Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Purloined Master Tape



Back in the early days of online file-sharing, the 1973 album Destruction (Orbitone OT 005) by the Nigerian group the Nkengas acheived legendary status, traded far and wide and included on numerous funky mixes. When an official reissue came out in 2013 (Secret Stash Records SSR-CD-293), fans could satisfy their cravings legally.

The Nkengas released one other LP, Nkengas in London (Orbitone OT 006, 1973), which I feature here. It's apparent even from a casual listening that this is a radically different recording than Destruction. Every song save one ("Asa Mpete Special") features the vocals of the great highlife superstar Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe.

What's going on here? The story, as best I can piece it together, involves a number of sessions in London in the early '70s, which produced some of Osadebe's most beloved recordings. At some point in the process members of Osadebe's backup band, the Nigeria Sound Makers, led by Victor Okoroego, defected, taking a master tape with them and marketing it as Nkengas in London. Destruction, on the other hand, is pretty much pure Okoroego save for one track, "London Special," with Osadebe on lead vocals.

After Nkengas in London the group changed its name to the Ikenga Super Stars of Africa, who were to achieve fame and fortune with a number of chart-topping hits. "Asa Mpete Special" on Nkengas in London features Pele Asampete on vocals. This is a slightly reworked version of  the Osadebe hit "Ezi Ogelidi" from the album Egbunam (Philips 6361024, 1972). Asampete later left the Ikengas and did another version of this tune, "Ezi O Goli," on his solo LP (Rogers All Stars RASLPS 043). Pop/highlife star Chris Mba did still another remake in the early 1990s.






Download Nkengas in London as a zipped file here.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Ebenezer Obey Sings For The People



Singing For The People (Obey WAPS 578, 1980) continues the explorations in jùjú-funk that Ebenezer Obey started with Eyi Yato (Decca WAPS 508, 1980), posted a few days ago in this space. There's nothing much more I can say except if you liked that one, you'll like this one. Enjoy!

Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey & his Inter-Reformers Band - Singing For the People / Je K'Ajo Mi Jashi Rere

Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey & his Inter-Reformers Band - Alfa Omega / O Se Baba

Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey & his Inter-Reformers Band - Eiye To Ma Ba Kowe Ke / Mori Sisi Kan / Eje A Mo / Nike Oluwole

Download Singing For The People as a zipped file here.


Sunday, March 10, 2019

"This is Something Different"



I was under the impression that Nigeria's jùjú legend Ebenezer Obey had retired from the music scene some years ago, but it turns out I was wrong! Benson Idonije in The Guardian of Lagos reports:

...Only recently on September 15, 2018, he almost pulled down the roof of the now popular 10 Degrees Events Center in Ikeja, Lagos. What with excitement almost reaching bursting point and applause rising to a deafening crescendo? He was performing at a high society wedding with the Executive Governor of Ogun state, His Excellency, Ibikunle Amosun as chair person. Obey went down memory lane to remind the audience about the past. He also came up with new songs most of which he created on the spur of the moment with the spontaneity of a prolific composer. At 76, his voice is still as strong as ever, moving with considerable ease in all the vocal registers –high, middle and low. 
Not many musicians are capable of playing music that has the enduring allure of Obey’s juju music: full of melodic inventiveness and driven by messages of peace, hope and goodwill, this trait has characterized Obey’s music from the very beginning of his career. I remember the impact he made in the 80s while I was still in broadcasting and was organizing a scientifically credible hit parade that had Popular Music and Nigerian Social Music as its extent of enquiry. Most of his releases topped the charts and remained there almost forever where some others hit the number one slot and crashed out in no time – an indication that these were just instant hits and disposable flukes that could not stand the test of time. Ebenezer Obey is the pioneer of modern juju music. His melodies and messages have a way of naturally growing on the people....
Speaking of Memory Lane, I think it's an auspicious time to post here one of the Chief Commander's recordings from the '80s, one that truly stands out for its wild inventiveness and funky chops. Which is saying something, the '80s jùjú scene being at the pinnacle of creativity and influence. The liner notes of Eyi Yato (Oti Brothers OTI 508, released in Nigeria as Decca WAPS 508, 1980) say it well:

