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Our exploration of Bini music from Nigeria continues, but this time purchased close to home, in one of the numerous African stores hiding in the folds of our periphery, external to the capital.
There are many good reasons to write about Edo – or Bini – music, most important is because the Edo community is one of the most numerous represented amongst the Africans residing in Italy.
The second reason is due to the Benin Empire and it’s ancient civilization, the most complex and refined of the whole African continent, but at the same time about it’s history, richness and traditional culture there is little information found outside the specialized circuits. One of the reasons for Bini culture for being not known beyond the borders of the Edo State is due to the small dimensions of it’s diaspora, due to the fact that during the centuries the Benin Empire acted actively in order to limit the sale to the close Portuguese populations of it’s own people as slaves, and subsequently their transfer to a new world. It in fact seems that the physical markers; Iwu, who sign off the Bini ethny was represented by cuts on the faces and bodies, was instituted by Oba Ehengbuda – king warrior of Edo who lived in the XVI century – also with the aim of making the Bini recognizable to the slave merchants, so they knew what danger they were facing by buying them. The empire’s army and the population were encouraged to favor and organize the liberation of the Bini slaves who were still in African lands.
But this and other ancient stories will be subject to further and future in depth writings. Here we only want to simply share fragments of music of one of the great Nigerian musicians of Bini ethnic who contributed to the extraordinary musical highlife scene during the 70ies, which was the period of African cultures and history which we will never celebrate enough. The musician is called Collins Oke Elaiho & His Odoligie Nobles.
The geographic position of Edo State – exactly halfway between Lagos and the great Yoruba cities west of the Delta of Niger, where the Igbo influence begins – allows their modern music to space into their traditional musical forms represented by long suites for voices and percussions, the highlife sonorities mixed together with the urban Lagos music, from juju to afro beat.
The genius of the modern Bini music is Sir Victor Uwaifo, who created an extraordinary synthesis between highlife, afro beat and traditional Edo rhythms which he called Ekassa. Thanks to his music today we have an idea, although vague, of the courts’ rhythms that were played during the imperial festivities starting from the palace of the Oba up to Benin City, and by the vocal compositions which told stories of people and explained a correct way of living, organized by a big tolerance around ancient harmonies.
About Collins Oke – one of his tracks is contained inside the first compilation of the Nigeria Special series by Soundway – we know he was a Bini star since the beginning of the 70ies, just soon after Victor Uwaifo, with whom he competed for art and fame. Uwaifo’s fans would say that Oke copied his Ekassa Sound, but notwithstanding the similarities it seems to us that Odoligie Nobles had all the numbers to propose brilliant music which was also originally played.
Two of Collins Oke’s records happened to end up in our hands. Produced by Supreme Disk of Benin City they are both of the beginning of the 80ies period. Yabomwen (originally Ekimogun Sounds, EKLP 138) is dated 82, while Oke’ 83 (SDP 044) dates the following year. In both those albums the line up is of the Nobles and it is the classic of the highlife band, made up of two guitars, bass, drums, two or three percussions and a wind section made up of saxophone, trumpet and naturally the solo voice of Oke and the choir.
But Oke’s sound cannot be defined highlife, notwithstanding its influence which is present is the light melodies of the guitar and the trumpet solos, which has always been the queen instrument of this genre both in Nigeria and Ghana. The grove that comes out is acid, due to the rough digitalization low-fi of the old vinyl, schizophrenic and exalted, a sort of afro beat dominated by the two guitar lines – the rhythmic and the tenor guitar– and by the voices of the high and uncertain registries of Oke, a sort of Nigerian Byrne – concentrated on the fascinating laments of a language full of vocals and sweet consonants slightly accented.
Those who know more than superficially Nigerian music can discover that Oke’s music is an original mix of the many musical trends of the country at that time, with its funk marked accents and a strong Bini imprint, especially in the singing and lyrics. For those who cannot distinguish the ingredients, the dirty music of the Nobles can sound anyway stimulating and the songs we propose here can be listened like a story, of people and of a past time but certainly not gone, as demonstrated by the fact that this music is sold and listened to by adults and young Nigerians today.
Author: Collins Oke & His Odoligie Nobles
Label: Ekimogun Sounds
Author: Collins Oke-Elaiho
Title: Oke '83
Label: Supreme Disk
Collins Oke Elaiho & His Odoligie Nobles
Hedzoleh Soundz & Sweet Talks
22 February 2011
16 February 2011
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The last compilation from Analog Africa is this time dedicated to the Angolan sound during the period of war for independence that runs from 1968 to 78. Listening to it has sweetly touched me.
We have already spoken about this music, but not enough. “During the 60ies, while the rest of Africa was getting rid of colonialism, the fascist Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar did not want to give up to the war of independence fought by Angolans and other colonies. It was in fact since 1500 that Portugal had subdued Angola, whose population was used for centuries as slaves destined mainly to the Brazilian plantations. […] Since 1961 Salazar favored the movement of people and means to the colonies, he started initiatives aiming to the recognition of the indigenous cultures and began a politic of economic integration. It was then that the disco graphic state house CDA and la Voz de Angola arose, a national radio, which transmitted in local languages.
