4 Dec 2021

Nigeria

UPGRADE

A wonderful celebration of Nigerian music post independence at a time of hope and optimism. The fine musicianship and great spirit that the sound is drenched in makes this one of the best archeologies of African music I've heard for a few years. A real treat. -Rumbamal

Soul Jazz Records' new Nigeria Freedom Sounds! features a stunning selection of material spotlighting the vibrant musical scene in Nigeria at the start of the 1960s. With a wealth of musical and cultural history and newly independent from Britain, Nigerian music during this era was complex, diverse and forward-thinking, with musicians as excited in exploring their country's own musical lineage with styles such as Juju and Apala as they were in adapting and absorbing outside influences such as Ghanaian Highlife, Caribbean Calypsos and Mambo and more. This album features many of the defining artists of this time who helped shape the Nigerian musical scene. Artists include I.K. Dairo and his Blue Spots, Haruna Ishola and his Group, E.C. Arinze, Sammy Akpabot and His All Stars, Godwin Omobuwa and his Soundmakers, Ganiyu Kale and His Guinea Mambo Orchestra and many more.

While many have previously charted the vibrant Nigerian music scene of the late '60s and 1970s, few have focused on the country's earlier "first wave" of indigenous pop. Nigeria Freedom Sounds aims to do just that, celebrating a four-year period between 1960 and '63 when the country's music-makers, enthused by independence from Britain, began fusing the traditional Nigerian sounds of juju and apala with Ghanaian highlife, Caribbean calypso and mambo. As you might expect, this musical melting pot resulted in some terrifically vibrant and celebratory music, most of which was released on 7" singles. As usual with Soul Jazz, the 23-track CD of thrilling obscurities comes backed with detailed liner notes, telling the true story of Nigeria's first popular music explosion.


A comprehensive guide

'The cynical use of the words “freedom” and “independence” made me furious during the Brexit campaign, but here’s an intriguing, mostly optimistic, album from a true independence era. The 1st of October 1960 marked the birth of free Nigeria, an event celebrated by  in Freedom Highlife, with its chorus “Hip, hip, hoorah”. It appears here in a 23-track compilation that includes lilting highlife dance tracks and other Nigerian styles from the period before Fela Kuti mixed highlife with funk to create Afrobeat. There’s jùjú music from IK Dairo, who became a big star with his accordion work and no-nonsense lyrics. There’s percussive apala music from Haruna Ishola, who refused to use European instruments. And there’s Nigerian calypso, dressed up with twanging guitars or jazz trumpet, with lyrics on everything from finance to the murder of Patrice Lumumba. A fascinating compilation.' -Robin Denselow

'When it comes to the music of Nigeria, the experience of most listeners begins and ends with Fela Kuti. While Kuti is a legend and worthy of the stature he is afforded, it does a disservice to a country to have their musical output reduced to one figure, no matter how talented. The music of Jamaica gets similar treatment with reggae music and Bob Marley, though more deeper-delving fans likely have familiarity with a few of the excellent Trojan Records compilations or the soundtrack to The Harder They Come. The latter was reissued in 2003 with a bonus disc titled Reggae Hit the Town: Crucial Reggae 1968-1972, a collection of notable early reggae and genre precursors: ska and rocksteady.

Soul Jazz Records’ Nigeria Freedom Sounds!: Popular Music and the Birth of Independent Nigeria 1960-1963 fulfills a similar function with regard to contextualizing and understanding the foundational forces of a genre. The extensive liner notes give insight into the beginnings of independent music in Nigeria, the flowering of that musical scene coinciding with Nigeria’s independence from the British crown.

There are musician biographies, photographs, and plenty of other important details behind the music. The musicians featured across the 23 tracks take a musically omnivorous approach in their blend of disparate genres. Along with Nigerian musical forms like juju and apala, there’s Calypso and Ghanian highlife. Apala and highlife are both genres that bear the stamp of Cuban music, the complex rhythms of Cuban music in the case of apala and the arpeggios one expects in Afro-Cuban jazz in the case of highlife.

As a result, the music feels familiar, yet intoxicatingly new. One of the greatest joys for anyone with even an iota of interest in music is seeing the way different genres and approaches to music influence one and other. British Invasion groups weren’t doing anything particularly innovative at first, merely filtering American rock ‘n’ roll through a decidedly British lens. It sounded familiar, but different enough to set it apart from contemporary American records.

One can see a similar cultural exchange take place with the music of New Orleans and Jamaica. Fats Domino was a major influence on the development of ska, with his accenting of the offbeat in his piano player, a calling card of the music of Jamaica.

As a collection, Nigeria Freedom Sounds! merely whets the appetite rather than sating it fully. That the collection focuses on a smaller number of artists allows the listener to get a general sense of what the artist is about while giving them ample reason to dive deeper in their back catalogues. The music is generally upbeat and hopeful, matching the optimism of newly free Nigeria.

There’s a foreshadowing of the doom to come on the standout track “Lumumba Calypso” which recounts the death of Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of Congo, also an important figure in the struggle for Congolese Independence. It’s a harrowing track in context; the military coups and the civil war are still several years away. They were the fuel for much of Fela Kuti’s work, so in a sense the compilation provides the musical and thematic foundation for Kuti. Nigeria Freedom Sounds!: Popular Music and the Birth of Independent Nigeria 1960-1963 is pure listening pleasure and a perfect jumping off point for listeners curious about popular music beyond Europe and North America.' -Andrew Crowley

1. I.K. Dairo & His Blue Spots - E Ma Muu Obun Se Aya 3:06
2. Chris Ajilo And His Cubanos - Ariwo 3:33
3. I.K. Dairo And His Ink Spots - Aye Wa A Kale 2:55
4. Charles Iwegbue And His Archibogs - Baby I Tire 2:59
5. Haruna Ishola And His Group - Iba Awon Agba 2:45
6. E. C. Arinze - Chukwu Fulu M N'anya 3:00
7. Victor Ola-lya And His Cool Cats - Cool Cats Invitation 2:51
8. Ganiyu Kale And His Guinea Mambo Orchestra - Iyawo Ile 3:00
9. E. C. Arinze - Freedom Highlife 2:55
10. I.K. Dairo And His Blue Spots - Bi O N Fo 2:59
11. Heavy Haruna Ishola And His Group - Owo Ni 2:59
12. Apolos Empire Rhythm Orchestra - Cut Your Coat According To Your Size 2:52
13. E. C. Arinze - Lumumba Calypso 2:42
14. Sammy Akpabot And His All Stars - Save For A Rainy Day 2:57
15. Ishie Brothers - Onye Oma Rosa 2:46
16. Godwin Omobuwa And His Soundmakers - Look, Look, Look 2:53
17. E. C. Arinze - Saturday Night 2:46
18. J.O. Araba and his Rhythm Blues - Iyawo, Maa Pa Mi 3:26
19. Godwin Omobuwa And His Soundmakers - You Cheat Me 2:57
20. E. C. Arinze - Ozo Emena 2:44
21. Tex Dandies Dance Band - O Bo Mi Ebe Mi 2:48
22. J.O. Araba And His Rhythm Blues - Olowofuja Sawa 3:12
23. I.K. Dairo And His Blue Spots - Omo Alaro 2:51