Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Fast-paced Anioma Highlife From King Ubulu



A while back I made a few posts devoted to to music from Anioma, or the Igbo-speaking region of Delta State in Nigeria, immediately to the west of the Niger River. This style is generally faster-paced and harder hitting than mainstream Igbo sounds. I don't want to claim too much credit, but those write-ups may have spurred some interest in the genre, including recent reissues. One of the musicians I highlighted was King Ubulu. If I may be allowed to plagiarize myself, here is something I wrote about him for Toshiya Endo's African music discography:

Chief Augustine Ojinji, better known to Nigerian music fans as "King Ubulu" and "Love A.U.," breathed his last in late 2004. 
King Ubulu was born in 1949 in Amorji-Onicha in present-day Ndokwa Local Government Area, Delta State. Along with his fellow Ndokwa indigenes Charles Iwegbue and Rogana Ottah, he did much to advance the cause of Anioma (Western Igbo) highlife in the Nigerian music scene.His generosity was such that he was given the honorifics Ochiligwe ("Majority Leader"), Elishi Egwu ("Music Leader") and Ofodile ("Mighty"). 
Ubulu trained as a shoemaker, but soon opened a record store in Amorji. Because of his skill with the traditional repertoire, he was often asked to sing at funerals, naming ceremonies and other important occasions. Together with Agu Risky and a number of other musicians, he formed the Ubulu International Band in the early 1970s. The group's first LP, Ukwuani Special, was released in 1976 to wide acclaim, followed by a number of other releases. 
In 1983 the Ubulu International Band of Nigeria recruited the late Charlie Boogie of Cameroun, who brought much animation to the group's stage show with his penchant for playing guitar and keyboards with his teeth. 
In the 1986 album Onyebu Uwa Nishi, Ubulu warned against those who would try to copy his musical technique, as it came from water (presumably it was as transparent, flowing and natural as that substance).
Here is a 1992 album by King Ubulu, Ichonionun, SI 022 on the Super International label:


Download Ichonionum as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Sweet 'n' Sour Sounds



We return once again to the Niger River Delta, and some more Ijaw-language highlife music in the style known as awijiri. The rather melancholy vocals and understated guitar work of this music have grown on me over the years - I can't get enough of it! I can tell you nothing about the Ebiogbo International Band other than they were from the small town of Agoloma on the Forcados River in Delta State.


Here is the one album by the Ebiogbo International Band that I'm aware of, Akpoesololo (Sann Records SR 3, 1984). Enjoy!

Ebiogbo International Band of Agoloma - Bayoukumo

Ebiogbo International Band of Agoloma - Akpoesololo



Download Akpoesololo as a zipped file here.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Tshala Muana: The Voice of Kasai



Acclaimed as one of Congo's greatest female singers, Tshala Muana over four decades in the business has emerged as the international ambassadress for Mutuashi, the insistent rhythm and dance style of Kasai Province in central Congo, very different from the mainstream soukous that is usually associated with the country.

She was born in Lubumbashi on March 13, 1958 and made her way to Kinshasa in 1976, where she joined M'Pongo Love's orchestra as a dancer. After recording two singles that didn't make a mark, she joined the group Minzoto Wella-Wella. It was in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, though, where she would make the acquaintance of the musician and arranger Jimmy Hyacinthe in 1981, that she finally made her breakthrough with her smash hit "Amina." Gary Stewart writes in Rumba on the River (Verso Book, London/New York, 2000):

With her straightened hair and evening gown, Tshala resembled one of the Supremes as she glided on stage at the cultural center of Abidjan’s Treichville neighborhood. She sang her songs and danced the mutuashi, a traditional dance of the Baluba from Zaire’s Kasai province. ‘Mutuashi,’she explained, was a Tshiluba word, a shout of encouragement for dancers that eventually became synonymous with the dance itself, and with Tshala Muana too. Subsequent appearances in Abidjan increased her nascent following. 
In 1982, financed by money borrowed from a friend, she flew to Paris with Hyacinthe’s band to cut a record. The A side, ‘Amina’ - a song given her by guitarist Souzy Kasseya, whom she’d met in M’Pongo Love’s band - packs a funky West African feel and lots of brass in support of Tshala’s tart commentary. 
Amina, shake my hand.
Even if you’re my opponent in this run-off.
I can’t hold it against you.
The world is like that, today it’s you, tomorrow it’s me.
Amina, I know what I think,
I’ve known a long time:
A man is like a hospital bed that takes in all the sick.
When you’re there it’s you,
When I’m there it’s me. 
Tshala sang ‘Amina’ in French to reach the widest possible audience, while the B side, ‘Tshebele,’ presented a more traditional piece with a percussion driven sebene in the mutuashi style and lyrics in Tshiluba. Back in Abidjan, the finished disc was reported to have sold more than 11,000 copies in Cote d’Ivoire alone.
Amina / Tshebele was licensed to Roland Francis's African Record Centre in Brooklyn (African Record Centre ARCS 3690) and released in the US to little notice, but nonetheless, Tshala was on her way to international fame:

Tshala Muana - Amina

Tshala Muana - Tshebele

Here's another US pressing from the early '80s (Disco Stock-Makossa DMGM 500, 1984):

Tshala Muana - Akouffa



Tshala Muana's outstanding 1984 release Mbanda Matiere (Safari Ambiance SAS 051) showcasing the stellar guitar work of Souzy Kasseya, is the one that really cemented her international reputation. Recorded in Paris, featuring soukous and mutuashi and lyrics in Lingala and Tshiluba, it established her in her home country as well. The collaboration with Souzy Kasseya is one that has continued on and off throughout Muana's career:






In the late '90s Tshala Muana returned to Congo from a long sojourn in Paris. She has continued her recording career, serving as a mentor to younger musicians who will carry the mutuashi torch. She's also gotten involved in politics and efforts to improve the status of women. 

Download Amina/Tshebele as a zipped file here.

Download Akouffa/Chokepansh as a zipped file here.

Download Mbanda Matiere as a zipped file here.

An informative article about Tshala Muana by Ken Braun from The Beat (Vol. 10, No. 5, 1991) here.