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).
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Sunday, November 18, 2007
When Nigerian highlife king Stephen Osita Osadebe passed on May 11 of this year, it could reasonably be said that an era died with him. Apart from Victor Olaiya, Osadebe was the last important exponent of "dance band" highlife in Nigeria, and the only significant Igbo artist working in that genre. His contributions to Nigerian music were incalculable; not only did he carry the torch of classic highlife to the very end, his compositions became evergreen classics beloved by millions: "Sisi Kwanangida," "One Pound No Balance," "Nri Sports di Uso," "Osondi Owendi," "People's Club Special" and many, many more.
Over the course of his fifty years in music, "The Doctor of Hypertension," or Osili, as he was fondly known, put out at least sixty LPs and numerous 45s. Some of the best of these recordings were included in 2001's compilation disc, Sound Time (IndigeDisc 495 001), and many others have been reissued on CD in Nigeria, although these are very difficult to obtain (try Sterns). Some years ago I compiled a discography of Osadebe, which you can find here.
One of my chief aims in establishing Likembe was to promote and explain the Igbo music that I love so much, and toward this end I hope to post as many recordings by the great Doctor as I possibly can. We're kicking things off with selections from four LPs issued in the early 1970s: Uju Special (Philips 6361 015, 1972), Egbunam (Philips 6361 024, 1972), Osadebe '75 (Polydor POLP 001, 1974) and Osadebe '76 (Polydor POLP 004, 1975).
Of course, Osadebe had been making great music since the 1950s, when he got his start with Zeal Onyia's band, and released his first single, "Adamma," in 1958. It was following the defeat of the Biafran war of independence (1967-1970), though, that he really began to make his mark on the national and international scene. These four albums, massive hits all, played a major part in cementing his reputation.
"Uju Special," the opening track from Osadebe's LP of the same name (left), concerns Osadebe's sister Ononuju. Uju's husband and in-laws treated her poorly because she couldn't conceive. Osadebe and his family begged her to return home - "Ononuju nwannem ngi kam na kpo," which she did. She remarried, and gave birth to many children.
The closing, "Okwu fa kwulu ya dili fa na Uju difu o," proclaims "in spite of everything they said Uju is still here!"
Commander in Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Uju Special
The derisive song "Sisi Kwanangida," also from Uju Special, concerns young Igbo women who sought the company of the Federal troops who occupied Eastern Nigeria following the end of the Biafra war. "Kwanangida" is actually a Hausa term and was applied generally to these soldiers whatever their ethnicity. Osadebe remonstrates with such women for pursuing these men and their money, and predicts that they will be disappointed in the end: "Sorry-O. Kwanangida no go marry you! Baby Kwanangida now you go tire!"
Commander in Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Sisi Kwanangida
"Baby One Pound No Balance," also from Uju Special, similarly addresses the subject of what might be called "wayward women," in this case a prostitute who states her non-negotiable price: "One Pound, no balance!"
Commander in Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Baby One Pound No Balance
In the early '70s the Matador Hotel in Onitsha was the destination for nouveau riche gentlemen to eat, drink and show off their girlfriends. I presume Osili was given a bundle of cash by the owners to record "Matador Special," from Egbunam (right), and it was a big hit for him. He asks, "Onye ma mbosi anwu?" "who knows the day they will die?" In other words, have fun while you can!
He further asks, "What does Osili want? Number one, that he will eat well. Number two, that he will have the most enjoyment. Number three, that he will wear the most beautiful attire. Number four, that he will have a beautiful lady by his side while he enjoys himself!" Of course, all of these things may be found at the Matador!
Commander in Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Matador Special
"Ezi Ogolidi" ("Husband's Sweetheart"), also from Egbunam, is a love song. Osadebe pleads, "Onyeoma (beautiful one), you've done it to me again, but you've also done it to yourself ('aye aye ni ime onweyi'). Who is Osili going to go to now? Osili loves you. Must I kill myself for you to know? A woman can be beautiful on the outside but have a heart like a stone. A woman can be ugly but have a heart like a mirror. It is best to have the one with the beautiful heart."
(I apologize for the poor quality of this recording. If I can find a better copy, I will post it.)
Commander in Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Ezi Ogelidi
Side 1 of Osadebe '75 (left) is a three-part medley that showcases the virtuosity of Osadebe's backup group, the Nigeria Sound Makers (unfortunately, as on all of Osadebe's albums, these musicians are uncredited.) "Onu Kwube" basically means "let people talk" and is more or less a collection of proverbs: "A child cannot go before his father. After a race, you will see who ran faster. Let no one wish each other death. Let mine be mine ('Nkemdilim')."
The title of part two of this sequence, "Ejim Ofor Aga," means "I keep my hand straight in everything I do." "What does the eye see that it cries blood? Let nobody kill each other."
Commander in Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Onu Kwube / Ejim Ofor Aga / Instrumental 1
Another killer double-header, from Osadebe '76 (right), closes out our survey of Osita Osadebe's early Seventies recordings. "Ome Ife Jide Ofo," a common Igbo proverb, means "whatever you are doing, make sure you are doing right." In this song Osadebe addresses intra-family disputes: "Anger between brothers and sisters doesn't go to the bone. A sister and brother will not eat together and not trust each other." The title of part two, "Anya Ukwu Dinjo," literally means "big eyes are bad," or in other words, "greediness is bad." The song states that anyone who is used to greediness is in big trouble, that greediness is unholy, an abomination, etc. etc.
Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Ome Ife Jide Ofo / Anya Ukwu Dinjo
Once again, many thanks to my wife Priscilla for patiently translating these lyrics for me. We tried to render them in vernacular English as much as we could, but because of differences in dialect, etc. there may be some discrepancies in interpretation. Feedback, as ever, is appreciated.