Dododo (Ekassa No. 1) – Sir Victor Uwaifo & His Melody Maestroes
It is the never changing repeated two notes throughout, which both constrain and liberate the piece, that fascinates and delights. As it builds to a crescendo, as though it might be heading somewhere, there they are again pulling it back. At the start of this sample I faded the other instruments for emphasis…
Victor Uwaifo was born in Benin City, in the Edo State of Nigeria in 1941. He studied graphics at college and, having played guitar since childhood, would sit in with Victor Olaiya‘s band at weekend in the early sixties. He developed a technique of seeing colours in sound and sound in colours. He used this technique to utilise the traditional patterns of Akwete cloth in his music. This Akwete sound was used to create his song Joromi in 1965 which became a hit across east African countries and eventually earned him the first African gold disc.
By 1968 he had outgrown the strict limitations of Akwete so he developed other forms which eventually evolved into Ekassa itself evolving from the traditional Benin Ekassa dance.
By the 1970’s with the growing influence of American soul and Jamaican reggae his music had once again evolved into what came to be marketed as Edo Funk.
It occurred to me that, before I die, I should, having spent a large part of my life listening to them, actually document the greatest recordings ever made. This will, of course, be a purely personal subjective listing and, as such, be uncontroversial and yet definitive 😉 I will catalogue them on a separate page but for now….in no particular order:
Hands Off by Jay McShann with Priscilla Bowman.
I think it was John Walters, the producer of John Peel‘s radio programmes, who observed that lyrics were superfluous to a great song; they could be replaced with “rhubarb and custard” and it would still be a great song. Hands Off certainly passes that test.
With the relentless drums and bass driving ever forward, occasionally punctuated by the horns, and the whole thing topped off with McShann’s piano intertwined with Bowman’s understated vocals and the extended fade out – like finding the ice cream goes right to the bottom of the cornet; it was unsurprisingly a big hit in December 1955 staying at number one on the Billboard R & B charts for three weeks.
Jay McShann was a mostly self taught pianist. His thirteen piece big band in the 1930s had included the teenage Charlie Parker. It was while touring with McShann’s band in the early 1940s that Parker acquired the nickname ‘Yardbird’ from them. By the mid 1940s McShann set up a smaller band as was the trend at the time. In 1949 they had a hit with the band’s vocalist Jimmy Witherspoon‘s recording of Ain’t Nobody’s Business.
Witherspoon was replaced in the early 1950s by Priscilla Bowman. She had come from a church based background (her father was a minister) and, as a teenager, performing in local nightclubs where she adopted the popular styling of Ruth Brown‘s 1951 hit Teardrops from My Eye and the like.
In 1955 McShann’s band were signed to Vee Jay Records where they recorded Hands Off. Unable to replicate the success Bowman was signed to Vee Jay as a solo artist in the late 1950s. Again failing to achieve any great success although in 1958 she was the first to record Brook Benton‘s song A Rockin’ Good Way before Benton and Dinah Washington had a hit with it in 1960.
Although Vee Jay was commercially successful with many hits, even releasing the early recordings by The Beatles in America after Capitol Records had said they were not interested (they would soon change their mind) financial mismanagement meant that they filed for bankruptcy in 1966.
Preston Foster was ‘inspired’ by Hands Off to write Got My Mo-Jo Working which was recorded by Ann Cole in 1956. The following year Muddy Waters would adapt the song for his own version.
Elvis Presley would perform both Got My Mo-Jo Working/Hands Off mashed together.
Recordings mentioned: (links to: Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube)