Nwa Ka Ego

Eastern Ministers Guitar Band - Enu Uwa


B.E. Batta and Emmanuel Vita of the Eastern Stars Dance Band were from Nembe in Rivers State. They had played with Rex Lawson's band before striking out on their own. It is quite possible that Warrior of the Oriental Brothers, in crafting his famous "shouting" singing style, modeled himself on Vita, who had a similarly powerful voice.

B.E. Batta & Eastern Stars Dance Band - Solo Hit (Nwaocholonwu)

B.E. Batta & Eastern Stars Dance Band - Mme Eyedi

Eastern Ministers Guitar Band - Ariri Otu Nwa

Eastern Ministers Guitar Band - Uwa Tuto Uwa Fufu

As I knew nothing about the next two artists, Demmy Bassey and Burstic Kingsley Bassey, I asked Uchenna of With Comb & Razor, who told me that Kingsley was a well-known performer at the Luna Night Club in Calabar during the 1970s. His popularity never extended much beyond the Cross River area, though. Uchenna could tell me nothing about Demmy Bassey. "Bassey," by the way, is a very common surname in the Cross River-Akwa Ibom area.

Demmy Bassey - Abisi Do

I thought "Ima Abasi" sounded familiar, so I got out my copy of The Hit Sound of the Ramblers Dance Band (Afrodisia WAPS 25) and put it on the turntable. Well well, the exact same recording shows up on side two of this hit album by the venerable Ghanaian highlife orchestra! There is no mention of Kingsley Bassey in the liner notes, although a "Len Bassey" is given songwriting credit. The lyrics, according to the notes, describe a fellow who pleads with his girlfriend, ". . . all you do is kick me about and boss me around. . . Call me no names. Just work your charms on me, darling, for I love you."

Kingsley Bassey - Ima Abasi

Trumpeter St. Augustine Awuzia was from the Igbo-speaking area west of the Niger River in present-day Delta State, and came into his own (having previously been a sideman in various Lagos highlife congregations) as a soldier in the Federal Army during the Biafran war, where he led his own band. "Ashawo No Be Work," a huge hit, addressed the many "ladies of the evening" who frequented the band's concerts. The title literally means "Prostitution is Not Work":

St. Augustine & his Rovers Band - Ashawo No Bi Work

St. Augustine & his Rovers Band - Abu Special

The late Inyang Henshaw, foremost avatar of the Efik highlife sound, pays tribute in two songs to the great musician Cardinal Rex Lawson:

Inyang Henshaw - Nkpakara Wo (Tribute to Rex Lawson 1)

Inyang Henshaw - Tribute to Rex Lawson 2



The map of eastern Nigeria below can be used to locate some of the areas mentioned in this post (click to enlarge).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Memories of Oliver de Coque




Listening to Oliver de Coque for the first time in 1984, I was made aware that there was a whole lot more to Nigerian music than King Sunny Adé and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

De Coque, born Oliver Sunday Akanite, passed away of a heart attack on Friday, June 20, joining in death his colleagues
Sonny Okosuns (who died only in May), Stephen Osita Osadebe, Nelly Uchendu and Warrior. With his passing, Nigerian highlife music, on life support for the last twenty years, has sustained a mortal blow. It's doubtful that anybody, or anything, can take his place.

De Coque hails from Ezinifite, Nnewi South LGA, Anambra State, and got his musical start in 1965 at the age of 17 playing ekpili, a form of Igbo traditional music. In 1970, following the defeat of the Biafran war of independence, he got a job playing with a Lagos group, Sunny Agaga & his Lucky Star Band. Shortly after he engaged with Jacob Oluwole & his Friendly Unity Band, and was featured on their hit "Agbasisi." De Coque's stint with this group was also short-lived, and in 1973 he took up with Sule Agboola & his Moonlight Star Band.

De Coque emerged as a solo artist in 1976, when his LP Messiah Messiah (Olumo ORPS 48) was released. A series of classic recordings followed, notably Identity (Olumo ORPS 108) in 1980, and a series of records in honor of the People's Club of Nigeria. His great inspiration was to combine highlife, Congolese-style guitar work and the propulsive energy of traditional Igbo music. His called his style, or "system" Ogene, after the Igbo double bell.

On my first day in Nigeria with my family in December 1994, who should I see but my hero Oliver de Coque striding through the mayhem of the domestic air terminal in Lagos. He gestured to his entourage to join him and they marched out onto the tarmac to board their plane. No standing on line for the Ogene King!

Then, in Priscilla's home town of Awo-Omamma, De Coque showed up again. The occasion was a house-warming party for one of the local notables, Chief Amukamara, who wished to proclaim his accomplishments to the world and hired De Coque to do it! Oliver took the stage and sang of the good Chief's achievements in life, even though he was still a young man. I made a video of the event, which I will post on YouTube some day (when I find it), but Priscilla did take this photograph of Oliver and me:




As the years wore on De Coque's music lost much of its edge. The once-lively rhythms became flaccid and formulaic. It did not go unnoticed that De Coque seemed amenable to singing the praises of anybody with money or power, exemplified above all by his
obsequious 1996 cassette Democracy (Ogene ORMC 15), a tribute to Sani Abacha, the stupidest and most venal of Nigeria's military rulers!

Still, still. . . the last time I saw De Coque was proof positive, in my mind at least, that the guy still possessed the old magic. The occasion was a Nigerian Independence Day concert in Chicago. It was 2000,
and it was one of the last shows at the old, fabled Equator Club, in fact it may have been the last show. There was an air of impending doom. The toilet in the men's room was stopped up and the floor was covered with raw sewage. The first thing De Coque did on taking the stage was denounce management for the cheap sound system they had provided. I had a feeling the owner was a couple of steps ahead of the creditors - he was nowhere to be found.

