Showing posts with label St. Augustine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label St. Augustine. Show all posts

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, 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).