“The fight for liberty of the Portuguese colonies was part of the rumors during my youth, at the beginning of the 70ies, but not it’s music, it’s soundtrack. During those years all African music was shouting for the future, and lusophone Africa was not less. But in Europe it hardly reached, and in Italy beneath the Mediterranean silence was ruling.
“Pushed by many forces, the new Angolan music had in this period an expansion like never before. In the musseques, the sandy suburbs of Luanda, in Sambizanga, Marcal, Bairro Operaio and Sao Paulo, local genres like samba and rebita, already mixed to the melancholic sound of the Portuguese fado, would mix with foreign sounds like the Brazilian samba, the Congolese rumba or with rock. The protagonists were young urban electrified bands like Kiezos, Gingas, Jovens do Prendo, Ngoleiro do Ritmo and Bongos. Notwithstanding that much of this music was incarnating the independent fervor of the Angolan people, for a strange contingency it’s development was favored by the paternalistic politics of the despots.”
Compared to the pioneer Soul of Angola – antologies de la musique angolaise 1965 – 1975, produced by Lusafrica in 2001, this Angola Soundtrack benefits from the work done during those years by researchers, collectors, bloggers and DJ. This is how music seems to have been chosen and is to us proposed not only for it’s value as testimony of the past but like a sound made to revitalize the present, like new material for new experiences. This does not impress us. During the past ten years from Soul of Angola of the golden African period, quite a lot has been resuscitated and our capability of listening to it has refined.
“We have a guest here with us from Germany, he is here to buy music records from Sao Tome and Angola. Those black round plates that your father used to play, he should still have some under his bed or inside some cupboard. Ask them; ask your uncles ask you neighbors. “ This was the announcement from the national radio of Sao Tome as requested by Samy Ben Rejeb, inventor of Analog Africa.
As usual Samy catches out attention with the stories of his researches with the words of the authors of this music that proposes, but also with a short sage by Marissa Moorma, from the Indiana University, author of an important book on Angolan music called “Intonations: a Social History of Music and Nation in Luanda, Angola, 1945-Recent Times.” (Ohio University Press, 2008).
By reading we learn about the itinerant festivals that would take place in the musseque of Luanda starting from the 60ies. They were called Kutonaca and would bring each Saturday the best Angolan bands from one suburb to another of the city. It was in the Kutonaca that together with the ethnic pride and the independents’ ferment, the new Angolan sound appeared, and from those performances musicians of the new Angolan sound came out, and from those performances came the musicians that a few years later starting from the 60ies gave life to the disco scene mostly dignified, supported by a bunch of local labels.
Samy’s research starts in Sao Tome and goes to Luanda, Angola’s capital city and was supported by Ze Keno, solo guitar player of the legendary Jovens Do Prenda. Thanks to him Samy met groups like Kiezos, Bongos, Africa Show and Africa Ritmos, Santo Junior and many others, and managed to select songs from the old repertoires and also to pay adequately the rights to publish each track.
After the many Nigerian, Ghanaian and Beninese funky with which the characters of this strange market niche have delighted us in their last productions, the lusophone patchanka of Angola Soundtrack represents the garden of mature sounds and strange stimulations where I would have liked landing unconsciously. Psychedelic guitars and sobbing voices follow each other over rhythms of rebita, samba, son merengue, samba and rumba, spices originating from Angola or elsewhere – but the lusophone one is a world where many of the roots are in common – used by Samy for his groove explosive mix, bizarre perfumes that evoke new melancholic funk.
Tracce in ascolto:
1. Santos Júnior - “N´Gui Banza Mama”
2. Quim Manuel O Espirito Santo - “Eme Lelu”
3. Africa Ritmos - “Pica O Dedo”
Titolo: Angola Soundtrack - The unique sound of Luanda 1968-1978
Label: Analog Africa
1. Mamukueno - “Rei do Palhetinho”
2. Os Kiezos - “Comboio”
3. Jovens Do Prenda - “Ilha Virgem”
4. Zé Da Lua - “Ulungu Wami”
5. Os Bongos - “Pachanga Maria”
6. Dimba Diangola - “Tira Sapato”
7. Santos Júnior - “N´Gui Banza Mama”
8. N´Goma Jazz - “Mi Cantando Para Ti”
9. Ferreira Do Nascimento - “Macongo Me Chiquita”
10. David Zé - “Uma Amiga”
11. Jovens Do Prenda - “Farra Na Madrugada”
12. Os Korimbas - “Sémba Braguez”
13. Dimba Diangola - “Fuma”
14. Alliace Makiadi - “Passeio por Luanda”
15. Os Bongos - “Kazucuta”
16. Quim Manuel O Espirito Santo - “Eme Lelu”
17. Africa Ritmos - “Pica O Dedo”
18. Africa Show - “Massanga Mama”
07 February 2011
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Accra, Ghana, 6 March 1971. Thousands of people were packing up Black Star Square, while on the stage of the Soul to Soul Concert for two days the Ghanaian and Nigerians afro-rock and afro-soul bands alternate with the big stars of Afro-American soul. This is how Roerta Flack, The Voices of East Harlem, the Staple Singer, Ike and Tina Turner, Wilson Picket found themselves together – amongst other – Nigerians like Bio, Mono Mono, Ofo and Black Company and Ofege and the Ghanaian Guy Warren, Kwa Mensah, Boombaya, Zonglo Bliz, Sawaaba Soundz, Big Beats and Hedzoleh Soundz. It is like a big African Woodstock that takes place in a country that is a symbol of the independence and of pan-Africanism.
