As you may have noticed, I've been writing quite a bit lately about the music of Nigeria's "Eastern Minorities." By this I mean the non-Igbo ethnic groups that comprised about 40% of the population of the old Eastern Region of Nigeria that existed from 1954 until 1967. In 1967 the East attempted to separate and form the independent Republic of Biafra. For the most part the minorities - the Ijaws, Ogonis, Efiks, Ibibios and so forth - supported the Federal Government in that conflict, and since they occupied the coastal areas this was a decisive factor in the defeat of the Biafran cause in 1970.
One of the biggest names of classic Nigerian highlife, Erekosima Rex Lawson, was the son of an Igbo mother and an Ijaw father from Buguma, in the "New Calabar" region of present-day Rivers State, and thus is claimed as a native son by both groups. New Calabar is said to have been settled by Efiks from Calabar in present-day Cross River State, but its language, Kalabari, is in fact a dialect of Ijaw. Lawson sang in this language and Igbo, as well as other tongues of Nigeria, making him beloved across the country.
Buguma produced another highlife musician, Emperor Erasmus Jenewari. A retiring and urbane man, Jenewari's career was somewhat overshadowed by that of the great Lawson. In the years before the Biafra war he was based in Onitsha, where he recorded numerous hits like "Abari Nyanawa," "Oteke," "Opa Iweriso," and the evergreen "Odenigbo."
Following the war Jenewari seems to have forsaken secular music altogether, and devoted himself strictly to Christian devotional music with his group the Gospel Bells (shown at the top of this post; Jenewari is in the middle of the bottom row). Here are tunes from two of his gospel albums, Tamuno Belema (Philips 6361 168, 1976) and Joy Hallelujah (Polydor POLP 081, 1982). Listening to these lovely songs takes me back to eastern Nigeria, where the sound of gospel music is omnipresent.
"Tamuno Ne-Giye Ofori" and "Ichoro Onu" from Tamuno Belema are reminiscent in so many ways of Celestine Ukwu's brilliant album Ejim Nk'onye (Philips 6361 111, 1975). It's hard to say for sure, as there are no credits on either LP, but I suspect they share a set of backup musicians. The lyrics of the first song are simplicity itself: "There's nothing greater than God," repeated in the major languages of Nigeria. I detect Ijaw, Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa in the mix and there are probably several others as well:
Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - Tamuno Ne-Giye Ofori
Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - Ichoro Onu
"O Tamuno Boma/Ona Som" and "Joy Hallelujah" are from Joy Hallelujah. "Joy Hallelujah" was the most important hit of the gospel phase of Jenewari's career:
Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - O Tamuno Boma/Ona Som
Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - Joy Hallelujah
I understand that Erasmus Jenewari passed on a number of years ago without much fanfare even in Rivers State, a sad commentary.
Many thanks to Eji I. Nwuke, who provided me with much of the information used in this post.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Note: This post was updated on December 30, 2008 and January 19, 2009.
Get ready for another blast of raw, uncompromising Ethiopian funk, courtesy of our friend Tilahun Gessesse. Etu Gela, issued in the early '80s by Ambassel Music Shop, finds the master in great form. The Ethiopian Army's First Division Band accompany him, and they really wail!
Duplicated under the difficult conditions of Derg-era Ethiopia, the sound quality of Etu Gela is not up to contemporary standards. While I was able to remove a considerable amount of audio debris with sound restoration software, I couldn't do anything about a few irritating passages of static during track 5, "Yager Lij Neyilign." Just consider it part of your authentic Ethiopian listening experience!
Many thanks to the anonymous reader/listener who corrected my transliteration of the titles and provided translations and commentary.
