Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Anioma Sound Pt. 1

The Igbo people live in all parts of Nigeria, but are the big majority of the population (over 90%) in five states: Imo, Anambra, Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi. They also constitute large minorities in Rivers and Delta States.

The "Anioma" area consists of the northeastern corner of Delta State encompassing the Aniocha, Ukwuani and Ika peoples. These three ethnicities are all considered subgroups of the Igbo, as opposed to Delta's other nationalities, the Urhobo, Itskiri, Ijaw and Isoko, who speak distinct languages. Anioma Igbo are set apart from the mainstream of Ala Igbo not only by the Niger River but by varying shades of cultural influence from their neighbors to the west and south.

The idea
, if not necessarily the name, of "Anioma," as a community and a culture predates the creation of the modern Nigerian state in 1914. In the early 20th Century the area gave rise to the Ekwumekwu movement, which resisted the imposition of British colonial rule in southern Nigeria. In the early '80s, the Anioma State Movement arose to call for the carving out of a new Igbo-majority state from old Bendel State. Since 1991, when Bendel was divided into Edo and Delta States, the demand for Anioma State has continued at a low boil. The map below shows where the various ethnicities of Delta State reside (click to enlarge):

It's hard to say if there is a distinct "Anioma Sound," despite the title of this post. One might discern a certain directness to the music of the area, as opposed to the relative subtlety of Igbo music east of the Niger, but I stress the relative nature of this comparison. After all, no one would call the music of Owerri's Oriental Brothers subtle!

The best-known Anioma musician is probably Ali Chukwuma, but the area has produced numerous artists who have achieved fame across Nigeria. Eddy Okonta of Akwukwu (left) is one of the foremost of these. He got his start with Bobby Benson's band and played trumpet on the great maestro's biggest hit, "Taxi Driver," before striking out on his own. In "Anioma," from his album Page One '81 (Phonodisk PHA09), Okonta throws his lot in with the movement to create Anioma State. ". . . Ours is ours and mine is mine. . .We pray to God so that we may achieve this. . .":

Eddy Okonta - Anioma

King Ubulu (picture at the top of this post) is another name that comes up frequently when discussing Anioma music. He was born in 1949 in Amoriji-Onitcha in the Ndokwa area, and formed his Ubulu International Band in the 1970s. He died in 2004. Here is a tune from his LP Ubulu '84 Special: Anyi Bu Ofu (Isabros ISAL 026, 1984). "Ogom Egbu Madu" means "my favor for you should not kill me":

Ubulu International Band of Nigeria - Ogom Egbu Madu

I mentioned in this post that I'm aware of only two female singers in the Igbo highlife genre: Nelly Uchendu and Queen Azaka. Why this should be, I don't know, and I can tell you very little about Queen Azaka, other than that, like King Ubulu, she is from the Ndokwa area. Here's a tune from her LP Umuwa Nweni Ndidi (Odec ODB 10L). I find the rhythm on this tune and the next couple interesting. And sorry about the skipping at the beginning of the tune. Bad warp!:

Queen Azaka & her Ebologu Abusu Mma Dance Band - Ukwani Amaka

Chief John Okpor may be just another obscure musician from the recesses of Delta State, but he's made a great recording here. Side One of Ife Nunoku Na Ju Oyi (Franco Records FMCL 003) doesn't let up until about two-thirds of the way through, when the title track segues into the slower-paced "Egwu Nde Oma."

Chief John Okpor & the Golden Tones Band of Nigeria - Ife Nunoku Na Ju Oyi/Egwu Nde Oma

When Priscilla was back home in Nigeria in 1989, she saw the band members unloading boxes of this LP out of the back of a truck. Of course, she knew I'd want a copy, and what a discovery it is! Eric Obodo heads up the Reformed Eti-Oma Dance Band, and their fast-paced sound is reminiscent of the Camerounian bikutsi style exemplified by groups like Les Veterans. The album is Ogbuefi Moses Okom (Mone MRLP 008).

Reformed Eti-Oma Dance Band of Nigeria - Onyeke Muni Nwa

This post has been delayed because Priscilla and I just haven't had time to sit down and do translations of the lyrics (the fact that these songs are mainly in the Ukwuani dialect makes this more difficult), so I'm just going ahead and posting anyway. If there is time I will update it later. In "The Anioma Sound Pt. 2" I'll be posting songs by Charles Iwegbue, Roganna Ottah and others.


Comb & Razor said...

Great post!

The Anioma sound is something I don't know a great deal about...

