Following the intense and bloody Nigerian Civil War, a vibrant musical revolution bloomed in the country, with emerging groups and performers creating a fusion which blended funk, R&B, and hard rock. The beginnings and end of this fertile scene is documented incredibly by a new two-volume collection out on Now Again Records, Wake Up You Vol. 1 and 2: The Rise and Fall of Nigerian Rock, 1972-1972.
Featuring artists like Ify Jerry Krusade, the Strangers, the Hyykers, OFO the Black Company, the Funkees, War Head Constriction, and dozens more, the collections illustrate the heavier side of Nigeria’s counter culture. While the music itself is enough to warrant diving in, the accompanying books by scholar Uchenna Ikonne — the producer behind many key releases, including the recent collection, Who is William Onyeabor — feature insightful details and illuminating quotes from many of the artists themselves.
“About nine years ago, I teamed up with Uchenna Ikonne, when he was starting to work on his William Onyeabor anthology for Luaka Bop,” says Now Again main-man Eothen “Egon” Alapatt. “I’d been trying to get in touch with the remaining members of the Nigerian rock scene to try to figure out how the fuck such an incredible scene could have sprung up there in the early 1970s. I’d seen Ginger Baker in Africa, so I’d seen the footage of the bands getting down and I knew about the Biafran Civil War…. But the idea that a bona fide Nigerian rock scene could come into existence right after the death and destruction of the Civil War was almost unfathomable to me: America’s Flower Power hippies were shouting peace and love many thousands of miles from the jungles of Vietnam: were Nigerian hippies really doing the same thing….as combat raged in their back yards?”
Egon says that he ripped off by “middle man after middle man” trying to reissue music from this era, so he turned to Ikonne. “He knew more than anyone, was more pissed than I was about his own countrymen robbing not only these musicians – but their brethren of this untold story, of this forgotten scene.” Egon says. “He had this Onyeabor idea that he wanted to try out, and he said if I helped fund his trip he would do it right. And he did. He spent a year there, and he found every band we were interested in, and we licensed the music we wanted directly from them, got their stories down pat, and started to put together the direction for an anthology.”
AD caught up with Ikonne to discuss the compiling of the albums and the personal connections that fueled his work in illuminating and preserving it.
Aquarium Drunkard: This collection is fantastic, and your notes are deep and fascinating. You were born in the States but lived in Nigeria as a young man. In the notes of Wake Up You, you describe a lot of the music featured therein as lost for forgotten. How did you first discover it?
Uchenna Ikonne: I was peripherally aware of much of it when I was a kid in the 1980s. You could still find a lot of old copies of these records in shops then. Cultural revival trends tend to work on a two-decade cycle—it usually takes around twenty years for old stuff to come back around and become cool again. So when I was coming up, these records were around ten years old and definitely were not cool. They were quaint, corny things that took up precious shelf space in the record store and frustrated you by slowing your access to the new Shalamar and Musical Youth LPs.
It was much later, around 1999 or 2000 that I was developing a movie set in early 1970s Nigeria that I started to research music for the soundtrack and I started rediscovering this stuff, realizing how incredible this music really was. And serendipitously, at this very moment record companies in the West like Soundway and Strut had started exploring this music too. So that just gave me more impetus to dive into it.