Showing posts with label Highlife. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Highlife. Show all posts

Monday, June 4, 2018

One More from "One Man Thousand"



Ghanaian highlife superstar Alex Konadu, or "One Man Thousand," was the subject of a previous post here on Likembe, and the indefatigable Moos over at Global Groove has a wealth of recordings by him. Sadly, since our last visit with him Mr. Konadu passed away on January 18, 2011. A Ghanaian website had this to say about him:

....Alex Konadu was born in 1950 at Adwumakase Kese in the Kwabere No.3 District of Ashanti. Konadu started singing at an early age, and became the leader of the Kantamanto Bosco Group before moving on to the band of the well-known Kwabena Akwaboah. He honed his artistic skills there after three years moved to the Happy Brothers Band. 
After two years Kwabena went 'solo' for some time, composing and practicing until he invited Mr. A.K.Brobbey -record dealer and producer- to listen to his rehearsals and he got signed and Brobbey organised a band. With their new, very uptempo guitar Highlife they had instant succes. 
His ability to draw crowds wherever he went gave Konadu the appellation "One Man Thousand." Withstanding the vicissitudes of fame and fashion, and staying true to his vision of pure, unadulterated highlife music, he became an inspiration to Ghanaian musicians for years. While Konadu issued many wonderful recordings over the decades, Asaase Asa is still considered one of his most noteworthy achievements. 
The 1976 album Asaase Asa (Brobisco KBL 016) was a breakthrough hit for Alex Konadu, establishing him as Ghana's foremost exponent of "roots highlife." The title song was based on a true story about Mr. Asaase Asa, who lost both his wife and sister when they were killed by a falling tree. It is dedicated to all who have lost their loved ones. Alex Konadu carved a special name for himself dedicating most of his songs in praise of the dead and his music is a must-play at any Ghanaian funerary.....
Today I present an Alex Konadu record that I haven't seen on any of the other African music sites, recorded during a Canadian sojourn - 1992's Da Bi Wo Behunu (BlackSounds RTLP 003). This is classic Konadu - Ghana highlife stripped down to its propulsive, infectious essentials. Enjoy!

Alex Konadu - Da Bi Na Wo Behunu

Alex Konadu - Agya Ata Wuo Part II

Alex Konadu - Pa Pa No No

Alex Konadu - Yen Anya Aba Na Yen Ko Ye Mu

Download Da Bi Wo Behunu as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Return of the Sweet Talking Man



Last month I gave you A.B. Crentsil's great 1985 LP Toronto by Night, with a promise of more sophisticated sounds from the king of '80s Ghana highlife. Well, here they are! Tantie Alaba (Earthworks/Rough Trade ERT 1004, 1984) was recorded at the Ghana Film Studios in Accra, and has more of an "organic" sound than Toronto.

Researching this series of posts devoted to Ghana music from the '80s, I've been digging through my archives, compiled back in the days before the internet, and came across issue #5 of Africa Beat magazine, published in London in Summer of 1986. It contains a most informative article, "Sweet Talking Man," about Mr. Crentsil, then on a European tour:

The dramatic plunge in the value of the Ghanaian currency, the cedi, has thrown up some stories. One of the most heartbreaking is the virtual death of the Ghanaian recording industry. The price of imported basics, like guitar strings or vinyl, has killed off virtually every full-time touring professional band. Some put the number of survivors as low as three. 
One man who has survived all this and a lot more is A.B. Crentsil, the 36-year-old singer whose mid-1970s band Sweet Talks was a germinating ground for some of the strongest talents to emerge out of Ghana during the last ten years - the Sunsum Band, Eric Agyemang and Thomas Frempong among them. But the figures even he throws out so casually are terrifying. He starts off talking about how his second band the Lantics were stolen away from the Atlantic Hotel by an extra 25 cedi a month - "100 cedi a month was a lot and we were happy to go!," he chuckles. Now he talks about paying his bus driver 10,000 cedi a day, a week, a month, whatever it takes to keep him. 
Even more scaring is his account of the break-up of Sweet Talks in 1979 and the court battle to get money out of the manager of the Talk of the Town Hotel who owned the band's instruments and in a lot of ways seemed to own their souls as well. "In court we heard that Phonogram had paid him 5.4 million cedis. Out of that we had seen 68,000 cedis." Needless to say there were dark doings in the background and A.B. is not a rich man - but her survives. 
And away from the numbers, back to the music. Throughout the 1970s A.B. played in the best hotel bands in Ghana - first the El Dorados, performing funk, reggae and James Brown material, the usual songs known as "copyright." The there was the Lantics, again tied to a top hotel but this time getting away to record the first album, Adam & Eve [as the Sweet Talks] in 1975. They had been spotted playing in the hotel by Phonogram MD Arthur Tay who swept them off to the 16-track EMI studio in Lagos which was quite a jump from the two-track they had used for three 45s earlier. 
The 75-venue tour of Ghana which followed built Sweet Talks into one of the biggest bands in the land. Throughout the string of LPs that followed - Kusum Beat, Spiritual Ohaia, Osode - it was all up and up, closer to dangerous temptations that lay in wait when Phonogram Holland took them to Los Angeles' Total Experience studio to record the best-selling Party Time [Hollywood Highlife Party]. It was then that they discovered that their manager was using their money to send a Thunderbird back to Ghana. It was when they got back they discovered they were broke, and broke up....
Which brings us up to 1984, and Tantie Alaba, recorded with Mr. Crentsil's reorganized Super Sweet Talks International, and the first of his albums to receive modest international distribution. Here's a nice video someone made of the title track, utilizing footage that apparently has nothing to do with the song itself, but, I'm sure you'll agree, matches up very well indeed!


