Showing posts with label Hausa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hausa. Show all posts

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Between Man and Money



I've been posting some of the many Hausa cassettes from northern Nigeria in my collection with a bit of anxiety. It's not a genre I'm terribly familiar with - most of the documentation online is in Hausa. In terms of rhythm and orchestration, let's just say this music is not terribly ostentatious. Hausa music's attractions seem to lie in the quality of the lyrics, which I'm told can be poetic, legendary and amusing. But since I don't know Hausa or anyone who does, I can't tell you anything about them, other than what I can glean from the internet.

Still, Google Analytics and download statistics from Mediafire tell me that my Hausa postings have garnereed a fair amount of interest, so I'll keep putting them up here. Maybe someone reading this who knows Hausa can help fill in the blanks for us.

Today's featured artist, Alhaji Audu Wazirin Danduna (above), was one of the more popular Hausa bards. He passed away on July 6, 2013 after a long career marked by many beloved songs, including "Alhaji Abubakar Sarkin Karaye" ("Great King Abubakar") and "Dan Adam da Kudi" ("Between Man and Money"), both of which are included on our featured cassette, Harka Sai Da Kudi (EMI Nigeria HMV 032). The second song is the subject of a scholarly paper by Aminu Ali at Bayero University in Kano, "Money and Social Interaction in Simmel’s Philosophy of Money and Audu Wazirin Ɗanduna’s Ballad Tsakanin Ɗan'adam da Kuɗi," which you can download here. Ali writes:

...Wazirin Ɗanduna, in this ballad, Tsakanin Ɗan’ adam da Kuɗi, portrays his perception of the character of money in modern society. His skilful vignette of the character of money and analysis of how it transforms social relationships was similar to Simmel’s philosophy of money. He, like Simmel, sees money as a component of life that aids an understanding of the totality of life. He is of the view that reification, cynicism, a blasé attitude, and impersonal relationships and individualism characterized social life in a money economy. Wazirin Ɗanduna repeatedly narrates, in different stanzas, that money creates and expands social networks among individuals and its possession is inevitable for an individual’s continuous social existence. For instance, he sings:

Hausa:
Wazirin Ɗanduna: Yanzu ba ka mutane sai kana da kuɗi
’Y/Amshi: Tsakanin Ɗan’ adam da Kuɗi

English:
Wazirin Ɗanduna: People relate with you only if you have money
Chorus: Money and a man

Hausa:
Wazirin Ɗanduna: Yanzu duk wata harka sai kana da kuɗi
’Y/Amshi: Tsakanin Ɗan’ adam da Kuɗi

English:
Wazirin Ɗanduna: Every deal nowadays is traced to money
Chorus: Money and a man

In the two stanzas above, Wazirin Ɗanduna also expresses the tragedy of culture; people indispensably need money (the objective culture) in order to relate with others and be functioning members of society, which paves the way for self-reflection and development of self-consciousness (the subjective culture). This means that money has assumed a life of its own, exerting independent influence on the humans who created it.

The impersonal nature of money has also been stressed by Wazirin Ɗanduna. He, like Simmel, affirms that people are connected only by an interest that can be expressed in monetary terms. He also indicates in the stanzas following that money, rather than individuals’ personal qualities and social ties, shapes our everyday dealings with others. In other words, it depersonalizes relationships between individuals; it makes an individual’s personal attributes, other ties, etc. immaterial. For instance, when he says ‘no deals without money’ and ‘every deal nowadays is traced to money,' he underestimates the influence of blood and social ties or, more precisely, envisions them as withering away in modern time. Wazirin Ɗanduna says:

Yanzu ba wata harka sai kana da kuɗi
‘No deals without money’

Yanzu duk wata harka sai kana da kuɗi
‘Every deal nowadays is traced to money’

Akan so mummuna saboda kuɗi
‘Someone ugly is desired because of money’

Ka ga ana ƙin kyakkyawa saboda kuɗi
‘And someone beautiful is rejected because of money

Wazirin Ɗanduna was also interested in analyzing the reification that characterized a money economy. He identifies certain attributes that were hitherto non-monetary, but are nowadays treated as if they are concrete or material things. He specifically emphasizes respect, truth and love as abstract things that are tied to money in the stanzas quoted beneath:

Ko girma ma sai kana da kuɗi
‘Prestige is only tied to money’

