Friday, January 02, 2009

Get Yer Ju-Ju's Out, Part 3: Tunde the Western Nightingale

Welcome to 2009, fam... I trust we all safely made the crossover and all are here and accounted for? Good... Then let's keep on doing what we do, yeah? The calendar may change, but the game stays the same!

Lately I have noticed a surge of renewed interest in the 1960s juju hero Tunde Nightingale. (Well... Basically I'm talking about a few blog posts HERE and HERE so I suppose "a surge of renewed interest" might be overstating things just a tad... But just work with me here, will you?)

In the juju constellation, few stars have shone as resplendently as Tunde Nightingale's. Born Ernest Olatunde Thomas in 1922, he started his career during World War II but only rose to real prominence in the wake of I.K. Dairo's modernization of the genre.

Nightingale was himself a transformative figure, shaping the context and presentation of juju from the 1960s onwards. One of the concepts he is credited with popularizing was owambe--the ostentatious, marathon block parties rife with flagrant money-spraying and booty-shaking that have long been an essential feature in the social life of Lagos and other Yoruba urban centers.

(It was after such an all-night affair that an appreciative reveler bestowed upon Tunde Thomas his avian nickname--the moniker "The Western Nightingale" was as much a reference to his propensity to sing through the night as to his tense, nasal singing voice.)

At these opulent parties, Nightingale would ask his well-heeled audience So wa n 'be? ("Is it there?"--referring to the paper money that they would be expected to plaster upon his face to reward his performance and illustrate their own affluence) and the audience would respond with O wa n 'be! ("It is there!") And so would the game go all night, with The Bird Who Sings At Night reeling out song after song and the merrymakers rained pound notes upon him until daybreak.

Nightingale's embrace by the Lagos socialites in the 1960s marked a paradigm shift for juju music and its mode of consumption, moving it away from Dairo's proletarian anthems sung in public bars and dance halls to the theme music for jet setters and wannabes. As writer Dapo Daramola observed in the July 1981 issue of DRUM magazine:
[The elite audience] had decided, even when I. K. Dairo was at the peak of his popularity, against Dairo's brand of juju music. What was more, they were firm in their belief that juju music was for social parties and not for dance halls. and because Dairo was playing more at dances than at social parties, they decided that Tunde was the horse to back. They went all out to patronize Tunde and popularize his brand of juju music.
And thus was the stage set for glitzy juju superstars like Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade and their projection of the doctrine of "enjoyment" and conspicuous consumption as the central guiding force of the music.

Tunde Nightingale recorded for several labels, but his most popular records would be the series of albums he cut for Take Your Choice Records. Here is Volume 4 of that series.

SIDE ONE: Na Poor A Poor/Kalaya Kilofaya/Soro Kelekele/Gbadamosi Aboki/Mamy Adoga
SIDE TWO: Se Rere (Woro)/Yomi Akintola/Gbolahan Jibade/Yetunde Animasawun/Awa Wa


John B. said...

Somewhere I read that Ebenezer Obey modeled himself after I.K. Dairo while Sunny Ade was a "Tunde man." or was it the other way around?

Comb & Razor said...

i'm pretty certain that KSA followed Tunde, both in terms of his glamorous image and his vocal stylings... don't know so much about Obey patterning himself after Dairo, though it certainly makes sense... as much as Obey was about miliki (enjoyment), he did have a certain proletarian, devout Christian quality that was reminiscent of IK.

WrldServ said...

Thanks for picking this up!
Let's hope someone comes up with Volume 3 now!

Comb & Razor said...

I *think* I have Vol. 3 somewhere... I need to search for it!

Thomas said...

thanks for the bio. very cool. vol 3 would be amazing, if you got it.

Comb & Razor said...

No doubt, Thomas! Thanks for stopping by!

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

Happy New Year Bro and many thanks for this bio.

Comb & Razor said...

Same to you, N.I.M.M.O... Good to see you!

Agnespalm said...

Keep it bro, I've been ur fan since 2006. How do I lay my hands on these songs: Enjoy ur life-Oby Onyioha and Nigeria go survive- Veno and Baby Kilode-Dizzy K for my forthcoming video movie project later these summer.

Comb & Razor said...

Agnespalm -

Thanks a lot for the continued support!

Why don't you email me at combrazor at yahoo dot com and tell me a bit more about your project?

Anonymous said...

Great post as usual! I can always count on finding some gems here. You may have transposed your Yoruba translation though: I believe "O wa n 'be" (which in proper Yoruba grammar is written as "O wa ni be") translates to "It is there!" while "So wa n 'be! (properly in Yoruba as "Se o wa ni be?") translates to "Is it there?"
PS: When will you do a write up on Hot Chocolate and Tony Wilson's solo project?

Comb & Razor said...

Thanks a lot for the correction, Anonymous! Didn't even realize I had accidentally transposed the meanings of owambe and sowambe... I've fixed it in the edit.

Re: Tony Wilson + Hot Chocolate... Well, you know I've mostly concentrated on Nigerian music for a while now, but I've been thinking of branching out and including more music from other points of interest. I think I will be getting around to that soon...