Ghanaian police were the wildest fans, often they didn’t manage to behave like they should while on service, and they would let themselves go to crazy dancing. It is not a case that the police had it’s own soul band named – Black Berets of the Recce Regiment – similar to something coming from a John Belushi film.
Amongst the American guests at the Soul to Soul there was also Carlos Santana, and his music something between rock and Latin American rhythms surprised young Ghanaians musicians just like Jimi Hendrix had done with his psychedelic guitar.
Amongst the group of the new Ghanaian scene of those years there were the Hedzoleh Soundz, who compared to the afro rock veteran Osibisa had developed a sound that reminded Africa and its traditional rhythms, even in a more explicit way. They were touched by the primordial sound of Carlos Santana’s band.
The story of Hedzoleh starts before the Soul-to-Soul concert, in 1970 in a nightclub of Accra known as Napoleon Club. The owner was a Lebanese called Faisal Helwani, born 1946, a real music lover. At 18 he created the F Promotion, with which he organized musical competitions for young bands called “Pop chains”. In 1968, when he was 22 – he formed his first group, El Sombraros, and started promoting Fela Kuti in Ghana, organizing the first tours of Koola Lobitos in this country.
Soon after, Faisal opened the Napoleon club, which originally was called Pagadeja. The Hedzoleh – that in the local language means freedom – was his first band, they were all young musicians who just came out from the Ghana Arts Council, like the bass player and singer Kwesi Stanley Todd, the flute player Nii Poumah and the percussion player Okyerema Asante. Their first album was in fact Hedzolleh, and the song Rekpete, which played highlife, was a great success.
Hedzoleh were made known to Hugh Masekela from Fela Kuti. After the release of the record introducing Hedzoleh Soundz, Masekela had the band accompany him in a tour in the States, where together they recorded the historical The Boys Doin’ It, the record where also Orland Julius plays, the record which definitely signed the change for afro-funk of Hugh Masekela.
The second group created by Faisal was the Bunzus, from which ashes came the Basa Basa Soundz, with whom he played and recorded Fela Kuti. Then Faisal launched Edikanfo, the afro-funk progressive band with which he recorded Brian Eno.
From 1974 the Napoleon Club was the most important club in Accra, a place where local musicians and international rock stars would meet, like Brian Eno, George Harrison and Mick Feetwod.
The first record from Hedzoleh was taken from the oblivion and reprinted by Soundway together with another lost gem. The Kusum Beat of the Sweet Talks. Miles Cleret, the little devil.
Sweet Talks were created in 1973 at the hotel Talk of the Town of Tema, thanks to A. B. Crentsil, voice, Smart Nkansah, guitar and Pope Flynn, voice which was later joined by another singer Jewel Ackah and the guitar player Eric Agyeman, who substituted Nkansah who was from that moment the protagonist of this new Ghanaian musical scene.
Crentsil was the leader of the band, author of the majority of the music and lyrics, whose voice was deep and hot and whose way of singing and of telling stories, mixed to alcohol, sex and daily life, represent the fundamental taste of the Sweet Talks music.
Became famous throughout the world for their American tour at the beginning of the 80ies – during which they recorded Holliwood Highlfe Party, icon record of the Ghanaian highlife music – in this case the Sweet Talks have dismissed the highlife clothing in order to have a sophisticated shape of afro-soul which is really worth listening.
So here are two resamples with which one can have fun, even if the best songs were already inserted in the compilation published by Soundway in the past years, Ghana soundz and Ghana Special. While keeping an African identity, their hybrid sound with sound and psychedelic Anglo-American solutions of the beginning of the 70ies became familiar and the taste recognizable even to the taste of our listeners.
But be careful, it seems the Hedzoleh Soundz never split up and that they are about to come back to produce music.
2. Yei Baa Gbe Wo
3. Languta (from Hugh Masekela - Introducing Hedzoleh)
4. Sasa Abonsam
5. Angelina (from Sweet Talks - Hollywood Highlife Party)
Author: Hedzoleh Soundz
Label: Soundway Records
2. Mee Bee (When)
3. Yei Baa Gbe Wo
4. Kaa Ye Oyai (Don’t be in a hurry)
5. Omusu Da Fe M’Musu
7. Hearts Ne Kotoko
8. Mo Oso Obu Naa
Author: Sweet Talks
Title: The Kusum Beat
Label: Soundway Records
2 .Mapam Sukuruwe
3. Eyi Su Ngaangaa
5. Sasa Abonsam
6. Kyekye Pe Aware
Director: Denis Sanders
Title: Soul To Soul Concert(DVD + CD)
Label: Rhino / Wea
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