Kuma akan yi rashin girma saboda kuɗi
‘And one falls from grace because of money’

Ana ɗaukar magana saboda kuɗi
‘Command is obeyed because of money’

Ana ƙin magana saboda kuɗi
‘And command is disobeyed because of money’

Ana raba ka da girma saboda da kuɗi
‘You can be snubbed without money’

Ҡaramin yaro saboda kuɗi
‘A boy with money’

Ana masa ban girma saboda kuɗi
‘Is respected because of money’

Ana take ƙarya saboda kuɗi
‘a lie is often covered-up because of money’

In the stanzas above, Wazirin Ɗanduna explicitly shows that respect and disrespect are associated with money. He also shows that lies can be covered up and treated as truths because of money. This means that respect and truth are treated as if they are commodities that have prices. To further illustrate this point, he narrates that:

Ko Alhaji ya zo sai ka na da kuɗi
‘Alhaji’s presence is recognized only if he is affluent’

Alhaji ko baya nan don saboda kuɗi
‘Alhaji’s absence is noticed because of money’

In the preceding stanzas, he shows that Alhaji’s (used in this context to refer to a head of a family) presence or absence is recognized even by the members of his family only because of money. This means one’s position in the family does not determine the respect accorded to him or his influence on other members of the family – what determines these things is his or her material position.

Wazirin Ɗanduna also shows that reification has resulted in a blasé attitude; people are unperturbed by certain virtues, they are rather concerned with excessive materialism. To stress this, he, like Simmel, uses marriage for material gain as an example. Wazirin Ɗanduna demonstrates that material consideration assumes more prominence in choosing a marriage partner than genuine personal affection, state of health, temperament, physical appearance, and other non-material virtues possessed by the chosen partner. Wazirin Ɗanduna explicitly shows this in the stanzas below:

Ana auren gurgu saboda kuɗi,
‘A paraplegic is often married because of money’

Ana ƙin mai kafa saboda kuɗi
‘And yet a healthy person is disliked because of money’

Ana son mummuna saboda kuɗi,
‘Someone ugly is desired because of money’

Ka ga ana ƙin kyakkyawa saboda kuɗi
‘And someone beautiful is also rejected because of money’.

The aforesaid stanzas indicate that physical deformities, ugliness and beauty are ignored or, to put it differently, are less important in selecting a partner. What is most important is the material status of the partner. This means money has made people develop a blasé attitude with respect to these virtues (beauty, truth, temperament, fitness, etc.)...
I hope Dr. Ali won't object to me posting this extensive extract from his paper. I think we're all interested in putting the music we listen to into context.

Alhaji Audu Wazirin Danduna -  Alhaji Abubakar Sarkin Karaye / Duniya / Ibrahim Tahir

Alhaji Audu Wazirin Danduna - Dan Adam da Kudi / Garba A.D.

I will continue to upload music like this if people are interested. Download Harka Sai da Kudi as a zipped file here.


Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Little Orphan of Jos



Together with Barmani Mai Coge and Alhaji Maman Shata, Dan Maraya Jos was a leading exemplar of the traditional music of the Hausa people of northern Nigeria.

Alhaji Adamu Wayya (his nickname "Dan Maraya Jos" means "the little orphan of Jos") was born in Bukuru, a suburb of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria in 1946. As both of his parents died when he was young, he was adopted by the Sarkin Hausawa, or Emir, of Bukuru, for whom his father was a court musician. It was under the tutelege of the Emir that Adamu Wayya made the acquaintence of local musicians, traveling and becoming a master of the kuntigi, the Hausa one-string lute. His Wikipedia entry states:

The kuntigi is a small, single-stringed lute. The body is usually a large, oval-shaped sardine can covered with goatskin. Dan Maraya and other kuntigi players are solo performers who accompany themselves with a rapid ostinato on the kuntigi. During instrumental interludes they repeat a fixed pattern for the song they are playing, but while singing, they will often change the notes of the pattern to parallel the melody they are singing. 
Like most professional musicians, the mainstay of Dan Maraya's repertoire is praise singing, but Dan Maraya singles out his personal heroes rather than the rich and famous. His first, and perhaps still his most famous song is "Wak'ar Karen Mota" ("Song of the Driver's Mate") in praise of the young men who get passengers in and out of minivan buses and do the dirty work of changing tires, pushing broken down vans, and the like. During the Nigerian Civil War, he composed numerous songs in praise of soldiers of the federal army and incorporated vivid accounts of scenes from the war in his songs. 
Dan Maraya's music promoted family and social values as well as national unity. He campaigned for polio vaccination and was politically active as well, performing on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan's People's Democratic Party in the 2015 elections. He passed away June 20, 2015 in Jos. On the occasion, his good friend Ladan Salihu, Director General of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, declared:

