Tuesday, March 18, 2008

And now for my next number, I'd like to return to the classics...

After writing about Martha Ulaeto yesterday and how her career was jumpstarted by an appearance in Adam Fiberesima's Opu Jaja, it occurred to me to dig out my old copy of (highlights from) the opera to see if I could spot her on it.

Of course, that proved a futile pursuit for one whose ear for the nuances of operatic sopranos is as tin-plated as mine, but I figured I'd post a little bit about the opera, since I've never blogged about Nigerian art music (though I have for some time thought about a post on "serious music" composers like Ekundayo Phillips, Fela Sowande, Ayo Bankole, Akin Euba, Samuel Akpabot, Joshua Uzoigwe, Lazarus Ekwueme and Okechukwu Ndubuisi).

But for now we're talking about Adam Dagogo Fiberesima. I'll go ahead and paste in the bio from the back of the LP:
Adam Fiberesima is one of the few gifted Composers of our time. Born in Okrika, in the Rivers State of Nigeria in the year 1926, he developed his musical interest when his father gave him lessons on the piano. He proved himself by giving surprises to his father's friends who thought there was something unusual about his musical gift.

As he grew older he taught himself how to play the trumpet, and other brass instruments. And later on formed a dance band "THE SKY ROCKETS" which was the most popular band in the then Eastern region.

When he finished at the Okrika Grammar School, he went to the United Kingdom to study Electrical Engineering which he did for four years. And at that time within his studies he found time to write short stories for the British Broadcasting Corporation coupled with his piano playtime in the programme "Calling West Africa". The urge for his natural calling was still looming over him. At last he decided to study music and then entered "Trinity College of Music", London, where he decided to study music and Fellowship in Composition. He is now attached to Voice of Nigeria where he heads the Department of Music.

He had been quoted by Afro-American Musicologists as one of the greatest African Composers born at the time when the black man is taking his place in world history.

Apart from "Opu-Jaja", he has written four Symphone [sic] work, Two Concert Overtures, Two Operas, many works for piano and voice, Two Operattas [sic], Choral Music, and works for Brass Band and Wood Wind.
One thing this bio does not mention is that while Fiberesima was studying in London in the late 1940s and early 50s, he also played piano in Ambrose Campbell's West African Rhythm Brothers, the band that introduced African-style dance music to the United Kingdom with tunes like

We Have It in Africa
Oba Ademola II and
Lagos Mambo

Fiberesima's other works include the opera Ibini Ukpabi, and the operetta Edi Ke Marina, but he is most famous for Opu Jaja, an Ijaw-language opera restaging the story of Jaja of Opobo, the Igbo merchant king who confounded the British in the late 19th century with his domination of the lucrative Niger Delta palm oil market (long before the Nigeria Delta became the scene of conflict over a different kind of oil).

The sleeve notes on this Decca issue of the opera are very strange. While it's clear that they were going for a pretty classy package, the libretto on the back reads like it was transcribed by a caveman:
YEAR 1800

Opu Jaja is a 3 Act Opera based on the exploits and supremacy of King Jaja of Opobo. The King is threatened by the British Consul about trade monopoly on the Island. He proves to the British Consul that it was wrong and refuses to comply to the various trade agreements signed earlier on.

After threats of war between the Islanders and Europeans in Opobo, King Jaja decides to send a delegation to see Queen Victoria. The delegation to London met with failure, because there was nothing definite to ensure protection to the Islanders. After a long stay during which they got themselves acquainted with many English Sports in the fields of Surrey, e.g. Cricket, Tennis, Golf and Billiards, they arrived home safely greeted by their Country men in 1884.

War ensued after their arrival, because King Jaja made sure his Son and the Chiefs landed on Opobo soil before waging war against the British. A skirmish took place but King jaja was not satisfied with the attitude of the British Consul who pretended to be friendly. At last the British Consul tricked him to a private dinner on board the British Man o' War and there held him captive. He was later sent on Exile to the West Indies (St. Vincent)
I mean, what the hell?

Anyway, I've included two selections from the opera.

The London Symphonia with the chorus of the English Chorale singing in IJAW
Conductor - MARTYN FORD

Act II Scene I


Passion of the Weiss said...

Your blog is incredible. Thanks for dropping knowledge on my own site. I'll have to post a link up. Great stuff.

Comb & Razor said...

thanks, POTW!

N.I.M.M.O said...

Please can you do something on the late Prof. Sam Akpabot?

He was a friend of my Dad's (though much older) and I think I remember him more for football than for music because that was all the two of them seemed to talk about.

He was the 'Oracle At Ibadan' in those days and had a column in the Tribune (or was it Sketch?) on Saturdays back then where he dispensed judgment in the form of match analyses and predicting (most times accurately) the outcomes of matches before they were played.

Though I knew he was also a musician, I had watched him perform several times live and on TV, I really don't know any of his works.

I know you will do something soon. So I will just keep checking.


Comb & Razor said...

you know... i think i remember that Akpabot football column, but it never occurred to me that he was the same Sam Akpabot the musician!

anyway, yes... i am working on posting about him in the near future, so keep your eyes peeled!

William J. Zick said...

Congratulations on this fine contribution on a Nigerian opera! I have quoted part of your post at http://AfriClassical.blogspot.com/ today. Regarding Sam Akpabot, please see the Akpabot page of my website, www.AfriClassical.com A Nigerian Professor of Music in the U.S., Dr. Paul Konye, has studied the music of Adam Fiberesima and has asked my help in finding out how to obtain a copy of the LP and/or other recordings of Nigerian operas. If you would like to reply to me, I will pass your response on to him. In the alternative, you can contact Prof. Konye by E-mail at paukel@msn.com Again, many thanks for this post.

Anonymous said...

I would love to hear more of the Opera Opu-Jaja. This is fantastic music ... and history.

Comb & Razor said...

i'll try to put up some more of the opera later on...

Anonymous said...

Many thanks. What a great site, and a great service to anyone who loves Nigerian music!

Anonymous said...

Wasn't King Jaja the one that had a house made out of skulls?

Comb & Razor said...

never heard anything about that, but it sounds like something i would associate with the King of Benin (as in Benin Republic, not the Benin Empire) rather than Jaja of Opobo..

Anonymous said...

Response to the other 'anonymous': Jaja was a slave from Bonny who became a wealthy palm oil trader and slave owner and 'prince' in his own right. After a dispute with other chiefs in Bonny, he led his supporters to Opobo in 1869, where the group created the Opobo community. However successful Jaja's quest for power, his status as a 'middleman' between the palm oil producers and the British was eventually perceived to be in direct competition with the British, who, as the album notes apparently point out, removed him from power because he blocked British access to the interior. He died in exile in Saint Vincent in the West Indies.

Comb & Razor said...

yep... that sounds about right, Anonymous.

i think the earlier Anonymous was thinking of the King of Dahomey (Adanzu II, i believe), who supposedly sat on a throne of human skulls.

Broad Paul said...

In direct competition with the British, who, as the album notes apparently point out, removed him from power because he blocked British access to the interior. He died in exile in Saint Vincent. flats in london