Ukara cloth

Ukara cloth
Ukara cloth detail, Etara community, Cross River State, Nigeria

Sunday 15 December 2019

Darlington Offiong “Duke” (1949 - 2019) “Highlife is Alive!”

Darlington Duke and his daughter Glory. “àsuá nkpó owo” (‘Envious People’)
Darlington “Duke”, a highlife musician from Bayside (Àtákpà), Calabar, Nigeria, generously guided me through the history of popular music of Calabar. Darlington was the band leader at the famous Luna Night Club in Calabar until it closed in the 1990s. With the Luna Professionals Band, Darlington recorded "Eka mi inyeneke mkpo", a great example of Calabar highlife with the èkọ̀mbì rhythm. While used traditionally to celebrate the presentation of maidens emerging from the "fattening room" after months of seclusion and training, in this highlife context, èkọ̀mbì is used for enjoyment and symbolic of Èfị̀k culture. What is interesting in this "modern" highlife song, is that the "traditional" theme of a local Ndem spirit is evoked playfully, signaling the persistence of traditional belief in spite of a booming industry in Christian churches.
     The lyrics of "Eka mi inyeneke mkpo" in Èfị̀k language with translations are:

     Ndem Efik mo di onogho eka mi inyeneke mkpo,
     Èfị̀k goddess, as you know, my mother has nothing,
     Inyeneke nsenunen uwa idiong
     She has no native egg to sacrifice
     Inyeneke ebot nko.
     Neither does she have a native goat.
In Calabar, Darlington presented a weekly radio program called “Highlife is Alive!” From 2004 onwards, he helped me collect an impressive array of vinyl recordings on 78, 45 and 33 rpm discs that embody the musical legacy of the Calabar region. At the end of this report is a transcription of Darlington’s narration of his own musical biography within the history of Calabar urban highlife.
Darlington's recent and last CD release has the following tracks, mostly in the Èfị̀k language:
“àsuá nkpó owo” ("Envious People")
“Ekpenyong Ita special”
“Inim Enem Uyo” (“Sweet Parrot Song”)
"Boko Haram Menace"
“Sob Úbók Wàt Údèng” (“Paddle Fast”)
“Asase àsè” (“Achievements”)
In 2004, Etubom Bassey Ekpe Bassey introduced me to Darlington in my quest to understand the musical heritage of Calabar. Because important episodes of the history of Afro-Cuban people are embodied in Cuban popular music, I wondered what could be learned through a comparative study of Calabar and Cuban music. Collecting vinyl in Calabar was the West African side of a comparative study of trans-Atlantic musical continuity and innovation. But as I’ve experienced over and over in Calabar, the lack of serious research into the cultural history of the region requires documenting that history before embarking on a comparative study of the Americas.
Nka Ima "Group of Love". From Ikot Ekpene, this is Annang cultural music recording with instruments used in Afro-Caribbean music.
Nka Ikemesit "Group That All Agree With".

Nka Ikemesit "Group That All Agree With".