"Etu Gela" is an old-fashioned term of endearment for a woman. Hear another version of this song by Alemayehu Eshete here:
Tilahun Gessesse - Etu Gela
"Wejin Ola" is an Oromiffa song. Translation unavailable:
Tilahun Gessesse - Wejin Ola
"Akal Ayenshin" means "My sweet, your eyes":
Tilahun Gessesse - Akal Ayneshin
"Yigermal" means "It's surprising" or "It's astonishing":
Tilahun Gessesse - Yigermal
"Yager Lij Neyelign" translates as "Come to me my countrywoman":
Tilahun Gessesse - Yager Lij Neyelign
"Tirse Beredo Nat" means "What an amazing smile she has," although literally it compliments the whiteness of her teeth. The equivalent in Engilsh would be "The Smile":
Tilahun Gessesse - Tirse Beredo Nat
"Bene Des Yibelish" = "Be happy with me":
Tilahun Gessesse - Bene Des Yibelish
"Siwedish" = "When I love you":
Tilahun Gessesse - Siwedish
"You're always on my mind," although "Astawisishalehu" literally means "I remember you," that's not the sense of the song:
Tilahun Gessesse - Astawisishalehu
"Yachatina" means "There she is." This song is quite memorable because it had one of the very first real Ethiopian music videos. The song is about him looking for a girl he fell in love with in the past, and he is looking for her all over Addis. The video is thus of Tilahun walking and driving across Addis looking for her. . .:
Tilahun Gessesse - Yachatina
Saturday, December 27, 2008
The Ijaw people, who number close to ten million people, are the fourth largest nationality in Nigeria. They are a majority in Bayelsa State and constitute large minorities in Rivers and Delta States.
Ijaws have a long history of resistance against various central governments. Under British colonial rule this took the form of agitation for a separate Ijaw-majority "Rivers State," and this advocacy continued following independence in 196o. In 1966 Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro led an armed rebellion against the governments of Nigeria and the Eastern Region, declaring a Niger Delta Republic on February 23 of that year. When it was suppressed after twelve days, Boro was jailed, only to be pardoned in May 1967 on the outbreak of the Biafran war of independence. Boro fought on the side of the Federal government in that conflict and died a year later in battle near Okrika.
The creation of Rivers State in 1967, separating it from the old Eastern Region, delivered a death-blow to the nascent Biafran Republic, rallying the Ijaws and other nationalities of the Delta to the side of the Federal government. Bayelsa was carved out of Rivers State in 1996. In recent years Ijaw youths have taken up arms against the government to demand a bigger share of the oil revenue which comes from facilities in the Niger Delta.
Looking at the map below, the Ijaw inhabit an area roughly south of a line leading from Warri in Delta State, through Patani and Port Harcourt, ending around Opobo:
Anthony Cockson, from Tarakiri, Bayelsa State, is a popular musician in the Delta, judging by the number of recordings he has released, but I know nothing else about him. Here's a tune from his LP Edogbo Special (Cockson Records CR 01, 1984). "Late Brother Iddo" is compelling not only for the oddly poetic lyrics, the saga of the business tycoon Mr. Iddo, murdered in his sleep, ". . .slaughtered with an axe like a cattle in an abattoir. . . like a tale told by an idiot. . .war war, blood blood, rent the air. . . " but for the hypnotic bassline, which creates an otherworldly atmosphere:
Anthony Cockson & his Oyadonghan Dance Band of Tarakiri - Late Brother Iddo
A.S. Eseduwo, of Angalabri, Bayelsa State, likewise has released a number of records, but is also difficult to find information about. The lovely highlife "Aki-Kiri Mele-Mele," from 1984's Late Ebizimor of Okumbri (Croseide CKLP 001), showcases nimble guitar work and keyboard and the vocal contributions of two young boys, apparently Mr. Eseduwo's younger brothers:
A.S. Eseduwo & his Top Stars Dance Band of Angalabri - Aki-Kiri Mele-Mele
King Robert Ebizimor, from Alabiri in Bayelsa State, is probably the best-known Ijaw musician living today. He started out in 1973 with the Professional Seagulls Dance Band in Port Harcourt, the former backup group of Rex Lawson led by David Bull, and has recorded over 20 albums. "Ebi-Ere Ke Bede Egbe" is taken from his 1990 LP Arekedoumene Ogbo of Endoro (Iwa-Lewa IWA 018):
King Robert Ebizimor - Ebi-Ere Ke Bede Egbe
Barrister S. Smooth of Enekorogha, Delta State has a number of videos on the internet, including this one. "Seikeme Tabbe Bofa Ekpe" is taken from the album Young Choppers Union of Warri (Felix FERLP 030, 1991), apparently a tribute to an all-women's charitable society. Don't you just love that title?
