Origin of Nigerian Music (1)

[Nigerian music]`
[T]`he very first fusion of Nigeria’s indigenous musical forms with Western civilisation was as a result of its contact with the guitar. This was in the 1920s through sailors and Kru-men from Sierra Leone who played the guitar as an instrument of pleasure. Over the years, many more instruments were added. The professional approach has since been adopted to performance, and the music itself has evolved through various trends and complexities which in contemporary terms have continued to be propelled by high technological advancement.
Nigerian music, writes Sam Akpabot, has many faces which over the years have been so interwoven that differences among them are very thin.
The late musician and critic reasons that Nigerian music is a deeply functional exercise which draws heavily on religious, political, sociological, anthropological, economical and educational fronts, adding that the music derives its socio-cultural power from the society in order to make any progress in the future.
Some other critics of African music say that African arts, especially, traditional music, functions in the social structure on three principal levels as part of religious ritual, as expression of social organisation and as recreation.
These three areas seem to cover almost the whole spectrum of Nigerian music. Religious ritual is about the music practices of Nigerians from antiquity.
Social music has gone through the maze of musical acculturation that changed the face of Nigerian music without destroying its traditional base; and recreation focuses on popular music up till the present draw heavily on political and sociological associations.
Nigerian neo-classical music draws its inspiration from traditional norms, music in Nigerian churches uses religious ritual and some of the texts of modern dance bands in the country fall back on traditional texts for effective communication with the masses.
But there are still other forms of Nigerian music, such as disco, reggae, Makossa and rock which Akpabot and others did not treat, may be because of the fact that these aspects of the music are still recent.`
[Nigerian religious music]`
[N]`igerian traditional music as other African traditional music centres on rites of passage: birth puberty, marriage and death, and it involves certain rituals offered to traditional gods for the unity of the people and to link them to the supreme being. Traditional music in the country, therefore has an element of religious ritual attached to it in one form or the other. Because these rituals are only for the initiates, the term “secret society” was used by western scholars. These secret societies, governed the social attitudes prevalent in the area; regulated sexual conduct, supervised political affairs and provided various forms of entertainment, and popular music drew its inspiration and general form from the activities of the secret societies.
A survey of Nigerian traditional music must focus on the individual and collective functions of musical instruments, musical instruments as symbolic musical instruments identified with particular deities and number symbolism. It examines the peculiar role of song texts as well as the different uses and functions of traditional orchestras.`
[Traditional music instruments]`
[T]`here are musical instruments struck, plucked scrapped, blown or shaken. These instruments have special names. Some of them include the drum and xylophone which are stuck to produce a sound. String instruments are plucked and a column of air is blown into other instruments to produce a sound while others are scrapped. Examples of these are the Emoba drum at the court of the Oba of Benin, the obodom wooden drum of the Ibibios, the Egwu omoha xylophone of the Igbos and the koria(calabash) drum of the Hausa Fulanis are all struck. The Ubo aka (Thumb piano) of the Igbos, the Garaya (lute) of the Hausa are plucked. The Kakaki (trumpet) of the Hausa Fulanis, the Oja (flute) of the Igbos, the Ikpeziken (flute) of the Edos and the Utah (gourd horn) of the Ibibios are all blown. The Sekere (rattle) of the Yorubas is scrapped and the Nsasah (rattle) of the Ibibios are all shaken.`
[Functions of Nigerian traditional music instruments]`
[I]`N Katsina, when an Emir is to be crowned, the Yanibari drum is struck 12 times so that the people can know that they have a new Emir. In other parts of the country, when a chief or village head ants an important announcement he sends out an emissary who strikes a gong or woodblock to alert the community of his mission. In the north, the Garaya is used as an instrument for going into fits. A member of the community approaches a Garaya player and asks for a particular tune; and as the musicians strum and sing away, the person requesting the tune dances, first slowly, then gradually working to a frenzied finale when he faints and is later revived. At the palace of an Emir or Yoruba Oba a kakaki (trumpet) player precedes the Chief blowing his instrument to warn the subjects of the approach of their ruler. Among the Igbos and Yorubas, the elephant tusk horn is only blown by the royalty.
