CHRIS AJILO – “The Scholar”
Elder statesman Chris Ajilo, was a music scholartrained at the London school of music who came up under the tutelage of British Saxophone legend Johnny Dankworth. He returned to Lagos in the mid 1950’s to start up his own outfit, Chris Ajilo and The Cubanos, and to share some of his newly acquired knowledge with locally, untrained musicians.
He branched out into production during the 70’s, lending his formidable skills to a number of hit records notably those of Igbo Highlife musician, Osita Osadebe, with whom he scored the multi million selling Osondi Owendi. He later went on to become the chief A&R manager of Polygram records, Nigeria, overseeing the careers of several of the country’s most successful recording artists as well as head of the Performing Rights Society of Nigeria before retiring in 2007.
VICTOR OLAIYA – “The Evil Genius”
As one of highlife music’s brightest stars, Victor Olaiya’s influence was indeed vast and far flung. His biggest break came when he was selected to headline the inaugural ball celebrating Nigeria’s independence from British colonial rule.
The ball which was attended by a plethora of world leaders was memorable for a number of reasons, chief among them being the chorus of protest that rang loud and clear from his musical peers who didn’t think him worthy of such an opportunity and not to mention his family’s outrage at being kept completely in the dark about his burgeoning musical career in the first place. A witty lyricist whose music cleverly showcased the heady optimism and hope many Nigerians felt following the nations independence, his biggest hit, ‘Omo Pupa’, was a delightful ode to his preference for the lighter toned sisters, but truth was he loved ‘em in all shades and hues.
Tony Allen – “Allenco”
As a lifelong Fela fan, I’d always marveled at the sheer complexity of Afrobeat music. It’s urgent nature which demanded rapt attention, those off key and jarring horns, the sexy call and response vocals and of course Fela’s witty and original voice and lyrics. But without a doubt, it was the sheer primal nature of the music’s rhythm which caught my attention the most.
Together with Fela Kuti, legendary drummer, Tony Allen crafted some of the past century’s most original music. As a drummer think Art Blakey meets Max Roach, meets Elvin Jones combined with a slice of the gut bucket funk of say, Buddy Miles. Explosive, wildly adventurous, and unmistakably African, Tony Allen’s forever shifting polyrhythmic grooves perfectly underscored Fela’s voice and music to yield such classics as ‘Zombie’, ‘Roforofo Fight’ and many others. Whilst Fela’s was the voice and face behind Afrobeat, Tony Allen was it’s heartbeat.
E.C. ARINZE – “The Statesman”
We rounded off our eastern tour with the very last of Nigeria’s highlife big band leaders, the legendary E.C. Arinze. His eyes lit up as we walked in and he pulled out his axe for yet another blow. “Old solider neva die” he proudly exclaimed as he proceeded to warm up his chops. Needless to say, we were literally blown away as he took us down the bubbling Nigeria of his youth as well as the turbulent civil war years.
Arinze proudly held sway with his band at the Empire Hotel, Lagos during highlife music’s golden era in the early late 1950’s & early 1960′s. He was the nation’s official bandleader and quite possibly the only musician comfortable enough to play a Waltz, Bolero, Foxtrot or native blues for visiting dignitaries.
PA FATAI ‘ROLLING DOLLAR – “The Rascal”
At 84, Fatai Rolling Dollar represents one of the very last of his generation. A leading exponent of the Agidigbo (Yoruba Street Music) genre, his career started out in the early 1950’s.
A self confessed rascal, his remarkable journey saw his early rise to notoriety cut short following the Nigerian military government’s brutal reprisal attack on Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti’s commune (The Kalakuta Republic) in 1977. During the ensuing drama, his entire means of livelihood was destroyed. Broke and virtually destitute, the next 25 years saw him sink to heart breaking low depths. His eventual redemption and successful return to the spotlight attest to his indomitable spirit and enduring appeal.
TONY ODILI – “The Conguero”
As can be seen, the eyes tell it all. The Elders Corner film project finally wormed it’s way to the eastern corner of Nigeria to catch up with the oldest active conguero in the Niger Delta, Tony Odili. Octogenarian Tony Odili was a founding member of Cardinal Rex Lawson’s band and the last surviving member of the original outfit.
