As this year comes to an end, I would like to take a moment to thank all of you who continue to get in touch, through email, over the phone, and by letter. All of your feedback is appreciated and very encouraging. Most of the features that I’ve published on the blog have taken weeks, and sometimes months, to research and prepare. This slow process involves getting in touch with artists, producers, journalists, and music specialists, conducting lengthy interviews (often in languages that I do not speak-in the last two years we’ve done interviews in Portuguese, French, Classical Arabic, Darija, Luo, Lingala, Bambara, Hausa, Wolof, Twi, and Tigrigna- thus requiring the help of interpreters), translating the lyrics to songs, and finally organizing all the music and the research into a digestible post.
I could not do most of this work without the collaboration of the many generous persons who have given freely of their time, whenever I have asked. I try to recognize all of those whose help I have relied upon at the end of each post, but, to highlight the collaborative nature of much of the labor that goes into sharing our African musical treasures, I want to once again thank all of my colleagues, both here in Washington D.C. and throughout Africa, who have rallied to the cause.
African Music Treasures’ last post of 2008 featured Leo’s unreleased Fela Kuti recordings, and to close out 2009 I want to return to Nigeria, with another unreleased reel from this same trip, Leo’s August of 1965 Lagos recordings of Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson. While the recordings of Fela and the Koola Lobitos captured the band at a time when Fela was still getting his sound together, these recordings of Rex Lawson caught the Cardinal in his mid-sixties prime; these were the years during which Rex and the band dominated Nigeria’s highlife scene.
This recording session was held one afternoon in August of 1965 in a Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation studio in Lagos, and if you listen carefully you can hear cars honking on the streets outside. Listening to this music forty four years later, I am nostalgic for a time when bands sounded so good live; Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson and the Majors sound loose, limber and focused, paying great attention to ensemble dynamics, tight horn choruses and flowing solos.
Different versions of all of these tracks, with the possible exception of ‘Osaba Koro’, were eventually released in Nigeria (for more information on Lawson’s recordings check out our friend John Beadle’s discography). I present these cuts with little commentary; I’ll just say that, in my opinion, Nigerian highlife doesn’t get much better. At the end of a few of these tracks you can hear applause and laughs by the few spectators in attendance, a beautiful atmosphere and some gloriously laidback highlife; it’s all here, the shuffling grooves, swinging trumpet and saxophone solos, tight percussion breaks, incisive guitar playing, and Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson’s leathery vocals.
At the end of the recording session, Leo’s colleague Tunde Sowande (it is his voice that introduces each song) sat down with Rex Lawson for a brief interview. Here is the raw unedited interview.
Happy New Year to all and best wishes for 2010, I’ll be back soon with more musical surprises from the archives.