Barrister S. Smooth & his Young Heroes Dance Band of Enekorogha - Seikeme Tagbe Bofa Ekpe
Next up, a couple of extended tracks that are not really awigiri per se, but could be described at "Ijaw Native Blues." First, Birifou & his Ama-Ebimo Group of Gbekebor, Delta State. This is from their LP Mr. Dolokwei R. Kenekodo (Coconut COLP 240, 1979):
Birifou & his Ama-Ebimo Group of Gbekebor - Mr. Dolokowei R. Kenekodo/Alotabobor Oru
Chief Bukka & his Cultural Group of Okrika bring things to a close with this wild set of explosive percussion and haunting vocals. Okrika, in Rivers State, is a historically significant Niger Delta town. In the 17th Century it was the capital of the Kingdom of Okrika and was a center of the slave trade and later of the palm oil trade. Presently it is important in the petroleum industry. This is side 1 of the LP Owolo Wolo (Willisco WMSLP 1024, 1980):
Chief Bukka & his Cultural Group of Okrika - Owolo Wolo/Tubo Pumbo Ba/Akumaya/Owu Ama Pu/Bukka Bo Iwa Owuti/Toku Bie
By the way, the picture at the top of the post is apropos of nothing in particular. I just took it off the back of one of these albums and thought it was cool.
Monday, December 22, 2008
A glorious Christmas to our readers and listeners who follow the Christian faith! To commemorate this joyous occasion I present Oliver de Coque's "Omumu Onye Nzoputa (Jesu Kristi)/Olu Ebube Nke Onye Nweayi," an account of the Christmas story from his 1983 LP of the same name (Ogene OGRLPS 03):
Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 Ogene Sound Super of Africa - Omumu Onye Nzoputa (Jesu Kristi)/Olu Ebube Nke Onye Nweayi
This is one of my favorite de Coque songs, thanks to his eloquent guitar work and the interplay of traditional Igbo percussion. Some listeners may notice something oddly familiar about the melody, however. Take a listen to this song, by Congolese orchestra Minzoto Wella-Wella from their LP Malembé Kidiba Chant (K-Dance/Eddy'son 4219):
Minzoto Wella-Wella - Nanu Lubutu
It's obvious that somebody copied someone else. The Minzoto LP is not dated, but I suspect that it was issued sometime before the de Coque record. Oliver no doubt, then, lifted the melody and distinctive guitar work from the Minzoto record and not the other way around. But who cares? They're both great records!
Speaking of lifting, I purloined the image at the top of this post from the BBC's site. It is from a series of Christmas cards drawn by students at Swanland School in Nairobi. Follow the link and consider buying a set of the cards. Proceeds go toward rebuilding the school.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
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 Mmↄŋ 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 Mmↄŋ 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.Cross River Nationale - Enim Ini
"[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 too (that's just a hunch. . .)"
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
Friday, December 19, 2008
Pour a tall cold one, sit back and relax with this sweet track by Moges Habte, formerly of the Wallias Band in Ethiopia. The tune is "Musicawe Silt" and it was recorded in 1994 with the Ethio-Jazz Group in Washington, DC. Don't know much about the musicians, but I suspect they're the crew that's recorded with so many Ethiopian musicians in the US. For one I recognize Abegasu Kibrework Shiota on keyboards.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
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
Sunday, December 7, 2008
In an earlier post I wrote of the brilliant Ethiopian singer Tilahun Gessesse, posted a couple of songs from a recent CD, and promised I'd make available some of his earlier Ethiopian recordings.
Back in the '80s I was loaned three of Gessesse's cassettes. I dubbed these onto 10" tape reels (that being the best means of preservation in that pre-digital era) and was unable to listen to them for twenty years, when I got hold of a reel-to-reel tape deck and was able to digitize two of them. The third has apparently been misplaced, and when I manage to track it down I will, of course, transfer it as well.