A.B. Crentsil & Super Sweet Talks International - Tantie Alaba

A.B. Crentsil & Super Sweet Talks International - Akpêtêchi Seller


A.B. Crentsil & Super Sweet Talks International - Odo

A.B. Crentsil & Super Sweet Talks International - Who is Free

Download Tantie Alaba as a zipped file here.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Augustin's Messengers



Augustin Kouassi is an Ivorian musician who's apparently been around the block a few times. Discogs lists a couple of LPs by his band, Les Messagers de la Paix, apparently from the '80s. Other than that, I can't say much more about him and the group. How many times have I had to say that here?

I got today's offering by them way back when it first came out, along with a raft of other cassettes from Ivory Coast, and didn't pay much attention to it then. Man, was I missing out! Mambo Attoh Théophane (Carine Musique CAR 01, 1993) is one of the most addictive recordings I've heard in a long time. Everything about it is first-rate, from Gaiten Kouao's exquiste guitar work to the outstanding vocals (different members take turns singing lead, and the chorus is tight). Of course, Congo music is an influence, and the vocals have that sweet-and-sour quality you hear in West African music from Ghana to the Niger Delta. I'm tempted to label it "Soukous-Highlife," but that just doesn't do it justice. Let the music speak for itself!

Augustin Kouassi & Les Messagers - Mambo Attoh Théophane

Augustin Kouassi & Les Messagers - Kêgbè Piemin

Augustin Kouassi & Les Messagers -  Yié Koubê

Augustin Kouassi & Les Messagers - Boto Sopie

Augustin Kouassi & Les Messagers - Adja Ayo

Augustin Kouassi & Les Messagers - N'Douci Carrefour

Download Mambo Attoh Théophane as a zipped file here.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Mmmmmm . . . Sweet '80s Highlife Music!



I've been going through my record collection, pulling out and digitizing Ghanaian LPs that I got hold of back in the '80s when I was a regular customer of Sterns African Record Centre in London.  Most of these  were recorded in London, Berlin and Toronto, the economy in Ghana at the time having forced some of the biggest stars there to seek sustenace overseas. The result was a new, hybrid sound, marrying the standard themes and sounds of Ghana highlife with modern production values, synthesizers and drum machines. 

Over the next weeks and months I'll be presenting the results of my excavations, but I think it's only fitting to open with an LP that stands as a pinnacle of the '80s Ghana highlife sound - A.B. Crentsil's Toronto by Night (Wazuri WAZ101, 1985).

Alfred Benjamin Crentsil was born in 1950 and showed an early aptitude for music, forming with his friends in the mid-'60s a group called the Strollers Dance Band. A few career moves later and he founded, with Smart Nkansah, the group that would make his name, the Sweet Talks. Their fledgling effort, Adam and Eve in 1975, almost single-handedly rescued highlife music in Ghana, then under assault by assorted foreign styles. Many more hits - Kusum Beat and Hollywood Highlife Party (recorded in the US in 1978 when the band was playing backup for the Commodores) among others - and the Sweet Talks were at the top of their game.

As is often the case for African musicians, dissension set in and the classic Sweet Talks lineup was no more. Smart Nkansah left to found the Black Hustlers (later named the Sunsum Band) and Crentsil carried on with the Super Sweet Talks International. More solo recordings followed (among them the controversial Moses), and Crentsil found himself in Canada, where Toronto by Night, a certified classic, was recorded.

Crentsil has been back in Ghana for many years and is still recording. In 2016 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 17th Ghana Music Awards.





