Thanks to a tip from reader/listener Zim Bida, I was able to score from Ebay an almost-mint copy of the elusive LP Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha: Drums and Chants of Fighting Biafra by the Biafran Freedom Fighters (Afro Request SRLP 5030, ca. 1968), and for a very reasonable price!
Although I've been looking for this album for some time, I would have to say after listening to it that it is of more historical than musical interest. According to the liner notes, the "Biafran Freedom Fighters" are ". . .from the ranks of young soldiers who have adapted some old Ibo folklore, that are sung at the camp fires. In addition, they are performing present day war songs." The genre is what is considered "traditional" Igbo music for voice and percussion, or "Igbo Blues." These amateur musicians are not generally of the caliber of artistes like Bob Sir Merengue, Morocco Maduka or Area Scatter who have been featured in earlier posts here. Still, as another snapsot of the Biafran war of 1967-70, Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha is well worth listening to. Enjoy!
"I Say You Don't Fear." Okwa imaregu. Ka ayin bawa egu. If you know no fear, then this is the time to prove it:
Biafran Freedom Fighters - Isikwa Inara Egwu
"The Goddess." Nmebo nwo ogara nye. Oyeri Ngwa. We know you are like a goddess, so we expect you to behave like one:
Biafran Freedom Fighters - Oyeri Mayo Ngwa
"Letting Down the Boss." Nye ka yo obusu ma ka no abubu kayo obubu ma. Mbebe nwo ogaranyi kayo bubuma. To let down your boss is really more than killing him:
Biafran Freedom Fighters - Mbebo Nwo Ogaranyi
"Bonny Creek." Tumbi Ibani a quo eruwe ru. Ibani Creek is a very long journey. Let us try our best and paddle hard to the journey's end:
Biafran Freedom Fighters - Tumbi Ibani
Biafran Freedom Fighters - The Nwatan War Drums
"The Colored Animal." Anu turu agwa gwa we eke. Ilema ayan nu zo a nuturu. Agwa gwa we ke. Be on your guard like a colored animal and adjust yourself to the surroundings:
Biafran Freedom Fighters - Anu Turu Agwa Gwa
"Mosquitoes Molest Me." Atita ekwemu ni hie urura nu lo de de. Despite the arduous journey, I cannot sleep because the mosquitoes molest me:
Biafran Freedom Fighters - Atita Ekemwu
"Beloved Biafra Land." Ayin ga do ala nna ayin Biafra. Let us defend our motherland Biafra to the last drop of our blood:
Biafran Freedom Fighters - Ala Biafra
"Elephant Crush." Eyin mba eyin. Use the elephant's strength to crush the enemy:
Biafran Freedom Fighters - Eyin Mba
"Tied Feet and Hands." Sometimes fear ties our feet and hands. So let's go forward resolutely with our leader:
Biafran Freedom Fighters - Aku Ne Ke Aka
"Fight to the End." Eke le ndu uwa lu o gu ka madu. This fight is a struggle to the end. We will win:
Biafran Freedom Fighters - Ekwele Ndu Uwa
"It's Time." Adama luru di na abali. Adama ni ogeru. After all this, it will be yime that Adama marries her fancy:
Biafran Freedom Fighters - Adama's Ogeru
The translations are from the liner notes of Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha. To download it as a zipped file, go here.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Monday, June 25, 2012
If you've been around here a while you'll know that I have a major obsession with the 1967-70 war in Nigeria, when the Eastern Region of that country left to establish the independent nation of Biafra. It was a valiant struggle, but the nascent Republic went down to defeat on January 15, 1970. I suspect not everyone shares my interest, but some do, and for them I'm posting another entry in Likembe's Biafra archive - the hard-to-find LP Biafra: Birth of a Nation (Lyntone LYN 1684), issued by the Biafra Choral Society in London in 1968. This was kindly provided by Craig Taylor, and I thank him for it.
