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.



Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Jùjú Music in the '90s



I've been collecting Nigerian music since the 1970s, but never actually made it to the country until 1994 and 1995. By then it was apparent that the music industry was going through a crisis, or at least big, big changes. The Nigerian affiliates of the two international record companies, Polydor and EMI, had been sold off and changed their names to Premier Music and Ivory Music respectively, while Afrodisia, formerly Decca West Africa, had gone inactive. A few LPs were still being pressed, but most "official" music distribution was via low-quality cassettes. The industry was suffering a death by a thousand cuts as pirated cassettes swamped the market.

By the mid-'90s in southwestern Nigeria jùjú music had been eclipsed by fújì and other styles, as I've discussed earlier. King Sunny Adé and Ebenezer Obey were still on the scene, though with lower profiles. Their more laid-back, philosophical brand of jùjú had given way to a frenetic, materialistic version, epitomized above all by Sir Shina Peters, who sang of the good life and conspicuous consumption.

"Wonder" Dayo Kujore, born in 1958, is another exponent of the new jùjú sound. Like Shina Peters, he served his apprenticeship in the band of Prince Adekunle, playing lead guitar on some of the maestro's biggest hits. Kujore soon left to form his own group, but it wasn't until the early '90s that he really made a mark with albums like Super Jet, Easy Life and today's offering, 1993's Sọkọ Xtra (Ivory Music IVR 039), one of his biggest hits ever.

The basic elements of the 1990s jùjú sound are all here: the punchy, forward-driving rhythms complete with electronic drum pad, synthesizers and no pedal steel guitar to be found. And check out the Paul Simon reference in the opening bars of "Eko Ayo!"

I've always preferred "Old School" jùjú myself, but newer productions like Sọkọ Xtra have their attractions. Enjoy!



Download Sọkọ Xtra as a zipped file here.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Mystery



The cassette Wika Ô Ma (ALPHA 003, 1992), by N'Gosséré Ballo, is the kind of down-home traditional music that is found throughout Africa, but seldom gets much attention outside of it. I don't know anything about Ms. Ballo. Wika Ô Ma was recorded in Abidjan and released on Alpha Blondy's label, so I'm assuming she's from Ivory Coast, but maybe not. The title track was featured on a 1995 compilation entitled Coleur Mandingue, so I'd guess she is a member of one of the many Mandé ethnic groups descended from the old Mali Empire who live throughout West Africa (see map below).


Can anyone out there tell us more about this wonderful artist? Not just her lovely voice but the percussion and backing vocals on this recording are all first-rate. What a shame this is apparently N'Gosséré Ballo's only release!

N'Gosséré Ballo - Wika Ô Ma






Download Wika Ô Ma as a zipped file here

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.


Monday, January 29, 2018

More Hot Dance Music from Côte d'Ivoire



I've been on a tear lately digitizing Ivorian cassettes from the early '90s. A few days ago we heard Ze by Gueatan System, and today I present another outstanding work, Zol' Paye by Claude Romy & le Wassiato (EMI E 2411292-4, 1992).

As is often the case, I've been unable to find out much about Mr. Romy or his group. At some point Les Wassiato evolved into Super Wassiato and Claude Romy was joined by Blé Marius as co-leader of the band. Mr. Marius doen't seem to be involved in this earlier incarnation of the group. Le Wassiato are members of the Wé ethnic group, who also live in Liberia, where they are known as the Krahn.

I'm sure you'll agree with me that Zol' Paye is an example of Ivorian dance music at its best. Enjoy!




Claude Romy & le Wassiato - Sagnonweti

Claude Romy & le Wassiato - Zolepahi

Claude Romy & le Wassiato - Deblehi

Download Zol' Paye as a zipped file here. More great Ivorian music from the '90s is on the way!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Yacouba Soukous from Ivory Coast



A track from Ivory Coast's Gueatan System was featured on the 1993 release Super Guitar Soukous (Hemisphere 7243 8 28188), a compilation devoted mainly to Congolese musicians. Their music is not really soukous, although there are definite influences in the guitar work, as in the music of other African countries. The group members are from the Dan, or Yacouba, ethnic group, who live in the western part of Ivory Coast, spilling over into Liberia. The Dan are world-renowned for their carved wooden masks and other artwork.

