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Baker's Dozen

Languages Inhabited: Teju Cole's Favourite Albums
Teju Cole , August 24th, 2016 09:28

Following the publication of his first collection of essays, Known And Strange Things, the writer and photographer pens us his own Baker's Dozen, picking "as many kinds of albums that really mattered to me as possible"


Dr Victor Abimbola Olaiya – The Evil Genius Of Highlife Vol 2
The influence of sailors visiting West Africa from the Caribbean in the early 20th century gave the traditional music of Ghana and Nigeria a creative jolt. The hymns of the Christian churches were a further layer. To Ewe, Fanti, Yoruba and Igbo rhythms came new sounds of the guitar, steel drums and brass instruments. And out of this amalgam came palm-wine guitar, and juju. Highlife had a kind of rolling rhumba rhythm: it was music for dancing and a marker of good times, as its name indicated.

In those days, the best bandleaders in highlife and juju correspondingly had the best names, often accompanied by honorifics: Chief Dr Orlando Owoh, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, Prince Nico Mbarga, King Sunny Adé, Cardinal Rex Lawson and so on. One of my favourite musicians from this '60s and '70s Nigerian scene was Dr Victor Olaiya, who had a warm gravelly voice, and an impish way with songs. He played the trumpet with such insouciantly devilish facility that he was known as the 'Evil Genius of Highlife'. The standout track on this album is 'Yabomisa No. 2', a Yoruba gloss on a much-covered Ghanaian classic, 'Yaa Amponsah', from earlier in the century.