Wake Up You! The Rise & Fall of Nigerian Rock Music 1972-1977. vol. 2
01. Theodore Nemy – Come Back 4:07
02. The Funkees – Slipping Into Darkness 4:37
03. The Hykkers – I Want A Break Thru 3:08
04. The Hygrades – In The Jungle (Vocal) 3:20
05. Shadow Abraham with Monomono Friends – Babalawo 3:25
06. Waves – Wake Up You 4:02
07. War-Head Constriction – Shower Of Stone 3:40
08. Question Mark – Love 5.01
09. Action 13 – Set Me Free 4.01
10. Jay U Experience – Baby Rock 5:23
11. The Doves – Flying Bird 3:31
12. Kukumbas – Awa Lani Arawa 3:53
13. The Believers – Life Will Move 5:10
14. Tony Grey & the Black 7 – The Feelings 4:40
15. Ceejebs – Life In Cannan 3:10
16. The Identicals – Who Made the World 4:32
Where other Nigerian vinyl compilations have focused on various permutations of rock, funk, soul, and disco, Wake Up You! specifically covers the short-lived but influential period of Nigerian rock in the country’s post-Civil War era (after 1970). On 34 tracks across two volumes and two accompanying books, the compilation documents some of the musical, socioeconomic, and political trends that shaped Nigerian Afrorock.
The majority of both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 feature music from the height of Nigerian rock in the early ‘70s, before the scene started to decline. The decade saw Nigeria experiencing a petroleum-fueled post-war economic boom, which ushered in a renewed sense of optimism that proved a huge boon to the growth of the country’s music industry.
And yet, as the government sought to rebuild the nation, leftover wartime trauma and unresolved tensions got swept under the rug. So it’s very possible that the sense of discomfort and melancholy that had never really gotten addressed then ended up bubbling over into rock, particularly in the East, which had borne the brunt of the war as the former secessionist Republic of Biafra. The compilation reflects that reality, featuring mostly Eastern rock bands.
Despite regional differences, there was a collective desire, especially among youth, to have some kind of contemporary music they could claim as their own that was “distinctly African.” This was one of the reasons why James Brown’s soul music, with its pro-Black messaging and funky rhythms that meshed well with pre-existing West African musical traditions, had exploded in popularity during the region’s independence era. His influence continued into the next decade and beyond, as evidenced throughout Wake Up You! For instance, on Vol. 1, The Hygrades’ 1971 B-side “Keep on Moving” directly references “Cold Sweat” and has the cathartic screams to match. This desire for a homegrown music was also what helped make Fela’s self-branded Afrobeat so popular, which would soon eclipse Afrorock, even though the two weren’t initially that different. The stylistic similarities between the two are clear in their shared highlife percussion rhythms and off-kilter organ work. This can be heard across Vol. 1—on The Hygrades’ “In the Jungle (Instrumental),” The Funkees’ “Baby I Need You,” OFO the Black Company’s “Beautiful Daddy,” and many more.
On Vol. 1 opener “Never Never Let Me Down” (1973), the little-known Formulars Dance Band deliver a touching number filled with nostalgic doo-wop harmonies and lyrics steeped in heartache: “Just one thing you do not know, girl,” the lead singer croons. “And that is I need you/And one more thing you do not know, girl/And that is I love you.” By contrast, War-Head Constriction’s record “Graceful Bird” (1973) ramps up into a heavy metal track with long, snarling guitar solos and piles of distortion. According to Ikonne’s liner notes, War-Head Constriction also often played with a later iteration of the band Waves, whose psychedelic “Wake Up You” (featured on Vol. 2) b/w “Mother” (on Vol. 1) is the comp’s namesake. Vol. 1’s closing track, P.R.O.’s 1976 “Tell Me,” in turn references dub by way of delay effects, hinting at the fact that towards the end of the decade, a several schoolboy and college rock bands—including teen sensations Ofege—started shifting their heavy rock sound towards “dub and militant rockers-style reggae.” But even then, with the exception of Afrobeat and with the advent of disco, the public wanted something smoother and glossier, and Nigerian rock slipped more or less into darkness (related: Funkees’ cover of War’s “Slipping into Darkness” on Vol. 2).
In that way, Vol. 1 comes to a logical close. The album itself is very loosely chronological, though it doesn’t follow the arc of the accompanying book, which is an important part of the compilation. Vol. 1 sags a bit towards the middle of its 18 tracks, but it picks up again later on—perhaps not unlike the trajectory of Nigerian rock over the decades. Many of the narrative threads present on Vol. 1 are also those that run through Vol. 2, and certain bigger bands, such as The Hykkers, The Hygrades, and The Funkees, appear on both volumes. However, where Vol. 1 is generally more exuberant and brighter, Vol. 2 is more melancholy, reflecting some of the darker realities of the time.
Much of Vol. 2 expresses a desire for freedom and a resistance to the social and political dis-ease of post-war Nigeria. On “Life in Cannan,” Ceejebs lament the state of what could have been their promised land. Over nimble jazz keys and thick bass, lead vocalist Eyo “Crosbee” Hogan gathers his listeners around him, intoning, “Come around, people of this world/let’s get together and pray/Evil things are happening every day/Many rich are getting poor/The poor ones are dying away.” Echoing that sense of despair is The Identicals’ nearly-apocalyptic “Who Made the World,” on which they demand answers to questions they know they’ll never get, howling, “Who made the world? Who made the land? Who made the moon?” Even the love songs here ride on a sort of desperation bordering on futility: on opening number “Come Back,” band leader Theodore Nemy’s voice cracks time and time again as he begs for his “baby” to “come back.” An organ drones beneath him, sympathetic (figuratively and musically) to Nemy’s grievances.
Perhaps most clearly exemplifying the intersection of Afrorock and the politics of the time on Vol. 2 is the band Action 13, who appear on Vol. 1 as their later iteration, Aktion. On Vol. 2, their song “Set Me Free” could easily be interpreted as a protest against the band’s prison-like relationship to their then-patrons, the Nigerian military’s 13th Brigade. Many brigades of the time used bands to entertain their soldiers, boost morale, and reassure citizens, via music, that all was well. Initially, their patronage was helpful in providing a number of Eastern musicians with a living. But Action 13, like many other bands with brigade numbers affixed to their names, eventually grew frustrated, and many tried to break free to make a name for themselves independent of the military. These outside pressures, as well as labels’ jostling to sign artists with varying degrees of success, often augmented bands’ internal instabilities as well. There was a ton of back-and-forth between bands. For instance, on Vol. 2, we see Tony Grey, (former?) keyboardist of the Magnificent Zenians (Vol. 1) leading his own band, The Black 7; certain members of Afrorock pioneer Joni Haastrup’s Monomono appear here backing one Shadow Abraham; juju icon King Sunny Ade makes a surprise appearance producing The Believers’ “Life Will Move.” Trying to make sense of the bands’ relationships to each other, to regional trends, to labels, and to military involvement is like trying to make sense of a messy maze of crossed paths, dead-ends, and false starts.
But in that sense, Wake Up You!: The Rise and Fall of Nigerian Rock, 1972-1977 does a thorough job of conveying the angst and mutability of Nigeria’s protean post-war period. This was music that helped people, young people especially, to sort through their own identities in the wake of war, even if it was to define what they weren’t. On Vol. 1, in the chorus of their track “Scram Out,” from their 1977 album Be Nice To The People, young schoolboy rockers Question Mark sing, “I want to feel free, I want to feel happy!” Which at the end of the day, through all its ups and downs, was what the movement was about.