...The tracks on this album are a complete departure from the mainstream of juju format, although Obey's style and grace of delivery is very distinct. Obey has attempted and achieved in this album a very high level of sophistication through his powerful guitar fireworks, beautiful lyrics and masterly instrumentation. As Obey himself said on one of the tracks on the album, "THIS IS SOMETHING DIFFERENT" or to put it properly in Yoruba language "EYI YATO." 
Enjoy! And if you like this one, be sure to check out Likembe's Ebenezer Obey archive. Next up I will be posting another classic Obey LP from the '80s, Singing for the People (Obey WAPS 578, 1983)

Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey & his Inter-Reformers Band - Ere Wa Di Oloyin Momo / Kosi Eni Ti O Mo Ojo Ola / Tepa Mose / Chief George Oyedele


Download Eyi Yato as a zipped file here.


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

I Love Bikutsi, but I Love Makossa Too!



The two major musical styles of Cameroun are bikutsi, centered around the capital city Yaoundé, and makossa, from the coastal metropolis Douala. I've really been getting into bikutsi lately, and posting some of it here, but I love me some makossa also!

Makossa arose in the early 20th century with the intersection of the rhythms of the local Douala people and foreign sounds brought in by merchant marines, and mutated into a modern dance style by the '60s. Notable for its distinctive beat, the sound got a big boost with the success of Camerounian musician Manu Dibango and his 1972 international hit, "Soul Makossa," which ironically, wasn't makossa at all! Jean-Victor Nkolo writes in the 1994 book World Music: The Rough Guide:

...the fact remains that, with the exception of his bold venture (this is not his territory, say purists) into bikutsi with ' 'Mouvement Ewondo" on his Seventies album, and maybe another exception, "Idiba" (composed by Francis Bebey), Dibango, who is primarily a jazz musician, has never been the cup of tea of Cameroon's DJs, nor popular in the drinking parlours, nor has he cut any kind of figure in the  clubs or on the dance floors.  
Cameroonians generally consider "Soul Makossa" to be a hybrid - funky music with lashings of brass and a relatively strange rhythm that's good for signature tunes and other uses abroad, but is rarely played at home - and certainly not makossa. Anyone who listens will have difficulty finding any makossa in Cameroon that has a beat even close to that of "Soul Makossa"- or vice versa! The only "makossa" thing about the hugely successful track is the name, and Cameroonians are always lost when they have to dance to it. But while not a single Dibango track has been a dance success in Cameroon, his career has followed a very different path abroad, where he has been a figure of real importance...
The '80s were the high tide of makossa, with a torrent of dance hits that swept Africa. Moni Bilé, Guy Lobé and Toto Guillaume are standouts of the period, but many more musicians made their mark. These slick, if somewhat formulaic productions, many from the stable of producer Alhaji Touré, were distinctive, often utilizing string sections to good effect, a rarity in African music. The good times couldn't last, though, and the '90s saw makossa somewhat eclipsed by the more rough-hewn bikutsi style.

Today's musical selection, the 1987 compilation LP Africa Oumba No. 1 (Blue Silver 8260), highlights music from an earlier makossa era - 1977 to be precise. The sound here is a little more relaxed but no less creative, and is downright addictive. All of the tunes here were originally released on 45s and LPs on the BBZ Productions label out of Paris.

Contributing the most to this compilation is bassist Jean-Karl Dikoto Mandengue, who cut a wide swath in the music scene of Cameroun and has been renowned internationally. He was born in Douala in 1948 and was a session musician in France by the '60s, joining the legendary London Afro-rock band Osibisa in 1973. His solo makossa recordings were mainly made in the '70s and early '80s, but lately he's made a comeback, and has long served as a mentor and inspiration to a younger generation of Camerounian musicians:

Jean Mandengue - Muna Munengue

A different version of "Muna Munengue" can be heard on this earlier Likembe post.