When many instruments are played together, they can also perform specific functions. The Emoba drums on the palace of the Oba of Benin are usually played by six musicians but never outside the palace premises. Among the Ibibios, members of the Ebre women’s society are three gongs (Nkwang). The most important of these gongs is played by the leader of the group. This practice is also found among the Yorubas who play the lera (flute) in groups of six with the chief of the village playing the most important of the flutes. Musical instruments used collectively also indicate what values Nigerian place on family life. It is said in myths that the Yoruba god, Obatala, had four wives who sang and clapped their hands to him every evening. Eventually, the god had four drums constructed and named them after his four wives – Iya Nla, Iya Agan, Afere and Keke – family of drums that used till today in ceremonies pertaining to the worship of the god Obatala.
Again in the worship of the Yoruba god Sango, four drums are used – Iya Ilu Bata (mother drum) Emele Ako (male drum) Emele Abo (female drum) and Kudi (infant drum).
Among the Ibibios, this grouping is also similar. The names of the Uta (group horn) orchestral are Eko Uta (mother ), Akpan Uta (first son), Udo Uta (second son) And Etukudo Uta (third son) – a mother and three male children unlike the Yoruba experience which made of male and female children. Critics like Akpabot say that the naming of the Uta horns as male children is not unconnected with the beliefs of the Ibibio society, and indeed, Nigerian (and African) society in general. Without a male child, they argue, a Nigerian family does not consider itself fulfilled; and there have been many instances where a father had continued trying for a male child in spite of having anything up to 10 female children.
When an Ibibio woman feels her feminine powers and beauty waning, she invites an Uta orchestra to perform for her, convinced that this will rejuvenate her believing in the concept of the male supremacy in the Uta horns ensemble; her action based on historically created designs orientated towards the cultural beliefs of her ancestors.
Myth behind the making of the music instruments
Among the Yorubas, only the Oma and Apa trees are used for carving out drums. The trees are situated on the roadside and the instrument makers think that such trees listen to human conversations and are therefore able to reproduce human tones when used as drums. Any other tree used for drum making does not produce good tunes. Among the Ibibios, the Idiong society is the only one that does not use a drum in its instrumentation. The Hausa and the Fulani strike the Tambari drum 12 times to announce the election of a new Emir. In Kwara State, the Aku drum is played seven times at intervals for seven days preceding a new yam festival. In Ondo State, the Oshima drum is struck seven times to alert the town folk about an impending battle. `
[Nigerian social music]`
[A]`lmost all secret societies in Nigeria have element of entertainment in their rituals in the form of songs and dances. The general form of a secret society ritual consists of (a) incantations (b) offerings for purification (c) songs and (d) dances.
Secret societies in Nigeria can be classified as being either benevolent or malevolent. Two good examples of a benevolent secret society are the Osanyin society of the Yorubas and the Idiong society of the Ibibios. The deities in these societies make life fruitful and bring peace to the community they function. The god Sopono or Ogun can be called upon to help for or to punish the enemy; but you can only go to the god Osanyin or Idiong to find out how you can save yourself from the wrath of your enemy. Songs and Dances in Nigerian society
These have helped to shape the social organisation of Nigeria societies. For example, songs can be used by different age groups in the country during birth, puberty, marriage or death. The complexity of song reflects a complex society as it is an adaptation of the trait of that society. The social structure of any community in Nigeria can also affect the style of a song bearing in mind whether the society is stratified or egalitarian. You will find in stratified societies like those in the Benin Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba areas, that praises songs are very common with the traditional rulers and ancestral gods as the centres pieces of their message. The Emir or Oba is never wrong, and the gods are never to blame for any misfortune that may befall the community.
In an egalitarian society, such as can be found in many parts of the Eastern Region of the country, the song styles are more complex and individualistic reflecting a complex society. Carrying this musical message to the arena of social organisation, it is easier to rally round members of a stratified society into a unified whole, than those in an egalitarian society. Two possible exceptions of egalitarian society in the East is Anambra State where the Obi of Onitsha resides and in Rivers State where we have the Amanayabos of Bonny and Opobo. These communities are unique in that they combine the stratified and egalitarian styles of the Nigerian song.`
[Features of Nigerian songs]`
