While there's no doubt that Rusted Highlife Vol. 1 is a truly sublime collection of music, its annotations were perhaps a bit questionable. As John noted, the recording "Ima Abasi," attributed on the disc to Calabar musician Kingsley Burstic Bassey, is the exact version of the song from the Ghana classic Hit Sound of the Ramblers Dance Band LP. Similarly, "Abisi Do," which is listed as being by "Demmy Bassey" is identical to "Abasi Do," which appears on Golden Highlife Classics by King Bruce & the Black Beats, with composition credited to "Len Bassey."
Two tracks that really stood out to me, though, were "Solo Hit (Nwaocholonwu)" and "Mme Yedi," credited to B.E. Batta & Eastern Stars Dance Band and featuring a singer identified as "Emmanuel Vita."
B.E. Batta & Eastern Stars Dance Band - Mme Yedi
B.E. Batta & Eastern Stars Dance Band - Solo Hit (Nwaocholonwu)
Both songs rang faint but insistent bells in my head, though I couldn't figure out where I knew them from. The title "Solo Hit" in particular seemed like something I had encountered fairly recently, and not in connection with Orlando Julius Ekemode's 1967 souled-out version of the song:
Orlando Julius & His Modern Aces - "Solo Hit (Instrumental)"
Then, just the other night, it hit me.
Sometime last year, when I was looking for some info on Kingsley Burstic Bassey, I came across this article paying tribute to some of the forgotten highlife legends from Rivers State ("New Calabar") and Cross River State ("Old Calabar"). The unidentified author describes watching a young highlife band playing at a bash presided over by former Cross River State governor Donald Duke and current governor Liyel Imoke:
Somewhere along the imitative repertoire of the band, they broke into an up-tempo highlife tune, which: started with a vivacious and vigorous guitar riff. Quite expectedly, this generated palpable excitement as everyone including Duke and Imoke was nodding and/or swinging to the compelling rhythm of the tune. Even Domenico Gitto, the Italian Managing Director of the contracting firm, swung to the successful beat. As for me, I lost my cool momentarily, sprang to my feet and spun around a couple of times to the enchanted amazement of my colleagues in Gitto and the rest of the audience.
When the event ended and only the lesser mortals were left to tidy up the venue, I approached the lead singer of the band and challenged him to a four-point quiz with each question attracting a prize tag of five hundred Naira. Expectedly, he acquiesced; after all, he had two thousand Naira to gain and absolutely nothing to lose since the gamble was one-sided-it was mine.
Question: What is the title of the song that caused so much excitement?
Answer: Solo Hit
Question: Who sang it?
Answer: Emmanuel Ntia
Question: In what language was it sung?
Answer: Fish language
Question: What is on the flipside?
Amazing! Though I lost two thousand Naira, I couldn’t be happier especially given the fact that this young man, was in his early twenties knew such details of a song that was released more than forty years ago. Of the accurate answers, the one that impressed me most was the language of the song, which, for me, is still as much a mystery as it was in the sixties. Fish language?! Whatever that means! But it came out right on the delivery and So Hit was a smash sensation on the highlife scene in the sixties.
Of course... "Emmanuel Vita" is Emmanuel Ntia. When I was a kid, he was regarded as one of the great highlife legends of Cross River State. (He comes from Abak, which is now in Akwa Ibom State.) His song "Ke Nsede Nasiaye Ufien," along with "Solo Hit" and "Mme Yedi" were played all the time wherever two or three older folks were gathered, and I went to school with one of his nephews. Emmanuel Ntia is still alive (see him pictured below with his wife and one of his sons) and still playing that good dance band music.
I'm posting up the Ekpo LP from 1975, which I think is fairly representative of the repertoire of many highlife dance bands in the 1970s, especially in places like Calabar and Ghana: old-style highlife numbers, with an increasing influence of "souls." (I just love saying that, "souls"... I like the way the old highlife guys tend to pronounce it as a plural.)
(Now if I could just find out something more about B.E. Batta...)
NTIA & EASTERN STARS DANCE BAND - EKPO (BEN RECORDS, BLP 0005, 1975)
2. Ke Nsede Nasiaye Ufien
3. Kot Ndito Abasi
1. Nya Ekpo
2. I Need Some One
3. Good Bye
4. By The Same Side