Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nigeria's Lady of Songs

I'll admit to being a little mystified by the current fascination with the cheesier byways of African music - '70s and '80s Afro-Rock, Afro-Disco and the like. The tracks on Frank Gossner's collection Lagos Disco Inferno, for example, strike me as cheap-sounding and derivative. But what do I know? The first pressing of LDI, released in May, has already sold out. And if you think it's just ironic hipsters in Brooklyn who are boppin' out to this stuff, check out With Comb and Razor or the many Naija message boards out there. They prove that Nigerians of a certain age are still pining for the sounds of Ofege, Harry Mosco and Doris Ebong. It all goes to show that African music, as listened to by Africans themselves, has never been as exalted or "pure" as we outsiders may have once thought.

Back in the day, Christy Essien (later Christy Essien-Igbokwe) was the queen of disco music in Nigeria. She cut her first album, Freedom (Anodisc ALPS 1015, 1976), when she was sixteen, and copies of her '70s pressings today command astronomical prices on Ebay. Essien was just one of a cohort of female singers who made a splash in Nigeria in the '70s & '80s, like Onyeka Onwenu, Patty Boulaye and Martha Ulaeto, and if you want to know more, Uchenna Ikonne discusses them extensively here. According to Uchenna, Essien's 1981 outing Ever Liked my Person? (Lagos International LIR 1), was meant to take her to the next level of international stardom, and it certainly made an impression in Nigeria, where henceforth she would be known as "Nigeria's Lady of Songs."

I present for your perusal two late '80s recordings by Essien-Igbokwe which display her mature sound. Taking my Time (Soul Train Records STR 1) showcases slick production values and plenty of influences from country-western ("Show a Little Bit of Kindness") to makossa (the Yoruba-language "Iya Mi Ranti" and Igbo "Ibu Ndum"). All in all, a pretty decent example of middle-of-the-road Nigerian pop music:

Download Taking My Time as a zipped file here. 1988's It's Time. . . (His Master's Voice HMV 066) is a little less successful in my opinion, being a little too dependent on the synthesizers for my taste. Still, it has its moments:

Download It's Time as a zipped file here. In later years Essien-Igbokwe devoted herself to acting in Nigeria's burgeoning video industry and in November celebrated her fiftieth birthday, an occasion duly noted in the Nigerian media. Here she is today:


Frank "dr.crackle" said...

Hi, agree with you. I also really can't understand the fascination of those cheap late 70's/80's disco sounds from West Africa, especially Nigeria. To me it's nothing but trash and I would NEVER buy this Lagos Disco Inferno. That's my opinion but I can respect others of course ;)
However, thanks for the music & education especially your post about Mike Ejeagha!

icastico said...

Cheesy, like quality, is, of course, always in the ear of the beholder. Personally I don't get the appeal of the drum machine and synth driven music that makes up so much of the output of formerly fabulous musicians. But then, strangely, I love the Casio and drum machine grooves from the Arabic world.

Regarding LDI, I chuckled when it came out remembering this post

Frank: "I used to despise Disco myself and when going to a Funk night, always complained when the DJ would also play some Disco. Therefore I don't feel it would be a good idea to mix this stuff into an Afrobeat and Afro Funk set. Maybe I should create myself a secret parallel identity as a Disco DJ? Or maybe I should just go ahead, get rid of all the Disco & Boogie and stick with the Afrobeat and the Funk?"

I find that hating a style of music is usually more about inexperience with the style than anything else. Exposure can turn the cheesy into the sublime when added to a shared experience with a friend, or as part of an important memory.

Yadda yadda.

dailyleftover said...

"in the ear of the beholder" indeed. Everybody should decide what music he/she likes. But then as you know most western ears only recieved the sound of dictator Fela i believe it opens a world for a lot of people. And real musiclovers dig deeper so more and more get revealed ..good for the artists, nice for us.
So keep them comin' i say ..all those wonderful compilations and reissues without pops and crackles is just heaven, and so everybody can make up his own mind what to like

Frank "dr.crackle" said...

tastes are different and that's how it should be!! so if it's 'in the ear of the beholder' one should always be allowed to state that she/he doesn't like something and vice versa...without being discriminated as inexperienced or whatsoever... YE NE ZUAYE (LIVE AND LET LIVE)

Anonymous said...

Hi folks, to give your ears a bit more training, here's another Essien record from 1980:

Bradly Jones said...

Thanks for the post. It's like five years of not being in Nigeria has finally made me out-dated for this to be news to me. The change is amazing. Great blog!

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