For all that, it was one of the most electric concerts I've ever been to. From the moment De Coque
touched his guitar he had the crowd in the palm of his hand with stirring renditions of his hits: "Nwa Bu Ife Ukwu," "Identity," "People's Club of Nigeria" and many more. Igbos dressed to the nines jumped up on stage to spray the musicians with money. A young lady in a short, short dress and no underwear was dancing her head off, every now and then bending over to give everybody a show. It was a wild and crazy scene.

Afterwards Priscilla and I chewed the fat for a while with Oliver and his brother Eugene. He remembered us from
that appearance in Awo-Omamma and I had him autograph the picture we had taken there. I gave him a printout of the Oliver De Coque discography I had posted on the Internet and he was very excited that someone in America had actually taken notice of his work. I remember thinking that here was one of Africa's greatest guitarists, and who knew it? Where was the justice?

In the end De Coque's legacy was tarnished by his embrace of some of the more negative aspects of contemporary Nigerian society: showboating, toadying to those in power,
and worshiping money above all. Tarnished, but not erased. Nothing can eliminate the power of his guitar and his words.

Oliver De Coque Kwenu!
Trying to come up with a "representative" selection of music by a musician like De Coque is difficult. I favor his early work, and although his praise songs like "People's Club of Nigeria" are popular, they just don't do it for me. So here are my own personal favorites. Let's start off with a cut from his 1979 LP I Salute Africa (Olumo ORPS 100). "All Fingers Are Not Equal" is a common Nigerian proverb. It expresses the sentiment that all human beings are not created equal. In the song De Coque states that some have more and some have less. If you don't have anything in this world, don't begrudge those who are rich, and if you are rich don't look down on those who are poor. It isn't God's intention for anyone to suffer:

Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 - All Fingers Are Not Equal

"Identity," from the album of the same name (Olumo ORPS 108, 1980) is De Coque's best-known song, and shares some musical affinities with Prince Nico Mbarga's massive hit "Sweet Mother," so much so that many people think that the two songs are by the same artist! Oliver sings that he prays to God every morning and evening, that he always does his best and trusts in God. His father told him to sing his music with honesty and his mother advised him to respect his elders, furthermore he says that he always "cuts his coat according to his size" (this West African expression means that he lives within his means). He sings that sometimes he wears a suit & tie like a "boyoyo" (a man about town), sometimes he wears traditional clothing like "Chief Obi" (a village elder). He sings that he has a beard, that's his nature, and that music is his talent - that's his identity:

Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 - Identity


Here's another tune from the same album. "Nwa Bu Ife Ukwu" means "A Child is the Greatest Gift." When a child is good, everybody says "That is my child!," but when a child misbehaves, everyone asks, "Whose child is that?" Do your best to raise your child; it will be a blessing in the end. In others words, "You reap what you sow":

Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 - Nwa Bu Ife Ukwu

"Atutu Gepu Mpi Ekwe Gesiya Ike/Chukwu Ekwena Kifififele Meayi" from 1984's Atutu Gepu Mpi Ekwe Gesiya Ike (Ogene OGRLPS 04) has always been one of my favorite Oliver de Coque tracks for its deft use of traditional Igbo percussion. The title of the first part of the song means "A Ram Must Have a Strong Neck to Support his Horns." This typically Igbo aphorism means in essence "With great power comes great responsibility." De Coque sings, "Are we going to run away from a fight?" The title of the second part of the song means "God, Please do Not Let Us be Ashamed." De Coque calls on all who have come into this world to pray to their god:


Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 - Atutu Gepu Mpi Ekwe Gesiya Ike/Chukwu Ekwena Kifififele Meayi

I've always loved this final selection, from 1985's Nne Bu Oyoyo (Ogene OGRLPS 06). For one thing, De Coque shows off some nice Franco-style guitar work. He also, atypically, utilizes a horn section. In "Nne Bu Oyoyo" ("Unbeatable Mother") De Coque beseeches all to never ignore their mother, for the suffering that a mother undergoes for her child is indescribable. Every time a child is hurt he or she calls for mother. When a child climbs a tree a mother holds her heart. When burning coals fall on a child and its mother she will brush it off her child before herself. Even when a child does wrong, even goes to prison, a mother will defend him or her. In the second section, "Ezigbo Nna" ("Great Father") De Coque praises the fathers of the world. A father is a child's pride, who shines like a mirror. A father leaves early in the morning to work to support his family. When a child starts school the father will pay tuition, and if he doesn't have the money he will swallow his pride and borrow it:

Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 - Nne Bu Oyoyo/Ezigbo Nna

Once again many thanks to Priscilla for her interpretations of these lyrics.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Oliver de Coque is Dead




From The Sunday Tribune (Lagos):

Highlife musician, Oliver De Coque is dead. Sunday Oliver Akanite, who hailed from Anambra State, died on Friday after an apparent heart attack.

His daughter, Uju, said her late father was rushed to July Hospital in Gbagada, Lagos, after complaining of irregular heart beat on Friday.

He suddenly started complaining that his heart was beating faster than normal, and that he had problems breathing, she said, sobbing.

When the family eventually rushed him to the hospital, Oliver was said to have vomitted ten times in ten minutes before he finally died.

Tony Okoroji, who expressed shock at the death of another friend of his, said Oliver was all fun on board Soul Flight to Imo for the NMA last month and that he couldn’t believe the guitarist is dead.

Also, King Sunny Ade expressed sadness over the death of Oliver, saying he was one of the best Nigerian guitarists he’d ever known. Same for K1 and Saka Orobo, FUMAN president. Both described Oliver’s death as the final blow to highlife music.

This is a great tragedy and loss for Nigerian music. I will shortly post my personal memories of De Coque and more news as it becomes available.

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