[C]`ritics of Nigerian music posit that Nigerian languages are inflectional in character, so certain characteristics of the spoken word condition the musical patterns of songs especially the high, low and medium accent placed on vowels in a sentence. The songs are repetitive and do not modulate meaning that they stay in one pitch throughout. Nigerians songs are generally in two sections, the second bringing the first to a close. Sometimes the two sections are different; at other times, the second section borrows materials from the first and brings it to a conclusion. On rare occasions, it can be in three sections – the first part, a contrasting second part and a repeat of the first part.
Some say that Nigerian song can be solo performed by only one person, or more commonly, a song with solo and chorus referred to as call-and-response. When it is a solo song, as in the case of Ewi music of the Yorubas, the rhythm is irregular, the tempo is set by the singer as he wishes and the overall form is improvised as improvisation is one of the hall marks of Nigerian song style.
Every Nigerian song tells a story and in almost every case the words or texts of the song are more important than the melodic content which in many cases is limited because most Nigerian musical instruments are not constructed to play long melodies as in the western tradition. The song may be repetitive, but the text changes from verse to verse so that unless you understand what the singer is talking about, the whole experience can sound boring. A good example is provided by the Jos singer Dan Maraya who sings to small flute in Hausa. He tells a story full of humour, proverbs and a commentary on the contemporary scene with a musical ostinato as an accompaniment. Ostinato just means a repetitive musical phrase.
A great feature of a Nigerian solo song is the liberty taken by the singer. He can shorten or lengthen a vowel. He can use metaphors, archaic expressions, and cryptic utterances. He can take a liberty and licence that he would not dare take in an ordinary spoken word which is a unique feature of the Nigerian musical scene.`
[Features of the Nigerian dance]`
[T]`his is how song and dance are used as forms of social organisation in Nigerian traditional society. Researchers have proved that all African dances are generally in harmony with the body. The Nigerian dance easily divides itself into ritual and non-ritual. The former is performed as a propitiation to traditional gods and the latter for entertainment and therefore more flexible and improvised.
Dancing can be a response to a melody or rhythmic beat. Music north of the Niger among the Hausas, Fulanis, Biroms, Angas and Kanuri relies more on subtle melodies which the dancers react to gracefully. South of the Niger among the Igbos, Ibibios, Urhobos, Itsekiri and Edos, there is more accent on rhythmic beat and therefore the dancing is more vigorous.`
[Dance forms in Nigeria]`
[F]`our dance patterns most prevalent in Nigeria are (a) Leap dance (b) Stride dance (c) Close dance and (d) Stamp dance.
In the leap dance, the dancers lift their feet off the ground sometimes in an acrobatic display. Examples of this type of dance are found among the Bata dancers. The stride dance, where the dancers move gracefully in an unhurried movement taking one step at a time is very common among royalty in the Yoruba speaking areas, but it is perhaps among the Hausa/ Fulanis, that this style of dance is best exemplified. The Atilogwu dancers also use the dance in addition to the leap dance with which they are more commonly associated.
The close dance is predominant among the Ibibios, Ijaws, Ohafias of Abia State and the famous dance of maidens of Afikpo. This style of dance uses only waist movement, whilst the rest of the body remains still.
The stamp dance is famous among the Tivs. The Tiv who share a boundary with the Igbos of Enugu State are examples of the stride dance combined with elements of the close dance. Though this not exhaust all the dance patterns in the country, they will be found to be the most commonly used by the various communities. People in the riverine areas of the country tend to have a common feature in their dancing styles which distinguishes them from people in the hinterland of the country.`
[Dance orchestras]`
[D]`ance orchestras can be for ritual or non-ritual purposes and one way of deciding whether an orchestra is ritual or not is by the presence in the orchestra of a ritual rattle. This is a special kind of rattle shaped like an hour-glass with two small piece of wood tied inside both ends which rattle when shaken. The Yorubas call this instrument Sekere and the Ibibios Ekput. Orchestras used for ritual dance have a standardised instrumentation which has been unaffected by western culture over the years. These type of dance orchestras operate within the secret societies.
Non-ritual dance orchestras have a very flexible instrumentation. They can be named after a particular dance like the Atilogwu dance of the Igbos and the Abeti dance of the Itsekiris. It can be named after a predominant musical instrument in the ensemble like the Bini orchestra of Hausa women and Sekere awo orchestra of Yoruba women, which are both scrapped rattles, or the Lere orchestra of the Yorubas and Kara orchestra of the Birom, both flute ensembles. It can also be named after wooden or skin talking drums like the Ida orchestra of the Edos, the Igede orchestra of the Igbo and the Dundun orchestra of the Yoruba. In Nigeria, all drums are said to talk, some more eloquently than others.