Ekambi Brillant was also born in 1948 near Douala, and in 1971 joined a local band called Les Cracks. Taking first place in a musical contest opened the way for his first single, "Djongele La N'Dolo." His first LP, Africa Oumba, was released in 1975, and he continued to record through the '80s.

Ekambi Brillant - Ngal'a Tanda

Abêti Masikini, who was not from Cameroun but from the Congo, was the subject of an earlier Likembe post.

Abêti - Bi Suivra Suivra

Jean Mandengue - Na Bolane Oa Nje

Ekambi Brillant - Ashiko Edingue

Jean Mandengue - O Danga Londo O Bia

Ekambi Brillant - Awolo

Abêti - Ngblimbo

Pierre "Didy" Tchakounté was born in 1950 in Douala, although his roots are farther north in the Bamileke country of Cameroun. Drawing on those influences he made a series of funky 45s in the '70s that were not really makossa per se but definitely established him as a force in the Camerounian music scene. In the '90s he became an officer in the French professional music associations SACEM and ADAMI. He continues to record and perform.

Pierre "Didy" Tchakounté - Meguela

Jean Mandengue - Mathilde

Ekambi Brillant - Nyambe

Jean Mandengue - Saturday Afternoon

Download Africa Oumba No. 1 as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

King Sunny Adé: The Message



King Sunny Adé's 1981 LP Juju Music (Island ILPS 9712) was a revelation for many outside of Nigeria, making him a global superstar, making way for other African musicians and opening the floodgates for the World Music™ craze (or hype, or gimmick) to come.

By the time Juju Music was released, Adé had been recording for fifteen years. His early outings, with the Green Spots Band, were short, punchy compositions meant for the 7" 45 format. As LP records became the medium of choice in Nigeria, and the Green Spots mutated into the African Beats, the music stretched out, becoming languid medleys taking up whole sides of albums.

French producer Martin Meissonnier, in packaging Juju Music for the world market, made the shrewd move of chopping the medleys into individual compositions and adding a few subtle production tricks, but avoiding the "crossover" trap and leaving the sound basically as it had been heard in Nigeria. It's an excellent introduction to King Sunny Adé's sound, and jùjú music in general, and is considered a classic.

Those who have heard Juju Music will find much of The Message (Sunny Alade Records SALPS 25) familiar. Parts of it were the basis for two songs on the former album, "Ma Jaiye Oni" and "365 Is My Number/The Message." It's one of my favorite Sunny Adé records. Enjoy!





Download The Message as a zipped file here.


Friday, February 22, 2019

King Sunny Adé: Juju Music of the '80s



Kudos to the blog Music Republic for posting the great 1981 King Sunny Adé LP Check "E" (Sunny Alade Records SALPS 26). I've been inspired in turn, and  I will be posting two more 1981 offerings from Sunny (he was very prolific - he released five albums in 1981 alone!)

Today's offering is Juju Music in the '80s (Sunny Alade SALPS 24), and in a few days I will post The Message (Sunny Alade SALPS 25).

These albums were released only in Nigeria, right before the monumental Juju Music (Island ILPS 9712). That was Sunny's first international release, which put jùjú music on the map and launched his career as a world superstar. Unlike that album, which was tailored somewhat for global tastes (but still great), this one sticks to the Nigerian convention of long jams that fill each side of an LP record. Enjoy!



Download Juju Music in the '80s as a zipped file here.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Etoundi Aloa's Bikutsi



The "Patriarch of Bikutsi," Etoundi Aloa Javis, joined his ancestors on November 6, 2017. Shortly before his death he was honored at the annual "Festi-Bikutsi" celebration in Yaoundé, Cameroun.

