After several long and time consuming posts, and while I am working on the next long one, I thought I’d squeeze in a brief post featuring some of the many wonderful recordings that our listeners have sent us over the years; this first batch includes a few of my favorites from West African listeners. The constant challenge of creating music programming that appeals to listeners from dozens of countries, each with their own dynamic musical traditions and recording industries, is made easier by the generous impulses of faithful listeners who send us recordings of their favorite music.
Most of the musical gifts we receive come from listeners in Nigeria, and I particularly appreciate all the recordings of cultural music that our sent our way. These are musical universes that are difficult to discover without spending time in Nigeria. These next two cassettes are favorites.
Nwankwo Aghadinagu was born in 1940 and is from Awkuzu in Anambra local government area, of Anambra State Nigeria, in South-Central Nigeria. He was born into a musical family and started performing in 1953. His group is called ‘Anwulika’ and they perform ‘Egwu Ekpili’ music. The listener who sent this cassette writes that Nwankwo ‘has added a new dimension to [Egwu Ekpili] music-that is the electric or casio computer drums and is yet to be equaled’. Nwankwo has released at least six albums and initiated many younger musicians into the secrets of Egwu Ekpili music, including the great Morocco Emeka Maduka.
This cassette is one of six that were sent by the same listener on what appears to be his D.I.Y. cassette label ‘Sweet Sound’. As far as I can tell, this cassette is a compilation of tracks that were commercially released on lps. In ‘Onwu Emelua Madu Aru’, or ‘death has caused a lot of grief to humanity’, Nwanko sings, ‘things are not what they were before. Please God, come and save us. Oh my friends, the world is changing and I’m scared. A friend who was healthy in the morning suddenly started to vomit. I went to help him and took him to the hospital, where he kept vomiting. Before we realized what had happened, he passed away. I cry for him, a nice man, a good friend is gone’. Nwankwo goes on to recite the names of friends and loved ones who have passed away, and after each name the chorus responds, ‘death has dealth with us’.
Next up, another cassette of cultural music from Igbo land in Nigeria, sent to us back in 1999 by Mr. Kelechi Oti, who at the time lived in Pankshin, Plateau State in North-Central Nigeria. This next artist is a living legend in Arondizuogu, a town in Imo State, in South-East Nigeria. Chief Perricomo Okoye, who has been performing for over thirty years, is the master of the music played for the annual Ikeji festival, held every spring in Arondizuogu. The Ikeji festival is celebrated, over four days, to mark the end of the planting season, and is a highlight of the Arondizuogu social, economic and cultural calendar.
Every year the festival draws thousands of members of the Arondizuogo Diaspora from throughout Nigeria, Europe and the United States. The last two days of the festival feature masquerade displays from throughout the region that showcase the diversity of local traditions. Chief Perricomo Okoye, who was given the title ‘Cultural Prime Minister’ by the citizens of Arondizuogu, and his traditional dance group are one of the keys to the success of the annual Ikeji festival. (I am still trying to get the details of how Chief Perricomo got his name. Was the American pop singer Perry Como popular in Igbo land?)
This cassette was released to celebrate the 1998 edition of the Ikeji festival, and features Chief Perricomo’s traditional lineup of Ekwe (the wooden slit drum), Ogene (metal gong), and most importantly the Ojah (wooden flute). In an article describing the Ikeji festival, Uche Ohia describes the role of the Okwa Ojah, or flutist; ‘He deftly communicates with the masquerades-weaving soulful melodies and blending esoteric messages into the intoxicating rhythms of the drums. The flutist warns the masquerade of any impending danger and is capable of inciting the masquerade or individuals to heroic acrobatics and demonstrations’.
Chief Perricomo Okoye, as is usually the case in Igbo music, opens the song ‘Akuko Uwa’ with a proverb, ‘It is not good when children retrieve items thrown into the evil forest’. He then praises and salutes local dignitaries before getting to the meat of his message. He sings, ‘we cannot throw away our culture for something external’, to which the chorus answers ‘no we can’t’. Chief Perricomo continues, ‘can we do without our culture?’, and the chorus answers ‘no we can’t’. Chief Perricomo goes on, ‘there is never a time when discussions for peace will cause problems in a community, let’s talk through our communal problems. The culture of our people is what our ancestors lived with, and that is what we must live with. I am asking young people, are you still observing our customs and traditions? We have to go back to our culture’.
About twenty years ago, Mr. Lamin A. Turay of Freetown, Sierra Leone sent us this terrific cassette of Dr. Oloh. Born Israel Olufemi Cole on March 20, 1944 in Leicester, a small village about 15 miles West of Freetown, Dr. Oloh over the course of a fifty-year career put his stamp on the music of Sierra Leone. He created his own style of music that he called Milo Jazz, a topical, raucous version of Gumbay music. Over the decades, Dr. Oloh built his audience playing at countless moonlight picnics, carnivals, holiday celebrations, and marriages. He toured the United Kingdom several times in the early 1990s, released dozens (if not more) of cassettes like this one, and at least one international CD. Dr. Oloh passed away on October 13, 2007. I met Dr. Oloh in Freetown, back in early 1994, and even at the age of fifty he was still a dynamic percussionist, with more spark than most of his much younger band members.
This long track, which is excerpted from a forty five minute recording, features two songs. The first, sung in Temne, discusses the surprising and immoral behavior of young women in Freetown. Dr. Oloh intersperses his commentary with moral maxims, such as ‘Envy is not good’. The second song begins a little after the five-minute mark, and is one of Dr. Oloh’s most famous. It is called ‘Momoh No Worry’, and was composed in late 1985, during the transfer of power from Siaka Stevens to the professional soldier Joseph Saidu Momoh, who was president of Sierra Leone until April of 1992. Dr. Oloh reminded the new president that his power came from God, not from Siaka Stevens, and that he was indebted to the people of Sierra Leone and not to Siaka Stevens.
This last, but not least and perhaps most interesting, cassette is a four track home-recording demo sent to us, in 2006, by Mr. Nebie I. Abdoul Bassirou, who records under the name of Bass Nebil. Mr. Bassirou lives in Léo, a town in South-Central Burkina, not far from the Ghanaian border. He sings, in several languages, and plays the guitar. These stark songs have a simple melodic charm that has me playing them over and again.
This first song ‘Kassi Bazao’ is sung in Diula and French, and Bass Nebil develops two themes. In the first part he sings, ‘Uncle Bazao is always drunk, his family is miserable, he is always drunk’. In the second part he sings, ‘let’s work the land, let’s fight poverty, let’s modernize our agriculture and fight for the future’.
The song ‘Yéli Konme Wê’ is in Moré. Bass Nebil sings, ‘tell all the children. Many of our compatriots have gone abroad seeking adventure and wealth. Old men, old women, youngsters I have seen them all go abroad seeking wealth. There was a young man who wanted money so bad that he went to see a witch-doctor, he went crazy. There was another young man who chased after money so much that it made him sick’.
Finally, here is Bass Nebil in ‘Djougouya Magni’, which in the Diula language means ‘the world is rotten’.
Very special thanks to all of the Music Time in Africa listeners who have sent us music over the years! And thanks to Chinedu Offor, David Vandy, and Samuel Kiendrebeogo for their help with translations.