When I decided to start sharing music here on a regular basis, I never intended to post exclusively - or even primarily - Nigerian music, but due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback I've gotten on the Flashback compilation, I think I tarry a while in the Naija crates and put up some more music from the 1970s and 80s. I just need to start mp3ing up the music from the original vinyl, and I have to admit that I really have little clue of how to go about doing that. Any recommendations on the best - by which I mean "least cumbersome" - Mac OS X-compatible vinyl-ripping soft/hardware?
But just to keep the conversation moving along while I sort out that business, I might as well just throw on some stuff I already have available in digital format (or can filch from other sources). To that effect, my friends, I offer you...
Flashback II (Dedicated to the Memory of Spud Nathan)
Naija Records, 2000
Yes, our buddies at Naija Records did finally get around to serving up a second handful of oil boom-era pop, rock, reggae and highlife jams. Seemingly, the adjustment in the spelling of the label's name indicated a change in corporate identity and policy as they actually compiled this disc themselves rather than just repackaging an older collection. Still, I doubt that they paid any kind of licensing or royalties to the original artists, so I have no qualms about sharing this album for free with as many people as possible.
Okay... Now that you've got the music, you can stop reading this, go back to whence you came and get your party on. Or you can sit here for a few more minutes and listen politely as I natter on about a few of the artists featured here:
The Wings were the preeminent band in early 70s southeastern Nigeria, a devastated and demoralized region whose short stint as the sovereign Republic of Biafra had recently been brought to an abrupt halt by the events of the Nigerian civil war (which we will not get into here). Out of this bleak climate a plethora of rock bands emerged, mostly for the purpose of entertaining the occupying federal Nigerian troops, who were just about the only people who had money to spend on recreation.
The Wings, however, had a much farther-reaching appeal, thanks largely to the enormous charisma of heartthrob frontman Spud Nathan (nee Jonathan Udensi), who led the group through such romantic hits as "Kissing You So Hard," "Gone With the Sun" and "Single Boy" and the song featured here, "If You Don't Love Me Girl."
The Wings story took a tragic turn in 1974 when Nathan - while riding to a gig in a car driven by guitarist Manford Best - was killed in an accident on the infamous Njaba Bridge in Imo State. (A decade later, another car crash on that same bridge would claim the life of ex-Funkees and Osibisa guitarist Jake Sollo.)
Nathan's death catapulted The Wings into a tailspin. Most of the band (and their fans) blamed Best for the accident since he had been behind the wheel. Also, he had allegedly had sex with a groupie in the brand new car before it had the chance to be properly "blessed," which was considered to be some bad, bad juju. To add insult to injury, while the rest of the band wanted to go on a yearlong hiatus to mourn Spud, Best insisted that The Wings resume activity immediately with him in the lead singer spot. Eventually, the band went on hiatus for two years while Best broke away and formed Super Wings to relatively little success, due to fan resentment over his role in Spud's death.
After two years of absence, the surviving Wings returned as Original Wings (a.k.a. Wings Original) with the smash hit Tribute to Spud Nathan album. (Inspired by this success, Super Wings immediately released their own Spud Nathan tribute album, and were greeted mostly with groans.) The Spud Nathan dedication featured here, however, is taken from the album Change This World.
Before he cultivated his flamboyant social revolutioary image in the late 70s and 80s and before he added the "s" at the end of his last name, Sonny Okosun was a working-class roots rocker who came off like a cross between Jimmy Cliff and Cliff Richard. "Help" (from his 1972 debut) is an evergreen fave among folks who were in high school in the 70s but I first encountered the song via Onyeka Onwenu's discofied version on her 1981 Okosun-produced debut, Endless Life.
(Sonny reinvented himself again in the 1990s, this time as a Christian evangelist. Here's his his site.)
I don't have much to say about Black Children (a.k.a. Black Children Sledge Funk Band) except that they were an offshoot of The Strangers and I think I might have one of their records somewhere. If I find it, I'll definitely be posting it.
If the West had Ofege, Tirogo and BLO, the East had Aktion, a hard rock band based in Warri. They make two appearances here, and we'll be hearing some more of their stuff in the future.
After the demise of The Wings, Apostles of Aba filled the vacant role of Everybody's Favorite Eastern Band with their mix of Igbo folkiness and tasteful psychedelia. More from them later, too.
I was never much impressed by the cod-reggae stylings of Cliff David's Cloud 7, but apparently, enough people were to maintain their popularity well into the late 80s. Even today, they are one of the few bands of this era whose albums are widely available on CD, and they even got some international exposure in the early 80s when one of their tracks appeared on the Heartbeat Records comp Black Star Liner: Reggae From Africa. "Beautiful Woman" is their biggest hit.
(Oh yeah, Cloud 7's Ben Jagga and David Bull broke away from the band to form The Ice Cream, which sounded a lot like Cloud 7, but with less suckiness.)
