Showing posts with label Nelly Uchendu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nelly Uchendu. Show all posts

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Man Behind the Music

One of the fringe benefits of doing this blog is that I occasionally hear from the musicians I write about, and their relatives. Thursday I got an email from Anthony Obianwu, the son of "Uncle" Mike Obianwu, whom I wrote about briefly in this post, reporting his death on July 20th. He was 93 years old.

Uncle Mike was not a well-known musician. He is remembered mainly for his stellar piano work on Nelly Uchendu's famous LP Love Nwantinti (Homzy HCE 005, 1976), and the great irony of this achievement is that the album was originally credited to Obianwu himself, with Uchendu playing only a supporting role. After Uchendu's acclaimed debut at FESTAC '77 in Lagos, the album was reissued with a new cover credited to "Nelly Uchendu and Mike Obianwu." Anthony tells me that his father released one other album in his own name, Crashes in Love, and I suspect he was present on other recordings as well. The other members of his band were Bassey Edim on bass and Willie Udor on drums, with Nelly Uchendu supplying vocals until her death in 2005.

Let's take a moment to remember Uncle Mike and the many other unsung heroes of African music. Here is a touching tribute in his honor by his family:

Ezennia Michael Davidson Obianwu, God saw you getting tired as your youthfulness turned gray. The days flew by as you celebrated your well lived 93years of aging memories. You were our ROCK and you will forever live in us, a befitting metaphor is your name OBIANWU. Your name will never die for we your children will carry on your legacy with every breath we draw. Your heart was so beautiful and pure, so meek and gentle, so loving and very forgiving. We became greedy, wishing you could hang around for another 93. We can now see that your every awakening and perseverance, is your way of hanging around to protect your loving family. The Almighty God knew this too, so HE wrapped his arms around you, and whispered, "COME TO ME."

You went through a journey very few can only dream about, you married your beloved wife and our mother Victoria Obianwu on December 26, 1949, and you were both rewarded with beautiful children: Chinwe, (ADA) Obianwu, Okechukwu (Diokpa) Obianwu, Ebelechukwu Obianwu, Nnamdi Obianwu, Anthony Obianwu and the most supporting group of in-laws: Amaechi Mbanefo, Cecilia Obianwu and Chilo Obianwu. Our Daddy Ezennia was also blessed with many grand children: Uchenna Obianwu, Jane Mbanefo, Patrick Mbanefo, George Mbanefo, Ifeoma Mbanefo, Adaobi Obianwu, Osita Obianwu, Nnenna Obianwu, Ebelechukwu Obianwu Jr., Odiakosa Obianwu, and Adaeze Obianwu. Ezennia is also survived by a long chain of brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins and a sea of friends and well wishers. It goes without saying that you have led a fulfilled life.

After serving proudly, fighting as a soldier in Burma during the 2nd World War with sustained injuries to show for it, you worked at the Federal Ministry of Information in Lagos and retired proudly as a senior civil service worker. Despite all this, your love for music kept shinning through. You played music at famous hotels in Lagos like Gondola and the Federal Palace, including the Presidential and Hotel Metropole in Enugu, Nigeria. You became very famous in music and touched many hearts. Your genius earned you the name "Uncle Mike Obianwu" and you recorded two albums including the award winning folk song "Love Nwantinti". You became one of the respected Agbalanze of Onitsha and was crowned with the title; EZENNIA and for this we salute you.

Daddy, you were truly an accomplished man of God. He only takes the best. This is why He has called you home to give you rest. God's garden must be beautiful, and there must be a beautiful white Grand Piano, waiting for you in heaven, to strike beautiful melodies for God's listening pleasure and for the Angels to dance to. It was no surprise that on the day of your passing, you were jovial as usual and you told us how much you loved us. You then said "Tell 'V' I love her" (meaning Mom) and asked to let you rest. Your Doctor asked if you were ready to be discharged, your answer was "YES, I AM READY TO GO HOME" and home you went, drifting gently like the wind. When we saw you sleeping so peaceful and free from pain, we could not wish you back because the Lord needs you more now than we do.

"For YOUR gift O'LORD, we will rejoice and be glad."

Rest in perfect peace, Good Bye, All Our Love is with you.

On Behalf of All of Your Children,
Chinwe, (ADA) Obianwu, Okechukwu (Diokpa) Obianwu, Ebelechukwu Mbanefo, Nnamdi Obianwu & Anthony Obianwu
Wake will be kept for Mike Obianwu August 15th at 18351 Queen Anne Road, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, 20774, and his final resting place will be Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria on August 29. In Uncle Mike's memory let's listen to "Love Nwantinti":

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

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.

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