On January 15, 1966, Nigeria's First Republic came to an end when Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Northern Premier Amadou Bello and Western Premier Samuel Akintola were overthrown and executed in a military coup. A counter-coup led by Major-General Aguiye-Ironsi, an Igbo from the Eastern Region, managed to re-establish order, but his military government lacked legitimacy in the eyes of many Northerners, who saw it as Igbo-dominated. On July 29 a coup led by Northern officers led to the deaths of hundreds of Eastern officers as well as Ironsi himself, sparking a series of bloody events. In September and October of 1966 Northern Nigeria was swept by a series of pogroms targeting Easterners, leading to the panicky exodus of more than a million people to their ancestral homes.
In a last-ditch effort to save Nigerian unity, a meeting was held in Aburi, Ghana January 4-5, 1967 between leaders of the Federal government in Lagos and a delegation from the Eastern Region led by Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. The resulting Accord provided for restructuring Nigeria on a looser confederal basis, but soon became a dead letter as there was no unanimity regarding its interpretation:
The Aburi Declaration
An Efik song:
The Canaan Brothers - Ukaridem (Independence)
The Eastern Region of Nigeria declared its independence as the sovereign state of Biafra on May 30, 1967. It was recognized diplomatically by only five countries: Gabon, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Zambia and Haiti. In addition it received varying levels of support from Portugal, France, China, South Africa and Israel. Britain and the Soviet Union were solidly on the Federal side, while the U.S. was officially "neutral" but tacitly supported Nigeria:
The Rev. Edmund Ilogu - Declaration of Independence
Biafra's national anthem, "Land of the Rising Sun," is based on the "Finlandia" hymn by Sibelius. The first verse is as follows:
Land of the rising sun, we love and cherish,Land of the Rising Sun (Biafra National Anthem)
Beloved homeland of our brave heroes;
We must defend our lives or we shall perish,
We shall protect our hearts from all our foes;
But if the price is death for all we hold dear,
Then let us die without a shred of fear.
The Rev. G.E. Igwe - Prayer
Rex Lawsons's Kalabari-language "Ojukwu Imiete, Biafra Bolate" was the subject of several previous posts and some speculation. Uchenna Ikonne has unearthed a copy of this subversive song as a 45 (Nigerphone NX 412, left), ostensibly pressed in Nigeria, of all places! It has also been released under the titles "Odumegwu Ojukwu (Hail Biafra)" and "God Bless Colonel Ojukwu":
Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson and his Biafra Republicans Band - Ojukwu Imiete, Biafra Bolate (Ojukwu Thank You, Biafra has Come to Stay)
In this speech Ojukwu levels a number of accusations against Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon, most of which are exaggerated or untrue. Gowon apparently played no role in the July 1966 coup that overthrew Ironsi, nor did he "plot" the pogroms of September and October 1966. There is no doubt that the war against Biafra led to a horrendous loss of lives (over a million by conservative estimates) but as to whether it constituted genocide I refer interested parties to this Wikipedia article:
H.E. Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu - The War of Genocide
British Attitude to Nigeria/Biafra War
An Igbo song:
Abraham Onyenobia - Chukwu Zoba Anyi (God Save Us)
At Independence, approximately 40% of the population of Biafra was composed of non-Igbo "Eastern Minorites," Ijaws, Efiks and others. Fearing "Igbo domination," many of these were ambivalent about secession or even actively supported the Federal cause. However, members of minority groups were represented in the Biafran government throughout the war:
Ika Bassey - The Case of the Minorities in Biafra
H.E. Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu - Launching of the Biafran Currency and Postage Stamps
I.S. Kogbara - Excerpt from H.E.'s Address to Special Consultative Assembly, Addis Ababa
Download Biafra: Birth of a Nation as a zipped file, including liner notes, here.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Once again our friend Rainer has come through with an exceedingly rare artifact from the golden age of Nigerian highlife music, in this case a 10" pressing of Love "M" Adure Special, from which I posted some tracks June 21. This was apparently the first pressing, released in 1972. Or maybe it wasn't the first pressing! Rainer writes, ". . . the label says AGR002 etc. But the matrix number says (P)1970 and gives a Philips label number 6386004 as a reference (the Dan Satch is from 1969/70 and has 6386008) Why did they write 1972 on the label? Was this supposed to be released on Philips first back in 1970 but saw the light of day in 72 on Akpola!? Or am I just thinking too much?"
