Sunday, December 21, 2008


(Someone requested The Doves' The Lord is My Shepherd in the comments, but it might be a while before I can rip that... So I hope this does the trick for now.)

Like The Apostles, The Doves (or The Doves of Calabar) were frequently invoked sans the The in their name, bestowing them with a certain ethereal aura (and potentially engendering latter-day confusion with a really deck English rock band).

Also like The Apostles, I thought they were a gospel group for a while--but I think I can get a pass on that account because most of their songs did feature a strong spiritual redolence in both music and lyrics. Harmonically and melodically, they were driven by a slightly melancholic undertow, and the vocals had a certain shrillness to them that was characteristic of the Nigerian Christian music of the time.

This is some Sunday afternoon music. Like when you'd come home from Sunday school and gobble down your lunch and run over to your best friend's house and push the doorbell, but nobody would answer. So you'd push it again and still nobody would answer. You'd know someone was home, though, because you could hear muffled voices and wah wah wah sounds coming from within.

So you'd take a deep breath and ring the bell a third time. The door would swing open and you'd instantly regret it; there's your friend's mother, still dressed in her church clothes but her eyes flaring with distinctly unChristian contempt.

Da, my friend, why are you ringing my bell anyhow! she'd spit.

You'd probably been hoping your best friend's brother, or at least the housegirl would answer the door, but his mother? Negotiating a conversation with other people's parents can be like trying to defuse a ticking bomb; trip the wrong circuit and you're blown to smithereens.

Sorry, ma! you'd quickly gulp.

Good afternoon, ma! you'd nervously add after a moment, making sure to sound off the salutation loud and clear because you remembered that the first time you met your friend's mother--when you came over to collaborate on a Geography homework project--she'd hadn't heard you greet her good afternoon and your friend later told you that his mother didn't like you because she'd felt you lacked home training.

What are you looking for! she'd bark.

You'd ask her if it was okay for your friend to come out and play, adopting that supplicating manner that parents seemed to find so satisfying. Behind her, you can see a few grownups in the parlour, drinking Champion ("The beer for winners! Have a Champ, BE a Champ!") out of dimpled-glass steins, and chortling in Annang. You notice that the wah wah wah you heard earlier comes from the TV: the day's transmission hasn't yet started and the screen beams out the vivid color bars of a test pattern, overlaid with keening, plaintive music.

He is eating! your best friend's mother snaps. Wait here on the verandah! We have guests!

So you'd sit on the verandah and wait.

After a while, your friend would come out, his hand crusted with eba and afang soup, saying Hold on let me wash my hand and come!

While you wait for him to return, it might occur to you guys have been best friends for a long time--almost two years--and he practically lives at your house. He's cool with your parents, he eats lunch at your house on schooldays, he watches CHiPs with you on Saturday afternoon, running around the living room pretending to be Ponch & Jon and jumping all up on your mom's good furniture. And yet, in all that time, you've never actually set foot in his house. (Not counting the two or three times you were allowed to sneak into the kitchen through the back door to drink a glass of ice water between backyard sessions of "Police & Thief.") You're always waiting on the verandah.

The door opens and you hear your best friend talking to his mother in Annang. Years later, when you remember this scene, you might recall that as your best friend closed the door behind him, his mother muttered something about unege--the word by which they disparagingly refer to the Igbos, a tribe that many Nigerians view as the repository of most of the world's venality and duplicity. A tribe that, coincidentally, you happen to belong to.

But this probably won't resonate with you for a few more years. At the moment, you're just hoping that your best friend has at least tried to explain to his mother that you actually did say good afternoon to her that day of the Geography assignment but she didn't hear you because she was busy yelling at the driver for leaving the gate open.

You'd feel your best friend's damp hand smack you on the back as he shouted Okay, let's play CI5! And then he'd run down the steps trumpeting the theme from The Professionals.

You'd watch him racing down the street, steering an imaginary Ford Capri. After a moment, you'd run after him.

In the scenario outlined above, the music playing over the test pattern on the TV in the parlour would have probably been from The Doves' I Seek To Know This World.

The Doves - "Strange Land"
The Doves - "I Shall Be Free"
The Doves - "Lawrence Rest In Peace"


John B. said...

Your post is interesting in that it sheds light on the delicate subject of relations between Igbos and other Nigerians.

When non-Igbo Nigerians are speaking frankly, which is seldom, and usually when they've had a few, they will tell you of the perfidy of the Igbos, their money-grubbing ways, their "secret agenda," their "need to dominate," etc. Quite similar to the sort of things said about the Jews!

I've always thought the story about the Igbos being one of the "Lost Tribes of Israel" was just an old wives' tale, probably ginned up during the Biafra war to get support from Israel, but the parallels are interesting.