I present one of these recordings, Sebebena, which I believe was produced by Ambassel Music Shop in the early '80s. The original inlay card was missing, but the Ethiopian friend who loaned me the cassette transcribed the song titles for me. I believe the tunes are in Amharic and Oromo (Gessesse's parents were of both nationalities), and they pose quite an interesting contrast to the recordings I made available in my earlier post. Listen to them and understand why Tilahun Gessesse is considered ". . .a living legend, the pride of all Ethiopians, and the King of Ethiopian music":
Tilahun Gessesse - Wube Abeba
Tilahun Gessesse - Sebebena
Tilahun Gessesse - Shemunaye
Tilahun Gessesse - Nedegesh Naw
Tilahun Gessesse - Sherer Bay
Tilahun Gessesse - Mene Taragewalesh
Tilahun Gessesse - Yekerb Eruc Hono
Tilahun Gessesse - Mewdeden Lingeresh
Tilahun Gessesse - Mene Yeshalele
Tilahun Gessesse - Neyeleng
Sunday, November 30, 2008
In the last twenty years or so there has emerged a trend in the African music scene toward "Greatest Hits" compilations rerecorded "Megamix" style in 15-20 minute continuous medleys. This tendency was kick-started around 1990 with the release of the Soukous Stars' smash CD, entitled, appropriately enough, Megamix Vol. 1 (Syllart 38779-2, below left). Not only is the Soukous Stars' success pegged on mixes like this, another group, Soukous Vibration, has arisen that specializes exclusively in this sort of thing, and there have been mix albums released from all over Africa: Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, even Chad.
I'm a bit distressed at this fad (which, truth be told, has already faded considerably). One would like to see African musicians stretching themselves and developing new syntheses, not just rehashing the old glories. Still, in a way it's a good thing, because it brings the classic sounds to new generations.
Before Megamix Vol. 1, there was another great megamix-style album, probably the first of the genre. I'm talking about Syran Mbenza's Africa: The Golden Years (AMG 007), released sometime in the late '80s by the DC-based label African Music Gallery. Although it's arguably the best of all of the megamixes and probably directly inspired the trend, it's faded completely from sight.
Mbenza, a native of the Congo, is well-known to African music fans, having been a stalwart of the Kinshasa-, West African- and Paris-based African music scenes since 1968. He's been involved with numerous groups including Sam Mangwana's African All-Stars, Le Quatre Etoiles and the supergroup Kekele. Africa: The Golden Years is notable for its synthesis of classic Congolese rumba with West African highlife. I'm sure it had been done before, but probably not to such great effect.
Here's the album. For more information on the songs and the musicians, click on the picture at the bottom of this post:
Syran Mbenza - Adjoa-Sawale-Mbanda Kazaka
Syran Mbenza - Mabele Ya Paulo-Bottom Belly-Super Combo
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Some years ago an acquaintance passed on a cassette of a Nigerian musician who was previously unknown to me; the tape was simply labeled "Ali Chuks." "He's an Igbo, and he's a Muslim," my friend explained. Which caught my attention, because if there's one thing that would seem to be hard-wired into the DNA of every Igbo man, woman and child, it is an abiding allegiance to the Christian faith. The reasons for this are rooted in history. Suffice it to say that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Igbo embraced Christianity with a vengeance after stubbornly adhering to their traditional religion from time immemorial, and this identification was only strengthened during the privations of the Biafran war. An Igbo Muslim? Who had heard of such a thing?
As a matter of fact, there are small communities of Igbo Muslims, not only in the Islamic north of Nigeria but in Igboland itself. My friend Maurice O. Ene of Kwenu magazine describes the efforts of one Suleiman Onyeama, scion of a prominent Igbo family, who established an Islamic school in his home town of Eke.
Which is all beside the point, really, because as far as I've been able to find out, Ali Chuks, better known as Ali Chukwuma (his LPs also tag him "Ali Chukumah" and "Ali Chukus"), was a true-blue Igbo Christian and not a Muslim at all. Apparently he took his name from Ali Baba, a famous African wrestler of the sixties and seventies (and if you want to learn about yet another African "Ali Baba," go here.)
I have heard varying accounts of Chukwuma's origins and activities before he became a well-known musician, but he was apparently from Aboh in the "Anioma," or Igbo-speaking area of present-day Delta State. He is said to have moved to Atani near Onitsha following the death of his father and made the acquaintance there of native son Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe. He spent some time in the great master's Nigeria Sound Makers band and later left to form his own Nigeria Peace Makers.