"I Go Pay You Tommorrow" is a rework of Crentsil's big hit from 1984, "Akpêtêchie Seller," from his LP with the Super Sweet Talks International, Tantie Alaba (I will be posting this album some time in the future). In it an alcoholic beseetches a seller of Akpêtêchie (distilled palm wine) to give him one more drink until payday:


Download Toronto by Night as a zipped file here. Ronnie Graham's article from the August 11, 1986 issue of West Africa magazine, "A.B.'s Highlife Humour," was extremely useful in researching this post.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Funky Jùjú Highlife From Ondo State



Who is Tayo Jimba? I have no idea. I do know that I enjoy this 1988 LP, Ise Aje (Leader LRCLS 65), a great deal. The label lists the musical style as "Jùjú/Highlife," and that sounds about right. It is actually quite similar to recordings I've posted here before by Adé Wesco and Orlando Owoh - a funky, rootsy, less-cluttered sound that takes us back a few decades to the point where jùjú and  highlife music were less differentiated.

The label also lists the language as "Yoruba/Ikale." Ikale is generally considered a dialect of Yoruba rather than a separate language, and since Ikale speakers are concentrated in Ondo State, western Nigeria, it's reasonable to surmise that Tayo Jimba is from there also. Reader/listeners are invited to tell us more.

Enjoy Ise Aje!

Tayo Jimba & his Black Shadows - Ori Mi / Oro Owo / Oro Nigeria



Download Ise Aje as a zipped file here.


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.



Friday, September 29, 2017

Lovers' Hi Life



I've been unable to find out much about Asare Bediako, who is responsible for today's offering, the very enjoyable Lovers Hi Life (Highlife World HW 2017) from 1986. I believe, however, that he is the "Sam Asare-Bediako" who has acheived fame as a composer and arranger of Christian devotional music in his native Ghana:



Whatever. Lovers Hi Life is a pretty good example of the sort of synth and drum-machine driven "Burger Highlife" music that became popular in the 1980s. Enjoy!

Asare Bediako - Odo

Asare Bediako - Ene Wiase


Asare Bediako - Ohufor


Asare Bediako - Abena


Asare Bediako - Ohianti


Asare Bediako - Ewisia


Download Lovers Hi Life as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Highlife Music From the "Great White North"



Ghana's highlife great Pat Thomas has been experiencing something of a career renaissance lately. 2015 saw the release of  Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band (Strut STRUT126CD), his first new recording in many years, and in 2016 a 2-CD retrospective of his recordings from 1964 to 1981, Coming Home (Strut STRUT147CD) hit the scene.

Thomas has been around for many years. He was born into a musical family in 1951 (his uncle was the legendary King Onyina), but got his first big break in 1966 when he made the acquaintance of Ebo Taylor, a musician who had studiend in London with Nigeria's Fela Ransome-Kuti. Thus began a musical partnership that would continue on and off for many years, producing a number of fine recordings and revolutionizing the Ghanaian music scene.Together, with Ebo on guitar and Pat as arranger and vocalist, they played in the Broadway Dance Band and the Stargazers, two of the most important orchestras of the era. Thomas's breakthrough as a highlighted artist came in with the release of 1974's False Lover (Gapophone LP 02), recorded with the Sweet Beans, official band of Ghana's Cocoa Marketing Board. A few tracks from this landmark recording are included in an earlier post here on Likembe.

Ghana's political and economic travails in the early '80s impelled many musicians overseas, to London, Germany and Toronto, which gave rise to new and exciting permutations of the highlife sound. Ghanaian musicians in Germany, where Thomas lived for a time, developed a disco/highlife hybrid called "Burger Highlife," which took Ghana and its diaspora by storm. In the late '80s Thomas made the journey to Toronto, joining a vibrant Ghanaian exile music scene which included at times musicians like A.B. Crentsil, Alex Konadu and Joe Mensah. He would remain in Canada for ten years, returning to Ghana in 1997.

Although it was recorded in Lomé, Togo, 1986's Highlife Greats Mbrepa (Jap Records JAP 0102) was released in Canada and is a product of this fertile period. It's a great album, which deserves a proper reissue. Perhaps tracks from it will be included in a future retrospective. For now, though, enjoy!

Pat Thomas - Mbrepa Baba

Pat Thomas - Onsu Nyame Ye

Pat Thomas - Adze Akye Henbia

Pat Thomas - Nyi No Nsen Hwe

Pat Thomas - Asembe Nyi

Pat Thomas - Odo A Me Do Woyi

Download Highlife Greats Mbrepa as a zipped file here.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Birth of a Nation




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.

Birth of a Nation is propaganda, and I don't mean this in a pejorative sense. It was issued by the Biafran government in an effort to influence public opinion in the outside world, especially the United Kingdom, main supporter of the Federal Government in Lagos against the secessionists. In 1968, when it was released, the Biafran cause had already for all intents and purposes been lost, although this wouldn't be apparent for some time. Still, it's of considerable interest not only to historians but musically, as it contains some nice highlife tunes. Listened to in sequence the album sounds like something recorded off a shortwave radio broadcast in the wee hours of the morning, history in the making.

