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, January 31, 2010
Sunday, January 24, 2010
I've been meaning to post this recording for a while. Nwanyi Ma Obi Diya (Onyeoma C.Y. Records CYLP 016, 1984) by the Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group of Ihiagwa-Owerri is guaranteed to fill the dance-floor at any Igbo party it's played.
The vocal stylings of Rose Nzuruike (above) were what made Nwanyi Ma Obi Diya stand out amid a torrent of similar releases during the '80s, and what sends Igbos, and especially Owerri indigenes, into a swoon. Which is not to short-change the talents of the group itself (below) and especially its leader, Madam Maria Anokwuru. Released on an obscure Onitsha record label, it became one of the biggest-selling Igbo records of all time.
The title tune, opening up the medley on Side One of the album, means "A Woman That Knows her Husband's Heart." The ladies sing that good behavior is better than beauty and that a woman who knows her husband's heart will work with him when times are tough. "Ego Kirikiri" literally means rattling money and refers to the olden days when commerce was conducted with cowrie shells. The group sings "Igbo je akpo ya ojo mma - Igbos called it good money" and "Owerri nnu ahuna onwu ozigbo mmadu bara uba - Owerri, you see that not everyone was rich." Furthermore, "Onye ogazirila nya nwe mmeri - If you are rich you win." Side One concludes with a paean to Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the leader of the separatist state of Biafra, who was pardoned by Nigeria's president at the time, Shehu Shagari, and allowed to return to Nigeria in 1980. The group welcomes Ojukwu back to the land of his birth and sing that they are overjoyed at his return:
Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group of Ihiagwa-Owerri - Nwanyi Ma Obi Diya/Ego Kirikiri (Cowries)/Onye Ije Nno-Ezennadi
On Side Two, the group sing that they are called Obi Wuru Otu - "One Heart for All." They entreat everyone to be careful, because God's way is where humans prove their value. "Ezuru Ezu Baa? Olu - Is everyone rich? No." "Omumu si na Chukwu - To have children is a gift from God." "Ochu Okuko Nwe Ada" is a typical Igbo parable. The lyrics explain that a person who chases a chicken will always fall but the chicken will never fall. If you plot against an innocent person you'll hurt yourself in the end. "Nwa nkpe ya na Eze gbaru mkpe, nwa mkpe atagbuela onye ya na afufu - If a widow gets into a conflict with a King, she will suffer much." The song calls on the Messiah, the one who made a blind person to see and a cripple to walk. Finally, the song "Elu Uwa Were Obi Oma" calls on the people of the world to be kind to get their just rewards:
Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group of Ihiagwa-Owerri - Olum Ado Ogu-Ezuruezuba/Ochu Okuko Nwe Ada/Elu Uwa Were Obi Oma-AFA Nna Na Nwa
Many thanks to my wife Priscilla for translating the lyrics of this record. Download Nwanyi Ma Obi Diya, complete with scans of the album sleeve, here. I have a couple more albums by the Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group, and will probably post them in the future.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
We were shopping on Nnamdi Azikiwe St. in central Lagos when we came across a fascinating sight: hundreds of men were prostrate and barefoot in the street, while overhead a speaker blared:
"The Muslim people are praying," my brother-in-law told me. "Look at them with their faces in the dirt. And these are the people who rule over us." Such was my introduction to Friday prayers at the Central Mosque in Lagos (right), and to the complex subject of ethnic and religious power relations in Nigeria.
Ash-had anna lah ilaha illallah
Ash-hadu anna Muħammadar rasulullah
Hayya 'ala 'l-falah
La ilaha illallah
Across from the mosque a stall was selling pirated pornographic videotapes with covers that left nothing to the imagination, while shoppers went about their business. The loudspeakers amplified every bit of static in the recorded call to prayer, which echoed among the surrounding buildings. The atmosphere was strange and other-worldly, to my eyes and ears at least. I've believed in no deity since I was twelve, but the spectacle stirred in me trembling feelings of awe and wonderment. For just a minute I was tempted to remove my shoes and join the believers in their devotions.