Apart from having a different cover and slightly different reference number (AGR 002 rather than AGB 002), this earlier iteration of Love "M" Adure Special, also on Akpola Records of Benin City, differs in several other respects from my copy. For one thing, it has 10 tracks instead of 12. Also, it includes the song "Gowon's Special," which was omitted from the later record, although it was listed on the sleeve. And for what it's worth, it's a much better pressing.
"Gowon's Special" is very interesting in that it marks Lawson's evolution from being a full-throated supporter of Biafran independence in 1968 to singing the praises of Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon for "keeping Nigeria one" in 1972. Listen to it here:
Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Gowon's Special
I won't presume to understand Lawson's motivations for making "Gowon's Special" as well as the earlier "God Bless Colonel Ojukwu."
To help clarify things, here is the recording information for the two pressings of Love "M" Adure Special:
Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers MenOne nice thing about the original 10" LP is that it includes a listing of the musicians and summaries of the lyrics. You can download the whole album as a zipped file here.
Love "M" Adure Special
(10" LP; Akpola AGR 002, 1972)
A1. Love "M" Adure Special
A2. Gowon's Special
A3. Saturday Sop Di
A4. Yellow Sisi
A5. Nkpa Ke Da Owo
B1. Tom Kiri Site
B2. Wasenigbo Tua
B3. Akwa Abasi
B4. Nume Inye (Nume Alabo)
B5. Peri Special Mbanga II
Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men
Love "M" Adure Special
(12"LP; Akpola AGB 002, 197?)
A1. Jolly Papa Special
A2. Love "M" Adure Special
A3. Saturday Sop Di
A4. Yellow Sisi
A5. Abasi Ye Enye
A6. Nkpake Da Owo
B1. Tom Kiri Site
B2. Wasenigbo Tua
B3. Ese Ayang Iso
B4. Akwa Abasi
B5. Nume Inye
B6. Peri Special
In the comments there's been a side discussion on the question of whether records were actually pressed in Biafra during the war. I thought it was possible, even though all of the major pressing facilities were in the North and West before the war (Nigerphone may have had a plant in Onitsha). After thinking it over, and consulting the map below (click to enlarge) from John de St. Jorre's The Nigerian Civil War (Hodder & Stoughten, 1972), this seems most unlikely.
As the map shows, by October of 1968 the territory under Biafran government control had been reduced to about one sixth of what it was at Independence, and didn't include any of the major cities (Onitsha fell in March of 1968). Although the margins of the Biafran enclave changed slightly over the course of the conflict, this is where things stood until the last months before the war ended in January 1970. Therefore, any "Biafran records" would have to have been pressed outside of the country and smuggled in.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Note: This post was updated on October 4, 2009.
My post "Divided Loyalties" inspired an anonymous reader to make available an intriguing souvenir of the Biafran independence struggle. First Independence Anniversary Special, a 45, was issued in 1968 by the Biafra Association in the Americas, Inc. under the reference number XB-439/XB-440. The A side is "A Nation is Born," a previously-unknown-to-me song by highlife master Celestine Ukwu, while the flip side is the song "God Bless Colonel Ojukwu" by Rex Lawson, which I featured in that earlier post under the title "Odumegwu Ojukwu (Hail Biafra)."
Anonymous poses an interesting question: While First Independence Anniversary Special was obviously pressed in the United States, were records pressed in Biafra during the war? I do know that music by Ukwu and other musicians was recorded and broadcast on Radio Biafra during the conflict, but I'm not aware of any record-pressing facilities in Biafra at the time. Of course, there is always the possibility that records were pressed abroad and smuggled into the Biafran enclave, a fraught task. Could someone shed some light on this matter for us?
Courtesy of Anonymous, here is Celestine Ukwu:
Celestine Ukwu - A Nation is Born
For some time I've been trying to get hold of another record released in the US during the war, Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha: Drums and Chants of Fighting Biafra (Afro Request SRLP 5030) by the mysterious "Biafran Freedom Fighters." If anyone out there has a copy, I'm sure we'd all love to hear it.
I have an LP which was apparently put out by the same people who issued First Independence Anniversary Special. This is Biafra (Biafra Students Association in the Americas XB-149/XB-150) features an instrumental, "Hail Biafra" (the Biafran national anthem?) and a speech by Odumegwu Ojukwu on Side 1, and seven musical selections on Side 2. Unfortunately, while the song titles are given, the artists aren't credited.