In 2004, Darlington introduced me to Mr. Demmy Bassey, an Èfị̀k highlife musician and composer who played in Ghana in the 1960s. Bassey (d. 2007), was a member of the Èfé Ékpè Ìyámbà lodge of Àtákpà, and a descendant of Chief John Coco-Bassey (d. 1899) a famous Èfị̀k-speaking trader who traveled as far as Sierra Leone, and worked with the British colonial administration (Oku 1989: 210).  
The wooden gong, called Òbòdóm in Efik-Ibibio is related to the "catá" of Cuban rumba.
  Demmy’s compositions were recorded with the following Ghanian highlife groups:
1) Black Beats of Ghana recorded “Abasi do” (There is God) on Sept. 6, 1960 in Accra.
2) Members of the Black Beats formed the Ramblers Band, which recorded “Se eyen mi do” (Take Car of My Child) in Ghana in 1964.
3) E.T. Mensah recorded “Keyere Móng” (Go and Take Your Bath).
     Demmy’s career demonstrated many links between Ghanaian highlife and Calabar, a phenomenon until now undocumented. Demmy Bassey had several recordings in the Èfị̀k language, including:
Demmy Bassey. “Tin Akpan Iko, the best of Demmy Bassey.” Phonogram seteo (PL) 119. Lagos.
Demmy Bassey. “Inyang Nta Demerede: Tribute to Chief Inyang Thomas Henshaw.” Calabar, Nigeria. 
Inyang Henshaw & His Top Ten Aces. Efik Gold vol. 1. Philips 6361 020.
The first of a ten volume collection of Chief Inyang Henshaw's compositions in the Efik language
Bassey’s tribute to Henshaw gave respect to an Èfị̀k musician in Lagos who composed and recorded at least ten LPs of highlife in the Èfị̀k language, often using the popular èkọ̀mbì rhythm of the maiden’s dance of Èfị̀k communities, parallel to the Moninkem dance of maidens in Éjághám speaking areas. Darlington told me:
“In Lagos, Inyang Henshaw was the main Èfị̀k son who was doing very well in Highlife and èkọ̀mbì music; he had so many records to his credit. He was the recording manager to Phillips Recording Studio in Lagos until he passed on. Another group in Lagos was the Calabar Cultural Party.”  
‘Ase’ – Traditional. Ima Edi Obio Group, led by Ekpe Ita. 1975. Philips. 6361-109 (LP). Made in Nigeria.
Through Darlington’s musician networks, he identified many personal archives of vinyl in the Calabar urban region and into rural villages. We visited the family homes of musicians, most of them deceased, to dig through dusty boxes of vinyl, seeking recordings in the languages of southeastern Nigeria. We found them in Èfị̀k, Éjághám, Ìbìbìò, Ohafia (Cross River  Ìgbò), Qua, and other languages. 
Darlington reported: "In terms of traditional cultural music, Ekpe Ita was the lead musician to record the real typical culture of the Èfị̀ks. After him there was another group known as Nka Okop Unen Ike, playing the same way, but Ekpe Ita had the upper hand in that culture."
 Some of the LPs were recorded by local cultural troupes playing initiation club music of the rural villages, like the following:
"Mbre Ekong Annang", an Annang cultural group that plays warrior music
Nyama Asabo Akata, cultural music of the Akata initiation club. Akata performs annually in village where the "voice of the ancestors" reports the immoral activities of villagers

Thanks to Darlington's guidance, we collected these and many other rare recordings, now preserved in the Amherst College Special Collections archives. Well done Darlington!!!!
Darlington Duke Biography
(July 28, 1949 - June 21, 2019)
Interviews December 2014 & May 8, 2016, Calabar with Ivor Miller

