Thursday, January 31, 2008

Back into 45 bin again

Wrinkar Experience - "Soundway"

This is the B-side to "Fuel for Love," as heard on the already-posted first Flashback compilation. (Did the label take its name from this track?)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More Ofo from the 45 bin

"Let's Go Where the Action Is"

and on the B-side...

"The Book"

I always found it kind of interesting the way Larry made this song pronouncing the Bible to be "the Truth" when just two years earlier he was exhorting "Allah Wakbarr." But that's African musicians for you... They're always ready and willing to tailor their work to the needs of any audience!

Monday, January 28, 2008

A quick quickie from Ofo the Black Company

This 1972 fuzz-rocker sounds a lot like Ofo's popular "Allah Wakbarr" and is in fact the B-side of that 1972 single.

R.I.P. Larry Ifediorama.

Ofo the Black Company - "Beautiful Daddy"

Erykah Badu stays being the shit

Apart from Cody ChesnuTT, she remains my favorite contemporary artist working in the R&B/soul idiom, or whatever you want to call it. Sure, in recent years she has pulled a couple of stunts that have made me slightly question my devotion for her, but in the end, her wit, her creativity, her fearlessness, her goddamn flyness have always won me over.

One thing I've always loved from her right from the beginning is that she's a much underrated conceptualist and director of music videos, and I'm feeling her new one, "Honey":

The compositing seems just a teensy bit dodgy, but man, she is so fly.

And maybe I'm too much of a record store nerd, but I'm tickled pink (not literally, obviously) by all the cratedigger culture inside jokes and shout outs in there.

I wonder if MTV and BET will even bother to play this.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to her upcoming album, New Amerykah.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lome ladies of song

Just wanted to quickly share this cool video I stumbled upon:

An October 2006 rehearsal of a theatre troupe in Lome, Togo, featuring the grand dame of Togolese music, Julie Akofa Akoussah. Man, I could listen to her piercing, haunting soprano all day! Sadly, Akofa Akoussah passed away a few months after this footage was shot, in April 2007. She was 57.

It's easy to forget how relatively young she was, since she exerted a presence on the Togolese music scene for so long. She was only 16 when she began her professional career in 1966, representing Togo at the first World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal and spanned five decades as a respected singer, songwriter and presenter on radio and television.

Check out these tracks poached from our friend Pieter's excellent (though infrequently updated) Sea Never Dry blog

Julie Akofa Akoussah - "I Tcho Tchass"
Julie Akofa Akoussah - "La Lem"

and then check out Akofa Akoussah's site.

But Julie Akofa was not the only Togolese chanteuse whose career was launched on that Dakar stage; 21-year-old Bella Bellow also represented Togo at the festival and became a legend almost overnight. As her country's favorite singer and the one with the greatest chances for international success, she hooked up in 1968 with the ambitious Paris-based Togolese producer Gérard Akueson, who set out to position her as the next Miriam Makeba.

Akueson's aesthetic seemed to be based on the goal of packaging African music for upmarket European audiences, with snazzy arrangements, Broadway-ready choruses and Ipi Tombi-esque exotic ambience, as heard on Akue releases such as

Bella Bellow - "Bem-Bem"
Bella Bellow - "O Senye"

and "Zelie":

Bellow parted ways with Akueson in 1971 and returned to Togo, but not before she recorded some grittier sides with Manu Dibango, such as

Bella Bellow - "Dasi Ko"

(Akueson, for his part, quickly rebounded from the loss of Bellow, embarking upon a long musical and matrimonial relationship with the young Congolese diva Abeti Masikini.)

Tragically, Bella Bellow's meteoric rise was cut short in 1975, when she perished in an automobile crash at the age of 27. She has remained a sainted figure in the musical canon of Togo and also in neighboring Benin, where singers such as Angelique Kidjo cite her as a major influence.

Vive les reines!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Afrikan Boy is back!

His flow is getting better, you fink?

...Well, when he's sober, anyway.

The culinary obsession in his lyrics is interesting.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gnonnas Pedro -Dadjes encore!

Because you demanded it (well... b2v did, anyway!)...

