So the Nigerian presidential elections went down over over two weeks ago, and the gift of clairvoyance was not required to foresee the outcome from miles away. It was, as they say on the street, not so much of an "election" as it was a selection.
But life goes on.
As the dust settles, I make preparations to resume production on TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN. Much of it I can't talk about right now. And I'm not quite in the mind state to post a lot of the long-overdue vault entries. Truth is, I just haven't felt like re-visiting that period too much lately: episodes that once played to me like quixotic adventures now resonate in my soul as crushing humiliations. I know this self-consciousness about last Summer of Chaos is an ephemeral thing, though; it'll pass. But in the meantime, what on earth do I blog about?
I've been thinking about turning this into an audioblog of sorts in the interim, just to keep things interesting... I'll admit that I have been largely inspired by Tambour d'Afrique, a cool info site about Congolese music that doubles as a vehicle of self-discovery and identification for my friend, Ms Bazu. Likewise, I peer with admiration at blogs like Voodoo Funk and Sea Never Dry, with their efforts to shed light on obscure and forgotten African pop music. Also you may recall that in my my first real post on this blog, I toyed with the idea of using this space to share some rare and out-of-print albums that I feel are worth checking out.
So that's what I'm gonna do. For a while, anyway. We'll see how it works out. So let's get started, shall we? The first album I'm putting up here is...
Flashback: A Decade of Hits 1970-1980, Vol. 1
Nijar Records, 1998
No, the LP label pictured above is not the actual album cover, but I post it because
a) the real cover is quite ugly, comprising a "political" map of Nigeria ripped from a primary school atlas and a partial, misspelled listing of the featured artists by the side--all rendered in patriotic green and white hues
b) I feel like drawing attention to the fact that this CD is actually a plagiarized compendium of the mid-1970s Nigerian pop compilations EMI Super Hits and EMI Super Hits 2. You see, I'm not certain that the CD is "officially" out-of-print, but I'm pretty sure that its producers are bootleggers, so fuck 'em (besides, the album is genuinely hard to find)
I found this cheaply-produced CD back in the summer of 1999, in a Chinatown adult video store that for some reason also stocked mapouka and soukous videos (in the latter case, mostly Dany Engobo et les Coeurs Brises and Yondo Sister) and a smattering of African CDs.
Now bear in mind that I didn't move to Nigeria until 1981, so most of the songs listed on the back were effectively before my time.
(I did recognize a few of the artists, though: when I was a kid, I had heard university students speak reverently of the rock band Ofege; Bongos Ikwue remained popular into the 80s via the songs he composed for the TV soap opera "Cock Crow at Dawn," and later for a rumor that one of his biggest hits was written for a certain First Lady with whom he had allegedly enjoyed a passionate affair and possibly sired a child; Sweet Breeze had added some American-accented female vocalists, re-christened themselves The EsBee Family and scored some success in the first half of the 80s with slick, post-disco boogie jams like "My Man Understands" and "I'll Give You Love"; Tony Grey hung around for a bit, too)
Yeah, I was curious. I copped the CD, threw it into the Discman and was immediately engulfed by feelings of familiarity and strangeness; turns out that I actually had heard a lot of these songs when I was a kid, but in many ways I knew very little about the world they emerged from. This was a generation that had just survived the Biafran War, one of the most harrowing conflicts Africa had seen at that point, and was trying to find a new identity in the post-highlife landscape.
What's often surprising to many who encounter this music for the first time is the extent to which they constructed that identity with input from "white" rock and pop bands like The Beatles, The Monkees, Cream and Santana. When most people think about Nigerian music (particularly of the 1970s vintage) they tend to think about Fela, afrobeat, and hard-edged funk. But that wasn't the only sound rocking in Nigeria... Hell, it wasn't even the most popular thing going. Weird-sounding, semi-derivative pop-rock like this was.
I generally don't play this kind of music for folks too much because I've always felt its appeal was limited. I'm never sure whether my own ardor for it is based on its musical merit or my own enlarged sentimentality. I mean, even when I was seven years old, I knew that most of the lyrics--and even a lot of the vocals--on these records left a lot to be desired (the musicianship was usually pretty sharp, though). But it seems that a lot of folks are really picking up on this stuff these days.
Well, I'll let you be the judge. If you like this kind of stuff, I've got plenty more of it to share.