Showing posts with label Igbo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Igbo. Show all posts

Monday, March 25, 2019

Back to the Village



It's time for another deep dive into the world of "Igbo Blues"- real village music from southeastern Nigeria!

I know nothing about Goddy and Achinkwa and their musical group. This LP, Anya Ukwu Adiro Nma (Nigerphone NXLP 014, 1989), though, is one of the best examples of this genre I've heard, displaying the full panoply of traditional bells and percussion - ogene, onye ekwe, igba and the like. Enjoy!

Goddy na Achinkwa Musical Group - Uchicha Melu Ife Ebolu Oke

Goddy na Achinkwa Musical Group - Ezigbo Omume Akaka

Goddy na Achinkwa Musical Group - Anya Ukwu Adiro Nma

Goddy na Achinkwa Musical Group - Lagos Special (Ego Igwe)

Download Anya Ukwu Adiro Nma as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Purloined Master Tape



Back in the early days of online file-sharing, the 1973 album Destruction (Orbitone OT 005) by the Nigerian group the Nkengas achieved legendary status, traded far and wide and included on numerous funky mixes. When an official reissue came out in 2013 (Secret Stash Records SSR-CD-293), fans could satisfy their cravings legally.

The Nkengas released one other LP, Nkengas in London (Orbitone OT 006, 1973), which I feature here. It's apparent even from a casual listening that this is a radically different recording than Destruction. Every song save one ("Asa Mpete Special") features the vocals of the great highlife superstar Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe.

What's going on here? The story, as best I can piece it together, involves a number of sessions in London in the early '70s, which produced some of Osadebe's most beloved recordings. At some point in the process members of Osadebe's backup band, the Nigeria Sound Makers, led by Victor Okoroego, defected, taking a master tape with them and marketing it as Nkengas in London. Destruction, on the other hand, is pretty much pure Okoroego save for one track, "London Special," with Osadebe on lead vocals.

After Nkengas in London the group changed its name to the Ikenga Super Stars of Africa, who were to achieve fame and fortune with a number of chart-topping hits. "Asa Mpete Special" on Nkengas in London features Pele Asampete on vocals. This is a slightly reworked version of  the Osadebe hit "Ezi Ogelidi" from the album Egbunam (Philips 6361024, 1972). Asampete later left the Ikengas and did another version of this tune, "Ezi O Goli," on his solo LP (Rogers All Stars RASLPS 043). Pop/highlife star Chris Mba did still another remake in the early 1990s.






Download Nkengas in London as a zipped file here.


Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Village Interlude



This is a quick and brief post, in response to a request.

A while back I put up a post devoted to traditional Igbo village music from Nigeria, a genre sometimes called "Igbo Blues." I included a track from the 1991 cassette Chukwunna Njieme Onu (EMI Nigeria NEMI 0692) by the Ifediora Mma Egedege Cultural Dance Group of Uga, Anambra State, led by Queen Ann Ezeh. A reader asked that I post the whole cassette, and I'm happy to oblige!


This is the genuine article, real traditional Igbo women's music as it is performed in villages throughout Ala Igbo. As I wrote back then:

....Here the full panoply of Igbo traditional instruments is displayed to great effect. The amiri (reed flute) leads off, to be joined in succession by the ekwe (wooden slit drum), ogene (two-headed bell) and oyo (rattle). The title, "Chukwunna Njieme Onu," means "My God that I Brag About." Lead singer Ann Ezeh addresses God in a very personal way: "God, please bless us, God that we rejoice in, God give us your grace, God that is all-good, God in heaven ('Olisa din'igwe') make our way easier."...
Moreover this is the sort of music one would hear this time of year. Around Christmastime Igbos from throughout Nigeria return to their home villages to spend time with family and celebrate the holy days. Musical troupes travel from household to household to perform for money.

I don't have time to discuss the lyrics and music in more detail, but I hope you will enjoy this brief village interlude!


Ifediora Mma Egedege Cultural Dance Group Uga - Ka Odilianyi Mma



Download Chukwunna Njieme Onu as a zipped file here.


