Thursday, October 17, 2019

An Èwi Deep Dive with Lanrewaju Adepọju



Even if I weren't already a huge fan of Lanrewaju Adepọju, I would have bought this album for the cover art alone! Aláfọwósowópó (Lanre Adepoju Records LALPS 72, 1980) is a tribute to the cooperative movement in Nigeria: "The greatest weapon the masses have to fight the formidable forces of oppressive capitalism, mindless and the unconcerned attitude of few privileged rich overlords, is to form themselves into cooperative societies."

In a previous post, I wrote of Alhaji Adepoju and his mastery of the Yoruba poetic form known as èwi, of which this LP is a fine example. Many of his compositions deal with Islamic religious themes but apparently not the ones here. Although I know only a few words of Yoruba, I find his lyrical declamations thoroughly entrancing. And check out the instrumental breaks from 12:32 to 13:37 and from 16:01 to 16:46 in the first track. Somebody should sample those!



Download Aláfọwósowópóó as a zipped file here.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Raji Owonikoko's "Kwara System"



I just came into possession of a raft of great Yoruba recordings from Nigeria - lots of jùjú, àpàlà fújì, wákà, èwi, what have you - and I'll be sharing some of them with you over the next few months. For now we have on tap Raji Owonikoko, with his take on the venerable àpàlà genre, which he calls his "Kwara System." About àpàlà Christopher Alan Waterman writes in his excellent book Jùjú: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music (University of Chicago Press, 1990):

... Àpàlà, a praise song and social dance music, developed in the late 1930s in the Ijebu area, and was popularized by a musician named Haruna Ishola ... àpàlà groups generally included small hourglass-shaped pressure drums called àpàlà or àdàmòn, an àgídìgbo bass lamellaphone, several conga-type drums, and a metal idiophone such as an agogo or truck muffler (Thieme 1969). Like postwar jùjú, àgídìgbo and àpàlà drew upon Latin American recordings, preexistent popular genres, and deep Yoruba rhetorical devices. These social dance and praise song genres provided an urban-centered musical lingua franca, a set of stylistic coordinates for the construction of modem Yoruba identity. Each of them relied upon indigenous principles as a unifying framework for innovation... 
The rather sedate, philosophical sound of àpàlà, whose foremost practitioners were the late Haruna Ishola and Ayninla Omowura, gave way to the more frenzied sounds of jùú, fújì and the like, but it's never disappeared, and has been given new life in recent years by artists like Musiliu Haruna Ishola, son of Haruna Ishola, who was featured in a previous Likembe post.

Alhaji Mohammed Ahmed Raji Alabi Owonikoko, better known as Raji Owonikoko, is one of the musicians who have carried the àpàlà torch into the present day. At least judging from today's musical offering, Kwara System Originator (Olumo ORPS 58, 1977), his "Kwara System," named after his home state, adds a few uptempo fillips to the basic sound. In a 2012 interview with PM News (Lagos) he said:

...I hail from Kwara State. My father is a native of Buhari while my mother hails from Ijomu, Oro both in Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State. I was born in Oro that is why many people believe I am from Oro ... I grew up with elderly friends and contemporaries. I became more popular among them because I always sang during Ramadan fasting period, waking Islamic faithful in the community at dawn to observe Shaur [Suhoor] ... As a result of my talent, I became the leader of our musical group. Thereafter, I moved to Lagos with some members of the group where I recruited others to join my group. Along the line, I met King Sunny Ade, and Jide Smith, who was into music instrument rentals. I eventually changed to àpàlà music genre because of the love I had for the late àpàlà music sage, Alhaji Haruna Ishola, in spite of other types of music around then...
I hope you will enjoy this offering of àpàlà, Kwara style!



Download Kwara System Originator as a zipped file here.


Saturday, October 5, 2019

Master of the Ngurumi and the Biram



I present today four cassettes by Malam Maman Barkah, the Niger Republic's acclaimed master of two traditional instruments of that area - the ngurumi, a two stringed lute (pictured), and the biram, a five-stringed harp. Malam Barkah passed away on November 21 of last year to much sadness in Niger and the neighboring Hausa-speaking areas of Nigeria. Radio France International reported, "Great emotion this morning in Niger when the local press reported the death of musician Malam Maman Barka, immensely popular in his country and also well known in neighboring Nigeria. The popularity of Malam Maman Barka is explained by his mastery of biram, a very particular instrument, and also by his committed songs."