Inaa Lillaahi Wa Innaa ilaihir raaji’un. One of Nigeria’s foremost Hausa musicians, poet, philosopher and philanthropist, Dr Adamu Danmaraya Jos has answered Allah’s call about an hour ago. He died in Jos after a protracted illness. When I visited him two weeks ago, he spoke passionately about the Unity of the North and of one Nigeria. We shared many moments. He was to me a brother and a friend. I am devastated. But I am proud he lived a very useful life, transforming society through music and silently through Islamic endeavours. May Allah grant him Aljannatul Firdaus. Jos was a poet and griot, and his music was often laced with philosophy and drama.
Here's a musical offering from this immortal poet, the 1986 LP Kudi Masu Gida Rana (Polydor POLP 151). I'm unable to tell you anything about the songs or their lyrics. I hope you'll enjoy it.







Download Kudi Masu Gida Rana as a zipped file here.


Update: Many thanks to Richard Graham for bringing this to my attention:



Tuesday, December 19, 2017

From Benin City to the World



Some years ago I discussed the former Benin Empire (not to be confused with the present-day "Republic of Benin"), its premier nationality, the Edo or Bini people, and highlighted some musicians from that area. It is justly renowned for its artwork, much of which has resided in the British Museum since the conquest and looting of Ubinu, present-day Benin City, in 1897.

Nigerian highlife superstar and  Benin City favorite son Sir Victor Uwaifo is an avatar of Edo culture not only in the musical sphere but in other fields as well - he's a professor of Fine Arts and bronze casting at the University of Benin City. He got his start as a musician in the legendary Victor Olaiya's band in the early sixties and went on to play with E.C. Arinze before starting his first band, the Pickups, in 1963. His smash hits "Joromi" and "Guitar Boy," with the Melody Maestros (later renamed the Titibitis) in the late '60s, and his invention of the ekassa and akwete styles among others, cemented his reputation as a giant of the Nigerian music scene. This was due in no small part to his skillful adaptation of traditional Edo folkloric themes. His outrageous performance style contributed to his reputation as well, including playing the guitar with his teeth and dancing with a small person on stage.

Apart from a few records in English, Uwaifo has always performed in the Edo language. An exception is today's musical selection, the outstanding 1986 release Egwu-Ọzo (Polydor POLP 139).  In addition to one song, "Eyasodaro," in Edo, it features pieces in the three most widespread languages of Nigeria: Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa.

"Egwu Ọzo," an adaptation of Igbo court music, kicks things off:

Sir Victor Uwaifo & his Titibitis - Egwu Ọzo

Edo:

Sir Victor Uwaifo & His Titibitis - Eyasodaro

Yoruba:

Sir Victor Uwaifo & his Titibitis - Ifa Jigijigi

Hausa:

Sir Victor Uwaifo & his Titibitis - Yarinya

I have heard other versions of the Hausa song "Yarinya" ("Girl"), so I assumed it must be a standard. The liner notes of Egwu-Ọzo credit it to the Ishie Brothers, who interestingly were an Igbo group. I suspect they were resident in northern Nigeria in the early '60s, where they gained a bit of a following among the Hausa people. A little search revealed several songs by them in my music library, including "Mafara, Kusa da Sokoto" from the LP Catchy Rhythms From Nigeria Vol. 2 (Philips P 13401 R), which turns out to be "Yarinya" under its original title.


Here's the original version of the song:

Ishie Brothers - Mafara, Kusa da Sokoto

If you're interested in exploring further the music of Victor Uwaifo, something I heartily recommend, a great place to start would be the compilation Guitar-Boy Superstar: 1970-76 (Soundway SNDWCD 012, 2008), the liner notes of which were quite helpful in writing this post.

Download Egwu-Ọzo as a zipped file here.



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Voice of Arewa



A while back I posted about northern Nigeria's greatest female singer, Barmani Mai Choge. I devote today's post to Alhaji Mamman Shata, acclaimed as the greatest male singer of "Arewa," a giant who ruled the Hausa music scene for over 60 years.