Monday, October 22, 2018

I Just Saved You $1350.71



As more evidence that the collectors' market for used African recordings has entered Dutch Tulip Mania territory, I present the following from Amazon:


Not too long ago I wrote of the ridiculous asking price for a used cassette of a classic recording by King Sunny Adé. That was absurd, but at least Sunny has been an international superstar for almost 50 years. While Obiajulu Emmanuel Osadebe came from musical royalty (his father was Nigeria's late, great highlife master Stephen Osita Osadebe), and was talented, his recording career, prior to his untimely death in 2009, had not reached a level anywhere near that of his father. I have two vinyl LPs by him from the early '90s, and the CD Ifugo America (O & I Productions OANDI 001, 1998) was recorded during a sojourn in Atlanta during the late '90s. That's the extent of his recorded outlet as far as I know. He also opened for Sunny Adé during a US tour shortly before his death.

Obialju died only a year after his father passed away. The Nation newspaper of Nigeria wrote this on the occasion of his death:

The first son of the late highlife music maestro, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Obiajulu, is dead. According to a family source, Obiajulu, 43, died on Tuesday at Niger City Hospital, Onitsha, Anambra State, after a brief illness. 
The body has been deposited at the Ozubulu Central Mortuary in Ekwusigo Council area of Anambra State. Although the cause of his death could not be ascertained as at press time, there were speculations that he died of heart failure. He had been bed-ridden for over five months at his Atani country home, Ogbaru Local Government Area, Anambra State. 
Obiajulu, who came back to the country after the burial of his father on February 8, last year, stepped into his father’s shoes, remixing some of his hit songs. He also performed at some popular joints within and outside Onitsha. 
Until his death, Obiajulu was married to Olayinka. They have a daughter. Besides, he is survived by an aged mother, brothers and sisters. 
Ifugo America is a pretty good recording, albeit a little too dependent on synthesizer (Obiajulu's Nigerian albums used his father's backup band), but that's no doubt a matter of economics. I just don't think it's worth $1350.71. But decide for yourself!







Download Ifugo America as a zipped file here.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Return to Ihiagwa-Owerri



It's about time we returned to Ihiagwa, just outside of Owerri, capital of Imo State, Nigeria and home of the Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group, led by Madam Maria Anokwuru and featuring the stellar vocals of Rose Nzuruike!

On January 24, 2010 I posted their hit LP Nwanyi Ma Obi Diya (Onyeoma C.Y. Records CYLP 016, 1984), one of the biggest-selling Igbo records of all time. I've since found out more about the group and its star, Madam Nzuruike (thanks, internet!). A collective endeavor by all eight of the villages that comprise Ihiagwa township, the group was founded in 1979 as the Ndom Ihiagwa Dance Group. Mrs. Rose Nzuruike was selected from her village, Umuemeze. She initially demurred as her husband had recently passed away and she had young children to care for. However, she reconsidered when her late husband Remy came to her in a dream and urged her to perservere. She was then judged the best, and hence lead, singer of the group, a role she has fulfilled ever since.

I now present Ezi Nne (Onyeoma C.Y. Records CYLP 047), a further exploration of Igbo roots music, Owerri style!


The insistent beat of the udu (bass drum) leads off Side One and the song "Ezi Nne" ("Good Mother"). Mrs Nzuruike sings that there is no substitute for one's mother, whether she is good or bad, and the chorus joins in agreement. In the second song, "Onye Egbula Onwe Ya" ("Don't Kill Yourself") we are implored not to stress over money problems and so forth, we'll only get sick and it won't solve the problem:

Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group - Ezi Nne / Onye Egbula Onwe Ya

"Anala Nwa Ogbenye Ihe Ya" ("Do Not Take Advantage of the Poor and Weak") opens Side Two. "Jehovah, come help us. To sin is human. Please help us." The second song is "Enyere Ibe Nyem" ("When You Give to My Peers You Give to Me Also"):

Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group - Anala Nwa Ogbenye Ihe Ya / Enyere Ibe Nyem

By the way, Onyeoma C.Y. Records, which issued these two Obi Wuro Otu albums and at least one other, Aku Ebi Onwu (CYLP 028), was one of the more interesting smaller Nigerian labels, specializing in roots music like this as well as Ghanaian highlife bands resident in Nigeria. In 1995 I paid a visit to their office in Onitsha with the intention of perhaps licencing music for release in the US. No one was there, so I left a note under the door. Several months later I received a letter from the proprieter of the label, who was definitely interested! However, lacking the proper entreprenurial spirit, I suppose, I never pursued the idea. Oh, well!

