Nigeria's Oriental Brothers International were established in 1971-72 by Owerri innkeeper Chief James Azubuike, who needed a house band for his establishment, the Easy Going Hotel. To this end he recruited Godwin Kabaka Opara and Ferdinand Dan Satch Emeka Opara (no relation) of Owerri and Christogonous Ezebuiro Obinna ("Warrior") of Abor Mbaise. These three were soon joined by Nathaniel Ejiogu ("Mangala"), Lyvinus Alaraibe ("Akwilla"), and Prince Ichita, all freelance musicians in and around Owerri and Aba. Mangala died shortly after the founding of the band.
Although the Orientals in the early years were ostensibly "led by Godwin Kabaka Opara," Kabaka (above) walked out in 1977 to found the Kabaka International Guitar Band. The main reason was apparently a leadership struggle with Dan Satch, but there were probably artistic differences as well. Kabaka wanted to move the band toward the faster-paced Ikwokilikwo style then being made popular by the Ikenga Super Stars of Africa and Oliver de Coque, which Dan Satch and Warrior resisted. On the Kabaka Guitar Band's first recordings, its style is described on the label as Ikwokilikwo Kabaka.
Kabaka was joined by no one when he left the Oriental Brothers, but he was able to draw on a large pool of free-lance musicians in Owerri to assemble a first-rate guitar band. The group's first LP, titled Mangala Special (Deram DLPS 004, 1977, right) in honor of the late musician, caused an immediate sensation, and the group has enjoyed many years of success in Nigeria. In recent years Kabaka and Dan Satch, the two surviving founders of the Orientals, seem to have reconciled and have made videos together under the Orientals banner.
Want to know what all the excitement was about? Here, in its entirety, is Mangala Special:
"Izu Kanma na Nneji" more or less means "It's easier to agree with someone when you share the same mother." This phrase takes on added meaning in the context of the African practice of polygamy. Polygamous families often divide into factions based on the offspring of various mothers.
Kabaka International Guitar Band - Izu Kanma na Nneji
"Chukwu Kere Mmadu" means "God Who Created People": "God ('Chukwu,' literally 'Great Spirit') created everybody and he created rich and poor, but death ('onwu') intrudes. Death doesn't discriminate, death has no friends. Kabaka, my brother, let it go." This apparently alludes to a tragedy that had recently befallen Kabaka or someone in his family.
Kabaka International Guitar Band - Chukwu Kere Mmadu
The title of this song means "God, Drive Away the Devil": "God ('Chineke') is the 'king' ('eze') of heaven, and his wrapper ('ogudo') drags on the ground. Everything in the world is his creation. Please, God, use your powerful hand to protect us ('tukwasa anyi na ishi,' literally 'cover our heads'). God, forgive all of our sins."
Kabaka International Guitar Band - Chineke Wetuo Ekwensu
"Mangala Special" is a tribute to Nathaniel Ejiogu, a founding member of the Oriental Brothers who died shortly after the founding of the group ('Mangala,' his nickname, literally means a type of dried fish!): "One doesn't know what someone else is looking for in life. Send a message home to Imo State that Mangala died a tragic death. He will no longer enjoy his cigarettes. He will not get married." The refrain "Mangala Sarawa" is hard to decipher. "Sarawa" is not an Igbo word. Possibly it is Hausa. Is this a slang expression?
Kabaka International Guitar Band - Mangala Special
One irritating feature of Igbo records produced in Lagos and outside of Nigeria is that the song titles often contain mis-spellings that change their meaning or render them unintelligible. Mangala Special features several incorrect spellings of this type. This song was entitled "Ichere Chi Amaghi Onye Iwu," which means "do you think the Creator doesn't know who you really are?" The title actually should be "Ichere Shi Amaghi Onye Iwu," meaning "do you think I don't know who you really are?" The lead singer here calls out to various individuals with this phrase. Presumably it is meant as a compliment, but maybe it isn't.
Kabaka International Guitar Band - Ichere Shi Amaghi Onye Iwu
"Ajam Ashi-Mi" is an undecipherable phrase, possibly a regionalism. The lyrics themselves are hard to figure out. They literally seem to say, "Instead of telling me the truth, you told me you were going to park your car." But the song has a good beat!
Kabaka International Guitar Band - Ajam Ashi-Mi
Thanks once again to my wife Priscilla for interpreting the lyrics. Thanks also to Vitus Johnson Laurence, who provided much of the background information on Kabaka and the Orientals.
Discography of the Oriental Groups
Friday, December 21, 2007
Monday, September 17, 2007
The Ikenga Super Stars of Africa, led by Victor Okoroego, weigh in here with a funky slice of Ikwokilikwo. The Ikengas were born in 1973 as "The Nkengas" when they split from bandleader Osita Osadebe, in the process hijacking the master tape that became the legendary Nkengas in London (Orbitone OTO 06, 1973). This was but a prelude, though, to the group's massive hit, 1975's Ikenga in Africa (Rogers All Stars ASALP 2).*
The band continued kickin' it at least until 1984, when its output seemed to trickle out with the rather weak War Against Indiscipline (Rogers All Stars RASLPS 065). In the meantime the Ikengas established themselves as one of the most beloved Nigerian groups of all time, not only in their homeland but across Africa and in Europe as well. African music fans were delighted when a collection of Ikenga recordings, Great Hits Vol. 1 (Rogers All Stars RASCD 018), was finally issued on CD a couple of years ago.
Side 1 of this LP, Late Celestine Ukwu Special (Roger All Stars ASALPS 12, 1977), pays tribute to the great highlife musician Celestine Ukwu, who died in 1977 in an auto accident. It opens with the refrain "ariri," meaning "grief" and continues, "...we go about our lives but we don't know how close death is... Life is pleasurable but death spoils everything... The death that took Celestine Ukwu did something terrible to us." "Ego di Nogwu" on Side 2 is actually mis-spelled. It should be "Ego di Nugwo" ("There's Never Enough Money"). The refrain repeated throughout the song, "Ego siri ike, ego di nugwo," means roughly "Money is hard to get, there's never enough money." The song continues in that vein, stating approximately, "I'm not going to steal for money, I'm not going to kill for money... Make sure your hands are clean."
Neither of these tunes is on Great Hits Vol. 1. Enjoy! And once again thanks to my wife Priscilla for interpreting the lyrics.
Ikenga Super Stars of Africa - Late Celestine Ukwu Special
Ikenga Super Stars of Africa - Ego di Nogwu
* Which you can download here. And in case you were wondering, Ikwokilikwo (or Ikwokirikwo) refers to a fast-paced form of highlife popularized by Oliver de Coque and Godwin Kabaka Opara (of the Oriental Brothers and later Kabaka Guitar Band) in addition to the Ikengas. A product of the confluence of Congo music, benga from East Africa and the Igbo cultural renaissance that took place following the Biafra war, Ikwokilikwo was quite the rage in Nigeria in the late '70s. A discography of the Ikenga Super Stars is available here.