The soundtrack of the end of the Nigeria/Biafra war may be found in one song, “Happy Survival” by a previously little-known artiste, Ifeanyi Eddy Okwedi released by EMI. The people who for many months had lived under the sound of the gun, debilitating kwashiorkor, and untimely death, craved for the sound of music. In the territory that used to be known as Republic of Biafra, where most of the war had been fought, “Happy Survival” was played on East Central Broadcasting Service (ECBS), Enugu, all day long. ECBS which used to broadcast as Radio Biafra was the only radio station in the region.
East Central State which was created by the military was made up of the present-day Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Anambra and Enugu States. Life suddenly was good for the recording industry in Nigeria as people had incredible appetite for fun. Do not forget that the end of the war coincided with the beginning of the oil boom era in Nigeria, a time when one of Nigeria’s leaders was quoted as saying that Nigeria’s problem was “not money but how to spend it”!
In the early 1970s, the studios of Decca West Africa, at Lawani Street, Abule Oja, Yaba, near the University of Lagos main gate, was the place to be for any artiste with any serious intent of making it big in Juju music. At this time, the forerunners of the juju sound such as the great I.K. Dairo (MBE), Tunde Nightingale, Dele Ojo and Ojoge Daniel seemed to have reached their peak.
The mild mannered but prodigiously talented Ebenezer Obey seized the opportunity with both hands. While he had done quite well with songs like “Olomi Gbo Temi” in the mid-sixties, his dominance of the juju music scene became quite profound after the war as his miliki sound finally had a chance to spread round the country. Record stores scattered all over Nigeria were ceaselessly blasting Obey’s “miliki” on their loudspeakers. The major distributors of Decca such as Shanu Olu Trading Stores in Lagos, Right Time Stores in Onitsha and Anodisc in Aba would have sold more copies of Obey’s massive hit, “Board Members” than any other record they had ever handled.
The only real challenge to Obey’s dominance of the juju scene was the rapidly emerging ‘master guitarist’, Sunny Ade who was then recording for a private label, TYC-African Songs, owned by Chief Bolarinwa Abioro. Sunny Ade’s guitar wizardry and stage craft became the talk of the town. For much of the 1970s and early 80s, the juju music scene was owned by “Obey” loved by many for his sonorous voice and terrific compositions and “Sunny”, idolized for his unmatched showmanship.
One of the big surprises at Decca, in the early 1970s was the monumental success of a group of five otherwise unassuming young men from Mbaise in what was then known as East Central State. “Oriental Brothers International Guitar Band” led by Godwin Kabaka Opara, played a very unpretentious brand of guitar driven Highlife. Their acceptance, especially by the Igbos who had emerged from the Biafran war, was total and with about the same passion that the Igbos embraced Rangers International Football Club of Enugu. The Oriental Brothers lead singer, Sir Warrior, became a folk figure and every line sung by him was analyzed, memorized and sung along by Igbos everywhere. Oriental Brothers released hits after hits like “Iheoma”, “Nwa Ada Di Mma”, “Anam Elechi”, “Onye Oma Mmadu”, etc. While Decca released quite a number of artistes on their ‘Afrodisia’ label, it was the young men from Mbaise that made ‘Afrodisia’ a household name.
Decca also had a major hit in a mixed grill release by the Ghanaian group “Ramblers Dance Band”. “Ramblers” which was essentially a Highlife band had surprise success in a rehash of Eddie Floyd’s song, “Knock on Wood”.
Unfortunately, a few years after their breathtaking success, “Oriental Brothers International Guitar Band” broke into three, each keeping the Oriental Brothers name. One of the groups was led by lead guitarist and band leader, Godwin Kabaka Opara. Another was led by second guitarist, Dan Satch Opara. The third group was led by lead singer, Sir Warrior Obinna. To their many fans, the situation was very confusing. Eventually, most of them stuck with the group led by Sir Warrior, if only to prove that while the guitar was important, it was the unique voice of Sir Warrior that determined the authentic “Oriental Brothers”.