Needless to say, I don't share the casual bigotry reflected in my brother-in-law's remarks, but they speak to the fact that Nigeria is a nation increasingly divided along ethnic, political and religious lines. Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim while the southeast of the country is almost exclusively Christian. Other areas, such as the Yoruba region around Lagos, are more complicated in their religious allegiances. About half of the Yoruba are thought to follow Islam while the remainder adhere to various Christian denominations and traditional religion.
Since Independence Nigerian rulers have tended to be Northerners, hence the resentment of "Northern Muslim domination," and at times this friction has given way to violence, notably during the Biafran War of 1967-70 and recent conflicts over the introduction of sharia law in some northern states. Islam came to Yorubaland by conversion rather than through war, and relations among the various religious groups there have been mostly peaceful.
Among Yoruba Muslims in the 19th Century were a group of repatriated slaves from Brazil who have played an important role in the economy and politics of Lagos. Among the distinctive buildings they erected in the city, all of them now in disrepair, is the Shitta Mosque on Martins St. I took this picture of it during my 1994 visit:
Among various styles of Yoruba music which have their roots in the Muslim community are waka, performed by female singers, and apala and fuji, performed by men. While these styles derive from music performed during Muslim holidays such as Ramadan, they have tended to become secularized over time.
I picked up the LP Asalamu Alaekumu (Leader Records 82, 1992) by Sister Riskat Lawal and the Aaqibat Lil-Mutaqeen Society Group during my 1995 visit to Nigeria, and I'm not sure where to situate it within the spectrum of Yoruba Islamic percussion styles. This is clearly a religious recording and not the usual exercise in praise-singing (rather, it praises God rather than rich and powerful individuals), nor is it unique. I take it there are hundreds of recordings in this genre, but I'm not aware that they have a specific label.
No matter what you call it, I'm sure you will find Asalamu Alaekumu a first-rate example of Yoruba percussion music.
Sister Riskat Lawal & the Aaqibat Lil-Mutaqeen Society Group - Asalamu Alaekumu
Sister Riskat Lawal & the Aaqibat Lil-Mutaqeen Society Group - Allahu Allahu / Eyin Anobi / Ayonfe Oluwa
Sister Riskat Lawal & the Aaqibat Lil-Mutaqeen Society Group - E Gboro Oluwa / Omo Iya Ni Wa / Oro Shekh Adam-Oba To Ni Ike Lodo / Islam Esin Ola
Download Asalamu Alaekumu as a zipped file here.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Ronnie Graham's The World of African Music (Pluto Press/Research Associates, 1992) states that Tanzania's DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra recorded several albums and singles in the early '80s under the name "The Black Warriors." Doug Paterson told me a few years ago, though, that The Black Warriors were actually a subgroup of Mlimani who recorded in Nairobi without permission from bandleader Michael Enoch. For this transgression they were expelled from the group, only to return later.
Whatever the true story, in the early '90s Flatim Records in Nairobi compiled six Black Warriors 45s into a compilation cassette, Tunazikumbuka Vol. 20 (AHD [MC] 038), which I present here. This cassette is compiled from vinyl pressings rather than the original source tapes, and Flatim cassettes are well-known for their dodgy technical standards. The quality of the musical performances shines through nonetheless, and I'm sure you'll enjoy hearing alternate versions of some Mlimani classics.
The Black Warriors - Nawashukuru Wazazi Wangu Pts. 1 & 2
The Black Warriors - Zimbabwe Pts. 1 & 2
The Black Warriors - Bubu Ataka Kusama Pts. 1 & 2
The Black Warriors - Nalala Kwa Tabu Pts. 1 & 2
The Black Warriors - Najuta Pts. 1 & 2
The Black Warriors - Uzuri wa Mtu Sio Sura Pts. 1 & 2
Download Tunazikumbuka Vol. 20 as a zipped file here. The artwork at the top of this post is by Tanzanian artist Mwamedi Chiwaya, and is in a style called Tingatinga. It is taken from this website.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
Another musician from the Gambia winds up our look at "updated" kora music. Unlike the two previous artists featured here, I was able to find out a fair bit about Mr. Jaliba Kuyateh, who is called "The Cultural Ambassador of the Gambia."
