Showing posts with label U.T. Isenem and the Black Mirrors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label U.T. Isenem and the Black Mirrors. Show all posts

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cross River-Akwa Ibom Sounds




People seemed to enjoy the Ibibio tunes I put up in a previous post, so I thought it would be fruitful to return to the area, namely the states of Cross River and Akwa Ibom in the
southeastern corner of Nigeria.

Up until 1987, when Akwa Ibom was carved out of Cross River, these two entities were one, and ethnically they share some afinities: The southern part of Cross River is majority Efik and the Ibibios predominate in Akwa Ibom. I get the impression that Efik and Ibibio are mutually intelligible, basically dialects of the same language.

As I wrote earlier, I'm not very familiar with the music of this area. Cross River did produce one native son who achieved fame across Nigeria, Inyang Henshaw, who contributed two songs to the CD Rusted Highlife Vol. 1, which I posted here. Parenthetically, the state can be said to have produced one "native daughter" who is even more famous: Welsh singer Shirley Bassey, whose father was from Calabar. He, however, abandoned her when she was two, and she has had no contact with his land of birth.

Anyway, I have gone through my slim collection of Efik and Ibibio recordings, and have come up with some pretty enjoyable tunes for your listening pleasure, the most surprising of which are two tracks from the album Idim Mmoŋ Uwem (God's Will Records GWR 002, 1985), which you can see at the top of this post. I say surprising because the recording, by the St. John's African Church Choir in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, has sat neglected and unlistened to for at least twelve years in my collection. Some pretty big warps and scratches render most of it unplayable, but there were a couple of songs I was able to salvage.

Idim Mmoŋ Uwem is within the tradition of African Christian devotional music. There is quite a bit of this material available in the Western market, and much of it, Missa Luba and the like, has always struck me as a bit "twee." However, there is a huge market in Nigeria for Christian music made by Africans, for Africans. The production values are often poor and the lyrics treacly, but it's heartfelt. I don't doubt that it's the biggest-selling genre of music in southeastern Nigeria:

St. John's African Church Choir, Uyo, Akwa Ibom - Utibe Enying Jesus

St. John's African Church Choir, Uyo, Akwa Ibom - Usen Oboŋ

Cross River Nationale's LP Enim Ini (Supertone TON E001, 1976), as well as being a fine collection of great dance-band highlife, features a nice map of old Cross River State. The southwestern corner, centered on Uyo, was to become Akwa Ibom:



I asked Uchenna of With Comb and Razor if he knew anything about Cross River Nationale, and he wrote:

". . . Don't know too much about them as a band, though. . . I believe the lead singer was Darlington Duke, whose name I used to hear a lot, and I've seen him either listed as a vocalist or thanked in the credits of a few other Cross River-originating records, so I guess he was something of a big man on the scene.

"[Enim Ini] was produced by Tony Essien, who went on to be a house producer at Haruna Ishola's Phonodisk Records, producing a good deal of their pop and highlife output. he was also associated, i believe, with the band Rocktown Express (though I don't know if he was actually a member)... I'm trying to figure out if he might have been associated with Wrinkars Experience too (that's just a hunch. . .)"
Cross River Nationale - Enim Ini

Cross River Nationale - Da Abasi Dian Idem

By popular demand, here are two more songs from Sunny Risky's Eti Uwem (Itiabasco ITRLP 019, 1988), and U.T. Isenem & The Black Mirrors' Obio Cross River (Anodisc ALPS 1007, 1976):

Sunny Risky - Okuk Special


U.T. Isenem & The Black Mirrors - Nkuku Mpko Yoriyo
Finally, you just can't do justice to a post on Efik-Ibibio music without including a couple of tunes by the late great Inyang Henshaw, the king of Efik music. He held sway throughout the Seventies with a series of great highlife melodies in the classic dance-band mode. These songs are taken from a 1996 compilation, Top Ten Tunes (Mossiac MMCD0921):

Chief Inyang Henshaw - Sunsuly

Chief Inyang Henshaw - Ma Ekanem

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Something to Listen to While Eating a Puu-Puu Platter




Uchenna over at With Comb and Razor posts a song by Uyo-based band Sunny Risky and the Vitamin Explosions, which he says is the "Best. Band Name. Ever."

I agree, that's a pretty awesome appellation. In fact, the only band name that I can think of that comes close is Brother Charlly Computer and The Gloria Kings.

Which got me to thinking about peculiar and/or unintentionally humorous band names and album titles, including the one at the top of this post, Pee Pee Special, by P.T. Foo and His Jolly Band of Nigeria (Sir Dolu Records SDR 002, 1986). Mr. Foo (Peanock Timibi) is an Ijaw musician from Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta, which has been the scene of much unrest in recent years.

Ijaw highlife music, called Awigiri, is almost completely unknown outside of Nigeria, but shares the sweet-and-sour vocal quality of its Ghanaian counterpart. I plan to devote a future post to a number of musicians from this area of Nigeria. Here's a tune from the album:

P.T. Foo & his Jolly Band of Nigeria - Tunisa Ebi Na Meiye

I will confess that I have listened to the records featured in this post maybe once in the ten or twelve years since Priscilla and I feretted them out of a used-records store in Ajegunle, the "Eastern" ghetto of Lagos. The musicians here are not well-known, even in Nigeria, nor even the most professional. What they lack in polish, though, they more than make up for in sheer, sloppy exuberance. They may be "no-hit wonders" but they're going to make the most of it!

When Uchenna mentioned Sunny Risky in the aforementioned post, I thought the name sounded familiar, so I dug through my collection and came up with another album by him, although the Vitamin Explosions aren't mentioned on the sleeve. It's 1988's Eti Uwem (Itiabasco ITRLP 019). The title track is a lively number in the Osadebe vein with some inspired saxophone work:

Sunny Risky - Eti Uwem



The Efik, Ibibio and Annang ethnic groups, who speak closely related languages, comprise about 3½ million people in the southeastern corner of Nigeria. No doubt there is a lively music scene in this area, but I'm not very familiar with it outside of the 4-5 LPs in my collection. Like Sunny Risky & the Vitamin Explosions, U.T. Isenem & his Black Mirrors are an Ibibio group. Their name qualifies them for attention in this post - what good would a "Black Mirror" do you?

The off-key bass line that opens "Konga," from 1976's Obio Cross River (Anodisc ALPS 1007) leads into some inspired dance-band highlife in the Inyang Henshaw/Rex Lawson vein. I don't know if the Black Mirrors made any other records, but this one is a real gem:

U.T. Isenem & his Black Mirrors - Konga



We close out this post with some Igbo highlife by Federal Emmison Papa & his Stich [sic] in Time Band of Nigeria. I don't know who Federal Emmison Papa is but the group itself is led by Chuwuemeka Okonkwo. "Onye ka Madu" from 1986's 'Anyi N'ele Uwa (Fepson FLPS 001) showcases some enthusiastic guitar and nice horn work:

Federal Emmison Papa & his Stich in Time Band of Nigeria - Onye Ka Madu