1. Kalapchap

1. African Solidarity
2. La Musica en Verite
3. Maria Elena

Friday, January 18, 2008

Gnonnas Pedro: Voir le comédien, le musicien, le magicien

For some reason, when I was younger, every time I saw a "Gnonnas Pedro & his Dadjes" on a record sleeve, I read it as "Gnonnas Pedro & his Dandies." Looking back on it now, it seems somewhat appropriate. Dig: Yesterday I was reading The Painter of Modern Life, Charles Baudelaire's collection of essays explicating, among other things, the worldview of the dandy. This passage leapt out at me:
In this context, pray interpret the word 'artist' in a very narrow sense, and the expression 'man of the world' in a very broad one. By 'man of the world', I mean a man of the whole world, a man who understands the world and the mysterious and legitimate reasons behind all its customs; by 'artist', I mean a specialist, a man tied to his palette like a serf to the soil. M. G. does not like being called an artist. Is he not justified to a small extent? He takes an interest in everything the world over, he wants to know, understand, assess everything that happens on the surface of our globe.
Well, damn, I thought. That kinda describes Gnonnas Pedro, doesn't it?

Beninois singer, dancer, bandleader, guitarist, trumpeter and saxophionist Gnonnas Pedro was not an "artist" in the sense of being a specialist in one any one discipline, and if he was anything, it was certainly a man of the world. A dazzling showman who hewed to the old school entertainment ethos of giving the people want they want. You wanted to hear a bolero in Spanish? Gnonnas Pedro would sing it for you. French chanson? He was up to the task. American soul? Congolese rumba? Nigerian-style highlife? Your favorite country ballad? No matter the song or the style, you could count on Gnonnas Pedro to give it the old college try. At the peak of his popularity, Pedro's Dadjes were known as "the African band that speaks every language." His forte, however, remained crackling Afro-Cuban grooves as well as agbadja, a modernized form of Fon folkloric music.

The Republic of Benin never made a major impact on African or world music (or World Music™) culture. Perhaps due to being a tiny Francophone state wedged between the two Anglophone giants, Nigeria and Ghana, the nation was never able to produce and forcefully project anything like juju, soukous, benga or mbalax--a unique, homegrown style that changed the way the world listened to music and put its country of origin on the musical map.* What Benin did have in spades, though, was a slew of industrious, fanatically committed orchestras that mined borrowed styles like highlife, funk, jerk, jive and jazz for every drop of sweat, swing and soul they could wring out of them. Thanks to the tireless archaeological efforts of Soundway and Frank (not to mention Samy at Analog Africa), Cotonou is becoming a musical mecca for groove cognoscenti and the numerous works of Beninois bands like TP Orchestre Poly-Rythmo and Rego et Ses Commandos are now not only well known, but also keenly coveted.

It wasn't always like that, though. But while most of the Beninois bands toiled in obscurity, Gnonnas Pedro's stylistic versatility and affable stage presence earned him popularity across West Africa. His Yoruba highlife tune "Feso Jaiye" even became a standard among Nigerian musicians.

Gnonnas Pedro finally got to shine on a larger stage in the mid-90s, when he was recruited to replace recently-deceased singer Pape Seck in the Afro-Nuyorican salsa supergroup Africando, recording and touring with the band until he succumbed to colon cancer in 2004 at the age of 61.

This album here is a collection of covers that offers a sampling of his musical polymathy, with Pedro taking on everything from Merle Travis's "Dark as a Dungeon" to the cabaret of Charles Aznavour. Pedro was a great admirer of the French crooner (which whom he was privileged to record a single with in 1964) and there is a certain poignancy to his renditions of "À ma fille" and especially "Les comédiens" (here listed as "Les Commedies").

The lyrics of the latter song seem to describe Pedro's own metier to a degree: "Come see the actors, the musicians, the magicians..." On stage, Gnonnas Pedro was a musician and a magician, but perhaps beyond all that, an actor. His style-switching constituted more than just the essay of genres, but a deliberate reinvention of the self. When Pedro declares "Ladies and gentlemen... Now Gnonnas Pedro is gonna be James Brown!" before launching into a charmingly awkward phonetic reading of "I Got You," he dresses himself up in a constructed identity through music much as the dandy does through sartorial artifice.
And so, walking or quickening his pace, he goes his way, for ever in search. In search of what? We may rest assured that this man, such as I have described him, this solitary mortal endowed with an active imagination, always roaming the great desert of men, has a nobler aim than that of the pure idler, a more general aim, other than the fleeting pleasure of circumstance. He is looking for that indefinable something we may be allowed to call modernity...