He has been playing the kora since the age of five and has been performing with his group, the Kumarehs, since the early '90s. They have toured the United States as well as throughout Europe.
Like the music of Ebrima Tata Jobateh, Kuyateh's sound combines vigorous kora playing with a full array of electric instruments and drum kit as well as local percussion. The cassette Hera Bangku (Kerewan Sounds, 1995) is an excellent introduction to his music. Enjoy!
Jaliba Kuyateh & the Kumarehs - Hera Bangku
Jaliba Kuyateh & the Kumarehs - Sherifolu
Jaliba Kuyateh & the Kumarehs - Julu-Jo
Jaliba Kuyateh & the Kumarehs - Fitna
Jaliba Kuyateh & the Kumarehs - Kebalang Camara
Jaliba Kuyateh & the Kumarehs - Nyananding
Download Hera Bangku as a zipped file here. More music by Jaliba Kuyateh is available here.
Friday, January 1, 2010
I'm not sure Ama Maïga's Une Fleche Malienne (Disques Sonics SONICS 79426, ca. 1984) succeeds completely as a fusion between traditional Malian kora sounds and modern African pop, but it was one of the first, and certainly bears a listen or two. Graeme Counsel's Burkinabé vinyl discography notes a 1976 pressing by Maïga, but that's the extent of what I've been able to find out about him. He recorded this one-off in Paris with a crew of session musicians and then dropped off the map, never to be heard from again. Enjoy!
Ama Maïga - Keleya
Ama Maïga - Lannaya-Tilebana
Ama Maïga - Souboury
Ama Maïga - Djougou Sago
Download Une Fleche Malienne as a zipped file here.
Monday, December 28, 2009
I have been a fan of your website Likembe for a couple years since I came across some thing you posted about Kuku Sebsebe. I also wanted to introduce myself to you.
My name is Danny Mekonnen. I am a Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology at Harvard. I work on Ethiopian music and will start my dissertation in about one year. I am also a bandleader and musician -- I play saxophone in my group Debo Band. The group is an 11-piece Ethiopian pop, together now for over three years.
We've been given the incredible opportunity to bring Ethiopian music for the first time to East Africa’s largest music festival: “Sauti za Busara” on the island of Zanzibar, February 11th-16th, 2010. We will bring with us 4 Ethiopian musicians and dancers living in Addis Ababa. This is a major opportunity for us to reach a wider audience and make further connections and collaborations with music in Ethiopia and East Africa.
Debo Band has launched an online fundraising campaign, and we have just 15 days left to raise more than $5,000 to pay for our upcoming African tour. We'd love you to watch our video and help spread the word. The success of this effort depends on this news reaching people far and wide.
See the video at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/deboband/debo-band-returns-to-africa
We've received a grant which only covers some of the cost, so we are now seeking (tax-deductible) donations to complete the budget and make this journey possible. Any amount makes a huge difference -- most donations are $25 or $50, which will add up quickly to help us to our goal.
It's hard asking strangers for help, but I feel that the fund-raising is all for a good cause: an exciting opportunity for cultural exchange through music. We hope that when you watch the video you feel inspired to contribute in some way! Check out the video link above to see what we're up to, and please pass this on to more people who would be interested in this project. (You can also learn more about Debo Band at http://deboband.com)
Many thanks in advance for your time reading this email and for the work you do through your blog Likembe. I hope than we can be in touch in the future, and that we can find a way to work on something together.
All best wishes for the new year!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Researching that last post has got me to pondering the ways in which the kora, the traditional 21-string harp-lute of West Africa, has been combined with more modern sounds. There are plenty of examples, from the musical fusions of Foday Musa Suso and Djeli Moussa Diawara to Toumani Diabate's collaborations with Taj Mahal and Björk, to, incredibly, Naughty By Nature's 1991 smash hit "O.P.P."
None of these attempts to update the classic sound, in my opinion, approach the pure polyphonic joy of Ebrima Tata Jobateh's cassette Waato, recorded with his group Salam (apparently members of his extended family) and released by Kerewan Sounds in Gambia in 1995.