But it is not all orchestra in Nigeria that are used for dances. A good example of this being the Ekpri Akata orchestra of the Ibibios. So the Ekpri Akata orchestra is set up as an orchestra designed to regulate the social conduct of members of the community. Examples of this kind of orchestra can be found in most ethnic groups of the country and their use is simple. In the night, around 2 a.m members of the orchestra move from location to locations in a village warning about thieves, adulterers, witches and dishonourable men. They give out the names of the offenders and warn them to either change heart or get out of town. Many times they speak in metaphors and proverbs and daytime, all dubious characters in the community have been identified and rendered impotent by the embarrassing exposure. No one ever comes out to challenge these musicians of social control and no one ever knows who they are. Their source of information is a secret and they have never been known to make any allegations that were not proved to be true.`
[Traditional music and the Christian church]`
[I]`n the beginning of last century, three churches were predominant in the country — the Roman Catholic Church (RCM) the Anglican Church (then known as the Church Missionary Society (CMS), and the Methodist Church. The colonial missionaries recognised the power of traditional music and cultural patterns; and one of the first things they did, in their attempt to Christianise a community, was to ask them to burn their musical instruments and stop singing their traditional songs. The musicians in those days operated from secret societies which they saw as their traditional religion; and the invading missionaries must have known that magical powers reside in songs. This worked for many years until the parishioners started feeling suffocated by the monotonous form of imported liturgy. They wanted to dance and clap their hands, ululate and be in direct communication with the preacher but this was not possible.
They desired change and one way to do this was to reach back to their traditional culture and superimpose this on the accepted imported Christian norms. Since this was not acceptable to the missionaries, there occurred an inevitable break with the imported Christian tradition and some Nigerian priests and laity left to form their own churches under the prevailing title of African Christian Church. These early ‘rebels’ stuck as close as they could to the Anglican form of liturgy with a few changes.
They translated the Christian hymns into Nigerian languages forgetting that the rise and fall of Nigerian vowel sounds did not correspond with the English ones.
But this change did not satisfy many of the new members who still felt restricted by the imported missionary style of worship. So, in time, some left to form other churches where they introduced drums, dancing and ululation all of which are elements of Nigerian traditional music. This is the rise of churches like the Aladura Church, the Pentecostal Church and the Celestial Church. Akpabot notes that all these churches were the direct result of the influences of African traditional song and dance – those two important elements that mentioned earlier as being present in every ritual ceremony in Nigeria.
The worshippers could react to sermons, songs and rhythmic beats spontaneously without any inhibition instead of being told what to do. The element of improvisation so common in traditional Nigerian music is clearly exemplified in this setting. The folk element in the songs and dances used are very evident in the overall structure of the new liturgical style.`
[ Nigerian music as entertainment]`
[C]`ritics who assert that African musical is an entertainment is very valid in the general context of African culture. Even in the serious rituals of secret society, the elements of entertainment are ever present. For example, the Yoruba Ogboni and Egungun secret societies have masquerades like ode, alagbo, sembe and arebe where singing and dancing feature circus-like tricks and acrobatic displays. Among the Ibibos, a branch of the Ekpo secret society is called Ndok Ekpo whose members perform the role of comedians entertaining members of the community. From the activities of these masquerades, it has been possible to detect solid outlines of an open traditional theatre. Thus, what started out as a secret ritual society blossoms into a training ground for actors and dramatists seeking an avenue for well expression.
An important contemporary development has been the attempts by indigenous playwrights to exploit the cultural contents of some secret societies and bring some of these traditional practices to the notice of the uninitiated men in the community, through special written plays and music dramas. Examples of this aspect of Nigerian music as entertainment are the music dramas of Duro Ladipo and Hubert Ogunde Ladipo’s Oba Koso and Ogunde’s Yoruba Ronu draw upon the myths, rituals, legends, religious beliefs and symbols of traditional Yoruba society. Their music dramas, adapted to the platforms of western performing arts, have become vehicles for cultural interdependency not among third world countries, but also between these countries and the western world.