1. I Got You
2. A Ma Fille
3. Les Commedies

1. Massaniyo
2. Dark as a Dungeon

*Frank does, however, strongly maintain the singular belief that the roots of the Afrobeat genre lie in Benin and not Nigeria. It's an interesting theory, actually, and one worth investigating.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lights... Camera...

I think the selection of this particular album was influenced by the fact that I hardly have time to post at all these days, so I deliberately chose a band I know next to nothing about so I wouldn't have to write too much about them!

Next to nothing, I said; here's the little I do know:

Aktion (sometimes known amongst fans as "The Actions") was an Eastern band based in Warri. Lemmy Faith was the group's leader and other members included Renny Pearl, Essien Akpabio and respected drummer Ben Alaka (who, curiously, is credited as a "guest" on this album).

An earlier incarnation of the band--under the name Action 13--released two singles in 1973: "Active Action" and "More Bread To The People".

Well, that's about all I know. Perhaps some of the veterans like Da Hurricane Man and Ehirim can further enlighten us on this band.

Update 1/18/08: And sure enough, Bro. Ehirim came through for us with some background on Aktion. I'll reprint the info here for those who don't read the comments:
Like you mentioned, Aktion, Action and Aktion 13 as known in some cases was a Warri-based band that played gigs all around the Eastside. Originally, the band was initiated in Calabar by the duo of Essien Akpabio and Lemmy Faith.

The band was resident at then famous spot in Warri called Lido Night Club and Restaurant where they entertained civil servants and off duty officers during happy hours known as "Afternoon Jump." During the festivities (Christmas and New Year holidays), the group embarked on a road trip playing gigs at college campuses, community centers and local villages to entertain Eastside students who were home for the holidays.

And of course, Ben Alaka who was the best drummer of that era was an in-session man but played more for Aktion when they were resident at Lido for the "Afternoon Jump" jam sessions. The band's early years between 1976 and 1978 was a blast which catapulted the group to the top during the 70s hippie era.

However, the band's success was shortlived when music of the era crossed over and the inability of band leader Lemmy Faith to compete with bands from the West resulting to music fans relocating to the West in search for better lives, and in some cases, academic pursuits elsewhere.

Ben Alaka still lives in Warri while Essien Akpabio relocated to his home base of Calabar. Lemmy Faith, I think, and as of the last time I heard about him was still producing.
Thanks, Ambrose!


1. Groove the Funk
2. Sugar Daddy
3. I Don't Have to Cry
4. My Baby

1. I've Got To Hope For Tomorrow
2. Masquerade
3. I'm in Love
4. Tell Me Baby
5. Play With Me

Produced by Ben Okonkwo of Ben (Nig.) Ltd.
I had to leave off three songs because I couldn't get them to play smoothly even after repeated tries. And it was all the more frustrating because the record isn't really in bad condition, but Aba-based Clover Records had a tendency to press their releases on some of the thinnest, shittiest vinyl known to man, so even the slightest irregularity causes the needle to jump or stick.

Hope the surface noise on "Masquerade" isn't too distracting either, because that's one of the funkier tracks on the album!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Music of many colours

In continuance of the little Victor Uwaifo thing we've been on, I decided to post this offering from the crates, No Palava (or No Palava/Delicate Lover).

I just listened to it this morning for the first time in years and figured it merited sharing, though I must advise that it is from 1984, The Year (in my mind, at least) That Nigerian Music Started To Suck--as such it betrays hints of the glossy yet sterile digital production and cheesy synth sounds that would soon become the industry standard. The songs themselves are pretty good, though: on this album, Uwaifo skips the Edo folklore-based material for poppy songs in English and pidgin, dealing with the vagaries of romantic love. The title track, "No Palava," celebrates rough makeup sex while on the flip side, "Delicate Lover" offers, I guess, the antithesis to that. Actually, now that I think about it, side A sort of represents the "rough" side and side B the "delicate" side.