My understanding is that while Maman Barkah sang mainly in the Hausa language, he was a member of the nomadic Toubou people, born in Tesker, southern Niger, in 1958 or 1959. He started his professional life as a teacher and learned the ngurumi, a two-stringed lute common in the Sahel region, where it is known by various names. It was as a master of this instrument, and his incisive lyrics which addressed classical themes as well as current events and notable individuals, that Maman Barkah achieved fame throughout Niger and northern Nigeria. This led to many appearances throughout the world.

In 2002 Malam Barkah received a grant from UNESCO to travel to the shores of Lake Chad and learn the biram, a five-stringed harp played by the Boudouma (Yedina) people of the region. The instrument, considered sacred, had fallen into disuse. Before passing, the last living master of the biram, Boukou Tar, taught Maman Barkah the secrets of the instrument and gave him his own. Before his death Malam Barkah was the director of the Center for Music Promotion and Training (CFPM) "El Hadji Taya" in Niamey, the capital of Niger.

The four cassettes in this post are the result of two cassette-hunting expeditions: By me in Kano, Nigeria in 1995 and by my wife Priscilla in Jos, Nigeria in 1998. He was very popular throughout the region! All feature Maman Barkah on the ngurumi. Recordings of him playing the biram are available on the CD Introducing Mamane Barka (World Music Network INTRO114CD, 2009).

Labeling for the songs here is very confusing. Africa 1 and Africa 4 seem to be mispackaged or mislabeled, as the songs don't seem to correspond to listings on the inlay cards. Africa 2 and Republic Niger No. 4 do seem to be properly labeled. Not knowing how to determine the proper song titles I've just listed them as they appear on the cassettes, and the extra songs are just labeled "Song Title Unknown." I'd appreciate it if someone could clear the confusion up for us.

I confess I haven't paid these cassettes much attention since obtaining them in the '90s. However, repeated listenings in the course of preparing them for this post have given me a new appreciation for this music. I had always thought that the mysterious Korean lady who appears on the covers of three of the cassettes was Malam Barkah's wife, but apparently that picture was taken during a musical performance in North Korea!

Here is Africa 1:

Maman Barkah - Amerame

Maman Barkah - Gourmi Story

Maman Barkah - Iyani Mai Towo

Maman Barkah - Feronguila

Maman Barkah - Song Title Unknown

Maman Barkah - Song Title Unknown

Maman Barkah - Massagui

Maman Barkah - Awa Sakehali

Maman Barkah - Zaman Duniya

Maman Barkah - Beghue Tunani

Maman Barkah - Arri Na Bin Tou

Maman Barkah - Song Title Unknown

Download Africa 1 as a zipped file here.


While digitizing these cassettes I realized that side 2 of the cassette Africa 1, apparently a reissue, actually contains the full contents of Africa 2! (There are around 45 minutes of music on each side). As the recording quality of Africa 1 is superior I've gone with that version:

Maman Barkah - Tabaraka Allah

Maman Barkah - Oubedatu

Maman Barkah - Massoyi da Massoya

Maman Barkah - Dabarabara

Maman Barkah - Maman Maki

Maman Barkah - In Nabaki Mikike

Maman Barkah - Beby Elinna

Maman Barkah - Archatelfara

Maman Barkah - Song Title Unknown (Instrumental)

Download Africa 2 as a zipped file here. I don't have Africa 3, but here is Africa 4. Who knows how many volumes were released?

Maman Barkah - Nahissa

Maman Barkah - Kidan Maman Daban


Maman Barkah - Aochatou Dogoya

Maman Barkah - La Six

Maman Barkah - Song Title Unknown

Maman Barkah - Mousha Shagaumu Talki

Maman Barkah - In Ada

Maman Barkah - We Day Hassour

Maman Barkah - Song Title Unknown

Download Africa 4 as a zipped file here.


The final cassette here, Republic Niger No. 4 (no connection with Africa 4 above), seems to be the most recently recorded:

Maman Barkah - Tankari Dan Garba No. 1

Maman Barkah - Rammá Ta Mirria

Maman Barkah - Tankari Dan Garba No. 2

Maman Barkah - Kar Ki Bami A

Maman Barkah - Delu El Fulani

Maman Barkah - Hawa Merama

Maman Barkah - Er Komatou

Maman Barkah - Tankari Dan Garba No. 3

Download Niger Republic No. 4 as a zipped file here.

Two CDs by Maman Barkah, Introducing Mamane Barka and Guidan Haya, are available from Amazon. Follow the links!

Here is a clip of Maman Barkah playing the biram in 2010: