Various Artists

Nigeria: Hausa Music 1

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This collection of Nigerian music was undertaken by ethnomusicologist David Wason Ames under the auspice of an American research grant in African studies. As with all releases in this series, there is a large glossy booklet in English, French, and German, accompanied by a series of marvelous black-and-white photographs. Readers will quickly question why the author chose not to document any of the recording dates, an inexplicable oversight in this type of research. According to the notes, there were at least five million of the Hausa people in Nigeria at the time of these recordings, whenever that was. This is a culture with so many different types of music and even so many different musical instruments that one record volume can't possibly provide full coverage; a second volume was created in this series and, of course, there is a wealth of other recorded material from Nigeria -- including much modern instrumental music influenced by rock and pop. This album concerns itself with music that was part of the day-to-day life of the Hausa people at the time of the recording. Although basically agricultural in nature, the Hausa society is extremely complex. Even among musicians there are layers of specialization that might make Western listeners think of their medical community. Ames writes that this includes musicians who entertain for various occupational groups, such as musicians who perform for blacksmiths, butchers, or others; ordinary court musicians who perform for members of the aristocracy; famous singers, with backup bands, who create songs of praise for anyone wealthy enough to pay them; musicians who play at political functions; musicians who entertain at feasts or dances for young people; musicians who are primarily clowns, their main job to make people laugh with musical antics; lute and fiddle players who work exclusively for the Bori cult; and even a segment of non-professional musicians, although in the Nigerian culture most performing musicians are considered professional. The album jumps right into these various divisions by presenting listeners with a drum rhythm played for butchers, literally "drumming up" business (the pun belongs to Ames) while also providing the butchers' wives and daughters with something to dance to. The deep bass pulse of the drums is vividly recorded, and most listeners will agree that this far surpasses any trip to the supermarket butcher that they might have made in their lifetimes. Most of the side continues with music created in praise of various occupations such as hunters and farmers; the tracks mostly feature drumming and singing, although the large two-stringed lute called a komo makes an appearance. This material will probably be of most interest to those studying or learning African drum rhythms, but side two expands the musical vocabulary quickly with a performance by musicians attached to the Sultan of Sokoto, blasting away on a collection of giant trumpets, single-reed oboes called algaita, and five other horns made of bamboo, wood, and tin. Perhaps one has to be royalty to deserve such music but, thanks to the miracle of recording, this track can now be piped into "normal" homes that are not occupied by sultans and such. Fans of the music of free jazz artists such as Sun Ra and Albert Ayler will find this track something of a revelation, as is "Trumpet Fanfare for the Emir of Zaria," a solo performance on the long, long Hausa trumpet known as a kakaki. The evocative-sounding algaita reappear in a call-and-response session with a praise singer who is loaded with soul. Despite shortcomings in the written documentation, this is a well-programmed collection, and a few of the selections would make any ethnic music fan's lists of greatest hits.

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