Efforts to find out more about this mysterious artist didn't yield much save this observation by Nick Deen of Natari: ". . . Tata's solo style is extremely impressive and in fact leaves the older Paris-based kora players like Mory Kante very much in the shade. Absolute magic all the way through." Of course, I wholeheartedly agree with Nick's assessment! Hear for yourself:
Tata & Salam Band - San-Chaba
Tata & Salam Band - Sabarla
Tata & Salam Band - Mali-Gambia
Tata & Salam Band - Boto Sanneh
Tata & Salam Band - Mariama Jallow
Tata & Salam Band - Kaira
Tata & Salam Band - Duwa
Tata & Salam Band - Alagie Danso
You can download Waato as a zipped file here. More new-fangled kora sounds to follow.
Monday, December 21, 2009
The Casamance region of southern Senegal has been the scene of sporadic fighting over the years between the central government and the separatist Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC). The area was formerly a Portuguese possession and is culturally distinct from the rest of Senegal. The name "Casamance" is said to derive from the Portuguese word for "house" combined with the Mandinka word for "king." An alternative explanation attributes the name to an old kingdom in the region called Kassa.
The music of Casamance also differs from the mainstream Senegalese sound, having more in common with the music of Guinea and Mali, with a distinctive Lusophone flavor. Orchestre Baobab, Toure Kunda and Xalam all have roots in the region, but the foremost musical group in the area has been the Sedhiou Band, variously known as UCAS de Sedhiou or the UCAS Jazz Band.
The Sedhiou Band was founded in 1959 as the musical group of the Union Cultural Association in the town of Sedhiou, and has had a varied lineup over the years. The most recent configuration features Ibrahima Sylla Dia on lead guitar, vocals by Abdoulaye Dandou Diedhiou, Seydou Ndao, Amadou Leye Sarr and Aminata Dieng Ndiaye, and a battery of percussionists and other musicians. The group came to the attention of most African music fans outside of Senegal when Africa Kambeng (Africassette AC9404) was released in 1998, a recording that is still in print and available from Amazon and Sterns.
The Sedhiou Band have released numerous recordings over the years (a 1970s LP is available from Worldservice here). I possess four cassettes by the group released during the 1990s, from which I present selections here. It's a sort of "Sedhiou Band Best of the '90s," as it were.
The title track of Saaroo, released in 1992, is distinguished by the kora playing of Sirakata Diebaté, who also features prominently on "Kambeng" from the same cassette:
UCAS de Sedhiou - Saaroo
UCAS de Sedhiou - Kambeng
I wish I knew the name of the female singer who graces the lovely song "Nenne Suuxo," permeated with a sense of saudade, that opens A Paris, issued in 1993. "Yaa Musoolu," from the same cassette, definitely kicks things up a notch:
UCAS Band Jazz de Sedhiou - Nenne Suuxo
UCAS Band Jazz de Sedhiou - Yaa Musoolu
In 1997 the Sedhiou Band made several recordings for the Gambia-based label Kerewan Sounds, and these reflect Gambian concerns. Notable is this praise song to the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, a political party that grew out of a military coup in the Gambia in 1994 and swept the 1997 elections. It continues to rule the country amid charges of intimidation of opposition parties. This is from the cassette Dimbayaa:
Sedhiou Band - A.P.R.C.
Also from Dimbayaa is this lively tune:
Sedhiou Band - Khady Kebe
Africa Kambeng, also released in 1997 by Kerewan Sounds, continues the theme of uptempo dance music combined with political paeans. "22nd July Movement" is a praise song to the 1994 miltary coup:
Sedhiou Band - 22nd July Movement
Here's another praise song, but apparently not a political one. There is a Senegalese professional basketball player named Ndeye Ndiaye, but she would have been 18 when this song was recorded, so it's probably not about her. I wish I knew more:
Sedhiou Band - Ndeye Ndiaye
Download these tracks as a zipped file here. If you enjoy this music, go to this post about Ramiro Naka from Guinea-Bisaau, and see if you don't hear a connection.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
I didn't know what to expect when I posted a recording of Fela Sowande's African Suite a couple of weeks ago, but the reaction has been surprisingly positive, not only in comments and emails but in the the number of downloads.
