EZE-NRI ROYAL DRUMMERS VOL. 1

Eze-Nri Royal Drummers Vol. 1.

Label: BBE Africa.

One of the most important labels in the history of African music is Tabansi  Records, which  was founded in Onitsha, a trading centre in the Igbo southeast of Nigeria, in 1952. Chief (Dr) G.A.D. Tabansi had watched as  Decca, and then  Philips, closed the doors on their Nigerian operations. His new label became the most important and influential Nigerian record label, and consistently released music that was groundbreaking and of cultural significance.

One of the most culturally significant albums Tabansi released was a  live recording of the investiture ceremony of an Eze-Nri king. Given the cultural  importance of the album, original copies of Eze-Nri Royal Drummers Vol. 1 are incredibly rare and valuable. This puts copies beyond the budget of the majority of record buyers. Thankfully, BBE Africa has recently reissued Eze-Nri Royal Drummers Vol. 1 as part of their Tabansi Gold Series. It’s another welcome reissue and a reminder of the music Tabansi Records released during their heyday.

Having founded his new label in 1952, Chief (Dr) G.A.D. Tabansi began recording artists and then pressed the records at The United African Company’s pressing plant. After that, record vans promoted the latest releases in Nigerian villages. This was just the start for Tabansi Records.

In the sixties, The United African Company decided to concentrate on importing American and European music. With very little competition, Tabansi Records was able to concentrate on local  music, which The United African Company had turned its back on. This was a big mistake.

During the seventies, Tabansi Records was the most successful Nigerian label, and its founder  Chief (Dr) G.A.D. Tabansi was one of the leading light’s of country’s thriving and vibrant music scene. He had invested in the company he had founded in, in Onitsha, Lagos, all these years ago, which had its own studios and pressing plant. The company was going from strength-to-strength.

By the eighties, Chief (Dr) G.A.D. Tabansi was joined in the company by his son Godwin. He helped with promotion and developing the artists on the Tabansi roster. This included many of Nigeria’s young and up-and coming musicians plus some of its biggest names. However, by then, the label was also releasing albums of culturally significance.

This included a  live recording of the investiture ceremony of an Eze-Nri king. Historians believe that the musical elements of the ceremony have never changed in over a thousand years. That is despite there being many changes in Nigeria, and indeed other parts of West Africa. 

Nowadays, the majority of the countries in West Africa are republics. However, there are still a few countries that are traditional and ritual kingships. The oldest of these in Nigeria is the Nri kingdom, which is situated within the Igbo area which coincidentally, is where  Tabansi  Records was founded in 1952.

Originally,  the kingdom of Nri was a medieval society in what’s now known as Nigeria. In medieval times, the kingdom was an area of political and religious centre and influenced around  a third of the population of Igboland.  It was administered or ruled by a sacred king or priest king called an Eze Nri. Their role was to manage trade and diplomacy on behalf of the Nri people. They were group of the Igbo speaking people who had divine authority in religious matters. 

The kingdom of Nri welcomed anyone who had been rejected by their community and was a safe  haven for them. It was also a place for slaves to free themselves from their bondage. Over the years, the kingdom expanded, but never through force. Instead, Nri expanded by forming allegiances with neighbouring communities. That was all in the future.

Nri’s royal founder Eri, was said to be a “sky being” who came down to earth and established civilisation. Later, Nri culture went on to have a permanent influence in Northern and Western Igbo, and especially through religion and taboos. 

By the eighteenth Century the Nri kingdom was no longer as influential. However, remnants of the eze hierarchy persisted until the establishment of colonial Nigeria in 1911, and even today, it represents one of the traditional states within modern Nigeria. Some things it seems don’t change in Nigeria.

That includes the music on Eze-Nri Royal Drummers Vol. 1. It historians and archaeologists believe is similar to what people in Igboland heard in the early agrarian settlements at the time of Christ, or even before. That is the case with the music played by the royal investiture music group. It features three or four musicians playing hand and stick drums of various sizes as well as a large Alou Ogene. This is an Igbo cowbell, which is struck by two musicians who are seated facing each other and each strike the bell in a series of intricate cross patterns. However, on Eze-Nri Royal Drummers Vol. 1 another instrument is deployed an Oja flute, which is sometimes referred to as a talking flute.

The Oja flute  is wooden, and is hand carved and has a cavity inside. On the top, is a wide opening which fits the shape of the human lower lip. There’s also a small hole at the bottom and two smaller holes close to the top on the opposite side. The musician blows through the wide opening, and places their thumb and ring fingers on the two smaller holes to control rhythm and tempo. This unique and ancient instrument can be heard throughout Eze-Nri Royal Drummers Vol. 1. 

It’s an album of huge cultural significance and BBE Africa, which is an imprint of BBE Music, are to be commended for reissuing the album and making Eze-Nri Royal Drummers Vol. 1 available to a new audience. They’re now able to hear a live recording of the investiture ceremony of an Eze-Nri king. This is an important, ancient ceremony which previously very few people have heard. It’s an important part of Nri culture, and historians and archeologists  believe this has been the case since the time of Christ, or maybe even before. 

While much has  changed in Nigeria the investiture ceremony of an Eze-Nri king stayed the same. Now for the first time, many people will be able to listen to this ancient and scared ceremony. The music on Eze-Nri Royal Drummers Vol. 1 is powerful and spiritual, and it’s a privilege to hear such an important musical document that will be of interest to anyone who is interested in Nigeria, its history, culture or African music. 

Eze-Nri Royal Drummers Vol. 1.

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