Finding out more information about Dr. Mamman Shata has not been easy. He is the subject of at least one biography, "Shata Ikon Allah!" by Ibrahim Sheme (Kaduna, Infomart Publishers, 2006), and at least one doctoral dissertation, “The Role of an Oral Singer in Hausa/Fulani Society: A Case Study of Mamman Shata," by Dr. Abdulkadir Dandatti (Folklore Institute, Indiana University, 1975), neither of which I've been able to get hold of. There does seem to be a fair amount of information about him online in Hausa.

Shata was born in Rugar Kusa, Musawa Village, Northern Nigeria in 1922. Although his father disapproved of his interest in music, he began singing at the age of 13 and was soon composing his own Wakokin, traditional Hausa praise songs. He was accompanied by musicians playing kalungu, small talking drums, and travelled throughout the north of Nigeria gaining fame if not yet fortune. He once told an interviewer, “I ventured into music out of childish exuberance. I didn’t inherit it from either of my parents. I sang for a long time without collecting a penny. Even when I was given money, other praise singers collected it. I only started collecting money when I made it (music) a career." He settled down in Funtua, also the home of Barmani Mai Choge, a wild and wooly municipality that hosted many brothels. Chafing at the strictures of conservative Hausa Muslim society, he had a taste for drink and sang its praises.

It is said that Mamman Shata never rehearsed and composed his songs on the spot. I've been unable to track down much of his discography and I suspect most of his music was never pressed but recorded for broadcast. Probably much of it was not recorded at all. In addition to praise songs, his repertoire covered all manner of subjects, from agriculture to politics to the military, even food! One notable song is said to have been broadcast throughout northern Nigeria during the troubles of 1966-67 preaching peace, tolerance and national unity. He performed throughout West Africa and even made it to Britain and the United States.

Alhaji Doctor Mamman Shata passed away on June 18, 1999, leaving behind three wives, 22 children, numerous grandchildren and an immortal musical legacy. The true voice of Arewa!


Here are two cassettes by the immortal Mamman Shata.

The cassette Bakandamiyar (EMI Nigeria EMI 003), which I obtained during a visit to Kano in 1995, is a dub of a scratchy LP recorded, I suspect, some time in the '70s or earlier. I would guess the song "Garba Bichi" is in honor of Abubakar Ali Bichi, who was a prominent Northern Nigerian businessman born in 1924. There is a Garba Bichi Ahmed (possibly his son?) who is a member of the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives from Bichi, Kano State, but since he was born in 1964, it's probably not about him:

Alhaji Mamman Shata - Garba Bichi

"Bakandamiyar"is considered one of Maman Shata's greatest songs. In it he sings his own praises:

I started Bakandamiya and embraced the thing that interests me most
Alo, Alo, the singer expresses his gratitude and so do the chorus.
As for me nothing interests me except my singing,
Beat your drum carefully,
Play slowly and carefully,
For drumming is your inheritance but not mine.
I started singing as a hobby,
Certainly I started it as a hobby and outshined the professionals;
Now it is my match that they search for and have woefully failed,
Alo, Alo, the singer expresses his gratitude and so do the chorus.
It is not parting with a hero that is painful,
But filling the gap which he created....

...One day here in the city of Dabo,
 I have ever lived in the city of Dabo,
During the reign of Sanusi Mamman,
Burhan father of Habu son of Abdu,
Then I packed my belongings and left,
And returned to the city of Dikko,
Our Katsina, the city of Shehu. 
My departure pleased the Kano singers;
They ganged up against me saying:
That bastard Shata has gone,
Good riddance Shata has left,
Ha! Since he left the city of Dabo,
No doubt has lost many good things.
Go your way; I am aware I missed Kano City,
And Kano too had missed a famous singer,
And you also had missed my singing. 
After six good months I staged a comeback,
I went away for six months,
And returned to the city of Dabo,
On Friday during the princess’s wedding,
I sneaked in with my mini car,
I took a corner and parked my mini car,
I put on a veil and joined the crowd..... 
.....I pondered and groaned,
There and then I uncovered myself,
And said, You have now felt the absence of Shata, the singer.
Even among kola nuts there are marsa,
Well much more so among the singers,
Princes, I hope and think that you will lend me your ears,
And listen to my song.
It is not parting with the hero that is painful,
But filling the gap which he created.... 
......That day I rose and praised myself,
And praised God and his Messenger,
That day I outshined Hamisu, outwitted Caji and put Dabolo out of action,
They cast a spell on me but to no avail,
And had I prior knowledge,
I would have brought my billy-he goat, and my speckled fetish cock,
What! Would that I were able to know in advance,
I would have prepared for it.
I ignored banjo and guitar players,
Because they are insignificant musicians who,
Play for money clothes to wear and a few pounds to get married.
Alhaji Mamman Shata - Bakandamiyar

Download Bakandamiyar as a zipped file here.