I say "surprisingly positive" because I didn't know what people would make of this effort to fuse African traditional music with European classical forms. Turns out that African "Art Music" isn't the obscure back ally that I thought it was. Not only is there a lot of it out there, it is the subject of a surprising amount of scholarship. Andreas Wetter directs us to two articles on his website Ntama, and the internet offers up considerable analysis for those who are interested.
Reader/listener William Matczynski has passed on a couple of tunes that were direct influences on passages in African Suite. "Akuko Nu Bonto," a Fanti-language song by George Wiliams Aingo from Ghana bears a sharp resemblence to "Akinla" in the suite (and, I might add, to the classic highlife song "Saturday Night," which has been recorded by just about everybody). This version of the song was recorded in London in 1927 by Zonophone Records and distributed all across West Africa. It is included on the fascinating release Living is Hard: West African Music in Britain 1927-29 (Honest Jon's Records HJRCD 33). We can't tell you anything about Mr. Aingo but the CD Roots of Highlife (Heritage Records, 1992), now long out of print, collects a number of his recordings.
George Williams Aingo - Akuko Nu Bonto
Ghanaian composer Ephraim Kwaku Amu was a trail-blazer in the field of transcription of traditional African songs. He was born in 1899 and began teaching in 1920, contemporaneously with his musical education under the Rev. Allotey-Pappoe.
Soon he had composed a number of popular songs, including "Mawo do na Yesu" ("I Shall Work for Jesus"), "Onipa," "Da Wo So" and "Yen Ara Asase Ni." His cultural nationalist tendencies led to a break with the Church, and he left for London in 1937 to study at the Royal College of Music. It was here that he learned to fuse African polyphony with European forms of music. In the late '60s Amu was the director of the University of Ghana Chorus, which recorded the LP Ghana Asuafo Reto Dwom (Ghanaian Students Sing) for Afro Request Records (SPLP 5027). Amu's composition "Ennye Ye Angye Da," included on the album, was the basis for "Joyful Day" in Sowande's African Suite. From the liner notes, the lyrics are as follows:
University of Ghana Chorus - Ennye Ye Angye Da
This is a joyful day.
Why be sad, when all around is happy and merry?
Work and merrymaking alternate each other to make life enjoyable.
We pledge to engage in both, work and merrymaking, each in its appropriate time to make life happy and merry.
Miles Cleret of Soundway Records asked my wife Priscilla to translate some Igbo-language songs for inclusion on the upcoming Volume 2 of the amazing Nigeria Special. Interestingly, in light of our subject matter, one of those songs, "Egwu Umuagboho" ("The Young Maidens' Dance") is by Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko (above), one of the leading lights of Nigerian Art Music. Ms. Nwosu was born in 1940 and has lived in the United States since 1996. In 1961 she journeyed to Rome on an Eastern Nigerian Government scholarship with the ambition of becoming an opera singer. Here she studied in several conservatories for ten years. Returning to Nigeria in 1972, she became Producer of Musical Programs for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and became a Musical Lecturer at the University of Lagos in 1975, holding a number of posts in that institution until 1992.
Ms. Nwosu has recorded several LPs in Nigeria and is responsible for numerous popular compositions. "Egwu Umuagboho," recorded with Dan Satch Joseph's band, is quite unusual for an Igbo song, reflecting her operatic training. It is based on the traditional girls' dance of Nwosu's Enugu region. Lyrically it is more of a "tone poem" than a straight narrative, adress to a girl named Agnes: "Beautiful Agnes. . . what slight is done to another person? . . . peace, peace Udoegwu. . . anger and quarrel. . . Agnes, it's me talking, Agnes, it's me calling:
Joy Nwosu & Dan Satch Joseph - Egwu Umuagboho
"Egwu Umuagboho" is unavailable for download at this time. Many thanks again to William Matczynski and to Priscilla. The beaded artwork at the top of this post is by Nigerian artist Jumah Buraimoh. You can learn more about him here.