Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hailing Biafra

Note: This post was updated on October 4, 2009.

My post "Divided Loyalties" inspired an anonymous reader to make available an intriguing souvenir of the Biafran independence struggle. First Independence Anniversary Special, a 45, was issued in 1968 by the Biafra Association in the Americas, Inc. under the reference number XB-439/XB-440. The A side is "A Nation is Born," a previously-unknown-to-me song by highlife master Celestine Ukwu, while the flip side is the song
"God Bless Colonel Ojukwu" by Rex Lawson, which I featured in that earlier post under the title "Odumegwu Ojukwu (Hail Biafra)."

Anonymous poses an interesting question: While First Independence Anniversary Special was obviously pressed in the United States, were records pressed in Biafra during the war? I do know that music by Ukwu and other musicians was recorded and broadcast on Radio Biafra during the conflict, but I'm not aware of any record-pressing facilities in Biafra at the time. Of course, there is always the possibility that records were pressed abroad and smuggled into the Biafran enclave, a fraught task. Could someone shed some light on this matter for us?

Courtesy of Anonymous, here is Celestine Ukwu:

Celestine Ukwu - A Nation is Born

For some time I've been trying to get hold of another record released in the US during the war, Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha: Drums and Chants of Fighting Biafra (Afro Request SRLP 5030) by the mysterious "Biafran Freedom Fighters." If anyone out there has a copy, I'm sure we'd all love to hear it.

I have an LP which was apparently put out by the same people who issued First Independence Anniversary Special. This is Biafra (Biafra Students Association in the Americas XB-149/XB-150) features an instrumental, "Hail Biafra" (the Biafran national anthem?) and a speech by Odumegwu Ojukwu on Side 1, and seven musical selections on Side 2. Unfortunately, while the song titles are given, the artists aren't credited.

I'm posting the contents of This is Biafra. "Hail Biafra" is not especially notable and the Ojukwu speech is more of a historical document, but the other tracks should be of interest to Likembe reader/listeners. I have identified "Onwu Zuri Uwa" and "So Ala Temen" as by Rex Lawson. "A Tit for Tat" is by Area Scatter, and "Onye Nwe Uwa" is by the Nkwa Wu Ite Dance Group of Afikpo (thanks to Anonymous & Vitus Jon Laurence for identifying those two). Perhaps someone could identify the other musicians:

Hail Biafra

The Struggle for Survival: H.E. Lt. Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, Governor of Biafra (November 24, 1967)

Cardinal Rex Lawson - Onwu Zuru Uwa (There's Death Everywhere)

Unknown Artists - Nkponam Isuhoke Owo (Misfortune Never Discriminates)

Nkwa Wu Ite Dance Group of Afikpo - Onye Nwe Uwa (Who Owns the World?)

Cardinal Rex Lawson - So Ala Temen (Nature Bestows Riches)

Area Scatter - A Tit for Tat

Unknown Artists - Akpasak Ibok, Idiok Udono (Vice is a Terrible Disease)

Unknown Artists - Thou Shalt Not Kill

I've written about the Biafran situation in previous posts, and I would recommend John de St. Jorre's The Nigerian Civil War (Hodder & Stoughton, 1972), long out of print, as an even-handed and detailed account of the conflict. This article from Wikipedia is also useful. I would say at the risk of sparking a controversy that I think the Biafran cause was a noble one, and had it succeeded, would have changed the course of African history in a positive direction. But I'm afraid Biafra's historical moment has come and gone; whatever the future of Africa has in store, an independent Biafran state will probably not be part of it.

Download This is Biafra as a zipped file here.


Anonymous said...

Hail Biafra! Hail you, for finding this gems. Thanks for this!. For your info, the song "Tit for tat" - unknown artist is sang by the cross dressing "Area Scatter" whom I think you have mentioned of in your recent blog!
God bless you for this!

John B. said...

Are you sure about that? I too suspected Area Scatter, but I wasn't sure if he did any recordings before or during the war. At least according to his bio he didn't do the cross-dressing thing until after the war.

Anonymous said...

Jon B, due to inadequate info about this enigmatic artist, I don't have any much more info about Area Scatter, but as an Ibo man of Anambra decent, this track "Tit for Tat" bears the hallmark of the man, Area Scatter but it's impossible to say whether this track was performed as a solo artist or with his group. This could be his early work, but it is definitely Area Scatter and not Chief Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo. Obiligbo, the godfather of Egwu Ekpili, the famous Amambara (anglicized today as Anambra region) folk music offered something uniquely different in style from the Imo side of the Igbo folk music. The Ibo dialect used in this track "Tit for Tat" is typical Imo/Aba Ngwa one heavily used by Area Scatter along with Show Promoter and a handful others. They represented this Imo brand of Igbo folk music.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen!

I appreciate not only the superb music on this blog, but also the additional historic background and informations behind a special topic, which is absolutely great and instructive!!!


John B. said...

^Sir, I defer to your superior knowledge!

Anonymous said...

deccas plant was in the west and everything was pro gowon coming out of there. emi's was in jos and was trashed during the war from memory. dont know where philips plant (Lagos?) was but i doubt any multinational plant would have touched pro biafra recordings. the only way i can think biafran records could have been made within nigeria itself was at an independent eastern pressing plant but the only eastern independent label i know from 1960s is nigerphone and its pressings are usually very good, sounding like they came from a major plant. if any independent pressing plants did exist in the east in the 60s then one could expect to have seen a good few eastern independent labels from early-mid 60s but they just dont appear to exist... i dont know if anyone has actually seen a Nigerian 60s 7" of Hail Biafra either.. would be fascinating if one did show up. mysteries mysteries....

*the freedom fighters record does show up from time to time - isnt expensive $20ish - its purely percussion and voice tho with no translations

Anonymous said...

Hello Jon,
The track Onye Nwe Uwa? (Who owns the world?) was played by a musical group knowns as: NKWA WU ITE DANCE GROUP OF AFIKPO. They were huge in the 70s and 80s.

Vitus Jon Laurence.

John B. said...

Hey Vitus! Long time no hear. Drop me a line when you get a chance at beadlejp (at) yahoo (dot) com.

oro said...

Hello John,

when you go to african vinyls you can go back... and even more when you discover albums like Sam Fan Thomas'
thank you for your comment

taraletti said...

wow man, thanks for this gem

Comb & Razor said...

Fascinating stuff here! I was recently wondering the same thing recently: Were records pressed in Biafra during the war?

I find it hard imagine, but I'd like to think that they were... Stuff like this is hard to find because a lot of people either destroyed or hid all their pro-Biafra materials after the war.

I'm really glad you posted these, JB!

(Wish I knew who Anonymous was... I understand the desire to remain unnamed, though)

Anonymous said...

on reflection it seems entirely possible, at least during the first year that records could have been made. nigerphone had been going for about 20 years by then and must have had its 78s (and early 7s?) pressed up in the UK so they could have just gone back there to have them pressed.

if biafra could sort out money, stamps, etc then why not records... in theory at least....

Comb & Razor said...

Well, actually I don't doubt that propaganda recordings like these were made... But what I was looking for was more apolitical popular music, particularly of the early rock groups.

Those are the ones I can imagine not given too much priority at a time when such resources were limited.