I didn't know what to expect when I posted a recording of Fela Sowande's African Suite a couple of weeks ago, but the reaction has been surprisingly positive, not only in comments and emails but in the the number of downloads.
I say "surprisingly positive" because I didn't know what people would make of this effort to fuse African traditional music with European classical forms. Turns out that African "Art Music" isn't the obscure back ally that I thought it was. Not only is there a lot of it out there, it is the subject of a surprising amount of scholarship. Andreas Wetter directs us to two articles on his website Ntama, and the internet offers up considerable analysis for those who are interested.
Reader/listener William Matczynski has passed on a couple of tunes that were direct influences on passages in African Suite. "Akuko Nu Bonto," a Fanti-language song by George Wiliams Aingo from Ghana bears a sharp resemblence to "Akinla" in the suite (and, I might add, to the classic highlife song "Saturday Night," which has been recorded by just about everybody). This version of the song was recorded in London in 1927 by Zonophone Records and distributed all across West Africa. It is included on the fascinating release Living is Hard: West African Music in Britain 1927-29 (Honest Jon's Records HJRCD 33). We can't tell you anything about Mr. Aingo but the CD Roots of Highlife (Heritage Records, 1992), now long out of print, collects a number of his recordings.
George Williams Aingo - Akuko Nu Bonto
Ghanaian composer Ephraim Kwaku Amu was a trail-blazer in the field of transcription of traditional African songs. He was born in 1899 and began teaching in 1920, contemporaneously with his musical education under the Rev. Allotey-Pappoe.
Soon he had composed a number of popular songs, including "Mawo do na Yesu" ("I Shall Work for Jesus"), "Onipa," "Da Wo So" and "Yen Ara Asase Ni." His cultural nationalist tendencies led to a break with the Church, and he left for London in 1937 to study at the Royal College of Music. It was here that he learned to fuse African polyphony with European forms of music. In the late '60s Amu was the director of the University of Ghana Chorus, which recorded the LP Ghana Asuafo Reto Dwom (Ghanaian Students Sing) for Afro Request Records (SPLP 5027). Amu's composition "Ennye Ye Angye Da," included on the album, was the basis for "Joyful Day" in Sowande's African Suite. From the liner notes, the lyrics are as follows:
University of Ghana Chorus - Ennye Ye Angye Da
This is a joyful day.
Why be sad, when all around is happy and merry?
Work and merrymaking alternate each other to make life enjoyable.
We pledge to engage in both, work and merrymaking, each in its appropriate time to make life happy and merry.
Miles Cleret of Soundway Records asked my wife Priscilla to translate some Igbo-language songs for inclusion on the upcoming Volume 2 of the amazing Nigeria Special. Interestingly, in light of our subject matter, one of those songs, "Egwu Umuagboho" ("The Young Maidens' Dance") is by Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko (above), one of the leading lights of Nigerian Art Music. Ms. Nwosu was born in 1940 and has lived in the United States since 1996. In 1961 she journeyed to Rome on an Eastern Nigerian Government scholarship with the ambition of becoming an opera singer. Here she studied in several conservatories for ten years. Returning to Nigeria in 1972, she became Producer of Musical Programs for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and became a Musical Lecturer at the University of Lagos in 1975, holding a number of posts in that institution until 1992.
Ms. Nwosu has recorded several LPs in Nigeria and is responsible for numerous popular compositions. "Egwu Umuagboho," recorded with Dan Satch Joseph's band, is quite unusual for an Igbo song, reflecting her operatic training. It is based on the traditional girls' dance of Nwosu's Enugu region. Lyrically it is more of a "tone poem" than a straight narrative, adress to a girl named Agnes: "Beautiful Agnes. . . what slight is done to another person? . . . peace, peace Udoegwu. . . anger and quarrel. . . Agnes, it's me talking, Agnes, it's me calling:
Joy Nwosu & Dan Satch Joseph - Egwu Umuagboho
"Egwu Umuagboho" is unavailable for download at this time. Many thanks again to William Matczynski and to Priscilla. The beaded artwork at the top of this post is by Nigerian artist Jumah Buraimoh. You can learn more about him here.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Ikoro's '70 Special (Philips West Africa 6386008) by Dan Satch and the Professional Atomic 8 Band is an album I've been intrigued by for many years. A friend loaned it to me twenty years ago, minus the sleeve, and I dubbed it to a 10" tape reel. The reel lay unlistened to for many years in a box in my office, until I finally was able to digitize it, and many others, last fall.
What has always been a mystery to me has been the identity of "Dan Satch." There is, of course, a well-known Nigerian musician by that name, guitarist Ferdinand Dan Satch Emeka Opara, a co-founder of the legendary Oriental Brothers Band of Owerri. I had always assumed that the Atomic 8 Band was something he was involved in before hooking up with the Orientals (since Ikoro's '70 was recorded in 1969 and the Orientals were founded around 1971 this seemed plausible).
There are some problems with this assumption. The Atomics followed the style of danceband highlife greats like Rex Lawson and Bobby Benson, with some interesting pop and Afrobeat touches. The Orientals, of course, were the pre-eminent representatives of the guitar-based highlife sound that displaced the old dance band sound in the '70s. The two bands' respective styles couldn't be more different. Moreover, the Atomics were based in Aba while Dan Satch Opara hails from the Owerri area.
Which is where things stood until a few months ago, when I received an email from our friend Rainer in Switzerland. It seems he had obtained a copy of the original Atomic 8 10" LP, including the sleeve, and he kindly sent me a scan. One look and it was clear that the leader of the Professional Atomic 8 Dance Band and Dan Satch Opara were not the same person. The liner notes state:
The Atomic "8" Dance Band is led by Dan Satch Joseph who is a seasoned pure tone trumpeter and an arranger. Thirty years old Dan Satch started playing the trumpet in 1959 and was the trumpeter leader of Bobby Benson & his Jam Session Band until 1961. In 1962 he moved to Aba and formed the Atomic "8" Dance Band.Moreover, look at the photographs of the two musicians. Dan Satch Joseph is on the left, Dan Satch Opara on the right:
So even though it is fairly clear now that there is no connection between the Professional Atomic 8 Band and the Oriental Brothers, Ikoro's 70 Special is an excellent album in its own right: a glimpse into the long-lost era of sophisticated Nigerian dance music. Moreover, the use of various languages indicates that the Nigerian music scene was maybe not always as splintered as it is today.
Tracks by the Atomic 8 have been popping up lately on various compilations of classic Nigerian music, on Rusted Highlife Vol. 1 (Mossiac MMCD 1812, 1996), Lagos All Routes (Honest Jon's Records HJRCD 17, 2005), and this year's much-acclaimed Nigeria Special (Soundway SNDWCD 009). The track order on the Ikoro's 70 Special record sleeve is different from that on the record itself and includes two songs that are not on the record, "Eluwa" and "Hasiam." The track order here follows that of the record. For more information on the songs, click the image below:
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Ikoro's 70 Special
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Take Your Time
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Tamuno Emi Dan Satch
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Akadi Nwata Ma
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Kente
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - My Girl in Love!
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Adiaha Obong
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Ocho Okuko Nwe Ada
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Calabar O
Dan Satch & the Professional Atomic "8" Dance Band - Onye Huru Odum