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,
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.
Land of the Rising Sun (Biafra National Anthem)

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.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Rest in Peace Jerry Hansen



Jerry Hansen, founder of Ghana's influential Ramblers International Dance Band, passed away in Accra Saturday, April 7th. He was 85. Besides leading the band and composing many of its hit songs, Hansen was a founding member and President of the Musicians Union of Ghana

The Ramblers, the last of Ghana's great "danceband highlife" orchestras, were founded in 1961 when Hansen left King Bruce's Black Beats. Their innovative sounds held them in good stead through the political upheavals of the 1970s and ínto the '80s when the band finally expired thanks to changing tastes and poor economic conditions.

Jerry Hansen was one of the last giants of the classic highlife sound and will be sorely missed. Remember him while listening to Ramblers International (Decca WAPS 334), an album from 1976:

Ramblers International - Akwanuma Hiani

Ramblers International - Dear Si Abotar

Ramblers International - Megye Wo

Ramblers International - Inemesti

Ramblers International - Maye Maye

Ramblers International - Mbre Ofiong

Ramblers International - Awusa Dzi Mi

Ramblers International - Esa Ni Otse Ohie

Ramblers International - Dodzi

Ramblers International - Ao Danye

Ramblers International - Highlife Medley

Download Ramblers International as a zipped file here.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Unsung Genius of African Music




In a just world, Nigeria's "Gentleman" Mike Ejeagha would be considered one of the giants of African music, accorded the same respect as, say, Congo's Franco or Tanzania's Mbaraka Mwinshehe. As it is, he is barely recognized in his own country, such is his intimate connection to the folklore and culture of his native Enugu. But make no mistake - among the Igbo people Ejeagha is a colossus indeed. His lyrics are full of the parables & shaded meanings that are the essence of Igbo culture. His arrangements & guitar work, in addition, are sublime.

Ejeagha was born August 1932 in Imezi Owa, Eziagu LGA, present-day Enugu State, and learned to play guitar from two fellow residents of the coal-mining camps of Enugu, Moses "Moscow" Aduba and Cyprian Uzochiawa. Around the age of 18, he formed his first musical group, the Merry Makers. Soon he was performing and producing for Nigeria Broadcasting Services, and later joined the Paradise Rhythm Orchestra, a group owned by an Enugu hotelier, and the Leisure Gardens Dance Band. He founded the Rhythm Dandies in 1964, which later changed its name to the Premiers Dance Band. The group was forced to disperse during the Biafran war of independence in the late '60s, but reformed after hostilities ended in 1970.

Since the early 1970s, Mike Ejeagha's musical explorations of Igbo folklore have earned him a much-beloved place in the pantheon of modern Igbo highlife music. Some years ago I posted a discography of his recordings, which my friend Maurice O. Ene circulated among his acquaintances, eliciting these heartfelt comments:


"Let me begin by telling you that I am relieved to know that someone is considering to do a discographic project on the works of Gentleman Mike Ejeagha. I almost wrote my University of Nigeria BA thesis on Ejeagha. But, . . . well, that is a long story I'd rather not tell. To cut it short, I have a modest collection of Oga Ejeagha's songs on tapes. I also have some of his records, including Onye Nwe Ona Ebe, Onye Enwero Ana Ebe (POLP 057) and Akuko N'egwu (POLP 094). Ejeagha's music belongs to a genre of music that I call Igbo Popular Traditional as opposed to Igbo Popular Commercial. The latter to which most highlife music belongs is less faithful to Igbo tradition. That is all I can say about that for now." - JAK.

"I grew up (sort of) with Gentleman Mike Ejeagha. My father, a "master" of the Bachata guitar, taught Mike Ejeagha how to play the guitar - that is, the Spanish Guitar (so I'm told). As a four or five year old, I used to "hang out" with and enjoy them playing together for the "house" at their favorite beer joint on Gunning (Hill?) Road, Abakaliki, enjoying the free time my dad had just shortly after the Nwa-Iboko Obodo trials (my dad was one of the judges on the case at the Abakaliki High Court). Mike Ejeagha visited Abakaliki regularly in those days, spending much time with my dad as they investigated their musical interests together - for both of them it was more of a hobby than anything else. It wasn't until the middle of the sixties that Gentleman Ejeagha was talked into considering music as a profession. In the seventies, when he had become an icon of Igbo folk music, I used to visit with him at Enugu, and listen to him think out loud on the ideas he had of making Igbo folk music larger than life..." - Obi Taiwan