The liner notes by Dili Uzuka recounts Uwaifo's history and achievements up to that point, including his then-recent honor as a Member of the Order of the Niger. A lot of the other information contained therein is I already went over in my last post, but also one tidbit I forgot to mention: Victor Uwaifo's claim to have created an innovative system of musical notation based on not on notes, but on colors. Specifically, the colors of traditional woven akwete cloth!

SIR VICTOR UWAIFO born on the 1st March 1941, graduate of Graphic and Commercial Art, Yaba College of Technology (1963), had resigned his appointment with the Nigeria Television Service Lagos because he had discovered the relativity between Colours and Music. Elementarily, he explained it thus:

"...take for example BLACK which is the strongest colour: it's [sic] musical interpretation will be DOH, Dominant, which is also the premier musical note.
ME, the Third, is represented by BLUE.
SOL, the Fifth, which harmonizes with all musical notes is WHITE, Neutral, which harmonizes with all colours".
If we struck at Chord of C Major, we'll have a representation like this:


A colour out of place in a painting will cause as much unpleasantness as a discordant musical note in a chord. SIR VICTOR UWAFOR'S [sic] inspiration came from the 'rhythmical' colour-weave pattern of the African Akwete Cloth. He says with elation, "I can conveniently marry sight to sound because I 'see in colours' and I can 'hear'.
(Frankly, I never really comprehended Uwaifo's color notation theory, and I doubt anyone else did either, but hey... We're merely mortals!)

Elsewhere, Uzuka exhorts that just as Uwaifo's innovative music withstood the encroachment of soul and pop in the 1960s and 70s, so would it survive the "rasta invasion"--At the time this record was released, reggae was stealthily, steadily creeping up to become Nigeria's predominant pop sound.

Of course, Uwaifo himself had been flirting with reggae rhythms since the mid-70s and includes the sweet lovers tune "Take This Message To My Darling" on this album. Interestingly, the drummer on this session is Black Rice (or Black O'Rice), sticksman in the Benin-originated underground roots reggae band Jahstix. In the mid-80s, Jahstix was set to blow up in a big way, but their album never came out and their lead singer/guitarist Majek Fashek got a solo deal and was prodded into the Next Bob Marley™ fast track. Black Rice later moved to the Netherlands, and last I heard, he was serving a jail term for murder there. (Don't know if it's true, though.)


1. No Palava
2. Abana
3. Khakhi Nobi Leather

1. Delicate Lover
2. Take This Message To My Darling
3. Come Into My Life Jejeje

All songs composed and arranged by Sir Victor Uwaifo (M.O.N.)

Bass guitar - Tony Bucknor
Percussions - King Pago
Ekwe - Sam Abosei
Drums - Black O'Rice
1st Guitar - Godfrey Okunmwonyi
2nd Guitar - Jerry Moscow
Lead guitar, vocals, keyboards and flute - Sir Victor
Tenor sax - Roy Maco
Tenor sax solos - Christopher Uwaifo, Kojo Ochri
Backing voices - Osayame Uwaifo & Mabel Judith Ezekoka & Christy Odita

A Joromi Production

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Ekassa Fever! (Part 2)

(This is cheating, you know... It's really part 1!)

In addition to being one of the flashiest and hardest working Nigerian musicians of the highlife era, Sir Victor Uwaifo was almost certainly the most ingenious. Never content to follow the boilerplate of the highlife mainstream or to slavishly ape imported trends, Uwaifo built his reputation on ostentatious showmanship and the judicious mining of the legends and songs of his native Edo culture, which he repackaged as newfangled pop: modern music of African folklore.

Victor Uwaifo was born in Benin City in 1941. Like Fela, he was born into a family that placed a high premium on education and achievement. As a child, he showed precocious talent in athletics, art and engineering, constructing intricate toy cars and airplanes and even a guitar that used high-tension wires for strings and bicycle spokes for frets. Much to his father's disapproval, he had a "drinkard" at the tavern tune the guitar in exchange for a jug of palmwine, got himself a book on music theory and started teaching himself to play.