I've been unable to find out much about Mr. Aloa, who recorded a number of albums and singles in the '70s and '80s, under his own name and as Javis & les Idoles. His early-'80s LP, Ma Yem Ya? (Africa Oumba AOLP 015), is an example of bikutsi at its best. Enjoy!

Aloa Javis - Ma Yem Ya?

Aloa Javis - Mengabo Wo Dze

Aloa Javis - Dze Ene Nkenga



Download Ma Yem Ya? as a zipped file here. Note: The cover misspells Mr. Aloa's surname as "Alao," but it is spelled correctly on the record label. Likewise, sides A and B are reversed on the sleeve.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Scandalous "K-Tino"




Before last week I'd heard of Camerounian chanteuse Catherine Edoa Ngoa, aka Kotino Ateba, aka "K-Tino," and her notorious sexually-charged hits. I never actually listened to her music, though, until I did research into my previous post, "Bikutsi Traditions."

A profile on the internet describes K-Tino's career arc this way:

...In the early 90s a woman named Katino Ateba emerged into the bikutsi scene with hits that took bikutsi fans by surprise. The orchestration was so good while the erotic lyrics expressed women’s fantasies. She broke all taboos and immediately knew success on the dancefloors around the country. By the number and regularity of her productions K-Tino is no doubt the Queen of bikutsi. She came into music with a powerful message that bikutsi is first of all the woman’s music. Her lyrics have sometimes been so intimidating to the sexual prowess of men that her fans have grown by millions among the women who see her as a symbol of their emancipation and empowerment. Totally fearless, K-Tino has become a myth, with her daughter K-Wash following her path to success.

K-Tino started singing in Chacal and Escalier Bar under the wings of the famous Epeme Theodore aka Zanzibar. She later joined the Band “Les Zombies de la Capitale” and set out for a solo career with the encouragements of the bikutsi patriarch Ange Ebogo Emerent. She performed so well that she became a crowd puller at Chalet situated in Mvan Yaounde. K-Tino has released several albums and her bikutsi is just irresistible, her performances are memorable. Her success has inspired so many young female bikutsi artists....
The event that really put K-Tino on the map, though, was her early-'90s smash "Ascenseur" ("The Lift"), a celebration of female sexuality that scandalized proper Camerounian society. Jean Victor Nkolo describes its impact in a chapter of the 1994 book World Music: The Rough Guide:

...Thanks to the rule of President Paul Biya - himself a Bulu Beti and a great bikutsi aficionado and dancer - the style has flourished on the otherwise heavily censored state-run radio and TV. A story that hit the drinking parlours of Yaoundé a couple of years back - part-joke, part-rumour - went like this: the archbishop of Douala, Monseigneur Jean Zoa, goes to the president's palace, hoping to get the latest bikutsi song banned. The piece in question was 'The Lift," in the Ewondo language. It comes from the raunchy Catherine Ateba, known as Katino Ateba, a young woman who fears no man, not even an archbishop.

According to the story, as the archbishop entered the president's living room to ask for the banning of "The Lift", he heard Biya himself asking his wife to "play that song again". The Monseigneur had to change his tune and his subject, throwing in the towel before uttering a word. Katino Ateba's songs are indeed crude, pornographic and anticlerical. But such themes are the essential thrust of bikutsi, a style whose origins go far back...
The lyrics themselves, barely disguised by euphemism, leave little to the imagination:

Action 69!
The lift, every male's secret
I like men who are not fools
Those who know how to press my sensitive button
The lift, that's every male's secret
I like a man who is no fool
I like a man who will suck me downstairs
I like a man who will suck me upsairs too
I like men who sin on earth
I like men who sin in heaven too
Even the parish priest loves that
Instead of giving me a private service
He comes home to sin downstairs
And I like the priest who sins upsairs too
And his mass will not be sad as a funeral ceremony
Because every male is a boss
Even in his pyjamas
But only when he's strong and big
With his prick as solid as a man's gun
Solid as a church's big candle
And I'll lick him up and down
And then, and only then, I'll ask him
To press the button in my lift
Every male's secret..
You can understand why the audience in the video above is going wild! (Translation courtesy of Jean Victor Nkolo).

