Showing posts with label Ijaw. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ijaw. 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, 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.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Awijiri: Ijaw Music from the Niger River Delta




The Ijaw people, who number close to ten million people, are the fourth largest nationality in Nigeria. They are a majority in Bayelsa State and constitute large minorities in Rivers and Delta States.

Ijaws have a long history of resistance against various central governments. Under British colonial rule this took the form of agitation for a separate Ijaw-majority "Rivers State," and this advocacy continued following independence in 196o. In 1966 Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro led an armed rebellion against the governments of Nigeria and the Eastern Region, declaring a Niger Delta Republic on February 23 of that year. When it was suppressed after twelve days, Boro was jailed, only to be pardoned in May 1967 on the outbreak of the Biafran war of independence. Boro fought on the side of the Federal government in that conflict and died a year later in battle near Okrika.

The creation of Rivers State in 1967, separating it from the old Eastern Region, delivered a death-blow to the nascent Biafran Republic, rallying the Ijaws and other nationalities of the Delta to the side of the Federal government. Bayelsa was carved out of Rivers State in 1996. In recent years Ijaw youths have taken up arms against the government to demand a bigger share of the oil revenue which comes from facilities in the Niger Delta.

Looking at the map below, the Ijaw inhabit an area roughly south of a line leading from Warri in Delta State, through Patani and Port Harcourt, ending around Opobo:



The Ijaw have their own indigenous form of highlife music, called awigiri. It is almost completely unknown outside of Nigeria, but has produced many popular musicians and recordings over the years. In a recent post I featured a song by Ijaw musician Peanock Timibi, and a further exploration of this music seemed like a good idea.

Anthony Cockson, from Tarakiri, Bayelsa State, is a popular musician in the Delta, judging by the number of recordings he has released, but I know nothing else about him. Here's a tune from his LP Edogbo Special (Cockson Records CR 01, 1984). "Late Brother Iddo" is compelling not only for the oddly poetic lyrics, the saga of the business tycoon Mr. Iddo, murdered in his sleep, ". . .slaughtered with an axe like a cattle in an abattoir. . . like a tale told by an idiot. . .war war, blood blood, rent the air. . . " but for the hypnotic bassline, which creates an otherworldly atmosphere:

Anthony Cockson & his Oyadonghan Dance Band of Tarakiri - Late Brother Iddo



A.S. Eseduwo, of Angalabri, Bayelsa State, likewise has released a number of records, but is also difficult to find information about. The lovely highlife "Aki-Kiri Mele-Mele," from 1984's Late Ebizimor of Okumbri (Croseide CKLP 001), showcases nimble guitar work and keyboard and the vocal contributions of two young boys, apparently Mr. Eseduwo's younger brothers:

A.S. Eseduwo & his Top Stars Dance Band of Angalabri - Aki-Kiri Mele-Mele



King Robert Ebizimor, from Alabiri in Bayelsa State, is probably the best-known Ijaw musician living today. He started out in 1973 with the Professional Seagulls Dance Band in Port Harcourt, the former backup group of Rex Lawson led by David Bull, and has recorded over 20 albums. "Ebi-Ere Ke Bede Egbe" is taken from his 1990 LP Arekedoumene Ogbo of Endoro (Iwa-Lewa IWA 018):

King Robert Ebizimor - Ebi-Ere Ke Bede Egbe



Barrister S. Smooth of Enekorogha, Delta State has a number of videos on the internet, including this one. "Seikeme Tabbe Bofa Ekpe" is taken from the album Young Choppers Union of Warri (Felix FERLP 030, 1991), apparently a tribute to an all-women's charitable society. Don't you just love that title?

Barrister S. Smooth & his Young Heroes Dance Band of Enekorogha - Seikeme Tagbe Bofa Ekpe



Next up, a couple of extended tracks that are not really awigiri per se, but could be described at "Ijaw Native Blues." First, Birifou & his Ama-Ebimo Group of Gbekebor, Delta State. This is from their LP Mr. Dolokwei R. Kenekodo (Coconut COLP 240, 1979):

Birifou & his Ama-Ebimo Group of Gbekebor - Mr. Dolokowei R. Kenekodo/Alotabobor Oru



Chief Bukka & his Cultural Group of Okrika bring things to a close with this wild set of explosive percussion and haunting vocals. Okrika, in Rivers State, is a historically significant Niger Delta town. In the 17th Century it was the capital of the Kingdom of Okrika and was a center of the slave trade and later of the palm oil trade. Presently it is important in the petroleum industry. This is side 1 of the LP Owolo Wolo (Willisco WMSLP 1024, 1980):

Chief Bukka & his Cultural Group of Okrika - Owolo Wolo/Tubo Pumbo Ba/Akumaya/Owu Ama Pu/Bukka Bo Iwa Owuti/Toku Bie



By the way, the picture at the top of the post is apropos of nothing in particular. I just took it off the back of one of these albums and thought it was cool.

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