Chukwuma died of liver failure in the mid-'80s, leaving a legacy of much-loved highlife music.
I had wanted to showcase selections here from various points in Chukwuma's career, but listening to the different recordings, one album stands out: Club 25 (Editions Namaco ENLPS 54), recorded sometime in the late 1970s. Therefore, I'm offering it to you in its entirety, and in future posts I'll present other recordings by this master of Igbo roots music.
"Club 25" is another typical praise song about one of the many Igbo social and charitable clubs. Chukwuma recites the names of and praises the various officers and notable of the organization:
Ali Chukwuma & his Peace Makers International - Club 25
"Henrietta" apparently is addressed to a demanding young woman who thinks she can do better than the narrator. "Henrietta, onye d'imma n'azu:" "Who is beautiful behind their back? Who has everything they want or need in this world?"
Ali Chukwuma & his Peace Makers International - Henrietta
"Onye Melu Ogo Amazi" means "The person I did a favor for doesn't realize it." Chukwuma sings, "What you don't know won't kill you. The good that I do for someone will not kill me." He further sings that no one will carry this world on their back when they die. In other words, your wealth won't do you any good in the afterlife:
Ali Chukwuma & his Peace Makers International - Onye Melu Ogo Amazi
"Ezi Okwu Bu Ndu" means "A truthful word is life." Truthfulness leads to a perfect life. Truthfulness is worth more than money. Further, "Nkem fulu n'anya, bu ezi okwu, nkem nulu n'nti bu asi," or "What I saw with my eyes is true, but what I heard with my ears is lies." In other words, don't believe it unless you see it yourself. Chukwuma further sings that a very good friend is better than family. He recounts that when he first started making music everyone said he was a fool, but now that he is famous they all want him to sing their praises. He sings that he went to Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto and Nnewi and mentions various individuals. "Asi na Chinedu nwa ogbenye. Asi na ifeyi nwa": "They say that God guides the poor man's child. They say that a child is priceless":
Ali Chukwuma & his Peace Makers International - Ezi Okwu Bu Ndu
Discography of Ali Chukwuma
Thanks to my wife Priscilla for her help translating these songs. Any errors in transcription are my own.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
We were all saddened to hear of the death yesterday, November 10 of the esteemed South African singer Miriam Makeba. She was 76 and suffered a heart attack during a concert in Italy.
Makeba, known as "Mama Africa," was an artist who suffered greatly for her outspokenness on behalf of the oppressed, but she shouldered that burden gladly. Already a major star in South Africa, she was stripped of her passport in 1960 after speaking out against the apartheid system while on a world tour. In exile, she achieved global fame with her hit song "Pata Pata" in 1967, but her career suffered another setback in 1968 when she married civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael. Without a recording contract and unable to find bookings in the United States, she and her husband took up residence in the republic of Guinea as guests of President Sekou Touré. It was in Guinea that she suffered the tragedy of her daughter Bongi's mental illnesss and subsequent death.
In 1987 her career was reborn in the wake of Paul Simon's album Graceland. She toured the world with Simon and other South African musicians and released Sangoma, an album of the traditional Xhosa songs of her youth.
To promote Sangoma, Warner Brothers Records made available to media outlets Miriam Makeba: The Sangoma Interview (Warner Brothers PRO A-2974, 1988), a recording of a one-hour session with journalist Roger Steffens. In honor of Mama Africa, I'm pleased to present it here:
Miriam Makeba - The Sangoma Interview Pt. 1
Miriam Makeba - The Sangoma Interview Pt. 2
Miriam Makeba - The Sangoma Interview Pt. 3
Miriam Makeba - The Sangoma Interview Pt. 4
Update: As you might expect, the blogs have been all over this story. Matsuli and With Comb and Razor, of course. Also Spinning in Air and Undercover Black Man. World Service offers a rare "pre-mix" version of Sangoma, while Zero G Sound features a download of her 1960 debut US LP. Meanwhile, Global Groove has the 1965 RCA Victor album Makeba Sings! There are many more tributes than I can list here, naturally.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
By way of Comb & Razor I've learned that Orlando Owoh, the Nigerian master of Toye music, passed away Tuesday, November 4 after a long illness following a stroke.