"I was born on here in Calabar and when to the Calabar Public School before joining the Hope Waddell Training Institution. I joined my elder sister in Enugu, where we started performing on Enugu Television in the 60s. When the Civil War broke out in 1967, I had to leave Enugu and stayed at Abakaliki, now the Ebonyi State capital and I was a singer with the big band at Rendezvous Hotel. After sometime I went to Onitsha to play with the Afro Dance Band led by Igochiko Okwechime from Delta State of Nigeria, who sometimes played with Fela Anukulapo Kuti. We left Onitsha to stayed shortly in Aba, and then stationed in Port Harcourt.
This was when the real war started so to escape from all the bombings we ran from Port Harcourt with musician Emmanuel Ntia, who took us to Abak in the former South Eastern State, now Akwa Ibom State. We settled in Abak still playing the music, until one fateful day the war now came in from Calabar to Uyo and the army was heading to Abak, so we all ran away. The Nigerian Army and policemen were pursuing the people in Abak. I and the bassist, Victor Okodi, managed to get to Aba, spent the night there, and some other musicians told us about a band in Owerri that my players knew. So we moved to Owerri to play with the band. But since the war was moving from one front to the other, we finally left Owerri to Oguta, a place with two lakes, Oguta I and Oguta II. While there I joined the Biafran Army and we continued playing and I was heading the Military Band. When the war ended I was a Warrant Officer II. We were at the edge of the river at Oguta lake, and people trying to flee by crossing, so the villagers had to withdraw all the canoes from the beach so that nobody could use them to cross the river, so we crossed the river on foot when the water was down about midnight. The following morning we heard the announcement that the war is over, that Biafra has surrendered and we were very happy to be free from all the bombings and shootings.
After several days on the road trekking without any transportation, I returned back home, when Etubom Rex Williams came to pick us, we went to Uyo to play very serious highlife music. We made about three or five albums, with about seven tracks of mine. Finally I came back again in 1975 to join late Bustic Kingsley Bassey at the Luna Night Club in Calabar, until he died in March 1978. I then became the Band Leader at the Luna until it closed down. So many groups came in to Luna, like Sunny Okosun, Fela used to come in from Lagos and  others from Delta State like Tony Grey and so many other pop groups because Luna was a popular spot.
For several years in Calabar I’ve presented the radio program “Highlife is Alive” on Cross River Broadcast Corporation (CRBC).
 Highlife area started when we were youths and we saw our seniors playing something like “kokoma”, a combination of drums, which is a very fine rhythm. The kokoma rhythm uses square drums of different sizes which are the very big, medium and smallest and they would play up to about eight to nine drums with gongs. They produce very nice sounds and the rhythm is very tight.
Even in Ghana some musicians are still recordings kokoma beats. The beat is highlife but with a little difference, they play it on a steady beat and it consists of different types of drums. This highlife originated from that kokoma rhythm until so many artists came out like Kwaro Brothers.
In the 1950s the Ekwaro Brothers were playing highlife and èkọ̀mbì music. I don’t know how the name Ekwaro Brothers it came about, but I think it’s from the combination of the names of the musicians. We were young people then while they were senior people, and the band is no more.
In Lagos we had another group called the Calabar Cultural Party, which was supported by Chief Inyang Henshaw. Henshaw was a Calabar man from Henshaw Town who was the recording manager to Phillips had been a drummer in Kano, the Northern part of Nigeria. He emerged as the best composer of our time. We rate him as No. 1 at composing highlife music. He came to Lagos and became the Production Manager at Phillips Recording Studio, enabling him to produce so many albums at that time. Henshaw was the main Efik son doing very well in Highlife and èkọ̀mbì music, with so many records to his credit. Another important highlife group in Calabar was Bustic Kingsley Bassey.
Mr Bassey Effiong was the leader of the Ekwaro Brothers, who played the rhythm guitar. We also had people like Peter Effiom who sang vocals on some of the tracks, for example “idoreyin ke esit owo”. After that Peter Effiom left to form his own band, The Rabalac Messengers (“Calabar” spelt backwards). In West Africa, Nigeria and Ghana plays Highlife music; no other nation plays Highlife music except those two countries. My inspiration is mostly from Ghana Highlife music because I believe they do it better; that's why most of our compositions here are similar to that of Ghana.
èkọ̀mbì rhythms are in Highlife because Highlife is a cultural music of the people. In Calabar, èkọ̀mbì is a very popular dance of the maidens in Efik clans. Traditionally, the maidens dance it after they emerge from the “fattening room” where they prepare to be wives and mothers. At times when we say Highlife we call èkọ̀mbì Native Highlife. So they are all walking together even though the rhythms are different. The Highlife has a faster tempo than the èkọ̀mbì, and the way of dancing too differs.
The music of Inyang Henshaw has become part of the tradition in Calabar. He recorded so many compositions that people admired and loved. He was the production manager for Phillips Recording Studio in Lagos, so he had the chance of recording his own music. I used to go there for recording with Rex Williams.
In terms of traditional cultural music, Ekpe Ita was the lead musician to record the real typical culture of the Efiks. After him there was another group known as Nka Okop Unen Ike, playing the same way, but Ekpe Ita had the upper hand in that culture.
Some of the main groups in Calabar music history are the Ekwaro Brothers, Bustic Kinglsey Bassey, The Anansa Professionals, the Messengers Band and several others. From Calabar, Leonard Bassey is now based in Ghana working with the professional Ohuru Dance Band of Ghana and did some tracks with the Ramblers of Ghana. His son is now running a musical outfit in Ghana, Bassey House of Music. We also had the late Demmy Bassey who was recording in Ghana. We had a very good saxophonist named Alfred Uko who is late now.
I cut my album titled “àsuá mkpó owo” (‘Envious People’) with my Golden Tones band. It’s an eight piece band, and I am number nine. We play all kinds of music: Highlife, Jazz, Reggae, Blues, and Calypso. I am a very good Calypso singer like Mighty Sparrow.
The young people are now playing something different; let me say that they are playing copyright, but some are still playing Highlife music for traditional marriages or memorial services."


Oku, Ekei Essien. 1989. The Kings & Chiefs of Old Calabar (1795-1925). The Association for the Promotion of Efik Language, Literature and Culture, Calabar (APELLAC) Calabar: Glad Tidings Press.