"The Gentleman is a very unique musician. He has been playing for a long time. He used to come and play in Ihe during Christmas festivities. I was only a kid then, but I remember some of his early tunes, 'Okuku Kwaa Uche Echebe Onye Ugwo,' 'King Solomon's Wisdom' and others. I believe these were some of his first songs... He is a phenomenal Musician and an exceptional guitarist. I am not sure he has played any thing recently, but he is still alive and well. Unfortunately, when I inquired about him last time, I was informed that he suffered glaucoma and is clinically blind. I cannot confirm this news yet, and until I do, I refuse to believe that it is true." - Hygi Chukwu
I present here a selection of tunes from several of Ejeagha's albums, with translations by my wife Priscilla Nwakaego. "Yoba Chineke" ("Pray to God") from the LP Ude Egbunam (Philips 6361 074, 1974) is a popular gospel tune in Nigeria. The chorus, "Yoba Chineke, chekwube Chineke, yoba Chineke, ogaazo yi" means "Pray to God, put your hope in God, pray to God, He will save you." Ejeagha sings, "Jesus come and hear our voice. Father who created this world, we your children are calling to you to ask for your help. Have mercy and answer our prayers." He calls on listeners to pray to Chineke (God) every morning and night:


Another song from Ude Egbunam, "Nyelu Nwa Ogbenye Aka," calls on listeners, "Always Try to Help the Poor." Ejeagha states that the poor do all the hard work in the community, and asks if there is anything that happens that they do not play a part in?


"Ikpechakwaa Kam Kpee," from 1975's Onye Ndidi (Philips 6361 110) is one of those Igbo folk songs, riddled with allegory, that almost defy literal translation. The title means "After you tell your side, let me tell my side." Ejeagha sings "Do not let the ngene [a wild animal] impugn my good name." He sings that he saw Ngene grazing on on the turf of Eleh (a deer), but that Ngene lied to Eleh about him, turning him against Ejeagha. In the spoken interlude Ejeagha says, "After the child tells his side, listen to the mother's side," and sings, "When the elephant goes, when mgbadu goes, when my turn came I didn't get what I wanted." The chorus is "Ajabula aja o ma nkwe kwa mee" - "I'm not going to let that happen."

Gentleman Mike Ejeagha & his Premiers Dance Band - Ikpechakwaa Kam Kpee

"Obiako Nnwam (Omenani No. 2)" from Akuko Na Egwu Vol. 1 (Polydor POLP 009, 1976) concerns a great chief and his conflict with his oldest son, Obiako. The chief has come to hate Obiako's mother so much that he can't even stand the sound of her voice. In return Obiako has come to resent his father so much that he has grabbed his igene (the staff that is the source of the chief's status and power) and is threatening to shatter it. The chorus:

Obiako obi nnwam,
Ngekene m igene mu,
Igene mu ji agba mgba
Obulu na be mmuo igene mu na akpa ike ya,
Obulu na be mmadu igene mu na akpa ike ya
means, "Obiako my son, give me back my igene. Even in the land of the dead it is very powerful. Even in the land of the living it is very powerful." Obiako does not understand how his father can hate his mother so much, but his father knows that if Obiako breaks the igene, he himself will die. He gathers the village together to beg him not to break the igene, but Obiako breaks it and dies. The "Omenani" in the title means Igbo folklore.


"Udo Kan Mma," also from Akuko Na Egwu Vol. 1, means "Peace is Better." Ejeagha sings, "Peace is more beautiful. Sibling should not hurt sibling. Friends must not seek to hurt friends. Children of the dead should not hurt children of the living. A wife should not hurt her husband (& vice versa)."




"Onye Nwe Ona Ebe, Onye Enwero Ana Ebe (The Haves Complain, and the Have-Nots Also Complain)" from the 1982 LP Onye Nwe Ona Ebe, Onye Enwero Ana Ebe (Polydor POLP 057) is notable not only for its brilliant guitar work but for its wry social commentary. Ejeagha sings that people with children complain about the trouble they bring, while people who can't have children beg God for any progeny at all. A healthy person complains, but a sickly person wishes for health. Some people say that money is trouble, others say that money doesn't complete a household, while still others say that health is worth more than wealth (ndu ka aku).

"Uche bu akpa onye kolu nke ya, (Ogaba) (ona aga)." In other words, thoughts are like a handbag (akpa). To each their own, and you cannot read someone's mind.

Ejeagha sings that the haves complain that guarding their money is too much trouble, while the have-nots say that their worldly troubles are too much to bear. Healthy people complain that God didn't give them wealth, while the sick pray for health instead of money. He asks, "My friends, do you see how the world is? Nobody is happy where they are."

Finally Ejeagha relates the tale of a wise, wealthy chief, and a poor man who was once well-to-do. The poor man spends his days looking at the chief and his affluent friends, wishing to be like them. The chief remembers that the poor man had once been wealthy himself and had spent much of his riches on those less fortunate, and gives him a big bag of money as a reward.