Emir of Hadeija (Polydor POLP 121), which came out in 1985 I think, was one of Shata's last recordings, and is considered one of his best. I presume from the song titles that they are in honor of various notables. For instance, Side One honors rulers of various traditional states in Northern Nigeria, while I would guess Side Two praises business or political leaders:

Alhaji Mamman Shata -  Emir of Hadeija / Emir of Bauchi / Bella Galadima of Katagun / Emir of Daura Alhaji Maman Bashar

Alhaji Mamman Shata - Habibu Fari Elema / Wili Dan Tijani / Shehu Kasimu Sarkin Mararaba / Malam Shuaibu Gadan Gayan / B.B. Faruku Na Allah

Download Emir of Hadeja as a zipped file here.

The picture at the top of this post is from the Mamman Shata Facebook page. The translation of the lyrics of "Bakandamiyar" is from the article, "10 Years After his Death, Shata Still Lives on," from the Daily Trust (Nigeria), June 21, 2009, which provided much useful information for this post. I'm also greatly indebted to the blog Taskar Mamman Shata and the Wikipedia article "Mamman Shata."



Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Diva of Northern Nigeria



As readers may be aware, I've had a long-time interest in Nigerian music and feature it often here at Likembe. However, all of the music I've posted here has been from the southern part of the country and of this the majority has been from two ethnic groups, the Yoruba and the Igbo. Nigeria, though, is a huge country of 186 million residents, who speak over 500 languages. Of these, along with the Igbo and Yoruba, the largeest nationality is the Hausa, who predominate in the northern part of the country. Nigeria's cultural diversity, a product of British colonial rule, has been a blessing and at times a curse.

Prior to 1995, the only Hausa music I had heard was a couple of LPs of traditional music - one from the esteemed Bärenreiter Musicaphon series and another issued by the African Record Centre in Brooklyn. In December of that year, during a visit to Nigeria, I was curious to discover more, so together with my brother-in-law boarded a plane to Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria. Our cab driver directed us to a music store which had an extensive selection of cassettes, mainly featuring the ever-popular Congolese sound, but also many from Mali and other countries of the Sahel. Notably there were many cassettes from Sudan. I understand this popularity of Sudanese music is a result of pilgrims from northern Nigeria stopping off in that country on their way to and from Mecca. I regret now that I didn't purchase any of these at the time.

My main interest was Hausa music, and I was amply rewarded with about 30 cassettes by artists like Alhaji Mamman Shata, Dan Maraya Jos, Audu Waziri Danduna, Sanni Dandawo, and northern Nigeria's greatest diva, Barmani Mai Choge.


According to the article "Barmani Choge: The Last of the Strong Ones" by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Daily Trust, March 10, 2013), Choge, née Hajiya Sa’adatu Aliyu, was born in the town of Funtua in 1943 or '45 and "...soaked up the cosmopolitan nature of that place that produced the legendary Mamman Shata, and she picked up what had hitherto been a pastime for women in the confines of their houses (the beating of calabashes) and made a successful music career out of it. And all these, while having a dozen children or so along the way. A feat she celebrated in her song 'Gwanne Ikon Allah.' She reportedly married at 15...."

A publicity flyer for a 2008 performance states that "...Barmani Choge popularized the mature Hausa women genre of music called Amada (although she had precedent in the late Hajiya Uwaliya Mai Amada (1934-83)), which started as religious performance by women in their inner apartments, before later becoming secularized in public performances. Barmani Choge’s performances appeal typically to mature women in high society due to her daring – and often experimental – exploration of issues that other conventional women musicians avoid. Literally the last of her generation, she popularized the Amada genre of Hausa music which is centered around five upturned calabashes floating on water and played with the hands by rather elderly women...."