The Decca Afrodisa Studios at Abule Oja, Yaba also gained great reputation for good sound. The studio became the 1st choice of many Nigerian artistes. Their engineers, Emma Akpabio, LAK Adeniran, John Malife and Martin Ikebuaku were busy all year round not just cooking the music of Decca artistes but baking hits for other artistes in search of the Afrodisia ‘clean sound’. It was at the Decca Afrodisia studio that the great Cameroonian born superstar, Manu Dibango, came from his base in Paris to work with Odion Iruoje to record the album, “Home Made”. The studio was initially driven by an 8-track 3M equipment updated to 16 tracks and later by a 24-track Studer recorder and a super multi-channel Neve console.
While TYC -African Songs lost the now influential Sunny Ade, it gained Sikiru Ayinde Barrister who had turned what was essentially an Islamic religious music form to a mainstream popular music type called Fuji which was adopted and helped to spread by artistes like Kollington Ayinla and King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall (KWAM 1). Subsequently, Sunny Ade’s music was released on Sunny Alade Records, Sunny’s own label, which records were distributed by Mutmokson Trading Company owned by Ola Kassim, who was also doing well with General Prince Adekunle and the gospel group, “Good Women’s Choir C.A.C.”, Ibadan under his ‘Ibukun Orisun Iye’ label
Other artistes on several record labels developed by Nigerian entrepreneurs also achieved substantial success. At Olumo Records, Dele Abiodun joined the juju music conversation, Kollington Ayinla became a major factor in fuji music; and Oliver De Coque exploded with his fiery guitar and his well-manicured beard, first with “Peoples Club”, “Birika Mbiri” and then with the unforgettable song, “Identity”. Lateef Adepoju’s Leader Records was responsible for initiating the music of the waka music queen, Salawa Abeni.
In the mid-1970s, Ola Kassim’s Mutmokson launched the recording careers of two young juju musicians, Shina Peters and Segun Adewale who together came to be known as Sir Shina Adewale before Shina Peters went solo and took the nation by storm with the bombshell called Afro Juju.
Aba, which had always been a major player in Nigerian music, produced two major labels. Ben Okonkwo’s Clover Sounds had quite some success with several artistes including “The Doves” and “The Apostles”. The other label was the Anodisc label owned by gentleman, Simeon Anochie who successfully brought back old war horse, Joe Nez with several good recordings, such as “Business Trip” and “My landlady” in which he was backed by the group, “The Friimen Music Co.”. Using the same backing group, Anodisc practically set the tone for the commercial success of gospel music in Nigeria, with a chain of fast selling recordings of the duo of Emma and Lazarus, professionally known as “Voice of the Cross”. “The Friimen Music Co.” was also the backing group on the first recording of the young lady who would become perhaps the first nationally successful mainstream female singer in Nigeria. “Freedom”, the first recording of Christiana Essien, as Christy Essien Igbokwe was then called, was a runaway success for the Anodisc label. The second, “Patience” was even better.
Elsewhere in Enugu, another indigenous label, Homzy Sounds struck gold with the sweet folksy voice of another female singer, Nelly Uchendu. Her recordings of the songs, “Love Nwantinti” and “Wakabout” launched her career as a serious national star, ultimately producing for her the national award of the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON). If Homzy Sounds struck gold, the Onitsha based, Rogers All Stars label came home with a bag of diamonds. Their recording of the group, “Ikenga Superstars of Africa”, a breakaway group from Stephen Osita Osadebe’s band, went straight to the top of the charts. “Ikenga” had a unique sound that was a combination of traditional highlife rhythm with Congolese sukus guitar riffs. The music kept people dancing nonstop. Using the same basic recipe, Rogers All Stars came out with what should be the most successful recording in the history of the Nigerian music industry. “Sweet Mother”, the sound of Prince Nico Mbarga and the “Rocafil Jazz Orchestra” captured the imagination of everyone, young and old. The rhythm was good and the lyrics gave new meaning to motherhood. For months and months, it was impossible to get away from “Sweet Mother, I no go forget you!”. “Sweet Mother” which has been rehashed by many artistes globally, is one of those songs that emerged in a moment of profound inspiration.
Next week, we will review the investments in facilities and equipment across the country, that helped propel the recording industry and the products of such investments. The Rise of the Nigerian Recording Industry and the Talents that Propelled it is a series, each of about a thousand words. No installment contains all the information. I have noticed that some of my readers, after reading just one installment, conclude that X, Y or Z, may have been omitted when X, Y or Z have been dealt with in previous installments or slated for future installments. Do try and read all the installments. Thank you everyone for reading.