At 83 he stands firmly erect and remains extremely agile, something he attributes to his ongoing romance with the drums. As he put it,”To stay young, you need only play the drums”
Ebenezer Obey- “The Chief Commander”
After much hustling and flexing we finally caught up with Juju superstar Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey at his home in Lagos. He wove quite a musical tapestry chronicling his early musical beginnings with Adeolu Akinsanya’s Rio Lindo Orchestra as well as a memorable stint with Agidigbo maestro, Fatai “Rolling Dollar”, to eventual superstardom in the 70′s.
Chief Ebenezer Obey’s reign as Juju music superstar coincided with Nigeria’s period of flush decadence during the oil boom years and no high brow party in the nation was complete without a performance by either of the then leading Juju music superstars, the chief commander himself or his contemporary, King Sunny Ade.
LIJADU SISTERS – “The Diviners”
Enthralling, regal and surreal are the few words that come to mind as we recalled our recent encounter with the Lijadu sisters.
Near identical, sisters Taiwo and Kehinde were among the very first female entertainers one saw on Nigerian television whilst growing up in the 1970’s. Decades later, they still managed to hold us completely spellbound as they completed each others sentences and burst into song mid sentence in near perfect harmony whilst taking us way back down the Nigeria of our youth.
Their uncompromising stance in a male dominated industry has meant they’ve had to fight some pretty tough battles. That notwithstanding, they remain unbowed and a welcome addition to Elder’s Corner. Ase!
MARY AFI USUAH – “The Diva”
Name checked by Ellington, toured with the likes of legendary rock group, Led Zeppelin and Aretha Franklin as well as a graduate of one of the most prestigious Italian music conservatory’s in Rome. Opera trained, Mary Afi Usuah was on the cusp of superstardom in Europe when she forsook all to serve country and flag in Nigeria during the early 1970′s.
Super versatile and chic, she effortlessly blended indigenous efik folk melodies with jazz and pop music and was a source of pride and inspiration to countless other singers who came in her wake. She remains widely admired by her peers both at home and abroad.
ORLANDO ‘OJ’ JULIUS – “The Afro-Hi Giant”
Few artists have been as crucial to the invention, development, and popularization of Afro-pop than Orlando Julius. Starting in the ’60s, Julius was fusing traditional African sounds and rhythms with those of American pop, soul, and R&B.
Aside from performing and recording in his native Nigeria, he spent many years in the United States working on collaborations with Lamont Dozier, the Crusaders, and Hugh Masekela. His 1966 effort, Super Afro Soul, made him a national celebrity in Nigeria and even went so far as to influence music in the United States. The record’s dramatic, highly melodic incorporation of soul, pop, and funk was very much ahead of its time, and some say that Super Afro Soul helped shape the funk movement that swept over the United States in subsequent years.
PAULSON KALU – “The Philosopher”
Paulson Kalu’s golden pipes sure demand rapt attention. A soulful troubadour and witty philosopher, Kalu got his start backing Osita Osadebe who was quick to spot his burgeoning talents and encouraged a solo career.
His candid take on the take on the poor man’s demise in the face of the rich man’s excess on his debut classic, ‘Okwudili’, rings ever so true in the world we live in today. What with the recent occupy movements that have swept across the globe.
Mr Kalu waxed philosophical on a great many issues confronting us all here in Nigeria and the world at large during his Elder’s Corner interview feature.
SALAWA ABENI – “The Prodigy”
You never forget your first recording session, especially as a 13yr old child prodigy. Waka queen, Salawa Abeni burst unto the scene in the late 70’s and broke with an age old tradition by choosing to stand whilst performing live as opposed to the laid back, sit and croon style adopted by the many griots who’d come before her. Thus begun her joyous reign as the darling of Waka music.
To watch and hear her hold sway over an ensemble of seasoned male percussionists was quite a sight to behold and a memorable treasure for me us particular. We truly adore.
Monomono- “The Gifted”
After much painstaking research and investigative work, we were finally able to catch up and gather together key members of seminal Afro, Psychedelic outfit, ‘Monomono’ in California for Elders Corner.
Joni Haastrup and other members of the group hadn’t played together in over 30 years and were only too happy to sit and share with us their amazing musical journey which started in Nigeria and eventually found its way to the US.