Soon the formerly-poor man returns the money to the chief, saying "Since you gave me this money I can't sleep, nor eat, nor sit down and rest for worrying that someone will steal my money." The song praises the chief for his great wisdom:


"Praise my good deeds while I'm alive," is the meaning of "Ja'am Mma na Ndu" from the 1983 album of the same name ( Polydor POLP 100). This would seem to allude to the practice of having elaborate funerals for the deceased. Ejeagha sings, "If you love me, show it while I'm alive. Give me something when I'm alive, not when I'm dead. My mouth speaks what I see. I tell the truth and the truth is bitter":

Gentleman Mike Ejeagha & his Premiers Dance Band - Ja'am Mma Na Ndu


Download these songs as a zipped file here.

Thanks once again to my wife Priscilla Nwakaego for her translations, and thanks to Gilbert Hsiao for sending me a rip of Ude Egbunam many years ago. In a future post I will be discussing "Akuko n'Egwu Original," a series of recordings Ejeagha made for Anambra State Broadcasting in the 1980s. If you enjoy the music I've posted here, I would encourage you to check out some of Ejeagha's other recordings, which are available from My African Bargains. Much of the
biographical information in this post is taken from "Life at Old Age is Quite Enjoyable," an interview by Nwagbo Nnenyelike which appeared in The Sun of Lagos, Nigeria on October 15, 2004.



Sunday, August 15, 2010

Benin (The Empire, Not the Country)




Back in Eighth Grade, my Social Studies class was given one of those typical assignments where we were supposed to pick out some country and write a report about it. Most of the kids picked well-known countries (I chose Austria), but one young lady, Susan Norman, chose the West African nation of Dahomey.

"Dahomey? Are you kidding?" our teacher Mr. Vezie sneered, no doubt thinking that Susan chose this obscure country to get out of doing a lot of work on the project, but she was adamant.

What does this have to do with the subject of today's post? Well, nothing, really, except that in 1975 the Republic of Dahomey changed its name to the Republic of Benin, after the Bight of Benin, which in turn was named after the Benin Empire, a powerful entity that existed from 1440 to 1897 in what is today Nigeria. "Benin" is a Portuguese corruption of "Ubinu," the administrative center of the Empire, which is today called Benin City, capital of Edo State.

Dahomey's rechristening in 1975 has caused no end of confusion ever since, so to clarify things: Benin City (& hence the historical Benin Empire) is approximately 250 miles east of Porto Novo, capital of the present-day Republic of Benin. The two entities have no historical connection! The map at right shows the sphere of influence of the Benin Empire at the height of its power. To further muddy the waters there was once another "Republic of Benin," which was established by retreating Biafran troops in the early days of the Nigerian civil war (see map below, from John de St. Jorre's Nigerian Civil War, Hodder & Stoughton, 1972, click to enlarge). This historical curiosity was proclaimed at 7 a.m. on September 20, 1967 and collapsed eight hours later!



The Benin Empire encompassed Ijaws, Igbos, Itsekitris and Urhobos, among other groups, but the Edo people constituted the core of the nation. Even today they are celebrated for their artwork, a sample of which is at the top of this post. Much of this was destroyed when Benin City was captured by the British in 1897, and much of the remainder was dispersed around the world. Today Benin City is renowned as a center of education and culture in Nigeria.

All of this exposition is by way of making up for the fact that I can't tell you a whole lot about today's featured artists. While Victor Uwaifo is justly famed as Benin City's foremost musical exemplar, the area has produced numerous other talents, like Patrick Idahosa, who had a similar sound. I can't say much about him, but among Edo musicians he was probably second only to Uwaifo in popularity during his heyday of the '70s and '80s. In the late '90s, Mossiac Records of New York released a CD compilation (Mossiac MMCD 0302) of his greatest hits, from which the following are taken:

Patrick Idahosa & his African Sound Makers - United Brothers

Patrick Idahosa & his African Sound Makers -
Tamoubiyememwsm

Patrick Idahosa & his African Sound Makers - Tamiyaregbe



The Amunataba Dance Band are similarly obscure to me, but what a fine album Akenzua (Mikii MAK 504, 1978) is! Sweet guitar highlife in the Peacocks mode, and isn't the front cover great?

Amunataba Dance Band - Eronmwon

Amunataba Dance Band - Akenzua



Willy Adamosa Osagiede got in touch with me many years ago, and even sent me a CD of his recent recordings. Like all of the musicians here, he was most popular in the '70s and '80s. He's presently based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you can access his MySpace page here. Here are some tracks from his 1976 LP Ukpakon (Afrodisia DWAPS 70):

Adamosa Osagiede & his International Band - Amayamwen Nue

Adamosa Osagiede & his International Band - Igho Nogie

Adamosa Osagiede & his International Band - Wa Gha Hio



Osayomore Joseph's Afro-funk sound has recently drawn some notice thanks to his contribution to the recent Soundway compilation Nigeria Special. Here's a song from his 1982 LP Ulele in Transit (Emotan EMOLP 01):

Osayomore Joseph & the Ulele Power Sound - Efewedo



And here's one from another 1982 album Over the Bar. . . I Beg You . . . (Emotan EMOLP 02):

Osayomore Joseph & his Ulele Power Sound - Alele




Winding things down in style with Idemudia Cole's Talents of Benin, whose Talents of Benin Vol. 5 (Shanu Olu SOS 127, 1981) is as wonderful an example of Edo highlife as you'll ever find:

The Talents of Benin - Ovbiokhokho



Sunday, March 28, 2010

One Man Thousand




The 1976 album Asaase Asa (Brobisco KBL 016) was a breakthrough hit for Alex Konadu, establishing him as Ghana's foremost exponent of "roots highlife." The title song is based on a true story about Mr. Asaase Asa, who lost both his wife and sister when they were killed by a falling tree. It is dedicated to all who have lost their loved ones.