Other than that, I can't say anything else about Gueatan System other than that this cassette, Ze (EMI E0183492-4, 1992), is spectacular. Enjoy!

Gueatan System - Ze

Gueatan System - Dion

Gueatan System - Abiba


Gueatan System - Zolo

Gueatan System - Guelo

Gueatan System - Zemele

Download Ze as a zipped file here.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Tigrinya Sounds



Here's an appropriate followup to our last post of Ethiopian "ethnic" music: 3tä Weräyat Naye Tegriña Däräfeti Beheberät ("Three Famous Tigrinya Singers Together"), a compilation of musicians from the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The date on the inlay card is 1985, but that's from the Ethiopian calendar. I'm guessing that would put it around 1992 or 1993, shortly after the fall of the the government of Mengistu Haile Mariam and (possibly) before the independence of Eritrea in 1993.

Although they were sundered by those events, Tigrinya-speaking people live on both sides of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, comprsing an estimated 55% of the population in Eritrea and 97% of the Tigray region of Ethiopia. I've written before about Tigrinya music. It's apparent from even a casual listening that it's quite different from the better-known Amharic-language music of the Ethiopian highlands, with a more insistent rhythm and greater use of the krar, a five-or-six-striged lyre. In recent years the krar has even been electrified, as demonstrated to great effect in this cassette.

Two of the artists here, Kiros Alämayahu and Bahta Gebre-Hiwot, were pioneers of Tigrinya music.  According to his Wikipedia entry, Kiros Alämayahu was a prolific singer and composer who was born in Saesi Tsaedaemba woreda (county), Tigray province in 1948. In 1982-83 he joined the Ras Theater in Addis Ababa, recording his first album around the same time. Again according to Wikipedia, he died of "intestinal complications" in 1994, but another, questionable, source attributes his death to poisoning by agents of the ruling EPRDF party. As in everything learned via the internet, caveat emptor.

Bahta Gebre-Hiwot was one of the outstanding composers, singers and stars of the "Golden Age" of Ethiopian music, amply documented in the Éthiopiques series. Born in 1943 in Adigrat, Tigray province, in 1961 he was recruited by the famous Ras Hotel Band in Addis along with Girma Bayene. After a number of recordings in the sixties, working with such luminaries as Mulatu Astatke, in 1972 he abruptly quit the music scene to become an accountant. But here he is twenty years later, bigger and better than ever!


What's notable about these and other recent recordings by Bahta Gebre-Hiwot is their enthusiastic embrace of Tigrayan aesthetics as opposed to his more sedate recordings of the Sixties, which were often in Amharic. In fact, the contrast is so great that I suspected at first that the producers of the cassette had him confused with another Tigrayan star, Hagos Gebrehiwot. But apparently not. This may be a reflection of the political and cultural upheaval brought about by the collapse of the Derg government in 1991. Keep in mind that this revolution was led by groups that had been sidelined under previous regimes, notably but not exclusively the Tigray people of  northern Ethiopia. Now, on paper at least, all nationalities in Ethiopia are equal. It may not be comfortable for all, but the new order has indeed created a situation where previously-marginalized groups feel more free to express themselves. There has been a backlash against "Tigray domination" in Ethiopia, but in spite of this Tigrinya music is quite popular all over the country.

I've been unable to find out anything about the third musician here, Tadesse Abreha, nicknamed "Wadi Koxäb," although he's well represented on YouTube.                            

Kiros Alämayahu - Tä'agas

Bahta Gebre-Hiwot - Ruba'aday

Tadesse Abreha "Wadi Koxäb" - Hayat Tawärewaray


Kiros Alämayahu - Hezenzen 

Bahta Gebre-Hiwot - Shemad Be'eray

Kiros Alämayahu - Nä'anado Lamerä

Tadesse Abreha "Wadi Koxäb" - Täbärabäre Hezebay

Bahta Gebre-Hiwot - Ayetegeray 'Ened

Kiros Alämayahu - Gado 

Tadesse Abreha "Wadi Koxäb" - Nefus Shäshame

Unknown - Bonus Instrumental Track


Download 3tä Weräyat Naye Tegriña Däräfeti Beheberät here. Thanks once again to Andreas Wetter for his help with this post.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Twelve "Ethnic" Songs from Ethiopia



Ethiopia in the popular mind is associated with the Amhara people, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the distinctive Ge'ez, or Ethiopic, script. In reality, the Oromo are the largest nationality in Ethiopia, though not a majority, and the Amhara come in second, with a multitude of other ethnic groups making up the remainder. While Orthodoxy is the largest religion, though not a majority, Muslims make up a third of the population and there are other versions of Christianity represented as well as traditional religions. In recent years the Oromo and other groups have begun to adopt the Latin alphabet.

