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...)


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

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


Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I went to high school at Federal Government College, Ikot Ekpene, one of the prestigious "unity schools" established from 1970 onwards by the decree of then-head of state Yakubu Gowon. The idea was to install in every region of Nigeria top-quality, federally-funded secondary institutions where the student body and the staff were drawn by quota from every corner of the country, familiarizing Nigeria's youth with one another and facilitating national reunification after the ethnical and religious polarization of the civil war of '67-70. Pro unitate ("towards unity") was the motto.

When I started in the mid-80s, there were two unity schools--a Federal Government Girls' College and a coed Federal Government College--located in each of Nigeria's 19 states. (The hallowed King's College and Queen's College in Lagos were absorbed as honorary members of the Federal Government College system even though their existence pre-dated the unity schools initiative by 61 and 43 years respectively.)

Looking back, I think I really took it for granted: I went to a Federal Government College because I was considered a bright kid, and gaining admission to one of the highly-competitive FGCs was what bright kids were expected to do. Yes, I was quite aware how much hipper than the local "state schools" the federal schools were perceived to be, but I didn't think it was that much of a big deal. But now, when I talk to my peers who went to state schools--many of whom never really had the chance to leave their region of origin or socialize with people from other parts of the country--and I observe how relatively provincial and ethnocentric they are in their worldview, I realize what a blessing the unity school system was and I am tremendously grateful to General Gowon for his vision and statesmanship.

As a young music lover, one advantage of FGCs I recognized even then was the opportunity to be apprised of the sounds rocking in other parts of the country. I lived in the small and "dry" Eastern town of Calabar, which seemed perpetually a few steps behind "bubbling" metropolises like Lagos and Port Harcourt, so whenever we came back from the holidays, my school friends would fill me in on the latest music happening in their sections. Likewise, I would turn them on to the latest tunes from the East that had not yet spread to other parts of the country (if at all they ever did). But more or less, we all listened to the same kind of music even if we heard it at different times.

As the 80s wore on, though, I noticed that the music tastes of my friends from Lagos and other parts of Western Nigeria were changing a bit, moving towards more Yoruba-centric styles. Juju--which had up until this time had been regarded as music for our parents' generation--had started to retool itself to appeal to a younger audience, spearheaded by the likes of Sir Shina Peters and Segun Adewale. And then you had newer Yoruba street styles like fuji fiercely competing with the juju new wave for the imaginations and backsides of the Lagos youth.

This music--with its Yoruba lyrics, cosmopolitan opulence, frantic percussion and vague aroma of Islam--really did not play in Eastern Nigeria at all. The Lagosians would dance and sing these songs to each other, delighting in them like untranslatable Yoruba in-jokes.

Slightly more accessible to non-Lagosians like myself were the other emerging forms of Yoruba pop that built around the familiar structure of R&B, funk, rock and reggae; the most popular of these mutant forms was Adewale Ayuba's "Yo-pop." Another was "fujupop"--which melded fuji and juju with a modern pop sensibility. The style was created by a young singer named Bola Bimbola, who originally dubbed it "danfo beat" (after the danfo bus--the rickety vans that serve as public transportation in the streets of Lagos) when he debuted with a Yoruba-language version of "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough."

At the time, the record was appealing mostly on a novelty level--maybe a step or two above a parody--but listening to it now, I'd say it's quite brilliant in the way it retrofits the song with fuji percussion while maintaining the integrity of the Michael's original. (The sonic excellence of Bimbo's debut LP is unsurprising, considering the fact that it sports the typically baroque credit "Production, Concept and Music Arrangement by Sound Master Odion Iruoje.)

Bola Bimbola (now known as Bola Abimbola) went on to join King Sunny Ade's African Beats for a while and has been based for the past couple of years in Denver, Colorado where he leads his Wazobia band and continues to work with other artists both in the US and in Nigeria.

You'll notice that the Wikipedia page linked above makes no mention of his 1987 debut. His currently offline website, Fujupop dot com did, however... Though for some reason it described his English-language cover of "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" as a duet with Linda Ronstadt!

Oh yeah... That's another thing: The sleeve lists "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" as "Off The Wall," which is of course the title of the Michael Jackson album the song appeared on. It also credits "Silifa Bamijo" as a cover of "Fever Bobijo," which is actually "Viva Bobby Joe" by The Equals.

(Just in case you're wondering, the unity schools are mostly rubbish now. Even back in my day, the government was already complaining that 38 FGCs in 19 states exerted too much of a drain on federal resources and was considering turning over the responsibility for the schools' maintenance to the governments of the respective states they were located in. Twenty-odd years later, Nigeria's 19 states have multiplied hydra-like to 36, with yet more tribally-cartographed states agitating to splinter off. With two FGCs in each one, it looks like the federal government has just stopped caring; the schools have fallen into disrepair structurally and educationally and become as provincial as the state schools they were supposed to be an improvement over. I don't know if they even still hold the cachet of prestige they used to; it seems like regional private schools are the place to be now.

Oh well... 'Twas a noble experiment from which I and many others benefited immeasurably.)