I'm posting the contents of This is Biafra. "Hail Biafra" is not especially notable and the Ojukwu speech is more of a historical document, but the other tracks should be of interest to Likembe reader/listeners. I have identified "Onwu Zuri Uwa" and "So Ala Temen" as by Rex Lawson. "A Tit for Tat" is by Area Scatter, and "Onye Nwe Uwa" is by the Nkwa Wu Ite Dance Group of Afikpo (thanks to Anonymous & Vitus Jon Laurence for identifying those two). Perhaps someone could identify the other musicians:
The Struggle for Survival: H.E. Lt. Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, Governor of Biafra (November 24, 1967)
Cardinal Rex Lawson - Onwu Zuru Uwa (There's Death Everywhere)
Unknown Artists - Nkponam Isuhoke Owo (Misfortune Never Discriminates)
Nkwa Wu Ite Dance Group of Afikpo - Onye Nwe Uwa (Who Owns the World?)
Cardinal Rex Lawson - So Ala Temen (Nature Bestows Riches)
Area Scatter - A Tit for Tat
Unknown Artists - Akpasak Ibok, Idiok Udono (Vice is a Terrible Disease)
Unknown Artists - Thou Shalt Not Kill
I've written about the Biafran situation in previous posts, and I would recommend John de St. Jorre's The Nigerian Civil War (Hodder & Stoughton, 1972), long out of print, as an even-handed and detailed account of the conflict. This article from Wikipedia is also useful. I would say at the risk of sparking a controversy that I think the Biafran cause was a noble one, and had it succeeded, would have changed the course of African history in a positive direction. But I'm afraid Biafra's historical moment has come and gone; whatever the future of Africa has in store, an independent Biafran state will probably not be part of it.
Download This is Biafra as a zipped file here.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
The recent dénouement of the 25-year Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka was reminiscent in many ways of the end of the Biafran war in Nigeria in January of 1970: both of them were hard-fought popular rebellions that collapsed very suddenly. In both cases the human and economic cost was horrendous.
In its time Biafra was a cause that engaged people the world over in support of its beleaguered people. The proximate reason for the start of the war was a series of pogroms across Northern Nigeria in 1966 directed at natives of the Eastern region of the country, mainly Igbos. In response, Eastern Nigeria, under the leadership of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, seceded as the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967.
Sometime during the course of the war, Nigerian highlife star Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson recorded his song "Odumegwu Ojukwu," commonly known as "Hail Biafra." I'm told that this was released on Onitsha's Nigerphone label, although I have no more information about it. Given its controversial nature, it's not surprising that "Hail Biafra" was more or less banned in the post-war years, and was not on any of Lawson's five "official" Nigerian LPs. The song came to light again in the late 1990s when it was released as part of a compilation entitled Rex Lawson Uncensored: Hail Biafra (Mossiac MMCD 1036).
"Odumegwu Ojukwu" is apparently in Ijaw, so I can't give an exact translation of the lyrics, but in spoken English comments toward the end, Lawson clearly indicates his support for Biafra's Head of State. These sentiments are said to have earned his detention by Federal troops, to whom he is said to have told that he recorded the song "to uplift the rebels." Here's the song:
Rex Lawson - Odumegwu Ojukwu (Hail Biafra)
More interestingly, sometime later Lawson recorded a song in tribute to Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, who not only had led an earlier separatist rebellion in the Niger Delta (the so-called "Twelve-Day Revolution") but died fighting on the Federal side against the Biafran separatists. Boro was an ardent defender of the interests of his Ijaw people, and by some accounts his sentiments toward the Igbo (who predominated in Biafra) were chauvinistic bordering on racist. Such are the dynamics of ethnic politics in southeastern Nigeria! "Major Boro's Sound" was included on the album Rex Lawson's Victories Vol. 2 (Akpola AGB 003) and is also featured on Rex Lawson Uncensored: Hail Biafra:
Rex Lawson - Major Boro's Sound