Barmani Mai Choge passed away in early 2013, leaving Nigeria a poorer place, but setting an example for the women of the North. I present here two cassettes by Choge - 1987's Mai Soso Ke Wanka (Polydor POLP 162) and A Kama Sana'a Mata (Polydor POLP 166) from 1988. I've been unable to find out much about the lyrics (Google Translate wasn't much help), but I'm passing on what I know.

From Mai Soso Ke Wanka:

"Gwarne Ikon Allah" - "The Blessings of Multiple Births"

Hajiya Barmani Mai Coge & her Group - Mai Soso Ke Wanka / Gwarne Ikon Allah / Wakar Da'a

Hajiya Barmani Mai Coge & her Group - Maras Sana'a / Sama Ruwa Kosa Huwa

Dowload Mai Soso Ke Wanka as a zipped file here. Here is A Kama Sana'a Mata:

"...The Funtua in which Barmani and Shata grew was teeming with brothels and a joie de vivre approach to life and was perhaps ripe for the lewd lyrics of her hit song “Wakar Duwai Wai”, which in contemporary Nigerian music would have taken a fitting title like “The bum bum song”. In it, Barmani praises the female physiognomy and its inherent powers, how a woman can wiggle her backside and have a man do her bidding. Women loved it, and men smiled a silent acknowledgement. And Barmani place as a social deviant was firmly established...." (Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, op. cit.)

Hajiya Barmani Mai Coge & her Group - Wakar Dwaiwai / Mai Abin Dadi / Azwage Zogala

"Woman, Take Up a Trade":

Hajiya Barmani Mai Coge & her Group - A Kama Sana'a Mata

Hajiya Barmani Mai Coge & her Group - Wakar Kishiya / Wakar Mutau Misau

Download A Kama Sana'a Mata as a zipped file here.

A future post will feature the music of northern Nigeria's foremost male singer, Alhaji Mamman Shata.


One question I had at the time of my 1995 visit was whether there was any analog in northern Nigeria to the popular musical styles of the South - highlife, jùjú, fújì and so forth. There were one or two Hausa highlife ensembles back in the '60s and '70s, and southern Nigerian artists will occasionally record songs in the language, but the answer, at least in 1995, seemed to be "no." The subject matter may involve modern concerns, but the music of Choge, along with the other artists I've mentioned, is definitely within the classic framework, utilizing percussion, one-string lutes and other traditional instruments.

Unknown to me at the time, though, Hausa music was undergoing a revolution, and this was spurred by the Bollywood film industry of India, whose products have been popular throughout Nigeria for many years. The liner notes of Harafin So: Bollywood Inspired Film Music From Hausa Nigeria (Sahel Sounds SS-014, 2013) tell the story:
"...Hausa tradtional musicians began to play cover versions of popular Bollywood soundtrack music...It was not until 1990, and the introduction of VHS, that the first Hausa language films were made in Kano, and Kannywood was born. Naturally, producers turned to the influences of films they had been watching for generations. Featuring plots of forced marriages and love triangles - indeed, sometimes copying the plot directly from the original Hindi films - these new homemade creations also retained the most popular feature of Bollywood: song and dance. 
"...as in Bollywood, soon the film songs came to eclipse the films themselves. It was not long before songs began to precede the film. In these polyphonic duets, men and women often would exchange words with one another, throwing barbs or providing romantic innuendos. Stylistic elements began to emerge in Hausa popular music, with the frenetic rhythm of a drum machine and synthesizer riffs. Autotune, the pitch correcting technology, joined the toolkit, offering a chance to compete with the high octave voices of Hindi film, becoming a signature sound of the film music..."
Harafin So is highly recommended. Here is an example of Hausa film music, thoughtfully featuring English subtitles:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nigeria's Lady of Songs




I'll admit to being a little mystified by the current fascination with the cheesier byways of African music - '70s and '80s Afro-Rock, Afro-Disco and the like. The tracks on Frank Gossner's collection Lagos Disco Inferno, for example, strike me as cheap-sounding and derivative. But what do I know? The first pressing of LDI, released in May, has already sold out. And if you think it's just ironic hipsters in Brooklyn who are boppin' out to this stuff, check out With Comb and Razor or the many Naija message boards out there. They prove that Nigerians of a certain age are still pining for the sounds of Ofege, Harry Mosco and Doris Ebong. It all goes to show that African music, as listened to by Africans themselves, has never been as exalted or "pure" as we outsiders may have once thought.