Owoh was 74 when he died. He was born in Owo in Oyo State in the former Western Region of Nigeria and played in the early '60s with Fatai Rolling Dollar, who had earlier employed Ebenezer Obey. While he's long been hugely popular in Nigeria, he came to the notice of most World Music™ fans in the West when the now-defunct label Original Music released Dr. Ganja's Polytonality Blues (Original Music OMCD 035, 1995), a compilation of two of his Nigerian LPs. While his musical style, variously called Toye (which is also Yoruba slang for marijuana) or Kennery, is often classified as "highlife," it is more properly a fusion of that style and jùjú music, with Owoh's own idiosyncratic affectations. As John Storm Roberts puts it in his liner notes to Polytonality Blues:
. . . Like so much downhome African music, Owoh's style can baffle westerners used to the polite worldbeat of bands aiming for international stardom. Not only can some of the more polytonal playing sound as though the toye was stronger than usual, but the band (like many other street-level juju bands) uses tunings different from the standard European tempered scale. Like the sweet-sour offbeat chord in many Tex-Mex polkas, or the acidic pitch of virtuoso klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras, Owoh's band uses dissonance to give its music an extra edge.I present here in its totality Owoh's 1976 LP Ifon Omimah Ni Moti Wa (Afrodisia WAPS 317). My knowledge of Yoruba is less than minimal, so I can't tell you anything about the lyrics, but maybe someone out there can oblige us. This is a great example of "Dr. Ganja's" mature style:
Dr. Orlando Owoh & his Young Kenneries Band - Ifon Omimah Ni Moti Wa / Baba Ma Fi Ku Ma Wi
Dr. Orlando Owoh & his Young Kenneries Band - Late Gabriel Jejeniwa / Olobele Mo Bele / Ajuwa Sawasawa
Saturday, November 1, 2008
As I explained in "Digital Ethiopia Pt. 1," the last decade and a half have seen an explosion of Ethiopian musical releases recorded in the United States. While these productions have the benefit of state-of-the-art recording facilities, they tend to lack the freshness and immediacy of the home-grown recordings of the '70s and '80s. In this post I'll be highlighting some of the great Ethiopian female singers who have made careers in this country but I also want to post a couple of tracks by a musician who doesn't fit into that category.
Tadesse Alemu was from Wollega province in western Ethiopia and seems to have begun his recording career in 1997, when he released Ethiopian Wedding Songs (Ethio Sound Productions). This is the only recording I have by him, but he released several others, all in the same vein: traditional melodies updated for modern times. Here are two tracks from Ethiopian Wedding Songs:
Tadesse Alemu - Shinet
Tadesse Alemu - Hedach Allu
Alemu is said to have passed away in 2007, but he has a number of videos on YouTube, including this adaptation of a traditional Ethiopian Orthodox hymn (I think some of the footage is lifted from The Passion of the Christ!):
Hamelmal Abate's song "Kalkidan" was included on my compilation African Divas Vol. 1. Her career began during the dark days of The Derg when she performed with the National Theater (formerly the Haile Selassie 1 Theater) and recorded several hit cassettes. After stints with the Roha Band and the Ethio-Stars she moved to the United States in the early '90s. "Tirulegn" is from her 2006 CD Gize Mizan (Amel Productions):
Hamelmal Abate - Tirulegn
Hana Shenkute, singing with the Abyssinia Band, graced 1992's Music from Ethiopia (Caprice CAP 21432), and she's been getting rave reviews lately for her performances across the US with the Either/Orchestra. I'm pleased to present this tune by her from her debut solo release Hana (Yared Cahen Productions YCP-HSD 001). A pleasant change from most of the synthesizer-driven sounds here, backup is by the Admas Band (more about them below):
Hana Shenkute - Addis Fekere
A tune by Abonesh Adnew was featured on my collection African Divas Vol. 2. Currently residing in Washington DC, Abonesh is one of Ethiopia's finest new vocalists and sings in many of its languages. Here's a video featuring her music, and here's another. "Limitawey" is taken from her excellent 2004 release Bahilen (Electra Music & Video Center):