I never quite understood why, in his seminal text West African Pop Roots, John Collins described Kris Okotie as "a Nigerian Bob Dylan figure," because he was actually an almost painfully literal Michael Jackson clone - complete with the aviator shades, the military dress jackets and the dry jheri curl. (And need I mention that I would have sacrificed my spleen to be as cool as him?) Twenty years later, listening to his warbling vocal delivery and propensity for saccharine balladry, I realize that when you look past the dancing and the glossy production and the tight leather pants, he really was an old-fashioned folk/country troubadour.
He was also pretty shrewd about using of the power that attended his massive fame: he tricked the public into accepting his kid sister Lorine as a credible singer despite the absence of any discernible talent on her person, and then turned his back on pop stardom at the exact moment that Nigerian popular music started to suck, publicly dedicating his life to Christ and establishing a very chic and lucrative ministry. In 2003 and 2007, he made unsuccessful bids for the Nigerian presidency.
Like Cloud 7, Sweet Breeze remains a favorite band in eastern Nigeria, specifcally Igboland (hmmm... now that I think about it, there is a heavy eastern/Igbo bias running through this entire compilation) and their 1970s albums can still be found in shops. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the records they made as The EsBee Family, after super-producer Jake Sollo retooled them as a slick 80s boogie outfit. That shit was hot. (In fact, I think we need to have a special Jake Sollo post later, too.)
One World Another Strangers spinoff band. I'll be posting some of their music, too. Very funky stuff!
Christiana Essien was (and kinda still is) Nigeria's sweetheart. A beloved child star on the popular TV comedy Masquerade, she quit the show when she got married at age 20 to newspaper magnate Eddy Igbokwe, parked herself in the recording studio, and proceeded to establish herself over the course of the late 70s and the 80s as "Nigeria's Lady of Songs."
Christy's been out of the limelight for the past decade or so, concentrating on family and other ventures, but she recently announced that she'll be making a comeback to music in 2007. I doubt Mrs. Essien-Igbokwe realizes that she already made her comeback in 2002 when DJ Shadow played her bouncy 1980 disco cut "Rumours" on Gilles Peterson's Brownswood Basement show, igniting an intense Christymania amongst DJs, cratediggers and funk aficionados.
I'll admit that it's weird for me to see her become such a hipster icon because really, she's always been very, very square; kinda like a Nigerian Marie Osmond. Her goody two-shoes image and overbearing God-and-country messages made her seem like an uptight old aunt even when she was barely out of her teens. But it is interesting to hear the queen of moral hygiene grunting over sweaty, downright nasty tracks by BLO and Geraldo Pino's Show Train band on albums like One Understanding and Patience (her funkiest - and sexiest - album).
(Those aren't links to the actual albums but to some sample clips I swiped from eBay, where her records regularly change hands for hundreds of dollars. Who'd've thunk it?)
When mi was a yout', there was this schoolyard legend that Sir Victor Uwaifo's wife was actually a mermaid that he had captured and whom had bestowed him with wealth and an array of superhuman abilities. The evidence proferred to support this argument was usually the lyrics of one his signature tunes "Guitar Boy" ("If you see mami wata o/Never never you run away...") and the supposed fact that his wife was always shown seated in photographs and nobody ever saw her legs. Oh yes, there was also the fact that he ostensibly possessed an array of superhuman powers: singer, guitar wizard, TV star, sculptor, inventor, author, athlete, and tireless self-promoter. And these days, he hasn't let his position as Edo State Commissioner of Arts, Culture and Tourism get in the way of him handling his business, either. "Joromi" is his other signature tune, inspired by his days as a champion wrestler.
Most fans of African music know of Prince Nico Mbarga. Half-Nigerian and half-Cameroonian, he took the Congo guitar style that was tearing up dance floors throughout Francophone Africa and fused it with Anglophone highlife to create 1976's "Sweet Mother," widely feted as the bestselling and greatest African record of all time. Here, on "Item Eka Mi," Prince Nico presents a pretty straightforward Congolese rumba with a sizzling sebene and lyrics in the Efik language.
Prince Nico Mbarga never repeated the success of "Sweet Mother" (and how could he? That's like expecting Michael to make another Thriller) and he seriously lost his swagger when the Nigerian Aliens Expulsion Act of 1983 caused several key Cameroon-born personnel in his band to be deported. After that, he sort of drifted away from music and became more of a hotelier until his death in 1997. However, in 1982 or 83, he recorded a righteously hot album called Let Them Say that I am totally looking for; so if you see it anywhere, let me know!
Tony Grey Hmmm... What to say about Tony Grey? It just occurred to me that this song "She's My Girl" sounds a bit like early Sonny Okosun. Sonny branded his style of music and his band "Ozziddi." Tony called his sound and his band "Ozimba." When Sonny started wearing lion- and zebra-skin tunics and feathered headdresses, Tony Grey wore tigerskin and feathered headpieces. Sonny Okosuns is now an evangelist. Tony Grey is now a gospel singer.
Coincidence? I think not!
I like this song, though... Nice, ragged harmonies.
Well... That's all for now, folks!
Update 05/29/07: Oops... Didn't realize that the link in here had died. It's fixed now, though.