Bongos Ikuwe Double x
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Bongos Ikuwe Double x


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"New Album from Bongos Ikwue and Teni"

Music review: New albums from Bongos Ikwue and Teni
By Bill Friskics-Warren,February 06, 2013

Bongos Ikwues latest album is called Wulu Wulu. (Courtesy of Bik Records/ )

With the revolutionary afrobeat of the late Fela Kuti and the hypnotic juju of King Sunny Ade at the forefront, Nigerian popular music has basked in the international limelight since the 1970s and ’80s, when it captured the imaginations of everyone from Paul Simon to Talking Heads. Today it remains in ascendance with “Fela!,” the hit Broadway musical that runs locally through Feb. 10 at Sidney Harman Hall — and with two new releases from two generations of Nigerian ­singer-songwriters who have links to Fela and who bear witness to the durability and elasticity of the nation’s music.

Certainly the most overdue of the two recordings is “Wulu Wulu,” the first release outside Nigeria from 70-year-old singer-songwriter Bongos Ikwue, a contemporary of Fela’s during his mid-’70s heyday. Stylistically omnivorous, Ikwue’s politically charged music draws equally on African folk and American soul, as well as many other styles, including Ghanaian highlife, Congolese rumba, country, reggae, funk and rock. Earthy and lyrical, his sandy tenor at times evokes the euphonious gospel phrasing of Bobby Womack and Sam Cooke, at others the relaxed conversational delivery of Bill Withers and James Taylor.

Ikwue’s record opens with the violin-sweetened “Kongo Soldier,” where over a buoyant Afro-Caribbean groove he offers his droll observations about the wisdom of deploying armed military personnel as peacekeeping forces. “Agbambo” and the title track follow, the former steeped in West African highlife, the latter’s South African township jive galvanized by the strutting horns and crisscrossing guitar work of Ikwue’s current band, Double X. “Mustapha and Christopha,” an elegiac ballad, is tenderness itself, its deep-rooted empathy all but belying its trenchant commentary on the religious strife that divides Christians and Muslims in northern Nigeria.

Sung both in English and in Ikwue’s native Idoma dialect, other lyrics range from heartfelt professions of love (“Tell My Girl”) to cautionary tales about the seductions and pitfalls of urban life (the bluesy afrobeat of “City Woman”). In “Ochombolo,” over fervent call-and-response, he urges his fellow Africans to strive for self-sufficiency instead of relying on foreign aid.

Although by no means flawless — grating rock guitar mars “Obide”; ill-fitting New Age touches detract from “Kongo Soldier” — “Wulu Wulu” is an inspiring, openhearted record. The overall impression it leaves is that of a sagacious elder in full possession of his art — a man who has seen much, asked life’s crucial questions and found a renewable medium with which to explore them.

Perhaps even more expansive musically than Ikwue’s new record is “Afrodisiac,” the full-length debut from singer-songwriter Teni, the London-born daughter of a Nigerian chieftain. Fusing West African afrobeat with American blues, funk and jazz, the singer describes her music as “afrosoul,” and it’s certainly an apt characterization of her album, a prophetic record that reveals debts to sources ranging from Nina Simone, Fela and Sade to Motown, dub reggae and contemporary neo-soul.

Though raised in England, Teni later spent a decade in Africa, where she performed with a latter-day installment of Fela’s Egypt 80 and witnessed the poverty and injustice that would greatly politicize her music. “Stop the fighting and heal the land/ We need to find the strength to stand,” she cries, spurred on by the bracing polyrhythms of “Africa,” her album’s closer. Over the vamping funk of “Lionheart,” she asserts, “You cannot hold me down / I always wear the crown,” echoed by unrelenting horn choruses that sound like resistance itself.

Songs such as “Revolution” and “Wilderness” likewise have political overtones and correspondingly militant grooves from Teni’s band, Afro-Renaissance. Interpersonal relationships get their due on her album, as well. When she pines for an absent loved one in “When Will I See You,” the sense of physical absence in her throaty alto is palpable.