Back in the day, Christy Essien (later Christy Essien-Igbokwe) was the queen of disco music in Nigeria. She cut her first album, Freedom (Anodisc ALPS 1015, 1976), when she was sixteen, and copies of her '70s pressings today command astronomical prices on Ebay. Essien was just one of a cohort of female singers who made a splash in Nigeria in the '70s & '80s, like Onyeka Onwenu, Patty Boulaye and Martha Ulaeto, and if you want to know more, Uchenna Ikonne discusses them extensively here. According to Uchenna, Essien's 1981 outing Ever Liked my Person? (Lagos International LIR 1), was meant to take her to the next level of international stardom, and it certainly made an impression in Nigeria, where henceforth she would be known as "Nigeria's Lady of Songs."

I present for your perusal two late '80s recordings by Essien-Igbokwe which display her mature sound. Taking my Time (Soul Train Records STR 1) showcases slick production values and plenty of influences from country-western ("Show a Little Bit of Kindness") to makossa (the Yoruba-language "Iya Mi Ranti" and Igbo "Ibu Ndum"). All in all, a pretty decent example of middle-of-the-road Nigerian pop music:











Download Taking My Time as a zipped file here. 1988's It's Time. . . (His Master's Voice HMV 066) is a little less successful in my opinion, being a little too dependent on the synthesizers for my taste. Still, it has its moments:









Download It's Time as a zipped file here. In later years Essien-Igbokwe devoted herself to acting in Nigeria's burgeoning video industry and in November celebrated her fiftieth birthday, an occasion duly noted in the Nigerian media. Here she is today:



Sunday, August 12, 2007

Le Demón de la Musique Africain




Once upon a time many thought that Ali Baba would be the next big thing in African music. With his flashy stage show and eclectic, cosmopolitan style it was thought that he could give King Sunny Ade and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti a run for their money. His premier disc Ali Baba '85 drew a lot of attention, and an appearance in London later that year seemed to herald bigger and better things.

In the end, though, not much came of it. King Sunny Ade lost his contract with Island Records and Fela stayed more of a cult figure, at least until his death in 1997.
The "African music boom" of the mid '80s turned out to be more of a "boomlet." And Ali Baba returned to his native Cameroun, where he continued to make music that was appreciated by many until his death on May 15, 2004.

Amadou Baba Ali was a a Hausa, a nationality of 30-35 million that is centered on Northern Nigeria and the Republic of Niger, but has members throughout West Africa. He was born in 1956 in Garoua, northern Cameroun. From 1980 to 1984 he achieved great fame and skill as a dancer with the National Ballet of Cameroun and in 1985 recorded Ali Baba '85 in Paris.

Frank Bessem's Musiques d'Afrique states that Ali Baba suffered a crippling stroke in 1993 that made it very difficult for him to get about, yet achieved a miraculous come-back later in the '90s. He founded a production company, Soul Gandjal, with the aim of promoting artists from northern Cameroun.

What I find interesting about Ali Baba is that for many years he was one of the few Hausa musicians performing in a modern, contemporary mode. In the recent period hip-hop and other styles have made their influence felt in Hausaland, but for many years Hausa music was performed almost totally in traditional styles utilizing instruments like the talking drum, goje, kontigi, and kakakai.
There were only a couple of Hausa highlife musicians and no Hausa equivalent of syncretic, modern Nigerian styles like juju or fuji.

Here's the music:

Around 1984 or so, Ali Baba contributed this tune to the deluxe 3-LP set produced by the Société Camerounaise du Droit d'Auteur (SOCADRA), Fleurs Musicales du Cameroun (Afrovision FMC 001/002/003). Here he's backed up by the National Orchestra of Cameroun.
Fleurs Musicales, by the way, is an anthology that is just crying out for reissue. I'm planning to post more tracks from it in the future:

Ali Baba & l'Orchestre Nationale du Cameroun - Aourgo

From Ali Baba '85 (Kappa SAS 056), two tracks that perfectly exemplify Ali Baba's wondrously inventive style:

Ali Baba - Waioh

Ali Baba - Hadiza

Finally, from 1989's Condition Femenine (Editions Haïssam MH 14), Ali Baba's tribute to the great Nigerian Hausa praise singer Alhaji Mamman Shata. In the future I will post music by Mamman Shata and other Hausa musicians from Nigeria and Niger:

Ali Baba - Alhaji Mamman Shata