Another form of entertainment, which broke away from the constraints of traditional melodies, rhythms and song texts is what is today described as Nigerian popular music – a form of entertainment whose roots can be traced to a deliberate protest against western popular dance music which thrived in the country during the colonial era, in the first half of this century.`
[Modern Nigerian orchestra]`
[E]`uropeans had arrived in the country bringing with them dances like the waltz, foxtrot, quickstep and tango, and it was not long before Nigerians caught on to this brand of popular music. In time, orchestras were formed by indigenes of the country to enable them to play the music for these various dance steps. But imitation was not enough for these improvisation-orientated musicians; so they started adapting Nigerian folk tunes into a ballroom setting using western instruments and in the process introducing new rhythms that were the Triumph Orchestra, the Bosocal Orchestra and Three Chocolate Dandies Orchestra. It is notable that one of these orchestras, the Triumph, originated from King’s College, Lagos, where Fela Sowande, then joined the Bosocal Orchestra briefly, but went on to form the Chocolate Dandies Orchestra led by Saxophonist Soji Lijadu, for many years a distinguished baritone singer at the Cathedral Church of Christ. Also in the orchestra were the present Oba of Lagos, Oyekan II, who played the violin and Ben Olumuyiwa yet another fine tenor singer at the Christ Church Cathedral, who played the trumpet. Olumuyiwa known fondly as “Big Ben” was to die in a motor accident touring the Eastern part of the country with an orchestra called “The Lagos Rascals”.
There were one or two other orchestras worthy of mention. The Lagos City Orchestra and her Rhythm Dandies were Fela Young (later to become a chief Magistrate) played the trumpet and at various times, Olu Macfoy, a long-time employee of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and Tunde Derby played the piano. Derby, like Lijadu an Olumuyiwa, was an active member of a church choir, being organist of Tinubu Methodist Church. It is indeed amazing that the Anglican and Methodist Churches, where these fine dance band musicians functioned, did not raise any loud objection to a church musician playing at a night club.
But it was not in Lagos, the Nigerian capital that popular music played with European instruments was thriving. At Calabar, there was the Effiom Brass Band. In the Rivers State, there was the Bakana Brass Band; at Onitsha, the New Bethel School Brass Band, and in the Cross River State, the Ikot Ekan Brass Band which played what was then referred to as “native airs”, which later developed into the highlife – a dance form whose origins are not quite clearly defined. Thus from imported dance like the waltz and foxtrot, acculturation had taken place and indigenes of the country were now leaning towards playing a brand of music that reflected their cultural heritage even with European instruments. There is a point worth noting here; and that is that the Bakana Brass Band and the Ikot Ekan Brass Band introduced the wooden drum into their rhythmic ensemble – the beginning of a trend, that was to find fulfilment in the music of later popular musicians like I.K. Dairo, Roy Chicago and E.C. Arinze.
Two trends are easily discernible here. The first one being those musicians who played traditionally-derived music on European instruments; and the other those who discarded European dance band instruments to form small groups of performers comprising a guitarist, who was usually also the solo singer, supported by secondary traditional drums. All drums in Africa are grouped into primary drums (the large ones) and secondary drums (the small ones). It is this group of popular musicians who relied on guitar and drums, to make their impact on the society with their special sue of vocal texts that developed into what we know today as juju, fuji and waka music among other hybrid forms. But we shall come back to them later.`
[Highlife music]`
[S]`ome critics say that it is quite possible that highlife music originated from Ghana and the name highlife is probably a nonsense word. Singers sometimes use nonsense words to evoke a mood or describe something they cannot find a suitable word for. The music played by Sunny Ade, the juju musician is sometimes described as “sychro system” – clearly a nonsense word which has no bearing whatever with the style of music played. Another example of a nonsense word is penkelemess, which was used during the First Republic to describe the late Adegoke Adelabu’s style of politicking where he was equally at home dining with a taxi driver at a roadside eating place (buka) or dressing up in European style to eat with royalty at a grand restaurant. Thus the word penkelemes was used to describe this odd style of behaviour.