If there was one thing Rex Lawson wasn't, it was a narrow-minded tribalist. A true cosmopolitan, he had an Ijaw father and and Igbo mother, and his Majors Band (later The Rivers Men) included musicians from various ethnicities. He sang in all of the languages of southeastern Nigeria. Some years ago a fellow named Ofon M. Samson emailed me with English-language summaries of some of the songs on Lawson's LP Love "M" Adure Special (Akpola AGB 002, below). I believe the original songs were all in Efik. In the first of these, "Saturday Sop Di," Lawson sings that he wants Saturday to hurry up and arrive:
Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Saturday Sop Di
"Abasi Ye Enye" was supposedly written after Lawson had lost a child. He sings, "Whoever killed my child, God will see him or her":
Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Abasi Ye Enye
"Tom Kiri Site" means "The World is Bad":
Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Tom Kiri Site
"Ese Ayang Iso" is about a leper, about whom Lawson sings, "ese Ayang iso, kuse ikpat," meaning "look at Ayang's face not her feet because she has a disease":
Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Ese Ayang Iso
"Akwa Abasi" means "Almighty God." Lawson quotes John 3:16, ". . .For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Akwa Abasi
In "Nkpa Ke Da Owo," Lawson sings about death taking someone away. During the break one of the band members asks, "Death why have you taken our master? Who is going to lead us?." A prescient question, given that Lawson would die in 1971:
Cardinal Rex Lawson & his Rivers Men - Nkpa Ke Da Owo
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
As you may have noticed, I've been writing quite a bit lately about the music of Nigeria's "Eastern Minorities." By this I mean the non-Igbo ethnic groups that comprised about 40% of the population of the old Eastern Region of Nigeria that existed from 1954 until 1967. In 1967 the East attempted to separate and form the independent Republic of Biafra. For the most part the minorities - the Ijaws, Ogonis, Efiks, Ibibios and so forth - supported the Federal Government in that conflict, and since they occupied the coastal areas this was a decisive factor in the defeat of the Biafran cause in 1970.
One of the biggest names of classic Nigerian highlife, Erekosima Rex Lawson, was the son of an Igbo mother and an Ijaw father from Buguma, in the "New Calabar" region of present-day Rivers State, and thus is claimed as a native son by both groups. New Calabar is said to have been settled by Efiks from Calabar in present-day Cross River State, but its language, Kalabari, is in fact a dialect of Ijaw. Lawson sang in this language and Igbo, as well as other tongues of Nigeria, making him beloved across the country.
Buguma produced another highlife musician, Emperor Erasmus Jenewari. A retiring and urbane man, Jenewari's career was somewhat overshadowed by that of the great Lawson. In the years before the Biafra war he was based in Onitsha, where he recorded numerous hits like "Abari Nyanawa," "Oteke," "Opa Iweriso," and the evergreen "Odenigbo."
Following the war Jenewari seems to have forsaken secular music altogether, and devoted himself strictly to Christian devotional music with his group the Gospel Bells (shown at the top of this post; Jenewari is in the middle of the bottom row). Here are tunes from two of his gospel albums, Tamuno Belema (Philips 6361 168, 1976) and Joy Hallelujah (Polydor POLP 081, 1982). Listening to these lovely songs takes me back to eastern Nigeria, where the sound of gospel music is omnipresent.
"Tamuno Ne-Giye Ofori" and "Ichoro Onu" from Tamuno Belema are reminiscent in so many ways of Celestine Ukwu's brilliant album Ejim Nk'onye (Philips 6361 111, 1975). It's hard to say for sure, as there are no credits on either LP, but I suspect they share a set of backup musicians. The lyrics of the first song are simplicity itself: "There's nothing greater than God," repeated in the major languages of Nigeria. I detect Ijaw, Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa in the mix and there are probably several others as well:
Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - Tamuno Ne-Giye Ofori
Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - Ichoro Onu
"O Tamuno Boma/Ona Som" and "Joy Hallelujah" are from Joy Hallelujah. "Joy Hallelujah" was the most important hit of the gospel phase of Jenewari's career:
Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - O Tamuno Boma/Ona Som
Erasmus Jenewari & his Gospel Bells - Joy Hallelujah
I understand that Erasmus Jenewari passed on a number of years ago without much fanfare even in Rivers State, a sad commentary.
Many thanks to Eji I. Nwuke, who provided me with much of the information used in this post.