Download Ezi Nne as a zipped file here. Many thanks as usual to my wife, Priscilla, for interpreting the lyrics. The website of Ihiagwa Township is a fascinating resource which was quite useful in researching this post.



Saturday, February 3, 2018

Ethereal Sounds



Nwamara (Tradition TRAD 001, 1984), by the Nkelebe Brothers, is like no other recording of Igbo music I have ever heard. I don't know if these ethereal, polyphonic vocal stylings are unique to the group's area - Isiala Ngwa North LGA (county) in Abia State, Nigeria - or if this mode of singing is found throughout Ala Igbo. After all, there are many Igbo records I haven't listened to!


The Ngwa people, from whom the Nkelebe Brothers hail, are an Igbo sub-group about whom there are many tall tales. The word nkelebe itself describes a type of Igbo praise-singing, although I haven't been able to find out much beyond that. I can say, though, that this six-member group, utilizing only their voices and basic percussion - Udu (pottery drum), Samba (square drum), and Mpaka (sticks) - produce deeply moving music that reminds me of the contrapuntal vocals of central Africa, although there is probably no direct connection.

The title of the first song, taking up all of Side One, means "A Well-Behaved Woman is a Gift":

Nkelebe Brothers - Agwa Nwanyi Bu Oji

"Ole Ndi Bu Eze" - "Where Are the Kings?":

Nkelebe Brothers - Ole Ndi Bu Eze

"Akwukwa Bu Ogu" roughly translates as "Your bad intentions won't hurt me because my heart is pure":

Nkelebe Brothers - Akwukwa Bu Ogu

You can download Nwamara as a zipped file here. Many thanks to my wife Priscilla for translating the titles of the songs.


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, April 23, 2013

A Dutiful Wife, An Inconsiderate Husband




Despite his great popularity back in the day, information about the late, great Igbo bard Show Promoter (Nelson Ejinduaka) is as scarce as hens' teeth. All I've been able to unearth is that he was from the city of Orlu in Imo State, spent most of his career in Ikwerreland (near Port Harcourt) and apparently passed on some time in the late '80s. His album Azu Alala (Onyeoma CY Records CYLP 043, 1987) is such an outstanding example of traditional Igbo music that I had to share it!

The title track, "Azu Alala" ("Fish is Scarce & Highly Costly"), concerns an obedient wife and the husband who is oblivious to his family's hardship. A husband gave his wife ten naira to go to the market to buy food for the family. She asked him, "Will ten naira be enough?" but he told her, "Make do with what you have."

She went to the market and spent N5 on gari (cassava meal) and N5 on yam. The money was gone. There  was no money for fish, no money to buy oha leaf (greens) or meat.

The wife came home and didn't know what to do. Her children were crying in hunger, "Please give us food." She went to the kitchen to prepare the food. The children ate, and so did she.

In the meantime her husband was down at the restaurant, drinking and living the life of an onye oriri (man about town). He told his friends, "Come home with me. I gave my wife money to prepare food for us." When they arrived home he called out to her to bring out the food she had cooked. The wife began to cry and presented the pitiful repast she had prepared.The man opened the pot to see that there was no fish, no vegetables and no meat. He jumped up and slapped his wife. She cried, "Ego i nyerem ezughi. The money you gave me was not enough to make soup. I managed with what I had to feed our children. Please don't hit me."

The chorus, "Ogiri k'am, jiri shi ofe, azu alala," means "I made the soup with stock.There is no fish."

Show Promoter & his Group - Azu Alala

In "Onye Ma Ihe Echi Gabu (Tomorrow is Pregnant. Who Knows What it will Be?)" Show Promoter sings, "My brother, who knows what tomorrow will bring? My sister, who knows what tomorrow will bring? Everybody pray to God so it will be good for us." He then proceeds to call out various local notables:

Show Promoter & his Group - Onye Ma Ihe Echi Gabu

"Onwu Ashio (The Death of Ashio)" recounts the tragic fate of a man who died in a traffic accident: "Ka mpkuru obi ya nodi nma (May his heart rest in peace). Anyi sikwa ama nnachi, mu na gi bu kwu nwa nne - a go. (We came from one place, you and I, brothers or relatives).Onwu gburu Ashio (The death that killed Ashio). Ashio a hupu la m laa (Ashio left me behind)."

