Showing posts with label Islam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Islam. Show all posts

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Yoruba Muslim Women's Music




We were shopping on Nnamdi Azikiwe St. in central Lagos when we came across a fascinating sight: hundreds of men were prostrate and barefoot in the street, while overhead a speaker blared:


Allahu Akbar
A
sh-had anna lah ilaha illallah
Ash-hadu anna Muħammadar rasulullah

Hayya 'ala-salatt

Hayya 'ala 'l-falah

Allāhu akbar

La ilaha illallah
"The Muslim people are praying," my brother-in-law told me. "Look at them with their faces in the dirt. And these are the people who rule over us." Such was my introduction to Friday prayers at the Central Mosque in Lagos (right), and to the complex subject of ethnic and religious power relations in Nigeria.

Across from the mosque a stall was selling pirated pornographic videotapes with covers that left nothing to the imagination, while shoppers went about their business. The loudspeakers amplified every bit of static in the recorded call to prayer, which echoed among the surrounding buildings. The atmosphere was strange and other-worldly, to my eyes and ears at least. I've believed in no deity since I was twelve, but the spectacle stirred in me trembling feelings of awe and wonderment. For just a minute I was tempted to remove my shoes and join the believers in their devotions.

Needless to say, I don't share the casual bigotry reflected in my brother-in-law's remarks, but they speak to the fact that Nigeria is a nation increasingly divided along ethnic, political and religious lines. Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim while the southeast of the country is almost exclusively Christian. Other areas, such as the Yoruba region around Lagos, are more complicated in their religious allegiances. About half of the Yoruba are thought to follow Islam while the remainder adhere to various Christian denominations and traditional religion.

Since Independence Nigerian rulers have tended to be Northerners, hence the resentment of "Northern Muslim domination," and at times this friction has given way to violence, notably during the Biafran War of 1967-70 and recent conflicts over the introduction of sharia law in some northern states. Islam came to Yorubaland by conversion rather than through war, and relations among the various religious groups there have been mostly peaceful.

Among Yoruba Muslims in the 19th Century were a group of repatriated slaves from Brazil who have played an important role in the economy and politics of Lagos. Among the distinctive buildings they erected in the city, all of them now in disrepair, is the Shitta Mosque on Martins St. I took this picture of it during my 1994 visit:



Among various styles of Yoruba music which have their roots in the Muslim community are waka, performed by female singers, and apala and fuji, performed by men. While these styles derive from music performed during Muslim holidays such as Ramadan, they have tended to become secularized over time.

I picked up the LP Asalamu Alaekumu (Leader Records 82, 1992) by Sister Riskat Lawal and the Aaqibat Lil-Mutaqeen Society Group during my 1995 visit to Nigeria, and I'm not sure where to situate it within the spectrum of Yoruba Islamic percussion styles. This is clearly a religious recording and not the usual exercise in praise-singing (rather, it praises God rather than rich and powerful individuals), nor is it unique. I take it there are hundreds of recordings in this genre, but I'm not aware that they have a specific label.

No matter what you call it, I'm sure you will find
Asalamu Alaekumu a first-rate example of Yoruba percussion music.

Sister Riskat Lawal & the Aaqibat Lil-Mutaqeen Society Group - Asalamu Alaekumu

Sister Riskat Lawal & the Aaqibat Lil-Mutaqeen Society Group - Allahu Allahu / Eyin Anobi / Ayonfe Oluwa

Sister Riskat Lawal & the Aaqibat Lil-Mutaqeen Society Group - E Gboro Oluwa / Omo Iya Ni Wa / Oro Shekh Adam-Oba To Ni Ike Lodo / Islam Esin Ola

Download Asalamu Alaekumu as a zipped file here.




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.