What we do know about the possible origin of highlife music is that in the 1930′s a dance band composed of servicemen came to Nigeria from Ghana on a short tour. They called themselves the Sugar Babies and what made them special was the special favour they added to their rendition of specially adopted Ghanaian (then Gold Coast) folk tunes on their European instruments. They performed mainly for the elite of the society associated with high living standards, which could account for that brand of music being called highlife music. It is from these beginnings, that E.T Mensah, a trained Ghanaian pharmacist, formed a band devoted mainly to playing highlife music. The influence of E.T Mensah, definitely spurred Nigerian popular musicians on to forming their own bands specialising in highlife music.
At about the time E.T Mensah was making a name for himself as a highlife musician, a Nigerian, Bobby Benson, arrived in the late 1940′s to start a dance band which he called Bobby Jam Session Orchestra. His orchestra was unique in that it introduced variety acts into his dance music presentations ably supported by his wife Cassandra, in what was known as the Bobby and Cassandra Show.
The only other Nigerian to follow in Bobby Benson’s footsteps was a Nigerian actor based in Britain, Willie Payne, who returned home briefly to rival Bobby Benson until bitter confrontations between the two artists caused Payne to return to his acting roles in Britain. In the 1950s many highlife bands sprang up in the country.`
[Stars of yesteryear]`
[H]`ighlife was however the early form of the popular Nigerian music highlife of the guitar dominated type played at palm wine bars to provide background entertainment. Names like Tunde King in Lagos, Okonkwo Adigwe from Delta State, Ishie Brothers from the Eastern part of Nigeria, Appollo and Paul Ede from Edo State, among many others from the Southern part of Nigeria come to mind as some of the pioneers of palm wine highlife music in Nigeria.
The end of the Second World War in 1945 also enhanced the fusion of the indigenous music form, which had already been done through the guitar. Nigerian soldiers who came back home from foreign lands; having been discharged from the army into which they were formerly enlisted on the side of Britain to fight the World War, introduced foreign trends into the music. This they did not only through the guitar, but also through other instruments. Apart from their influence on the Nigerian popular music scene, Nigerians who had learnt to play instruments in the marching bands established by the colonial masters were now many and so brought about a multiplier effect in which they also taught young civilians who were desirous to learn the theory of music, its rudiments. Many of them also learnt to play instruments.
Lagos became the city from where new trends were introduced to other parts of the country. The cosmopolitan nature and its viability for commerce allowed cross-cultural affinities to thrive, especially in terms of musical culture.
While the likes of Tunde King were setting the pace for palm wine highlife, a highly talented young man called Irewolede Denge created melodies from social commentaries and praise singing as he walked the streets of Lagos, playing some really guitar with which he accompanied himself on vocals. He was a praise singer all right but he influenced a whole generation of singers in Lagos and helped to establish a cultural identity for Lagosians in terms of the nuance and idiosyncrasies that characterised his musical performance. This was the culture from which the like of Ayinde Bakare, Tunde Western Nightingale, Ambrose Campbell, Julius Araba among others emerged to give the evolution and development of highlife a big boost.
One of the most influential of the early bands was the West African Rhythm Band formed by Ambrose Campbell in 1947 with a group of ex-service men and students, specifically, to create a new ‘Africanised’ dance music in response to the smooth Western big bands. With an instrumental line up including shekere (Shaker), talking drum and mandolin to accompany Campbell’s drums, and guitar, they brought a diversity of indigenous folk music into the spotlight as a measure of Nigerian culture, and belief. The band became one of Nigeria’s early highlife champions, but in the early 1950s Campbell travelled to England where he made a new career, reinterpreting his abalabi rhythms and developing multi-cultural fusion with musicians from various parts of the world. At the time, there was half a dozen African clubs in London’s Solo district where musicians could link up with brothers from the Caribbean, American and Europe. Campbell settled into a residency at the Club Afrique and backed up his live work with regular releases on the Melodisc label, thereby becoming the first to popularise highlife in Europe and America.
On the home front, however, big band highlife began to take root as the Tempos Band of Ghana, led by Emmanuel Tetteh Mensah introduced its Ghanaian version to Nigeria, with frequent visits to Lagos. Bobby Benson who was now leading his Jam Session outfit was the first to be influenced; and as a contemporary of Ambrose Campbell started out playing regular ballroom dance and swing music spiced with jive, Sambas and Calypsos.