Konadu had been singing since an early age, and became a leader of the Kantamanto Bosco Group before moving on to the band of the well-known Kwabena Akwaboah for three years and then to the Happy Brothers Band. After going solo he was discovered by the producer A.K. Brobbey and the rest, as they say, is history.

His ability to draw crowds wherever he goes has given Konadu the appellation "One Man Thousand." Withstanding the vicissitudes of fame and fashion, and staying true to his vision of pure, unadulterated highlife music, he has been an inspiration to Ghanaian musicians for years. While Konadu has issued many wonderful recordings over the decades, Asaase Asa is still considered one of his most noteworthy achievements. Enjoy!

Alex Konadu's Band - Obi Aware Wo

Alex Konadu's Band - Me Ne Me Aserene


Alex Konadu's Band - Obiri Pajampram

Alex Konadu's Band - Owuo Mpe Sika

Alex Konadu's Band - Emum Aso Dae

Alex Konadu's Band - Asem Ne Me Ara

Alex Konadu's Band - Asaase Asa

Alex Konadu's Band - W'awu Da Ho No

Download Asaase Asa as a zipped file here. For a taste of Alex Konadu recorded before a live audience,
be sure to check out his album One Man Thousand Live in London.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Carrying on the Family Business


Eugene de Coque, brother of the late Nigerian highlife master Oliver de Coque, has been based in Los Angeles since the early '90s, and along with his group the Igede Band, played backup for Oliver during his U.S. tours. They've recorded at least four albums on their own, the first of which, Egwu-Igede (Victory Productions VP 001, ca. 1992) is featured here today.

Egwu-Igede, which apparently was released only on cassette, ably continues Oliver's Ogene Sound legacy and takes it to new heights. The integration of traditional Igbo folk elements and modern studio techniques is particularly deft. Enjoy!

Eugene de Coque & Igede Band International - Ojinbe-Eyimegwu

Eugene de Coque & Igede Band International - Egwu-Igede

Eugene de Coque & Igede Band International - Asi Si Jebe

Download Egwu-Igede as a zipped file here.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Roots of "Art Music"




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

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:


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.
University of Ghana Chorus - Ennye Ye Angye Da



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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The "New" Igbo Thing




How to explain the dire state of the Nigerian music scene? Judging by what's being spun at parties in Milwaukee these days, it's beset by a plague of cheapo synthesizers and ticky-tacky drum machines, and the less said about the derivative sludge known as "Naija Hip-Hop" the better!

The trend toward artifice and away from artistry is well exemplified by two Igbo musicians, Sunny Bobo and Eke Chima, whose recordings - copied, pirated and distributed from hand to hand - have been ever-present in the Igbo diaspora the last few years. Both singers are said to be masters of the Owerri dialect, which may well be, but judging by their recordings, Old Skool, Obareze, and the many sequels, one can't help but feel sadness at the decline of that city's music scene since the glory days of the Oriental Brothers and their colleagues. I suppose economics are behind the sparse production values of these releases, but it's a regrettable situation still.

Sunny Bobo burst upon the scene a few years ago with Old Skool, and the sequels have followed fast and furious. The first volume of Old Skool reworks a number of classic songs from the Golden Age of Nigerian highlife. In typical Igbo fashion, Bobo sings that a meeting of the minds works best with one's own siblings. He describes a problem he is having with one of his kindred. He goes to the market, or public square ("nkworji") to settle the problem.

In "Willie Willie," a rework of the Peacocks' "Mary Meriamam," he sings about a beautiful girl named Mary, with whom he is quite infatuated. The main theme of the song is to not lose your head: "Elewe ukwu egbuo ewu - look at nyash kill a goat." In other words, don't be so crazy looking at your love's behind that you will do anything for her. Sunny recounts that he and Mary were wed, but that things haven't really worked out. He asks his brothers, "What am I going to do? Love has wounded me!"

A remake of Rex Lawson's classic "Love Adure" keeps things moving. Bobo sings, "Owerri land, please forgive my sins, because love has destroyed me. I am mesmerized by Adure's beauty. O tukwusa m'ukwu odika pillow. O tukwasa m'ishi odika pillow. When Adure places her leg on me it is like a pillow. When Adure places her head on me it is like a pillow." He then calls to an old girlfriend whom he has rejected for Adure, "Rosanna, please forgive me."