To be sure, the Igbos have their share of prejudices against their neighbors as well. Igbos like to nurture their sense of victimization and decry their marginalization within Nigerian society, but seem oblivious to the fact that other people have been marginalized as well, in some cases far more than the Igbo.

I say this as someone who is an "Igbo by marriage" and someone who loves his adopted culture, but I've seen this sort of petty chauvinism, on all sides, tear the Nigerian community in Milwaukee apart. I'm sure you know the story as well.

Comb & Razor said...

yes, it is a complex issue indeed... and one i've only begun to think about deeply in the past years. for most of my life, i never really viewed tribal identity as a particularly pertinent or even interesting concept, but certain recent experiences have lead me to re-examine a lot of episodes and attitudes i overlooked in the past.

i am definitely alarmed at the high levels of anti-Igbo sentiment still rampant in Nigeria, but at the same time i agree that Igbos probably cleave to the victim status a bit too hard, ignoring the fact that many of the southeastern minority groups like the Ijaws and, yes, the Efiks ad Ibibios view them more as victimizers (and for somewhat understandable reasons too).

through it all, i've become much more appreciative of the parallels made between the Igbos and the Jews. while i was writing this post, i found myself struggling to remember the title of a book i read a few years ago that attempt to construct a solid, scholarly case for the Igbos as the descendants of the Hebrews. (i've got to find that!)

Anonymous said...

Tipical Nigerians. You find nothing better to do with your time than to trash Ibo People. Even you Razor whom i have admired very much and until now, thought that you transcend tribal nonsense. Ibo's are hard working people and will trive everywhere they go. Because the typical Ibo man is a trader, it is easy to see his wealth by just taking a visual inventory of goods he offers. People get jealous because they know when this man started this store. The Ibo man reminds me of the Asians merchants in black American neighborhoods. These Asians start out small and spend 24 hours a day in their stores while our black brothers are going to parties. Sooner or later their business grow and people in the area get jealous.
John B is full of hatred and will never progress if he more worried about what everyone esle is doing and not what he should do to better himself.

Comb & Razor said...

uh... what?

Anonymous, did you actually read what either John B. or I said?

John B. said...

Well, anonymous, you obviously didn't read what I said, or didn't understand it.

It was obvious that I was making a parallel between the historical prejudice and discrimination against the Jews in Europe and prejudice and discrimination against the Igbos in Nigeria, not engaging in "hatred" against the Igbos.

I too admire the drive and determination of the Igbo people just as I admire the drive and determination of the Jewish people, but that doesn't mean I think either group is above criticism.

Your attitude reminds me of that of the Zionist Jews who equate any criticism of Israel with "anti-semitism." This is clearly absurd because many Jews, who have a tradition of independent thinking, have criticisms of Israel without renouncing their own Jewishness.

Perhaps the Igbo should have paid more attention to the sensitivities of the "minorities" back in the days of the Eastern Region, and they wouldn't have been so surprised when they were abandoned by their neighbors during the war, and Biafra would be a reality today. Just a thought! "Pride Goeth Before a Fall."

FYI I am a white American who is married to an Igbo woman, not a Nigerian who spends my days stewing in resentment against my hard-working, successful Igbo bretheren.

Anonymous said...

Peace and Happiness to all of you in 2009!
Re: The Doves - I Seek To Know This World
Thanks very much for the uploader of these 3 fantastic tracks from one of the best bands in the "old Nigeria". You made my Christmas a worthy one just by listening to these three tracks. Can you please upload the rest of the tracks from the album, if I'm not asking for too much? God Bless!
London, UK

Comb & Razor said...

Bigga -

Glad to have helped make your Christmas a joyful one!

Email me at combrazor at yahoo dot com and I'll send you the rest of the tracks.

archer said...

i have been curious as to why you consistently omit tracks from the albums that you bring to us. this seems a good moment to ask about it. i would love to have the complete christmas africana.

much gratitude for the music

Comb & Razor said...

archer -

if you look at my earlier posts on this blog, you'll see that i used to post full albums but i stopped doing that.

i have a few reasons for not doing it anymore, but the main one is probably the fact that i already struggle with my conscience over distributing this music for free without, for the most part, the artists' consent. and unlike a some blogs that leave download links up for a limited time, i keep them active perpetually.

even in today's rapidly changing music industry, the back catalog is a valuable commodity for an artist... and i don't feel right robbing artists' catalogs of this value by just giving them all away for free.

the compromise i make that allows me to sleep at night is the fact that i don't give away the entire albums... but even then, there's hardly a day that passes that i don't wrestle with it.

still, in most cases, if individuals email me directly (combrazor at yahoo dot com) i usually will send them the complete albums provided they're not posting them on some other site or engaging in some other form at illicit distribution.

archer said...

thanks very much for the response. your position is understandable given the circumstances as you represent them

i haven't known of your site for long, but from what i've seen the impression that i've gotten from the obviously very well used condition of the vinyl you've ripped, the condition of the covers you've scanned, and the recording dates, that these were mostly out of print and unavailable. in these cases i would think you would rest quite comfortably with your conscience.

anyway, i am very grateful for the music that you share that i would never hear otherwise.