Show Promoter & his Group - Onwu Ashio

Many thanks to my wife Priscilla for translating the lyrics of Azu Alala. You may download it as a zipped file here.



Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fighting Biafra




Thanks to a tip from reader/listener Zim Bida, I was able to score from Ebay an almost-mint copy of the elusive LP Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha: Drums and Chants of Fighting Biafra by the Biafran Freedom Fighters (Afro Request SRLP 5030, ca. 1968), and for a very reasonable price!

Although I've been looking for this album for some time, I would have to say after listening to it that it is of more historical than musical interest. According to the liner notes, the "Biafran Freedom Fighters" are ". . .from the ranks of young soldiers who have adapted some old Ibo folklore, that are sung at the camp fires. In addition, they are performing present day war songs." The genre is what is considered "traditional" Igbo music for voice and percussion, or "Igbo Blues." These amateur musicians are not generally of the caliber of artistes like Bob Sir Merengue, Morocco Maduka or Area Scatter who have been featured in earlier posts here. Still, as another snapsot of the Biafran war of 1967-70, Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha is well worth listening to. Enjoy!

Intro

"I Say You Don't Fear." Okwa imaregu. Ka ayin bawa egu. If you know no fear, then this is the time to prove it:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Isikwa Inara Egwu

"The Goddess." Nmebo nwo ogara nye. Oyeri Ngwa. We know you are like a goddess, so we expect you to behave like one:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Oyeri Mayo Ngwa

"Letting Down the Boss." Nye ka yo obusu ma ka no abubu kayo obubu ma. Mbebe nwo ogaranyi kayo bubuma. To let down your boss is really more than killing him:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Mbebo Nwo Ogaranyi

"Bonny Creek." Tumbi Ibani a quo eruwe ru. Ibani Creek is a very long journey. Let us try our best and paddle hard to the journey's end:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Tumbi Ibani

Biafran Freedom Fighters - The Nwatan War Drums

"The Colored Animal." Anu turu agwa gwa we eke. Ilema ayan nu zo a nuturu. Agwa gwa we ke. Be on your guard like a colored animal and adjust yourself to the surroundings:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Anu Turu Agwa Gwa

"Mosquitoes Molest Me." Atita ekwemu ni hie urura nu lo de de. Despite the arduous journey, I cannot sleep because the mosquitoes molest me:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Atita Ekemwu

"Beloved Biafra Land." Ayin ga do ala nna ayin Biafra. Let us defend our motherland Biafra to the last drop of our blood:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Ala Biafra

"Elephant Crush." Eyin mba eyin. Use the elephant's strength to crush the enemy:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Eyin Mba

"Tied Feet and Hands." Sometimes fear ties our feet and hands. So let's go forward resolutely with our leader:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Aku Ne Ke Aka

"Fight to the End." Eke le ndu uwa lu o gu ka madu. This fight is a struggle to the end. We will win:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Ekwele Ndu Uwa

"It's Time." Adama luru di na abali. Adama ni ogeru. After all this, it will be yime that Adama marries her fancy:

Biafran Freedom Fighters - Adama's Ogeru

Outro

The translations are from the liner notes of Igba na Egwu Ndi Biafra Ji na Anu Agha. To download it as a zipped file, go here.

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.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In Praise of "Mami Wata"




For many months now I've put off posting this in an effort to find out more about our featured artist, Bob Sir Merenge. Unfortunately, I can't say I've found out much. I can tell you that he is one of innumerable traditional Igbo musicians who have released recordings, sometimes to great acclaim, sometimes without making any ripples at all. I would say that Merenge's efforts have not gone totally unnoticed (I have a couple more records by him) but haven't drawn much attention outside of a small area of eastern Nigeria (and the Igbo diaspora, of course).