Under Haile Selassie the non-Amhara ethnic groups were generally marginalized and excluded from any real power, and this practice continued, with some adjustments, under the "Marxist-Leninist" Derg regime, which took power in 1974 after Selassie's overthrow. The Derg itself was toppled in  1991 by the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front, an alliance of four ethnically-based political parties. Notable among these was the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front from the northern, non-Amhara province of Tigray. At the same time the northern province of Eritrea acheived independence after a decades-long struggle. Ethiopia is now a federal republic, with no ostensible dominant nationality and each one technically having the right to self-determination, as outlined in the map at the top of this post.

Ironically, many Amhara are now complaining about marginalization. As well, in recent years there have been protests among the Oromo people against the proposed expansion of the capital, Addis Ababa, which was established in the middle of Oromia but is separately administered. These and other "national" struggles have combined with demands for democratic rights and fair elections to create a rather unstable situation that the government has managed, so far, to keep under control.

Over the years various non-Amhara musicians have acheived fame in Ethiopia. The famous singer Mahmoud Ahmed, for instance, is of Gurage ancestry, while Ali Mohammed Birra is a well-known Oromo singer who first recorded under Haile Selassie. Musicians from Eritrea like Tewelde Redda and Bereket Mengesteab have also been popular over the years.

Which brings us to today's musical offering, the cassette 12 Yätäläyayu Yäbeheräshäb Zäfänoch Kä'Ambassäl!!  - "12 Different Songs of Ethnic Groups from Ambassäl!!," "Ambassäl" being the company that issued the cassette. This is a collection of "ethnic" (mainly non-Amharic) songs by various artists. It was released in the early '90s, just after the fall of the Derg, when things were beginning to loosen up in Ethiopia. Unfortunately the inlay card for the cassette is not very informative. The songs are not credited (although the artists are listed) and languages are not indicated.

Very little information is available (in the English language at least) about these musicians, but they're hardly obscure in Ethiopia - many have videos online, and I've linked to these when possible.

As usual concerning things Ethiopian I consulted Likembe's good friend Andreas Wetter, and he was able to sort things out - not only matching artists to songs but listing the languages (and specific dialects!) and transliterating the Ge'ez script into Latin orthography. Thanks, Andreas!

Habtimichael Demisse's two contributions here are the only ones in the Amharic language. Unfortunately he passed away on October 9 of last year following a car accident in Addis Ababa. In his long career he was responsible for many popular tunes like "Jano Megen."

Habtemichael Demisse - Wəb Aläm (Amharic)

The Gurage people hail from the southwestern corner of Ethiopia, although many now reside in Addis Ababa and other cities. Mohammed Awwel is one of the better-known Gurage musicians, and is not to be confused with another musician named Mohammed Awel Hamza, who specializes in Amharic-language Islamic chants called Manzuma. Here's a video by Mohammed Awwel highlighting the distinctive Gurage rhythm and dancing.

Mohammed Awwel - Yaret Mot Närä (Gurage)

Tigrinya-speaking people live in both the Ethiopian province of Tigray and in the now-independent nation of Eritrea. Tareke Tesfahiwot is a leading Eritrean musician and has been called "the Stevie Wonder of Eritrea," apparently because he is blind. There are many videos by him on YouTube, including this one.

Tareke Tesfahiwot - Anä Məsaxi Wäläləle (Tigrinya)

The Oromo people are the largest nationality in Ethiopia, constituting up to 40% of the population. They have historically chafed under the rule of the central government in Addis Ababa, this sentiment taking the form of protests in recent years. I've been unable to find out anything about Tsägaye Dändana on the internet, but he has many videos there, including this one.

