Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Voice of Arewa



A while back I posted about northern Nigeria's greatest female singer, Barmani Mai Choge. I devote today's post to Alhaji Mamman Shata, acclaimed as the greatest male singer of "Arewa," a giant who ruled the Hausa music scene for over 60 years.

Finding out more information about Dr. Mamman Shata has not been easy. He is the subject of at least one biography, "Shata Ikon Allah!" by Ibrahim Sheme (Kaduna, Infomart Publishers, 2006), and at least one doctoral dissertation, “The Role of an Oral Singer in Hausa/Fulani Society: A Case Study of Mamman Shata," by Dr. Abdulkadir Dandatti (Folklore Institute, Indiana University, 1975), neither of which I've been able to get hold of. There does seem to be a fair amount of information about him online in Hausa.

Shata was born in Rugar Kusa, Musawa Village, Northern Nigeria in 1922. Although his father disapproved of his interest in music, he began singing at the age of 13 and was soon composing his own Wakokin, traditional Hausa praise songs. He was accompanied by musicians playing kalungu, small talking drums, and travelled throughout the north of Nigeria gaining fame if not yet fortune. He once told an interviewer, “I ventured into music out of childish exuberance. I didn’t inherit it from either of my parents. I sang for a long time without collecting a penny. Even when I was given money, other praise singers collected it. I only started collecting money when I made it (music) a career." He settled down in Funtua, also the home of Barmani Mai Choge, a wild and wooly municipality that hosted many brothels. Chafing at the strictures of conservative Hausa Muslim society, he had a taste for drink and sang its praises.

It is said that Mamman Shata never rehearsed and composed his songs on the spot. I've been unable to track down much of his discography and I suspect most of his music was never pressed but recorded for broadcast. Probably much of it was not recorded at all. In addition to praise songs, his repertoire covered all manner of subjects, from agriculture to politics to the military, even food! One notable song is said to have been broadcast throughout northern Nigeria during the troubles of 1966-67 preaching peace, tolerance and national unity. He performed throughout West Africa and even made it to Britain and the United States.

Alhaji Doctor Mamman Shata passed away on June 18, 1999, leaving behind three wives, 22 children, numerous grandchildren and an immortal musical legacy. The true voice of Arewa!


Here are two cassettes by the immortal Mamman Shata.

The cassette Bakandamiyar (EMI Nigeria EMI 003), which I obtained during a visit to Kano in 1995, is a dub of a scratchy LP recorded, I suspect, some time in the '70s or earlier. I would guess the song "Garba Bichi" is in honor of Abubakar Ali Bichi, who was a prominent Northern Nigerian businessman born in 1924. There is a Garba Bichi Ahmed (possibly his son?) who is a member of the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives from Bichi, Kano State, but since he was born in 1964, it's probably not about him:

Alhaji Mamman Shata - Garba Bichi

"Bakandamiyar"is considered one of Maman Shata's greatest songs. In it he sings his own praises:

I started Bakandamiya and embraced the thing that interests me most
Alo, Alo, the singer expresses his gratitude and so do the chorus.
As for me nothing interests me except my singing,
Beat your drum carefully,
Play slowly and carefully,
For drumming is your inheritance but not mine.
I started singing as a hobby,
Certainly I started it as a hobby and outshined the professionals;
Now it is my match that they search for and have woefully failed,
Alo, Alo, the singer expresses his gratitude and so do the chorus.
It is not parting with a hero that is painful,
But filling the gap which he created....

...One day here in the city of Dabo,
 I have ever lived in the city of Dabo,
During the reign of Sanusi Mamman,
Burhan father of Habu son of Abdu,
Then I packed my belongings and left,
And returned to the city of Dikko,
Our Katsina, the city of Shehu. 
My departure pleased the Kano singers;
They ganged up against me saying:
That bastard Shata has gone,
Good riddance Shata has left,
Ha! Since he left the city of Dabo,
No doubt has lost many good things.
Go your way; I am aware I missed Kano City,
And Kano too had missed a famous singer,
And you also had missed my singing. 
After six good months I staged a comeback,
I went away for six months,
And returned to the city of Dabo,
On Friday during the princess’s wedding,
I sneaked in with my mini car,
I took a corner and parked my mini car,
I put on a veil and joined the crowd..... 
.....I pondered and groaned,
There and then I uncovered myself,
And said, You have now felt the absence of Shata, the singer.
Even among kola nuts there are marsa,
Well much more so among the singers,
Princes, I hope and think that you will lend me your ears,
And listen to my song.
It is not parting with the hero that is painful,
But filling the gap which he created.... 
......That day I rose and praised myself,
And praised God and his Messenger,
That day I outshined Hamisu, outwitted Caji and put Dabolo out of action,
They cast a spell on me but to no avail,
And had I prior knowledge,
I would have brought my billy-he goat, and my speckled fetish cock,
What! Would that I were able to know in advance,
I would have prepared for it.
I ignored banjo and guitar players,
Because they are insignificant musicians who,
Play for money clothes to wear and a few pounds to get married.
Alhaji Mamman Shata - Bakandamiyar

Download Bakandamiyar as a zipped file here.

Emir of Hadeija (Polydor POLP 121), which came out in 1985 I think, was one of Shata's last recordings, and is considered one of his best. I presume from the song titles that they are in honor of various notables. For instance, Side One honors rulers of various traditional states in Northern Nigeria, while I would guess Side Two praises business or political leaders:

Alhaji Mamman Shata -  Emir of Hadeija / Emir of Bauchi / Bella Galadima of Katagun / Emir of Daura Alhaji Maman Bashar

Alhaji Mamman Shata - Habibu Fari Elema / Wili Dan Tijani / Shehu Kasimu Sarkin Mararaba / Malam Shuaibu Gadan Gayan / B.B. Faruku Na Allah

Download Emir of Hadeja as a zipped file here.

The picture at the top of this post is from the Mamman Shata Facebook page. The translation of the lyrics of "Bakandamiyar" is from the article, "10 Years After his Death, Shata Still Lives on," from the Daily Trust (Nigeria), June 21, 2009, which provided much useful information for this post. I'm also greatly indebted to the blog Taskar Mamman Shata and the Wikipedia article "Mamman Shata."



3 comments:

Anonymous said...

These are wonderful, thank you for uploading.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that wonderfull, vanishing music!

On Parlophone, there is a (are some??) 45 R.P.M.'s out; I' m a happy owner of NPJ 1044, with "Sarkin Sulubawa" on the A- and "Alhadji Ballo Gatagum" on the B-side.

A.

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