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