Several years ago K-Tino renounced her salacious subject matter and founded a church in Libreville, Gabon, where she has a residence. Recently, though, she's made a return to form with a new naughty song, "Watafufu." As a report put it, "Yes, pastor K-Tino is singing again using dirty words!"

Enjoy more music by this brave, talented and charismatic lady!


Friday, February 1, 2019

Bikutsi Traditions



Making their first appearance here at Likembe are Les Veterans out of Cameroun, leading practitioners in the '80s of the rootsy, gritty bikutsi style.

The style of music most associated with Cameroun is the cosmpolitan makossa sound of the port city of Douala. But the country has a multiplicity of languages, cultures and religious traditions, so much so that it is often called "Africa in miniature." Bikutsi is the style most associated with the Béti peoples around the capital city of Yaoundé. Jean-Victor Nkolo discsusses the origins and history of bikutsi at some length in a chapter of the 1994 book World Music: The Rough Guide, to which I would refer you. Here's a representative passage, though:

...Originally, bikutsi was a blood-stirring war rhythm - the music of vengeance and summoning to arms, sounding through the forest. It used rattles and drum and the njang xylophone or balafon. Then, for decades, if not centuries, Beti women tricked the Christian church, as well as their own men, by singing in the Beti tongue and by using complex slang phrases reserved for women. While clapping out the same rapid-fire rhythm, they sang about the trials and tribulations of everyday life; they discussed sexuality, both theirs and their men's; and they talked about sexual fantasies and taboos. In the middle of the song, a woman would start a chorus leading to a frenzied dance of rhythmic foot-stamping and harmonious shaking of the shoulders, the back and the bottorn in that order: shoulders-back-bottom-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap. The whole thing was accompanied by strident screams and
whistles. These, in short, are the origins of bikutsi. The bellicose themes are no longer significant, but many women still perform the old folk dances, across the sprawling hills of Yaoundé city and beyond to the south....
When bikutsi was modernized, electric guitars replicated the melodic patterns of the balafons. Nkolo credits the creation of the "modern" bikutsi style in the '60s and '70s to Messi Me Nkonda Martin of the very influential band Los Camaroes (their 1979 LP Ressurection Los Vol. 1 has recently been reissued and is highly recommended!). The genre has continued to evolve. Briefly making a splash in the late '80s and early '90s were Les Têtes Brulées, who were the beneficiaries of a fair amount of publicity in the "World Music" scene but quickly disappeared. Other practitioners have been Chantal Ayissi, Sala Bekono, Mbarga Soukous and the controversial Katino Ateba. Wherever the music has gone, it's remained true to its gritty, unrestrained roots.

True to their name, I believe Les Veterans were associated with the Camerounian military in some capacity or other. They flourished in the 1980s but I don't know if they're still active. I'm aware of five albums they recorded and several 45s. This recording, 1986's Traditions (Ebobolo-Fia TC 010), has not been made available online before now to my knowledge. Enjoy!



Les Vétérans - Osun



Download Traditions as a zipped file here.


Friday, January 18, 2019

Sparkling Soukous



I love this album cover! I love the music on the album!

The group "Le Peuple" had its origins in a split from the legendary Bantous de la Capitale, the foremost musical congregation on the Brazzaville side of the Congo River. Fronted at first by the vocalists Célestin Kouka, Pamelo Mounk'a, and Kosmos Moutouari (or "Trio Ce.Pa.Kos."), the group, led by Célestin Kouka, soldiered on after Pamelo and Kosmos departed for solo careers. Le Peuple disbanded in 1985. This album, Bimbeni (Production Le Vaudou VAU 008), is from the post-Ce.Pa.Kos. period, sometime in the early '80s. Enjoy!





Download Bimbeni as a zipped file here.