Monday, December 22, 2008

Musique d'enfer!

Stumbled upon this on Youtube. After watching it like 12 or 16 times, I just had to share it!

I don't really expect anyone else to get the joke here, of course; most Nigerians probably know Nel Oliver primarily for the 1998 ballad "Baby Girl," but amongst my circle of friends and family, this song--or rather, this video--was a running in-joke that just got funnier and funnier with each passing year.

I mean... It was jut so priceless: exaggerated, TV commercial-style drama, overheated histrionics, naff choreography, four-for-fifty kobo Michael Jackson imitators, extreme closeups of prodigiously mustachioed lips, white-framed plastic glasses--it had been a while since we'd seen a Nigerian music video that exulted so gloriously in its unabashed early 80s-ness!

The thing is, though: this joint dropped in 1989/90, by which time it felt absurdly anachronistic. But it was still a lot of fun because it was so... Well, I can't say that we were yet familiar with the term, "camp," but I guess we recognized it when we saw it!

I later learned a lot more about Nel Oliver, though. For one thing, he's not from Nigeria at all, but from the neighboring Republic of Benin. (Which is probably why he's singing in French, duh!) (Though to be honest, I don't remember even noticing that for a long time--we thought that on the chorus he was exclaiming music funfair! rather than musique d'enfer!) And more than that, long before Angelique Kidjo ever picked up a microphone, Nel Oliver was Benin's first international superstar.

In this interview with our friend Samy, Beninois organist Charles Rodriguez suggests that Nel Oliver was playing in Cotonou's Daho-Jazz Orchestra as early as 1958 or 59, but unless he started performing professionally while still in primary school, I seriously doubt Oliver is old enough for this to be accurate. (Besides, in the booklet to Analog Africa's excellent African Scream Contest compilation, bandleader El Rego mentions that he didn't form Daho-Jazz until 1962.)

Other accounts have Oliver starting his career in the late 60s with Ryda-Jazz, but what we can be sure of is that he made his big splash when he moved to France around 1975. His earliest releases, such as "The Trip" and "Hi-Fi Woman" were recorded with the legendary Paris-based American funk band Ice (a.k.a. The Lafayette Afro Rock Band) and Oliver soon established himself as a sturdy soul star, even becoming the first black African to run his own recording studio (the... interestingly named Spade Music) in Paris, where he recorded releases such as 1983's "I Got A Flash."

Oliver returned to Benin in 1987. In order to facilitate the development of the local music industry, he built Nel Oliver Studio in Cotonou, where he continues to record his own music as well as discovering and producing new artists. A true elder statesman with three decades of achievement under his belt... But here at With Comb & Razor, "Wadjo" will always be his magnum opus.

Musique d'enfer!


Chris Becker said...

This is exactly what I needed to hear and see. Thanks for sharing :)


Comb & Razor said...

it's to die for, isn't it?

i haven't been able to get the song out of my head for days now!

Anonymous said...

I remember travelling through Nigeria in 1987 coming from Cameroon. I had hoped to hear juju, fuji, highlife, etc. instead it seemed if Lionel Richie was all that got played in public. I wondered where was the African music...

I guess I just heard Wadjo...

Thanks for memories

Comb & Razor said...

hey! Lionel Richie is worshiped as a god in some parts of Nigeria! (i myself dabbled in that religion, i must say...)