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4 Responses to “Origin of Nigerian Music (1)”

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  2. Uduma Kalu Says:

    Lost my password. I got this from obiwu: I think it helps: Uduma Kalu: http://dailytimes.com.ng/opinion/oriental-brothers-boko-haram
    From the Oriental Brothers to Boko Haram
    blog | May 1, 2012 – 10:52am | By Obiwu

    Everyone would wonder where the connection lies between the most peaceful and widely beloved, revolutionary band in the history of Nigerian music, and a bloody band of religious murderers in Northern Nigeria. We can’t, of course, see the connection between the two, unless we understand the deep structure meaning of the music of the Oriental Brothers International Band. Benson Idonije’s “Tribute to Ezebuiro Obinna, the Highlife Warrior” (The Guardian, February 22, 2012) several times leads us to the edge of that meaning, but quickly hedges at every turn. It is my purpose, therefore, to lead us to the hot bottom, if not the abyss, of where Idonije – and others – fears to tread.

    In the aforementioned essay, Idonije does not mince words in tearing into the “emergent musical generation” whom he accuses of “griping in the dark, experimenting with foreign idioms.” He rightly serenades the Oriental Brothers’ lead singer, Warrior, as a model for the triumph of “cultural relevance” and “total identification” with one’s roots. Yet, Idonije recoils – like a snail or a centipede sensing a crouching danger ahead – from telling us how Warrior found greatness by taking “advantage of the circumstances that prevailed at the time.” He eschewed informing his readers either how this “most successful artiste” designed his “music for mass appeal,” or how Warrior “achieved this great feat by endearing himself to all.” Even when he almost gives it away, Idonije manages to wriggle out of his dreaded bind by caving to obfuscation: “He was known in show business simply as ‘Warrior’ perhaps because of his extremely powerful vocal ability and domineering stage presence.”

