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!
Raji Owonikoko & his Apala Group - Eyin Ojogbon / Late Madam Ayisatu / Kini Won Ro De Bi Ohun Ti Won Nse / Ehin Kete Nibi Se
Raji Owonikoko & his Apala Group - Salamu Alekun Ohile / T'Oluwa Oba Nio Se / Oluwa Ma Se Wa Larungun / Egbe Young Star (Ile-Ife)
Download Kwara System Originator as a zipped file here.