1. Sumomi Famomi (Off The Wall Yoruba Version)
2. Silifa Bamijo
3. Eleda Mi Gbemi
4. Mama

1. Olorun Mi Ye
2. Off The Wall (English Version)
3. Afrika
4. Don't Say No When You Mean To Say Yes


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Naija country mix #2

Found myself hankering for some country sounds, and since we all enjoyed the last Naija Sounds in Country & Western Music mix, I decided to throw together a sequel. Behold the track listing:

1. "Darling" - Felix Lebarty
2. "Angie" - Esbee Family
3. "It's Not Easy" - Emma Ogosi
4. "Bright Eyes" - Jonel Cross
5. "Show a Little Bit of Kindness" - Christy Essien-Igbokwe
6. "Sometime, Someday" - Al Jackson
7. "Be In Your Arms" - Poor Charley Akaa
8. "Dark as a Dungeon" - Gnonnas Pedro

(You'll notice that despite the established theme, I included one non-Nigerian artist; I had to sneak Gnonnas Pedro across the border from République du Bénin because I love his rendition of "Dark as a Dungeon" that damn much.)

DOWNLOAD Naija to Nashville

(EDIT: Okay... Let's see if this works now...)

Monday, April 13, 2009

More Bongos

And like the last Bongos LP I posted, it's a bit rough. What can I say? Bongos' music was and is THAT adored in Nigeria--his records are played till the grooves fall off!

(I think I have a better-condition copy of this album somewhere but I really cannot find it right now, so I guess we can all tolerate the Rice Krispies SFX a bit, right?)

This 1980 outing finds Ikwue at the height of his mainstream popularity. Still riding high on the monster wave of goodwill generated by his 1978 Still Searching LP, a supremely confident Bongos tries out a few different musical flavors: a touch of soul, a little funk, calypso, and even old-school, Ray Charles-influenced R&B.

(The album's most memorable hit was "Mariama"--later the subject of scandal when the rumor spread that it was about First Lady Maryam Babangida in the mid-80s.)

Tear Drops would be one of Ikwue's last notable successes, though; the following year he released the classic soundtrack to the TV drama Cock Crow at Dawn and thereafter faded from the limelight. His next album, 1983's Songs I Like to Sing, barely registered on the public radar despite production from Jake Sollo and would be his last release of the 1980s (unless I'm mistaken, that was his last release, period).

Bongos has been on the comeback trail over the past couple of months though, and not surprisingly, he has been re-embraced warmly. Just as I was preparing this entry, I came across this article on Ikwue as a figure of pride and inspiration for the Idoma people. It made me think maybe I should have posted Bongos' album of Idoma-language folk songs, Ihotu, instead. I'm pretty sure I have a NM copy of that one.

Maybe later in the week.


1. Never Say Never Again
2. Tear Drops
3. I've Found A Woman

3. Love My Girl
4. Mariama
5. So Far So Good


Friday, April 10, 2009

What Am I To Do?

After last week's sustained surge of posting, I just had to drop the ball this week, didn't I?

I think I shall give the "every other day" update schedule a shot starting next week; that should be a pace that maintains the interest level around here without me completely blowing my wad.

Just so that this week is not a total waste, though, here's that Odion-produced, eponymous Bongos LP that quite a few people have requested... I warn you: It's a bit rough going. I always feel a bit embarrassed when I post records in this condition, but whaddaya gonna do? This is the business we're in; it's not like we're buying these things at Shoprite or something.


1. No More Water in the Well
2. Show Me The Man Who Don't Need a Woman

1. Baby Let Me Go
2. Sitting On The Beach
3. What Am I To Do


Thursday, April 02, 2009

More Edo rock n' highlife

I don't know if it's a matter of Victor Uwaifo leading and everybody else following, or if it was just something in the air around Benin in those days, because it seems like a disproportionate number of these Edo guys were just coming with that revival-style, rock n' soul-inflected, get-down-and-dirty dance party highlife that Uwaifo had on lock in the 1970s.

This LP was fully composed, arranged, and produced by Douglas Osakwe himself. Wish I knew something about him; the name is familiar to me, but I might just be confusing him with someone I went to school with.

Ah well... Just groove to this, willya?


1. Aganokpe
2. Enyi Jen Enyi Eru-Olo

1. Eboigbe
2. Okwunwene


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Who says a highlife band can't play rock?!

Well, not "rock" in the balls-out, yeh! yeh! yeh! sense--you'll find no searing solos here, no raucous drumming, no ecstatic abandon; but with its butter-rich production (courtesy of the late, great Biddy Wright), Johnny Woode's groovy organ lines and Godwin Ironbar's soulful vocal delivery, the album does represent an attempt to bridge the gulf between the old-school highlife orchestras and the youth-driven Western pop music that had enthralled the kids' imaginations in the post-war era.

The always-tasteful Biddy Wright was an apt choice to shepherd a project such as this, having been well familiar with both worlds--he led the beloved Lagos highlife dance band Wura Fadaka in the 1960s and then rocked out with Ronnie Laine of The Faces in the 70s. Ironbar himself is credited as writer, arranger, lead vocalist, guitar soloist and conductor of the fine cadre of musicians on this record. He sounds a bit Victor Uwaifo-inlfuenced to me, but maybe that's just because they both sing in the Edo language and embrace soul music accents in their highlife.

If I recall, several tracks from this record (along with Jackie Mittoo rock steady instrumentals) were frequently used as theme and interstitial music on NTA stations in the 1970s and 80s, especially "Ukpona Mie" and the "Let's Get It On"-citing "Okpenobodi."

(This is another VG+ record that's sounding a bit weird when ripped... I wonder if it's time for me to replace my stylus or something. I'll have to look into that... Let me know if it bugs you any and I might try ripping it again later.)


1. Ukpona Mie
2. Okpa Do
3. A Ti Se

1. Okpenobodi
2. Izenegbonta
3. Ovbiogwe