They also got to lay down a blistering rendition of ‘Tire Loma Da Nigbehin’ taken off of their Dawn of Awareness LP with yours truly on vocals. A definite highlight thus far.
JIMI SOLANKE – “The Griot”
Playwright, actor, activist and folk singer Jimi Solanke is one of Nigeria’s national treasures.
A compelling orator and stage actor, Solanke together with nobel laureate Wole Soyinka were founding members of the unique artist collective ‘Mbari Mbayo’ founded in Ibadan in 1961.
His pioneering work with children in the decade plus long TV series ‘Storyland’ and his ongoing bid to preserve Nigeria’s history, language and culture make him a truly remarkable and compelling subject.
VICTOR UWAIFO – “The Genius”
Singer, songwriter, multi instrumentalist, sculpturer, painter, inventor, athlete, self proclaimed genius,…… Victor Uwaifo was the first African to be awarded a gold disc for his 1965 hit ‘Joromi’. According to him, a childhood, seaside encounter with a mermaid spurned his followup hit, ‘Guitar Boy’.
A restless musical Enigma whose sound drew heavily upon the folky rhythms and melodies of his Edo roots, Uwaifo’s music ruled Nigeria’s airwaves throughout the late 1960′s and well into the 1970′s. His dazzling showmanship and stage performances continue to win him fans and accolades globally.
THE ORIENTAL BROTHERS – “Kings of The East”
Dan Satch and his cohorts named themselves the Oriental Brothers to signify their eastern Nigerian heritage. Their sound evolved out of the congolese guitar bands that became increasingly popular and highly influential in west Africa during the early 1970′s. It also showcased some of the intricate polyrhythmic patterns that typified Igbo Highlife music.
The Oriental Brothers’ music was the perfect antidote that helped to soothe some of the wounds of the brutal Biafran civil war that killed millions and threatened to divide the country.
IKENGA SUPERSTARS OF AFRICA – “The Ikengas”
The Ikenga superstars got their start as members of highlife superstar Osita Osadebe’s backing band. They jumped ship mid tour in London whilst accompanying him to start their own outfit, The Ikenga Superstars of Africa.
Their music effortlessly blended elements of Congolese guitar blues, psychadelic funk/rock and highlife, into a potent brew of ethnic funk they termed, “Ikwokirikwo” (ee-kwor-kee-ree-kwor).
Heavily driven by native percussion and fuzzy guitars, their breakout hit, “Ikenga Go Marry Me” took the West African coast by storm and remains a floor filler to this day.
BLACKMAN AKEEB KAREEM – “The Voice”
We finally found the ‘voice’. It belongs to none other than that of “Blackman” Akeeb Kareem.
Still haunting, gritty and ever so soulful after years of adventure, uncle Akeeb didn’t skip a beat as he took us way down memory lane with his tales of adventure including an honorable stint representing Nigeria at the worlds Youth & Students Festival of Arts and Culture held in Cuba back in ’78 and beautifully captured on his rare classic LP “Abode Cuba”. Expect to hear a lot more from the maestro in the coming months.
Segun Bucknor – “The Soulster”
Segun Bucknor rocked our world with his splendid ode to the many who dared to go completely bald in sun soaked Nigeria during the 70′s. His Afrodub classic. “Adanri Sogba” tastefully captured the attitude and bravura that accompanied the trend.
Highly regarded among his peers and music afficionado’s worldwide for his impeccable musical taste and artistry, one need only take in a slice of his much sought after recordings “Who Say I Tire” to see why.
Segun Bucknor’s arrival unto the burgeoning Nigerian music scene in the early 70′s following a stint at New York’s Columbia University was a welcome addition. His sound was by far ‘Rootsier’ and a ton more organic than that of his many contemporaries.
ETUBOM REX WILLIAMS – “The Jazzy Minister”
Man, Etubom Rex Williams sure can blow. With headphones on, I forgot to turn down my levels and then he kissed his horn. Sweet Jesus!!!! Crisp, clear and piercing, my toes curled as he swung into one of his early classics. Even Louis Armstrong took notice during his heady tour of West Africa in 1960.
Few of Williams’ contemporaries could match his strength, clarity and lyricism as evident on many of his early classics most of which are now rare as hens teeth. A much anticipated studio engagement should help rectify that shortly.