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.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Ikoro's '70 Special (Philips West Africa 6386008) by Dan Satch and the Professional Atomic 8 Band is an album I've been intrigued by for many years. A friend loaned it to me twenty years ago, minus the sleeve, and I dubbed it to a 10" tape reel. The reel lay unlistened to for many years in a box in my office, until I finally was able to digitize it, and many others, last fall.
What has always been a mystery to me has been the identity of "Dan Satch." There is, of course, a well-known Nigerian musician by that name, guitarist Ferdinand Dan Satch Emeka Opara, a co-founder of the legendary Oriental Brothers Band of Owerri. I had always assumed that the Atomic 8 Band was something he was involved in before hooking up with the Orientals (since Ikoro's '70 was recorded in 1969 and the Orientals were founded around 1971 this seemed plausible).
There are some problems with this assumption. The Atomics followed the style of danceband highlife greats like Rex Lawson and Bobby Benson, with some interesting pop and Afrobeat touches. The Orientals, of course, were the pre-eminent representatives of the guitar-based highlife sound that displaced the old dance band sound in the '70s. The two bands' respective styles couldn't be more different. Moreover, the Atomics were based in Aba while Dan Satch Opara hails from the Owerri area.
Which is where things stood until a few months ago, when I received an email from our friend Rainer in Switzerland. It seems he had obtained a copy of the original Atomic 8 10" LP, including the sleeve, and he kindly sent me a scan. One look and it was clear that the leader of the Professional Atomic 8 Dance Band and Dan Satch Opara were not the same person. The liner notes state:
The Atomic "8" Dance Band is led by Dan Satch Joseph who is a seasoned pure tone trumpeter and an arranger. Thirty years old Dan Satch started playing the trumpet in 1959 and was the trumpeter leader of Bobby Benson & his Jam Session Band until 1961. In 1962 he moved to Aba and formed the Atomic "8" Dance Band.Moreover, look at the photographs of the two musicians. Dan Satch Joseph is on the left, Dan Satch Opara on the right:
So even though it is fairly clear now that there is no connection between the Professional Atomic 8 Band and the Oriental Brothers, Ikoro's 70 Special is an excellent album in its own right: a glimpse into the long-lost era of sophisticated Nigerian dance music. Moreover, the use of various languages indicates that the Nigerian music scene was maybe not always as splintered as it is today.
Tracks by the Atomic 8 have been popping up lately on various compilations of classic Nigerian music, on Rusted Highlife Vol. 1 (Mossiac MMCD 1812, 1996), Lagos All Routes (Honest Jon's Records HJRCD 17, 2005), and this year's much-acclaimed Nigeria Special (Soundway SNDWCD 009). The track order on the Ikoro's 70 Special record sleeve is different from that on the record itself and includes two songs that are not on the record, "Eluwa" and "Hasiam." The track order here follows that of the record. For more information on the songs, click the image below:
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Ikoro's 70 Special
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Take Your Time
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Tamuno Emi Dan Satch
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Akadi Nwata Ma
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Kente
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - My Girl in Love!
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Adiaha Obong
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Ocho Okuko Nwe Ada
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Calabar O
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Onye Huru Odum