The second thing I can tell you about Bob Sir Merenge is that he is from the town of Uli in southern Anambra State. Uli is a fairly nondescript down on the Onitsha-Owerri Highway, but during the Biafran War (1967-70) the airstrip at Uli was literally a lifeline for the embattled rebel enclave, all sea access to the nascent Biafran republic having been lost early on (the map is from John de St. Jorre's The Nigerian Civil War [Hodder & Stoughton, 1972]):



Anyway, Bob Sir Merenge's album Eze Nwanyi (Okoli Music Co. OFC 4) is about as representative and fine an example of Igbo traditional music as you'll find (in the near future I'll be posting Show Promoter's LP Azu Alala, which is also an excellent example of the genre).

Eze Nwanyi begins with an elegy entitled "Ugbo Ezeh," "The Chief's Lorry." It tells the tale of Asampete, who was married for 20 years but was unable to conceive - the couple had money but no child. When she finally got pregnant Asampete was the object of cruel gossip by the villagers, who whispered that she was either sick or had slept with another man. When she finally gave birth to a daughter, her husband was very disappointed and beat Asampete. Finally she took her daughter and went to live with her mother.

Asampete's daughter grew up to be very beautiful, but one day the villagers came running to inform Asampete that she had been struck and killed by one of the fleet of trucks owned by the village chief. The chief told her to wait until the lorries came back from Asaba to see which one killed her daughter. Asampete wailed that she had no husband and now had no daughter. She went with a rope to the tree to hang herself but one of the villages stopped her. Asampete asked God how He could let this happen:


I wouldn't be surprised if "Ugbo Ezeh" was based on a true story, as are many songs of this type. The song, along with the others on Eze Nwanyi, also ably displays the various instruments in the arsenal of Igbo music: the opi (horn), the ogene (twin bell), udu (pottery drum), ekwe (slit drum), ashakala (beaded gourd), and samba (square drum).

"Ude Ndi Egwu" also concerns people who wish to become parents. A woman is praying to God to give her a child while she is still young. The singer expresses that while many wish for children, those who already have them often complain of the trouble they bring:


The title track, "Eze Nwanye," relates the "Mami Wata" legend, which, in different forms, can be found throughout Africa and the diaspora. The invocation at the beginning of the song states, "Ekene kene eze nwanyi," "Greetings to the Queen, our mother, the mother of the waters." The song further asks for her divine protection: "Great praise to the Queen, the one who lives in the ocean, the most beautiful, the lady of all ladies, we are asking for your protection sailing on oshimiri (the deep sea). When you bless us we will have a good life."

The choruses, "Onye o gaziri orie" and "Uwa e, uwa bu ogaziere onye orie" mean, respectively, "Whoever gets the blessing enjoys life" and "If you are blessed you will enjoy this world."

Bob Sir Merenge & his Igbo Cultural Singers - Eze Nwanyi

"Onwu Bu Onye Ilo" ("Death is the Enemy in this World") is a standard praise song, a tribute to those who have passed on. At the beginning a man is crying, and his comrades console him, saying "Uwa anyi no aburo nbe anyi," "This world is not our home." The singer recites the names of the fallen, preceded by the phrase "Onwu gburu ogaranya" ("Death killed a great man") and followed by the chorus "Amaghi m onye irom" ("I don't know my enemy"):

Bob Sir Merenge & his Igbo Cultural Singers - Onwu Bu Onye Ilo

Download Eze Nwanyi as a zipped file here. Many thanks to my wife Priscilla for interpreting these songs.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Igbo Minstrel




There is a parallel universe of popular music in Nigeria that exists mostly unknown to the international audience that listens to Fela, King Sunny Ade and other World Music™ icons. It consists of the innumerable amateur and semi-professional musicians and performing troupes who contribute so much to the richness of village and neighborhood life. While most of these artists remain unheralded outside of their own localities, enough have been recorded that traditional, or "Native Blues" music is a significant part of the Nigerian music industry.

One such artist is the legendary Igbo musician Chief Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo, who was born on August 10, 1904 in the city of Nteje near Onitsha in eastern Nigeria. He apparently died sometime in the '80s. Some years ago a friend of mine loaned me one of his LPs, which I dubbed to a 10" tape reel. Unfortunately, the record had a bad warp, and the first tracks on Side 1 and 2 were unplayable. As best I can remember (the written notations I made have been lost) the album was entitled Egwu Ogbada and was on the Melody label.