Abonesh Adnew - Limitawey
One of the most popular postings on Likembe has been "Ethiopian Honey", featuring Kuku Sebsebe's outstanding '80s cassette Munaye. Of course you know I'm a huge fan of this wonderful singer, and I wish I could tell you more about her. All I know is that she was apparently resident in DC for a number of years, recently had a "comeback" and is said to have returned to Ethiopia. Although I don't think her recent work measures up to Munaye, I'm happy to present another tune by her, from her 2003 CD Tinish Geze Sitegn (Nahom Records):
Kuku Sebsebe - Hallo Belat
My daughter Aku asked, "Is Chachi Tadesse trying to be the Ethiopian Beyoncé?" There's no question this sexy LA-based singer has what it takes in the looks department, although her musical stylings are quite different from those of the former Destiny's Child member. While her debut release Global Rhythm (C.T. Records, 1994) went for a "World Beat" (God, I hate that term!) feel, 2000's Medina (C.T. Records) hews closer to the standard Ethiopian sound. Here are two tracks by Chachi, one from each CD:
Chachi Tadesse - Africa
Chachi Tadesse - Medina
In the course of researching this post, I came across a very informative interview with Kay Kaufman Shelemay, a professor of music and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Among other things, she discusses the musicians who make up the Admas Band, a group that is ubiquitous on Ethiopian recordings made in the US, in fact they play on most of the tunes showcased in this post and in "Digital Ethiopia Pt. 1." Fasil Wuhib, Abegasu Kibrework Shiota, and Hennock Temesgen, shown below (l to r) comprise the core of the group:
Bassist Fasil Wuhib played with the Dahlak Band and the Ethio-Stars before emigrating to the US in 1990. Abegasu Shiota, who plays keyboards, was born in Japan of a Japanese mother and an Ethiopian father. Like Mulatu Astatqé, he studied at the Berkeley College of Music in Boston and recently returned to Ethiopia, where he has a recording studio and teaches young musicians at the Yared School of Music in Addis Ababa. Bassist and producer Hennock Temesgen has also returned to Ethiopia. Together, these musicians have performed with just about all of the Ethiopian artists who have made their way to the United States.
None of these recordings are available through the usual channels, but they are well worth searching out. An excellent source in Los Angeles is the Merkato Ethiopian Gift Shop, 1036½ S. Fairfax Ave. (323-935-1775) which is in the middle of Little Ethiopia, a one-block stretch of restaurants and shops.
In Chicago, Abyssynia Market, 5842 N. Broadway (773-271-7133) and Kukulu Market, 6129 N. Broadway (773-262-3169) both have nice selections of music. I understand a good source in DC is Ethio Sound, 2400 18th St. NW (202-232-6076), and there are many other sources in the area. Online, AIT Records and Nahom Records are both good.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Whoa! I just realized today is Halloween, and to mark the occasion, here's the only thing I could come up with that approaches being an "African Halloween song." From the Congo via Nairobi, here's Orchestre Les Mangalepa (above) and "Dracula" (ASL 2250N, circa 1983):
Orchestre Les Mangalepa - Dracula Pts. 1 & 2
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Back in the '80s Ethiopian music was extremely hard to come by outside of Ethiopia. Mahmoud Ahmed's brilliant Ere Mela Mela was released on LP by the Belgian label Crammed Discs around 1985, and later in the decade the exile singer Aster Aweke released Aster, recorded in the UK with mainly non-Ethiopian backup musicians. That was just about it, unless you were lucky enough to know Ethiopians who could supply you with scratchy, poorly dubbed cassettes from the motherland.
All that changed in the '90s when political change opened the country up. A fine collection of traditional and modern music, Music From Ethiopia (Caprice CAP 21432) came out in 1992, and within a few years the incredible Ethiopiques series opened the world's ears to the classic sounds of "Swingin' Addis" from the '60s and early '70s.