In his teens, he was sent off to Lagos to attend the prestigious St. Gregory's College (which later produced bands like Ofege and Grotto), where his time was split between studying, sports, playing with the school band and apprenticing with "the evil genius of highlife," Victor Olaiya and his All-Stars. Upon graduating from Greg's, he won a scholarship to Yaba College of Technology where he studied graphic arts by day and played with dance bandleader E.C. Arinze by night.

After leaving YabaTech in 1964, he took a job working as a graphic artist at NTV Channel 10 in Lagos and formed a band called the New Melodies with whom he performed Bini folk songs. It was during this period, he has long maintained, that he encountered a mami wata, or mermaid, while lounging on Bar Beach. The experience inspired the song "Guitar Boy & Mamywater," a massive hit for Uwaifo's renamed Melody Maestroes.

Another early hit was "Joromi," a dance number that retold the Bini legend of a swaggering wrestler who dared to wrestle spirits and demons in the afterlife and became the first certified gold record in Africa. Uwaifo continued his pattern of drawing from Edo folklore to create custom pop sounds like akwete, mutaba, sassakossa and of course, ekassa.

Uwaifo explained the his modern articulation of the ekassa in John Collins' Musicmakers of West Africa:
In fact I wouldn't say I created Ekassa as it was already here as an indigenous dance of Benin. It was a royal dance performed during the coronation of a new king. Some people thought it an abomination to hear "ekassa" while the king was still alive, but I didn't mind them as the first tune was a brilliant hit and others followed. Ekassa incorporates the beat of the tom-tom and agba drums, Western wind instruments, two guitars and, of course, me on the guitar singing in the Edo language.
Uwaifo rode the style for four or five years, releasing four longplaying Ekassa volumes and several singles between 1971 and 1975.

As might be expected, Uwaifo's appropriation of ancient, and in some cases sacred, songs for the purposes of contemporary dancehall debauchery did not always go down well with the self-appointed guardians of the legacy of the great Benin Empire, but Uwaifo viewed his work as that of a high-tech curator:
They fail to see the foundation of my music is very cultural, as demonstrated in the beat and the lyrics. The fact that I use modern instruments to produce my sound has not altered the basic character of the music, otherwise we might as well argue that a historian writing ancient history with modern tools, like a Parker pen and paper, is a farce. The tools he uses to write history will not alter the facts and dates of the book. We have experimentation and evolution of ancient African cultures and my music is no exception to this.

Victor Uwaifo went on to build hotels and a TV studio, went back to school and got a master's degree in sculpture, established himself as a renowned visual artist, served as a professor at the University of Benin and a commissioner in Edo State, and he still performs regularly. His proteges and followers have included musicians from the Midwest such as Sonny Okosuns, Aigbe and Felix Lebarty and Sir Patrick Idahosa. Still, in characteristic cocky form, Uwaifo shrugs off the idea of naming a successor; even as he continues to refurbish the ancient mythos of Benin, his favorite mythology is that of Sir Victor Uwaifo himself:
Since I don’t believe that a genius ever has a successor, I don’t expect any of my children to succeed me. Let’s compare notes: Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, John Stevenson, did anyone ever succeed them? And back home, has Ghana or Africa ever found another Nkrumah? I am a rare specie, and it’s very unlikely that anyone will ever succeed me. If that happens, then I do not rate a genius.

I am not bothered by this. Even if I get a successor musically what about other fields where I also excelled? I am a writer, publisher, philosopher, a scientist, a painter, sculptor and a musician that plays several musical instruments. I remain the only musician today who invented a double-necked guitar, designed and built his own car. And above all these, I’m still alive. I’m yet to see anyone capable of succeeding me.*

Sir Victor Uwaifo: there can be only one!

(And massive big ups to another singular gentleman: our good friend Zim, who niced us up with this this nicety!)

*quote culled from


1. Dododo (Ekassa No. 1)
2. Obodo-Eyo (Ekassa No. 12)
3. Vbakha-Okun (Ekassa No. 10)
4. Iduah (Ekassa No. 18)

1. Obele (Ekassa No. 14)
2. Edede (Ekassa No. 13)
3. Izogie-Eronmwon (Ekassa No. 16)
4. Omoseruwa (Ekassa No. 15)
5. Ogieni (Ekassa No. 17)
6. Ovoramuen II (Ekassa No. 8)