Friday, April 17, 2009

NTIA (A belated realization)

A few months ago over on Likembe, John B. posted a few selections from Rusted Highlife Vol. 1, a compilation of forgotten highlife classics released by Mossaic Music.

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?

Answer: Meyedi.

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)

SIDE 1
1. Ekpo
2. Ke Nsede Nasiaye Ufien
3. Kot Ndito Abasi
4. Iyedara

SIDE 2
1. Nya Ekpo
2. I Need Some One
3. Good Bye
4. By The Same Side

DOWNLOAD ZIP

20 comments:

icastico said...

Don't you love those "aha!!!" moments?

Comb & Razor said...

You have no idea how much I love them... I just worry that other people might not be as euphoric about the epiphany as me!

John B. said...

Wow, thanks for bringing some clarity to all this!. Rusted Highlife is truly a great record, but as you say, the liner notes are really dodgy. For instance, they attribute "Atabala Woman" & "Afro Baby" to the Eastern Ministers (Eastern Minstrels?) when of course, they are by the Professional Seagulls. I have the Seagulls' original versions, & for years I thought that the Ministers covered them. I should have listened more closely - they're exactly the same songs!

This re4cord you're posting here is really great.

Comb & Razor said...

Yeah... It's always great when you finally get to figure these things out.

The importance of proper research when putting together a compilation can never be overstated!

icastico said...

The funny thing is...I have to do some research for my posts and I recorded all of the stuff I am posting. Tracking down a lost song title or recording date on some of my own work has taken a good bit of research. SO I can't imagine trying to get it right on some of this stuff...

Shorter...nice job.

dj earball said...

Always enjoy your posts and learn something from them. I'm just impressed that the detail of your knowledge of the music had you asking those questions in the first place. So yeah, impressed with your "aha!" -- and keep the revelations coming.

Comb & Razor said...

More to come, earball...

Anonymous said...

hey,i am not a fan of these kinda songs but i listened to the fihy song and it was quite good.for me its rythme and blues all the way...and hey maybe some jazz.

between,isnt highlife dying already with the kinda songs we get these days in nigeria?

SDK.

Anonymous said...

*fishy song*


sdk

Comb & Razor said...

SDK -

Believe it or not, I don't really think highlife is dying per se... Is it still the most popular music in Nigeria? Of course not... But it's still played in one form or another (even though it's usually not a form I'm too much a fan of).

But if you like rhythm & blues, then you should like some of the songs on the Ekpo LP... I think a lot of them are closer to R&B than to highlife (not "R&B" in the contemporary sense, of course)

U.

ReeBee said...

wow!!
thanks

Anonymous said...

very very nice this record
thanks so much

Tone said...

summertime!

Comb & Razor said...

You damn right!

Anonymous said...

i love this record!!!!!!!!!!! thx thx thx

ryan said...

This is a fantastic album.Thanks a lot..

ikem said...

I come here(Blog) once in a while. to get educated. Thanks a lot for all the information. I was at the event in Lagos @ Pman Legend Nite some years back,with a HDV cam and recorded Emmanuel Ntia Solo hit, Dan Ian, Iyke Peters, One world, Gerldo Pino Harry Mosco et all at the event. Will like to share that with you but how can I upload it. .

Comb & Razor said...

Ikem -

I am sure that all of us would LOVE to see that footage! Have you tried uploading it to YouTube?

Or if you want to host it here, email me at combrazor at yahoo dot com.

Thanks for checking out the blog!

chris m. said...

johnny come lately, says, i say
wowowowowow, this is fun and just off-kilter enough to keep it interesting.
good stuff, u, and keep it coming
gratefully, chris

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this album--very good. Here's the "but" though....any chance you can repost it with a higher recording volume?