So that's where things stood until a few years ago, when I was able to digitize Egwu Ogbada and a number of other recordings. Obiligbo's music lay further neglected on my hard drive until a few months ago when my friend Ed Keazor posted a very interesting write-up about the great artiste on his Facebook page. It occurred to me that Ed could not only identify the tracks, but provide first-hand insight into their meaning and context for Likembe readers and listeners. Here are his thoughts:
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For those who are unaware, Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo was a famous minstrel (Akunwafor being his traditional Ozo title) whose career spanned the period 1940 till his death in the early 80's. Obiligbo was a master lyricist, composer, poet and exponent of the Ekpili style and master of the native thumb piano (ubo) similar to the mbira of Southern Africa, but marginally different in the flat tapered metal key arrangements and the variations in size from smaller sized version to the larger varieties used by more contemporary performers like the popular transvestite performer Area Scatter.



Ekpili was a style peculiar to the riverine area of Anambra state such as Onitsha, Nsugbe, Nteje, Umuleri, Aguleri etc. The musicians often played alone, singing along central themes of morality, praise singing, sorrow and pain- essentially reflecting the society's heartfelt thoughts. The bigger players often had a native orchestra of sorts with the native maracas, ekwe (gong) and udu (bass claypot) and backing vocals as components. Sometimes for funerals or coronations (ofala) they would add the native drums igba, which were usually employed as part of a distinct style of same name (Igba), which differed to the extent of having the oja (as the lead vocal instrument and voice as chorus). One key element of Obiligbo's Ekpili is the almost ethereal use of the backing vocals as a form of musical instrument either in bass format or even as percussion.

The main difference between Obiligbo's and Area Scatter's music was that the latter was from Owerri area, hence his style was not Ekpili. His singing style was also a faster and more syncopated, rather than melodic, style akin to Igede. His ubo playing style was very similar, however, to up-tempo Ekpili. The simple answer is that the differences were very subtle, being more based on the structural differences inherent in the dialect of the Anambra riverine area and the faster-paced Imo based dialects, which then translated into differences in the musical output.

While he was one of many native musicians, Obiligbo very quickly gained popularity via a thriving local fan-base, performing at funerals, weddings and other traditional ceremonies in and around Nsugbe. His fame grew exponentially, driven by his powerful lyrics - steeped deeply in native idiom and with hugely thought-provoking lyrics - with a fair dash of praise-singing to boot.

Obiligbo left a huge body of work, mostly in the gramophone record format, but many of his greatest works have been preserved, especially those recorded in the pioneering Nigerphone Recording Studios at Onitsha. Owned by the famous Igbo businessmen of the early 20th century, T.C. Onyekwelu, it was the most advanced (if not the only) facility available in the East of Nigeria at the time (the 30’s-50’s) and was the forebear of subsequent recording studios/companies like Rogers All Stars and Tabansi Records. The tracks were subsequently released by Onyekwelu's employee Chief Melody Okpelo through his Melody Record Company.

"Nteje Enyi No Bianya" is a mid tempo easy-listening track. It praises Obiligbo's home-town Nteje and his kinsmen, with names like Emeka Enyiogugu, Chima Mgbogu, Mayor Udenka, Apaka Udealor, Sunday Okeagu, Nweke Ijego, and ends in praise of himself - "Ezigbo Obiligbo Nwa Nteje":


"Odogwu Umuleri" is basically a story (not sure if idiomatic or factual) about Odogwu, a native of Umuleri (Anambra State, Nigeria) who impregnates his mother in furtherance of a money-making ritual. It is a mid-tempo track starting with the standard call and response chorus and quickening into a feverish up-tempo Igba.