(Well, I never really thought too much about it as a style distinct from most other Igbo highlife anyway... until I discovered how passionate a lot of Western highlife enthusiasts were about musicians like Ali Chuks, Rogana Ottah and Love AU, who I thought were marginal figures at best!)

The highly animated rhythm makes it easy to understand why this style has attracted such a strong following, though.

Now that you mention it, it IS a bit hard to think of too many female performers in Igbo highlife, isn't it? (In addition to the two you mentioned, I'd add Helen Thomas and Her Young Timers Band, who enjoyed some popularity in the 70s.) I know there are others, though... I just can't think of them right now!

Comb & Razor said...

(Oops! Did I say "Helen Thomas"? I meant Helen Williams...)

Anonymous said...

Great post
I am dying to hear the LP "Eddy Okonta - adiaoma" The lone tract was excellent!
Can you post the rest? Please?

Wuod K

w said...

i really appreciate your blog with the music and the background informations! it seems you have a kind of focus on Nigerian music and here Igbo stuff. Do you have any Nigerian/Niger Hausa popular music? Or even Ghanaian music (Highlife, Palwine, Gospel)?
That would be lovely!

Anonymous said...

What can I say, this music is from my part of the world and this is the first time anyone has written about it. Thank you so much for this.
Eddy Okonta is actually from Akwukwu not Asaba. The acronym Anioma was coined by the late poet/statesman Denis Osadebay, akin to Iqbal and the dream of the state of Pakistan.
I remember on our way back from school in Obalende area of Lagos being stopped by a man sitting outside with a guitar who had overheard my sister and I conversing in our dialect, it turned out to be Eddy Okonta, he told us to ask our parents if they knew who he was(of course they did) he was also full of praises for teaching us how to speak our language.
Just before his death he held regular gigs somewhere in Surulere, sadly I never did attend.
Ji si ike na olu oma is all I can say. Madam will translate that I hope.
I live here in the states. I apologize for this longish spiel.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1/26: Thank you for this reminiscence. Can you tell us when Eddy Okonta died? I suspected he was gone but there is very little information about him on the internet!

Anonymous said...

Malam Bala: I don't have much in the way of Hausa "Popular" music but I do have a number of cassettes by Dan Maraya, maman Shata, etc. I'd be happy to post some of this music, but I don't have much to provide in the way of "context."

Thank you for reminding me that another post of Ghana music is long overdue!

Anonymous said...

I am not quite sure when he died probably about '02. Something you didn't mention in your post maybe for another posting was the preeminence of the dancing/musical groups from the Anioma Area. Their Albums usually preceded by the word 'Otu' roughly translates as Group. The most famous of this was from Ibusa with their monster hit "kalama kalama"
Will you be touching on the music of Saint Augustine and Ogbogwu Okonji?

Anonymous said...

your understanding of nigeria music is amazing.Your comentry on each musician goes straight to the heart of their works and often time the core of their personality.You discuss the region or state where they come from with such a vivid understanding. I am inclined to think you must have lived in nigeria or a possible custodian of some nigeria music catalog.How ever ,thank you for this encyclopedia on african musics.
henry a ugbomah

Anonymous said...

Do you have a link for a private message?

Anonymous said...

If you need to get ahold of me: beadlejp at yahoo dot com.

Anonymous said...

That track by Ubulu International was amazing. Do you have any of their earlier stuff from the 70s?

Anonymous said...

Anon: No, I don't, unfortunately.

Bellemskey said...

John i dont know how to thank you for all these tunes..... However, I dont think you have done enough justice to the Anioma sound.... I mean we need more Eddie Okonta, like 'Okoromobanto', Bisi, 'Mama sweet- Papa Super' and more Zeal Onyia like the one he sang of 'Ogonogo tie, obu guguru n'akpa', infact there used to be this guy who had a unique way of tying his headgear like an indian, i think his name is Eric Akaeze and his Azagaza.... I dont even know if hes still alive... We need more tunes from these guys please.... Much thanks for Mamausa and Walk-About Husband by Nelly Uchendu.... Can you help us post E.T. Mensah's original track, Day-By-Day, which was the pattern used by Nelly in Walk-About.... Cheers

Anonymous said...

Been wondering if you ever had anything on Eddy Okwedi, whom I believe must have come from Anioma/Aniocha axis and whose music titillated the senses so much in the 60s and early 70s. Onye Ube ruru remains a classic and another one which title I forget but talks about the pains of brotherhood... biko nwannem e, rapulum nne di mo. I am also looking out for stuff from Okwedi. RHL

Anonymous said...

To Bellemskey: Okonta did NOT write the song Bisi. Lloyd Baker did. Please see his web site:

Alphonsus Enuademu said...

I like this good work