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.