Comb & Razor said...

yeah, the fact that all this music is long out of print and unavailable anywhere else also makes me feel better about doing this...

but i don't want to preclude the possibility of the music coming back into print sometime in the future... and when/if this happens, would i have sabotaged things by already distributing it for free to the would-be audience?

i'm probably overthinking things, i know... and it's probably unlikely that this stuff is going to come back into print any time soon. but hey... that's the way it is.

anyway, like i said, email me at combrazor at yahoo dot com for the Christmas Africana.

archer said...

think about this; when and if any of this ever reappears in reissue, the chances of any of the revenue going to any of the artist who are still alive are negligible to none.

musicians want to get paid, no doubt, but for most, being heard and enjoyed is of equal, if not greater, importance. through your efforts, and the worlwide reach of the internet, these musicians are being heard and appreciated by people who would never hear, or ever hear of them, otherwise.

not buggin' here, just giving you another perspective to consider.

Comb & Razor said...

well... on one hand, you are right: the contracts these musicians signed back in the day don't really make any allowance for royalties and such, and a lot of them have not made a penny even from the reissues/compilations that have been put out so far.

but like i said, technology is changing the face of music distribution and with that comes new ways of looking at things from the legal and economic angle.

before sampling technology became popular in the 1980s and changed the way we looked at songwriting/ownership, nobody could have been guessed that musicians could be getting paid off records they made three decades before. i don't know what the future will bring, and i don't want to stand in its way either!

and frankly, i can't agree with you that being heard and enjoyed is equal to getting paid.

i mean, *I* believe that the greatest goal of the artist should be to engage an audience by any means, but i recognize that this is an extremely romantic way of thinking.

realistically, if you see the kind of hardship and poverty some of these musicians are enduring today after years of being ripped off...

i can understand them being stung by the paradox that their music is supposedly good enough to entertain thousands of people, but somehow not deemed good enough to put a single square meal on their table.

i can understand that they want to get paid. and even if they don't get paid, they'd rather see the music just molder and be forgotten rather than it be enjoyed by mass audiences without benefiting them financially.

kudos and acclaim are all and well... but what good are they when you can't feed your family with them?

i understand all that. which is why you'll find some of the links on this blog have been deactivated... because the musicians told me that they didn't want their music to be distributed for free... they'd rather the music just lie dormant.

John B. said...

I'm with you, Uchenna. That's why I, too, usually don't post whole albums, although sometimes I'll make an exception for one that's particularly significant & meant to be heard in its entirety.

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from the manager of Mose Fan-Fan Se Sengo, who let me know that Fan-Fan appreciated that I posted a couple of long-lost tracks by him. He made clear that he wasn't asking that I take the tunes down, just that I not make any money from it.

I assured him that I had no such intention, & thanked him for being a good sport.

But, of course, it's up to the artist & record company.

Comb & Razor said...

Yeah... It really varies: Some artists are delighted by the attention. Others are genuinely baffled that anybody still cares. And then there are a few who are really... well, bitter and stuff like this really sets them off.

Whether or not I actually agree with their grievances, I try to respect their wishes. It's the very least I can do for them... Lord knows, if I could pay them what the are owed, I would. But I can't.

Joe said...

I think you do a good job here of providing your readers with great music (or at the very least, interesting music) while respecting the artists. You also actually give us something to read, a feel for Nigerian music and Nigeria itself that's difficult to get living in the US, unexposed to any expatriate communities. I value this blog for the content you create as well as the content you share.

This post is a great example--it's a good story, and it tells us a lot that many of us would never know otherwise. You have to search pretty hard for a real human perspective on culture in an oversaturated media environment where the biggest outlets don't care. It's nice to know I'll get some of that here.

Comb & Razor said...

Thanks a lot, Joe!

Anonymous said...

Dude you not only know your music but you can weave a tale. I was carried away to a far away time by your story (replacing the characters with me and somebody else) and almost lost it with the Ode to the Professionals. Simpler times! I am happy I am not the only who thought Maxwell Udoh was not a guy man:)

On the CR tip, I am hoping to find Bassey Black here somewhere. BTW, what to do about the dead links?


Comb & Razor said...

Jude -

With regard to dead links (and Bassey Black), email me.


Anonymous said...

I heard the song 'I shall be free' in a tour mix. And i loved it, but i couldn't find that song anywhere. could you send it or the entirely album in a link to my email adress?