    Idonije would have been right if, indeed, the adoring fans were in any way responsible for the invention of the famous “Warrior” moniker for Christogonus Ezebuiro Obinna. They were absolutely not. In fact, one would have liked to ask Idonije if the fans were also responsible for bestowing on the Oriental’s co-founder General Dan Satch Opara his own “General” moniker? Did the fans also give their band its very Eastern signifying name of “Oriental”? It is either that Idonije didn’t think through a few of his responses, or he deliberately chooses to give in to convenience. Some could, of course, advance the implausible logic that Idonije does not deserve the harshness of criticism, since aspects of the Oriental Brothers’ historiography would more amply reward a critic with geopolitical contiguity to both the subject and the experience.

    In any event, it goes without saying that the circumstance that made Warrior a “Warrior,” also made General Dan Satch a “General” even before the two emerged on the post-Biafran Nigerian music scene. Dan Satch had served as a member of the Biafran Theater Troupe under the leadership of the revered Professor Sonny Oti during the Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970. (Oti, who was my senior colleague and mentor at the University of Jos, would become notable for his highly successful 1978 highlife album with Nelly Uchendu, Late Nite Husband – AKA Wakabout and his equally successful 1982 drama, Evangelist Jeremiah. See also his posthumous 2009 book, Highlife Music in West Africa). The Biafran troupe was the official performance cast that entertained dignitaries and soldiers at respective state banquets and theaters of war throughout Biafra. It functioned more as a travelling theatre of music and composition.

    Apart from the extensive musical pedigree of Dan Satch (who never called himself “General” before Biafra!), Kabaka, Warrior, and the other founding members of the band, like most Igbo youth within Biafra, were deeply immersed in the musical adventurism of the heroic moment. The three famous musical genres of the Biafran youth were “merengue,” the “bongo,” and of course the war songs. But, depending on the cultural region, such genres as “kokoma,” “nkotonko,” “ese,” and of course the so-called “native blues” and the palm wine types. There was hardly any Biafran youth who was not familiar with one or more of these genres. Though differing in composition, instrumentation, social gathering, and performativity, almost all the genres had the same appeal as morale boosters in the face of unimaginable human suffering.

    It was from this montage of the familiar that the post-Biafran highlife music came into being. Though Osadebe’s highlife also became famous post-Biafra, his age and experience would ensure that he was closer to the more measured pre-war highlife of Israel Njemanze, Rex Lawson, and Celestine Ukwu than the high voltage and brazen “Mangala” “Apama,” and “Ofe Owerri”-jumble of Kabaka, Warrior, and Dan Satch. Thus, when Ben Okri says (in reference to the judicial lynching of Ken Saro-Wiwa) that, “If you look deeply, everything breaks your heart”; and when the cannibal serial killer says in the Steven Seagal movie, that there is nothing funny about the arm of a clown; they are both speaking about the searing Biafran roots of the Oriental Brothers Band.

    When in 1966 Celestine Ukwu dared to cover the Niger Delta, Rex Lawson’s 1964 famous allegorical song, “Ewu Na Ebe Akwa,” Nigeria was thrown into the first black-on-black genocide in history, during which fifty thousand Igbo were murdered in cold blood in Northern Nigeria, beginning with Jos, Plateau State. When in 1976 the Oriental Brothers dared to join the national grief by releasing an eponymous dirge, “Murtala Muhammad,” to mourn the slaying of the military president by a Northern Nigerian junta under the leadership of Colonel Buka Suka Dimka, the coup plotter’s kinsmen in Plateau State brutally assaulted the group during the song’s launching at Ambassador Hotel in Jos. In other words, the Oriental Brothers Band comes the closest in awakening the people to the post-war consciousness that the demise of the geopolitical state of Biafra did not mean the end of the Biafra of the mind. That is where the present continuous Boko Haram extremist Islamic sect’s mass murders in Northern Nigeria, again beginning with Jos, comes in. But that is another story.

  3. james Says:

    fuck u!!!!!

  4. Jessica Says:

    Boring. No 1 likes this site thanks

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