Tsägaye Dändana - Yadäme Tole (Western Oromo)

"Achara" is in Dorze, which is spoken by a rather small ethnic group who live in the southwestern corner of Ethiopia:

Taddese Kebbede - Achara (Dorze)

"Aman Täsh" is in the Harari language, which according to Andreas, "... is the original language of the inhabitants of the old, walled city of Harar, the old Muslim city in the eastern highlands. Today, most Harari speakers live in Addis Ababa and the diaspora (California, I guess), i.e. they are a minority in Harar now...As far as I know, Bitew Worku seems to be from Eastern Ethiopia. Maybe he is Oromo, though the name is a little bit unusual because Oromo from Eastern Ethiopia are generally Muslims. But he always sings Oromo songs from Eastern Ethiopia, and Harari, which is a Semitic language, is also spoken in that area which supports the idea that he represents the eastern part and culture...." Here's a nice video by Bitew Worku.

Bitew Worku - Aman Täsh (Harari)

Habtemichael Demisse - Firmanna Wäräqät (Amhara)

Another Oromo tune by Tsägaye Dändana here, which is featured on YouTube under the title "Yaa Abaabbiyyo."

Tsägaye Dändana - Dibabe Kiyya (Shewa Oromo)

Another song by Tadesse Kebede, this one in the Sidamo language, which is spoken in southwestern Ethiopia:

Taddese Kebbede - Saro (Sidamo)

Tareke Tesfahiwot - Ǝlaloy (Tigrinya)

Mohammed Awwel - Yäshurbi Qänezhəyä (Gurage)

Bitew Worku - Mägale Tiyya (Eastern Oromo)

Download 12 Yätäläyayu Yäbeheräshäb Zäfänoch Kä'Ambassäl!! as a zipped file here. Thanks once again to Andreas Wetter for his help.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Le Phenomenal Souzy Kasseya



I've written in this space several times of my admiration for Souzy Kasseya, the brilliant Congolese session guitarist who scored something of a crossover hit in France in 1983 with his single "Le Téléphone Sonne." Jumping across the English Channel in '84, it was released at a 12" single by Earthworks (DIG 12" 004), which was how many of us first heard it. I wasn't aware at the time, though, that "Le Téléphone Sonne" originally appeared on an LP, Le Retour de l'As (Eska Production SK 001, 1983), a product of Richard Dick's prolific Afro-Rythmes machine, and that this was a different, and arguably better version:


Anyway, here is the single version, along with the B side, "Ulta Ntima Tony." Decide for yourself:



Download the single as a zipped file here. Following the success of "Le Téléphone Sonne," Earthworks licensed the LP Le Phenomenal (Eska International SK 84003, 1984) for release in the UK (as The Phenomenal, ELP 2008, 1985):



Download The Phenomenal as a zipped file here. Those who can't get enough of this great muscian are invited to browse the Likembe archives here. A compilation I did, African Divas Vol. 1, also features two tracks by Souzy with Tina Dakoury from Ivory Coast and Tshala Muana from the Congo. Le Retour de l'As is available as a download from Global Grooves here.


Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!



Here's a quick post to celebrate the New Year and fulfill a promise. A while back I posted La Tradition en Mouvement by the Ivorian funk/zouk group Woya and pledged I would also make available their first and biggest hit, Kacou Ananzé (African 425.004, 1986). Well, here it is!

I remember not caring for this LP a whole lot when it first came out. Something about synths and especially drum machines just put me off. After listening to it for the first time in at least twenty years I must amend that judgement. Kacou Ananzé is catchy, danceable and captures perfectly the Zouk sound, then sweeping out of the French Antilles and across Africa and the world. It was a deserved best-seller for Woya.

I wasn't able to find out much about the album online, but I did discover tha "Kacou Ananzé" is an illustrious figure in West African folklore, an egotistical spider who is contually led to misfortune by his own hubris and vanity. As "Anansi the Spider" these stories have made their way to the Caribbean and to the United States as "Bre'r Rabbit."

Enjoy Kacou Ananzé, and Bonne Année!

Woya - Kacou Ananzé

Woya - Chèque Sans Provision


Woya - Belinda

Woya - Marguerita


Woya - Oh! Loubard


Woya - Ambiance Facile


Download Kacou Ananzé as a zipped file here.