March 17, 2011
For our fourth and final African test pressing in this little series, we’ll end with a bang. It’s both a favorite record of mine and a type of music that I find powerful - that is, Hausa praise music from Nigeria.
The recording of Hausa music began in the mid- to late 1920s. Some of the earliest were recorded by a man named John Barbour-James, from then-British Guiana, for the Duophone label, normally a company that issued British dance band tunes. A few years later, more songs in Hausa were recorded in London and issued on the Zonophone West African “EZ” series – a series that has been culled by reissuers repeatedly, with a total of 6 available CDs exclusively featuring Zonophone West African tracks.* The Germans appear to have been the first to record on-site in West Africa. They were in Nigeria ca. 1930-1931, and issued discs on the Parlophon label, which are now very scarce (although some excellent examples were reissued on the American Decca label 12+ years later). The late 1930s saw a little more activity. When Parlophon became Parlophone, after being purchased by the Gramophone Company, they recorded approximately 145 particularly excellent discs from West Africa in the mid- to late 1930s. How many Hausa recordings were released in that series? A grand total of five. However, they were all Hausa praise singers. I’m not sure precisely when labels began recording and selling Hausa music with more fervor, but by the 1950s, dozens of Hausa tunes were available, and were being issued by Parlophone, Decca, HMV, as well as by local independent labels like Tabansi.
Unfortunately, I have no idea when this record was made. Its stamped matrix number matches no Parlophone series that I know of, and the number itself was stamped around the center hole, which was not a common practice used for issued discs. Judging by the erratic appearance of Hausa music until the 1950s, the chances are strong it’s from that decade, but I can’t be sure.
The Hausa, a Muslim people, primarily live in northern Nigeria and southeastern Niger. Hausa praise singing, known as roko, is a method of eulogizing and expressing adulation. It’s an art form that is everpresent, at weddings and celebrations, yet the practioners themselves, known as maroka, are often of low social status. There are different types of roko performance, but the roko on this record features a lead singer, the one-stringed stick fiddle known as the goje (or one of its variants, such as the kukuma), percussion, and a “praise cryer” or kwando, who intersperses the lead singer’s melodic singing with shouts and recitation. If you’ve never heard it before, you are in for a treat!
According to reader Bill Dean-Myatt, this was likely an Odeon release, and recorded in Lagos, Nigeria, between December 1955 and January 1956.
Matrix Number: WA0-20102-1A
* Living is Hard (Honest Jons), Kumasi Trio 1928 (Heritage), Jacob Sam and Kumasi 3 (Heritage), West African Instrumental Quintet, 1929 (Heritage), Early Guitar Music from West Africa, 1927-1929 (Heritage), Roots of Juju – Domingo Justus (Heritage).