When it became possible for Ethiopian musicians to travel freely it was only natural that they would gravitate to U.S. recording studios, and in the last 15 years there has arisen a robust market in CDs made here. For the most part these are "under the radar" - not available through the usual "World Music™" outlets like Sterns. The main issue I have with these American recordings is the overwhelming use of synthesizers. That said, many of these productions are surprisingly sophisticated, a far cry from the rinky-dink keyboards and drum machines of much contemporary African music.
Let's listen to some of these recordings from "Digital Ethiopia." This is Part One of a two-part post.
I became familiar with Tilahun Gessesse through Ethiopian friends in the '80s. A brilliant and passionate singer, Gessesse got his start during the 1950s with the Hager Fikr Theater and later moved on to the Imperial Bodyguard Band. I didn't want to like his debut US release, the 2-CD set Tilahun Gessesse in the US (Ethio-Groove MCD-1181, 1992). Its slick production, presenting the great maestro in "crooner" mode, varies greatly from the raw, unbridled sound of his Ethiopian recordings, but damn if it didn't grow on me - what a singer! At this point I'd rate Tilahun Gessesse in the US one of my fave African recordings. Here are two songs from the 27-track setlist, and I promise that sometime in the future I will post some of Tilahun's wonderful Ethiopian recordings:
Tilahun Gessesse - Melelayet Mot New
Tilahun Gessesse - Ewedish Nebere
Menelik Wossenachew is another old-timer who was a member of the Haile Sellasie I Theatre Orchestra and the Ras Band back in the 1960s and had a number of hits including "Fiqir Bastergwami," "Fiqir Ayaregim" and "Sukuar Sukuar." You can hear one of his early recordings here. I really enjoyed his CD Gash Jembere! (Ethio-Grooves EG95-2, 1995), especially this, the title track:
Menelik Wossenachew - Gash Jembere!
And I just had to include this peculiar but very enjoyable, almost "country-western" tune from the same CD. Check out the wonderful tenor sax solo by Moges Habte:
Menelik Wossenechew - Yeayne Tesfa
The Oromo people are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, although they have been historically subordinated by the dominant Amhara. One of the most popular Oromo musicians back in the '80s was Mohammed Tawil, who now apparently lives in the US. You can see a video by him here. Here's a tune from his 1997 CD Changes (Tawil Production):
Mohammed Tawil - Si-Si
In all of Africa, American-style "jazz" music (as opposed to the various "jazz" groups that play local styles) has taken root in only two countries, South Africa and Ethiopia. That jazz has caught on at all in the latter country is due mainly to the efforts of one man, the pianist and vibraphonist Mulatu Astatqé. His "Ethio-Jazz" style, combining the results of ten years studying and playing music in London and New York with Ethiopian tradition, is brilliantly showcased in the CD Ethiopiques 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale 1969-1974 (Buda Musique 82964-2). Serendipitously, this record was the basis for the soundtrack of the 2005 movie Broken Flowers, directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring Bill Murray.
During a later US sojourn, Astatqé recorded Assiyo Bellema (Ethio-Grooves, 1994) with a group of mainly American musicians. While not as interesting in my opinion as his Ethiopian recordings, it has its moments. Here's a tune featuring the vocalist Teshome Mitiku:
Mulatu Astatke w. Teshome Mitiku - Wello
Tilaye Gebre also stakes his claim to the jazz idiom. His Endless Dream (Shakisso Music Productions 001, 1995) wouldn't be out of place on one of those "Smooth Jazz" radio stations, with it seamless blend of synthesizer and saxophone, but I love it nonetheless - Gebre's just too talented a musician. He too served his musical apprenticeship at the Haile Sellasse I Theatre, then graduated to the Equators and Dahlak Bands. While on a tour of the U.S. with the Walias Band, he decided to stay, and has become a sought-after session musician for acts like Aster Aweke and Mahmoud Ahmed. Here's my favorite tune from Endless Dream:
Tilaye Gebre - Yenigat Kokeb/Yelelit Berehane
If you're interested in getting some of these recordings online, I can't promise anything, but you might try AIT Records or Nahom Records. Otherwise, investigate your nearest Ethiopian restaurant or grocery store. In "Digital Ethiopia Pt. 2" I'll be posting songs by some great female singers as well as some other goodies.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
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.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
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).