Opening: "Ogbondu na ekwu ndi ogbu, Orimili na ekwu ndi oli" ("The waters always reveal who they have consumed") "Odogwu ebulu afo ime ya na aro ato." Chorus: "Oro Misita Odogwu [note the corrupted use of the English title "Mister," used clearly here in derogatory terms] Ewe puta ofu mbosi, ewe muta yabunwa, ewe muaya izu nabu na azu no, mama ya ewe bebe akwa." Odogwu's mother is pregnant for 2 and then 3 years and in labour for 2 weeks. She then bursts into a lament as to her plight, "Have you ever seen any one suffer the way I have?" The community discusses it. "Odogwu answer your mother," they say. "She is lamenting at the back of the house." When she delivers the child, he is asked, "What did you do to this child? Who carries a child for three years?" Odogwu essentially admits that he impregnated his mother for the purpose of a money-making ritual. The chorus then changes to “Ebenebe gbulu odogwu" ("Sacrilege has killed Odogwu.") The song tempo increases on this discovery: "Ndi Umuleri, Atu uwa bili na be unu" - "A horrible evil resides in your midst. Odogwu, the evil child who placed his hands on his mothers womb. Umuleri cleanse yourself of this evil:

"Late Chief TC Onyekwelu" is a great track epitomising once more Obiligbo's typical style. An 11 minute tribute and dirge for the late Chief T.C.Onyekwelu, it starts off with the slow ubo intro and call-and-response chorus, building up to a feverish vocal crescendo. The real power behind this track is the lyrics. The track starts with Obiligbo tracing his relationship with Onyekwelu, back to the first meeting, after Onyekwelu's return from Europe when Onyekwelu invited him to play at an occasion at a location called "Berger," (which is presumed to be a meeting of the ruling regional party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns, which Onyekwelu belonged to), ferrying him to the occasion in a chauffeur driven car and challenging him to perform "wonders with his music" by promoting consensus at the meeting, at which Obiligbo did not disappoint, even affirming that the gathering "agreed to his words." Subsequently Onyekwelu gave him two bags of money as his reward.

He then extols his virtue as his benefactor from that day onwards. He describes a day when he arrives at Onyekwelu's residence to hear the sounds of wailing and sorrow, only to hear of his death, which was confirmed by the look of despair and sorrow on the face of Onyekwelu's wife, whom he describes as Amalu Uche Diya ("she who knows the thoughts of her husband"). He expresses his sorrow with the chorus: "Onyekwelu Onye Ocha, Onyekwelu Ala na zu nwa" ("Onyekwelu a white man; Onyekweku, the breast that feeds the child"). He extols the symbolism, that the burning of Otu Onitsha Market is a huge blow to the Igbos. He further extols Onyekwelu's generosity, by the saying that a stingy man dies dies poor and miserable. The song carries on to give praise to named greats of Igbo land at the time: George Mbonu, Aaron Obijiofor (my children's great-grandfather), Sunday Nwankwo, John Ibeanu and Eze Omenaka. The song then ends after a roll-call of these greats by his repeating his usual refrain- "Okwo Chukwu Ka anyi na gbalu Odibo" ("In spite of wordly wealth, we are all still slaves to God.")

Mention must be made of Melody Okpelo, who is a recurrent mention in Obiligbo's song. Apparently, Melody Okpelo was the owner of Melody Records, Obiligbo's original record company, Onyekwelu's involvement being as financier of this company:

Chief Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo & his Group - Late Chief TC Onyekwelu

"Oyi Mu Ikegbunem" appears to be a dirge, mourning the death of hi friend Godwin Nwa Ukonu (Godwin the son of Ukonu). The lyrics being thus: "Okpelo invited us to go to the town, anyone who needs the record come quickly." He then goes into a roll call of Igbo great and good, inviting them to mourn the dead man: Patrick Nwa (son of) Analiko, Nkwocha na Enugwu Ukwu (Nkwocha of Enugu-Ukwu) "Kanyi na kwa ya" ("let us mourn him") Alfred Nwa Onyiuke (A succcessful businessman of Nimo town) "bia ngwa ngwa" ("come quickly"), Angus Na Abagana (Angus of Abagana- referring to The King of Abagana- Angus Ilonze), "let us mourn him," Ejidike Bread (Mazi Ejidike was the owner of one of the most popular Bakeries in Igboland), Nwafor Orizu (Dr Nwafor Orizu was The Senate President) , Oye Aga Ufoeze, Michael Umeadi (a businessman of Nri in Anambra State):


Download Egwu Ogbada as a zipped file here.


The picture of the ubo above is from Wolfgang Bender's book Sweet Mother: Modern African Music (University of Chicago Press, 1991), which devotes several pages to Chief Akunwafor Ezigbo Obiligbo.

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, 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.