Unlike Ikwue, Teni may be at the outset — as opposed to the twilight — of her career, but she shares an unmistakable self-possession with her senior Nigerian counterpart, one befitting not just the daughter of a tribal chief, but also an inheritor of an imperious musical innovator like Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

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Single Tell my Girl



Nigeriain the Seventies was an amazing place. Just emerging from the trauma of civil war, the country was awash in a wave of accelerating oil revenues that seemed to giveNigeriathe means to control its destiny. Musically,Nigeriawas one of the most
diverse and vibrant music scenes on the planet. You could walk down the street and hear an astonishing variety of music blaring from shops and bars: highlife, juju, funk, Afrobeat, R & B, country, Indian film music, "Congo" sounds, reggae, rock and country, not to mention a host of traditional indigenous styles. For an American such as me, the music scene shattered any preconceptions about what the African music scene might be.
Bongos' formula-a wide-ranging musical palette informed by a unique artistic vision-sustained him as a popular artist in the Nineties, at which point he became somewhat disillusioned by less attentive audiences and went on a hiatus, spending more time with his family and tending to his business interests (he had a successful furniture factory in Benue State). But the music bug would not let him go and in 2006 he returned to performing, with a new band that he named Double X, to suggest the intersecting elements in his music-traditional and contemporary, local and international. He was joined onstage by his daughters Omei and Jessica as additional vocalists. Bongos was then inspired to do a series of new recordings, both re-workings of some of his earlier songs and also new compositions. He recorded over 40 tracks, working both in Maryland and Nigeria. The fourteen tracks on this album are drawn from these new recordings, which may be the best work he's ever done as a recording artist, an amazing feat since very few artists can top or even match the work they did in their breakthrough period.
Leading off the album is"Kongo Soldier",one of Bongos' social commentaries, telling the story of Nigerian peacekeeping forces coming to Otukpo after serving in theCongo. "Abangbo",isa joyous invitation to dance that has a distinct highlife feel but alsoa kinetic energy, reminisent of the band Osibisa, that sets it apart from the more traditional laid-back highlife groove.The vibe of the music shifts again to a South African township feel for "Wulul Wulu", a song based on an Idoma term for mockery, that features the gospel-tinged vocals of Bongos' daughter Omei. "Mustapha and Christopher" is Bongos' commentary on the sectarian religious conflicts between Muslims and Christians that have led to so much death and destruction in Nigeria over the years-the opposite of what religion should foster. Though Bongos never displayed an overt political agenda nor advocated for any particular religion, his story-telling and social commentary certainly meaningful messages. Perhaps it is most accurate to say that Bongos is a humanist, a philospher whose philosophy is rooted in everyday life."Kankwuche" is a love song (the title means "to try to go back" in Idoma) delivered over an easy-rolling quintessential Bongos groove. It is followed by "Obide", a track that demonstrates Bongos' ability to mix diverse musicial elements; it opens with soaring, sustained rock guitar but soon kicks into a highlife-inflected groove. It is based on an old Benue women's tune the lyrics of which talk about how "warm" the women will feel when their men return home. The chorus features the voice of Benue village women. "How Long", on the other hand, is straightforward country-pop, complete with a plaintive fiddle obligato, that could easily have been recorded by any number of American artists. Bongos tells the story of a woman who struggles to make a life out of a very meager existence.
No matter how wide-ranging Bongos musical influence and no matter how sophisticated he may be as an educated business person, his music and thinking is very much rooted in the simple country life he experienced growing up. "Ochombolo", for instance, tells the story of a farmer stranded when heavy rains flood the only available river crossing-based on an experience from Bongos' life. He transforms the story into a parable of self-reliance, asserting that African countries should not accept aid from foreign donors.City Woman is a hard driving funk number that touches on the dangers that the city pose to a country boy.
As mentioned, Caribbean music, especially Jamaican music, is a significant part of Bongos' musical palette. "Tell My Girl" is an irresistibly melodic rock-steady tune, flavored with a bit of rock and soul. Bongos' entreaty to "tell my girl I'm coming home", resonates with many African men who have been forced to travel to cities far from their families to find work, if not fame and fortune. "Ouno" is based on an actual incident, the death of a young country girl from a snake-bite, when she was sent by her mother to gather firewood. . Singing over an incongrously jaunty groove, Bongos sings the sad story of an innocent girl's death, framed by the unanswer