"Kinkana," another old song by the Peacocks, refers to native gin, which unlike palm wine, doesn't go bad: "Kinkana no dey sour." Here the singer is proclaiming that, unlike some flashier fellows with their money and fancy clothes, he is for real. There is a reference to Osadebe's classic song "Baby Kwanangida": "Kwanangida no go marry."

"Echendu" descibes a man who goes on a journey and doesn't come back: "Please come home. My heart is broken by your loss." "Bottom Belle," the final song in the Old Skool medley, is a classic tune from the early days of Nigerian independence.

Sunny Bobo - Nkworji-Willie Willie-Love Adure-Kinkana-Echendu-Bottom Belle

Eke Chima's offering here is similarly "Owerri-centric." As this is from a copied CD-R I'm not sure of the exact title of the medley or which CD it is taken from, only that it is from one of his numerous Obareze recordings. Chima sings that people say they don't like Owerri, and in rebuttal offers the names of many prominent Owerri families and individuals: "Ole nde onwe Owerri? Who are Owerri people?," naming among others the Amanzes, the Njokus, Chief Onukaogu and Headmaster Boniface Oha.

He then sings that someday everybody will account for their behavior in life: "Eshi ahu omenjo ga ahu njo ya, omenma ga ahu nma ya. The sinner will see his sins and the good person will see the good he has done. Ole onye ozuru oke? Who on this Earth will say that everything is complete for him?" He then calls out to a friend, "Ahu shiele m'anya - I have seen many troubles." Chima admonishes those who have taken a child's thing to raise their hand and give it back. In other words, don't mistreat another person, especially the helpless. He states once again that all will account some day for how they lived on Earth.

Family relations are a prominent theme in Igbo music. Chima asks if a person doesn't have kin by the same mother (this is presumably referring to relations within a polygamous household) will he kill himself? Of course not. He states that since he has no other siblings by his mother he works very hard and hopes that God will be there for him: "Ebe mu onwehu onye inye aka, agam ime uwam nkpo ole."

Eke Chima & his New Generation Band - Owerri



In the interests of fairness I should present evidence that things may not be so dire for Nigerian music after all: two artists, both scions of musical families, who would seem to refute my thesis that Igbo highlife is on its deathbed, if not already departed. Emperor Teddy Obinna is billed as "Junior Warrior," but he's actually the half-brother of Owerri's favorite son, the late Christogonous Ezebuiro Obinna, better known as Warrior. Ogidi's Amobi Richard Onyenze is the nephew of highlife legend Stehen Osita Osadebe, who passed away in 2007.

Obinna not only has taken up his brother's legacy, but in the CD Uwa Shekiga e Shekiga (C. Meks Music CMS 114, 2004) takes it in bold new directions, incorporating elements of Congo music to great effect. The title song ("The World is Very Shaky") takes up current events, advising that because of the world's instability, everybody should do their best. He sings that he is doing all he can for his family, but that if they are going to be irresponsible and not do for themselves in return, it's not his problem ("Onye zuzuo n'elu uwu ya aka ya aka - if you are stupid in this world it is your own fault.") He says that even in America, people are afraid because of Osama Bin Laden ("Osama bin Bomb Bomb") and mentions the war in "Iraqi land." Even old women have confirmed that the world is not as it used to be. Obinna calls on Nigeria's leaders to help make things better:

Emeror Teddy Obinna - Uwa Shekiga e Shekiga

The Emperor seems to spend a lot of time outside of Nigeria performing for the Igbo diaspora. He certainly has a feeling for their problems and concerns. In "Onye Nchem" he decries lazy Nigerians who take advantage of their hard-working relatives abroad. The song itself is about God's concern for the world. Obinna sings that without God's protection all of the guns and all of the armies in the world are useless. All of the people who bear grudges need God's blessing because he will judge them: "Let the Lord not protect an evil plotter." The chorus is "Make sure you are doing right."

Emperor Teddy Obinna - Onye Nchem



Judging by his eighth release Livin' Dey Highlife, available from Akwaaba Music, Amobi Onyenze is capably carrying on the Osadebe legacy, but one hopes that in the future he will strike out into fresh territory rather than continue to till the old man's field. In "Akachukwu di Ya" ("God's Hand"), Oyenze sings, "In everything we do in life we must seek God's hand to make it success. With God's hand our success is guaranteed. Whoever God's hand beholds shall never fall nor fail. God's hand is in my life, in my family. That's why I'm a success."

Onyenze - Akachukwu di Ya



Thanks once again to my wife Priscilla Nwakaego for interpreting these lyrics. The translation of "Akachukwu di Ya" was provided by Akwaaba Music.