Friday, June 30, 2006

Soul Food

We love music, and like good wine - the older the better, the rarer the more better. It doesn't really matter who made it; if the rythmn is right, we consider it food for the soul.

The Chiawas may claim no record labels yet, but we've got our ears tuned to good music, old skool and modern jamz alike. The only member of the family who had come closest to making music was Cyprain Ozochiawaeze, of blessed memory. He made melodies in his time, and his favourite instrument was the guiter. It is also on record that he taught Gentleman Mike Ejeagha, of the Akuko n'Egwu series, how to play the guiter.

Appreciating good music is significant in many ways. In an interview with Upbeat (the Program Guide) of the New Jersey based WBGO Jazz FM in 2000, Obi Taiwan Ozochiawaeze noted that:
"...Jazz music helped me survive the ravages of childhood civil war (the Biafra War)."
Special tribute must go to one distant Radio Station which at that time consistently rolled out a brand of Congo jazz music, and which was simply referred to as Santa Isabel.

By the time the war ended in 1970, many tunes made popular by that Radio Station had become anthems for the Biafran cause. Subsequently, by popular demand, the Radio Station in Enugu (the Eastern Nigeria Broadcasting Service, later East Central Broadcasting Service "ECBS"), ravaged by the war, was reactivated to promote this spirit. The Station devoted one hour daily, of premium broadcasting time, solely to Congo and East Africa music. Dubbed "ECBS-by-One", this programme endured variously as "ABC-by-One" and as "ESBS-by-One", as Nigerian politics began to carve up the Igbo nation.

Later, local parlance would rename this brand of music to: Ikwo-kiri-kwo, Ikwo-maleku, or simply Ikwo. It remains popular with old timers and connoiseurs, who choose to worship Lord Bacchus at special joints where local brews are sold and enjoyed. To date, you do not need a wrist watch to tell that it is 1.00pm when in Enugu. This relic of the Biafran war would certainly remind you of the time, as the spirit of Santa Isabel takes the airwaves. OK Jazz, or Yokolo assuredly would filter out from one radio or another, as devotees turn up the volume.

In the Nigerian setting, people from this part of the world go absolutely loco for music from other lands, and I'm not talking about pop music. Language holds no barrier. For instance, Ghana music became popular here in the days of The Ramblers Dance Band, City Boys, Okuku Sekou, etc. When Okuku Sekou came to play at Aba, the group had to relocate their base permanently to the Enyimba City and then to Onitsha, out of sheer demand for their brand of music. I do not know of any other region in the country where this is possible. Hence, it is very rare to see a yoruba taxi driver in Lagos playing Osita Osadebe in his vehicle when he has his apala, juju, or fuji on board. (You're not likely to find a yoruba taxi driver in Enugu). As for the mallam in Lagos minding his little corner kiosk, or setting up the evening for his suya spot, he's got the ubiquitous transistor radio by his ear. That tiny radio has never echoed any sound from Sir Warrior. It is permanently fixed to BBC Hausa service, Radio Nigeria Kaduna, or some other station from the northern part of the country, just as assuredly as he would were he in his home state.

But does one have to be a good singer to appreciate a good song? Ndigbo enjoy music by other people, but they also make good music. The early 70s witnessed the greatest surge of talent in the Nigerian music scene. Those were the hay days of - One World, The Wings, Semi-Colon, Ofege, The Apostles, Wrinker's Experience, The Doves, Strangers, Founders 15, Sweet Breeze, etc. Most of these talents and musical groups originated from Aba. Their days saw some of the highest forms of Nigerian pop music. But they left the scene just as they arrived - in a flash. Today, you are filled with a heavy sense of nostalgia any time you hear their music.

And those tunes are so hard to come by! Somebody should please locate and re-master them all on dolby digital CDs, MP3, or whatever, retaining their originality. They should be properly packaged and made available to us, even Online; please, not the kind of low quality stuffs that come out of Alaba International Market and Idumota. Ditto for music from such talents as Sunny Okosuns, Chris Okotie, Dora Ifudu, Bongos Ikwue, etc; including also music from the enduring Highlife maestros. One easily recalls such legends as Celestine Ukwu, Osita Osadebe, Victor Olaiya, Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson, Oriental Brothers, Ebenezer Obey, Peacock International, Prince Nico Mbarga, etc. These classics should never be adulterated! It is revealing that when the BBC conducted a worldwide search in 2005 for the most popular African music track (African Anthem), the title fell to Prince Nico Mbarga's "Sweet Mother". Evergreens endure from generation to generation.

Imagine, I was able to locate and secure Otis Reading's "Security" among other tracks that I consider rare, but I've searched forever for one title by Fela Kuti, known as "Dog Eat Dog". This is an instrumental number - which some people believe they've heard - but which nobody seems to know where to find! While on the subject, anyone who knows where I can lay hands on such rare titles as "Baby Pancake" (I forget the artist), "Opi Igwe" (again I forget the artist), "Bonsuwe" (Olaiya), should please point the way to me!

Nigerian music today is in quite a state. Gospel singers, Copycats of Western hip-hop and R&B, and blends of 'Africa and everything else', all leave your ears tingling and confused! I guess we have to make do with what the day provides. But now and again, a real star does shine forth. Perhaps the future is still bright? Fela (Abami Eda) may yet be the most popular Nigerian musician, but talents like Sade and Seal (if we claim them as ours) remain in a class of their own.

Hey, it's time to change that CD! How can you write all this while listening to Chuck Mangione!

Hmmm, if music be the food of life, play me more!

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