Sunday, July 26, 2009

Once More on Rex Lawson & Biafra

Once again our friend
Rainer has come through with an exceedingly rare artifact from the golden age of Nigerian highlife music, in this case a 10" pressing of Love "M" Adure Special, from which I posted some tracks June 21. This was apparently the first pressing, released in 1972. Or maybe it wasn't the first pressing! Rainer writes, ". . . the label says AGR002 etc. But the matrix number says (P)1970 and gives a Philips label number 6386004 as a reference (the Dan Satch is from 1969/70 and has 6386008) Why did they write 1972 on the label? Was this supposed to be released on Philips first back in 1970 but saw the light of day in 72 on Akpola!? Or am I just thinking too much?"

Apart from having a different cover and slightly different reference number (AGR 002 rather than AGB 002), this earlier iteration of Love "M" Adure Special, also on Akpola Records of Benin City, differs in several other respects from my copy. For one thing, it has 10 tracks instead of 12. Also, it includes the song "Gowon's Special," which was omitted from the later record, although it was listed on the sleeve. And for what it's worth, it's a much better pressing.

"Gowon's Special" is very interesting in that it marks Lawson's evolution from being a full-throated supporter of Biafran independence in 1968 to singing the praises of Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon for "keeping Nigeria one" in 1972. Listen to it here:

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Gowon's Special

I won't presume to understand Lawson's motivations for making "Gowon's Special" as well as the earlier "God Bless Colonel Ojukwu."

To help clarify things, here is the recording information for the two pressings of Love "M" Adure Special:

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men
Love "M" Adure Special

(10" LP; Akpola AGR 002, 1972)
A1. Love "M" Adure Special
A2. Gowon's Special
A3. Saturday Sop Di
A4. Yellow Sisi
A5. Nkpa Ke Da Owo
B1. Tom Kiri Site
B2. Wasenigbo Tua
B3. Akwa Abasi
B4. Nume Inye (Nume Alabo)
B5. Peri Special Mbanga II

Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men
Love "M" Adure Special
(12"LP; Akpola AGB 002, 197?)
A1. Jolly Papa Special
A2. Love "M" Adure Special
A3. Saturday Sop Di
A4. Yellow Sisi
A5. Abasi Ye Enye
A6. Nkpake Da Owo
B1. Tom Kiri Site
B2. Wasenigbo Tua
B3. Ese Ayang Iso
B4. Akwa Abasi
B5. Nume Inye
B6. Peri Special
One nice thing about the original 10" LP is that it includes a listing of the musicians and summaries of the lyrics. You can download the whole album as a zipped file here.

In the comments there's been a side discussion on the question of whether records were actually pressed in Biafra during the war. I thought it was possible, even though all of the major pressing facilities were in the North and West before the war (Nigerphone may have had a plant in Onitsha). After thinking it over, and consulting the map below (click to enlarge) from John de St. Jorre's The Nigerian Civil War (Hodder & Stoughten, 1972), this seems most unlikely.

As the map shows, by October of 1968 the territory under Biafran government control had been reduced to about one sixth of what it was at Independence, and didn't include any of the major cities (Onitsha fell in March of 1968). Although the margins of the Biafran enclave changed slightly over the course of the conflict, this is where things stood until the last months before the war ended in January 1970. Therefore, any "Biafran records" would have to have been pressed outside of the country and smuggled in.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Likembe for this classic collections. As a Biafran, I feel very emotional and grateful about issues relating to Biafra and will proudly remain so till I die! God Bless you! Long live the dreams of self consciousness!

icastico said...

Nice stuff. Thanks as always.

Anonymous said...

Was Rex ever vilified for changing his tune politically? from Biafran support to yukubu gowan supporter?

okwuolise said...

There's something indescribable about Rex Lawson' musical talents.Something very rare.
Very rare too are his photographs. This beautiful piece satisfied my craving for both . . . .for the time being. Much thanks

Anthony Ndulue

TALL JAMAL (Muy Alto Jamal) said...

loving anything from Cardinal Rex! Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

there may still be a possibility that records could have been pressed in Biafra before Onitsha fell and if indeed there was a pressing plant there. After that it does seem completely out the question and anything that was actually manufactured was done so in the USA. The mystery is how many tapes left biafra for USA and is there a cache of them somewhere or have we actually heard everything that survived.

Does anyone know how the Lawson's Hail Biafra tape survived? Was it ever pressed in Nigeria or does it survive via the tape that was presumably taken out of Biafra to make the US 7"?

Fascinating story and many thanks to rainer and likembe for their hard work.

Comb & Razor said...

I doubt Lawson would have been vilified for changing his tune... By 1970, pretty much everybody in Biafra changed their tune, claiming that they were never really down with the whole secession thing and that they had basically been held hostage to Ojukwu's insane machinations (even Ojukwu's second-in-command Philip Effiong took this stance after the fall of Biafra).

It's nice to finally see a listing of the Riversmen personnel, though... You can see St. Augustine there, as well as Fela's saxman Igo Chiko.

Anonymous said...

Your blog would be so much more uplifting and complete if you would just post full albums like this and not hand-selected tracks, at least when you have the full work, post it, not this tease-tasting business.

- Le Groucho

John B. said...

Anon: You'll notice many of the recent posts have involved whole albums. I tend to post individual tracks instead of zipped files as a matter of convenience to the readers, so they can listen first & then decide whether they want all of the tracks or not. How many times have you spent 10 minutes downloading a file only to discover it's not all to your taste?

As to what you call "tease-tasting," it has to do with the nature of this blog, which is more oriented to explication rather than just throwing files out there. That is, I post tracks that illustrate what I'm writing about in the post. If I think it serves this purpose to post the whole album, I post the whole album.

Mr.Choice said...

Quite interesting post. I enjoyed this one. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for the complete album. I'd also vote for the complete, zipped album if I had a choice. But this is not to say that I don't appreciate your hard work and kindness in doing this at all.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I'm unable to open the zip file.

John B. said...

I just downloaded & unzipped the file with no problem. Care to try it again?

Uchenna said...

I have been doing a lot of research on Lawson's career of late and have found the true nature of his relationship to Biafra to be an enduring mystery.

Rex Lawson was the most beloved star on the Nigerian highlife scene in 1967. He was on tour when the war started, and when he didn't return to Lagos, he was widely believed to have been killed. There was much jubilation among highlife fans when he resurfaced in May 1968 upon the capture of Port harcourt by the federal forces. Still, there was a sense of ambivalence, as it was known that Lawson had recorded a song praising Ojukwu.

One journalist in particular, Dabo Taylor-Henry (who was of Rivers descent), mounted a passionate apologia on Rex's behalf, writing pieces in several newspapers arguing that Rex was a hostage of the Biafran government, had made the record under duress, and had tried to escape Biafra several times, only to be locked up in jail. One of his key points was that Rex had recorded a song in support of the creation of Rivers State even before the war, indicating his staunch support for the federal cause.

Rex himself granted an in-depth interview where he likened the creation of "Biafra Bolate" to a woman being raped, and spoke about the concentration camp-like conditions in which he and other Eastern minorities had been confined throughout the war.

Some of his explanation seemed a bit dodgy to me, though... Still, I can't help but notice that after 1968, he seemed to sing almost exclusively in Kalabari or Efik and distanced himself from Igbo songs. (I might totally be wrong about that... I'm trying to remember off the top of my head here!)