By Wordshot Amaechi Ugwele
Today, I invite you on this trip on memory lane as I remember this my greatest indigenous group as a boy, The Oriental Brothers International Band. They still remain so today. They were formed immediately after the civi war by five original members Akwela, Ichita, Warrior, Dansatch and Kabaka. Although they operated all around the South East, then known as East Central State, ECS, they were mostly based in Owerri and had Enugu as their second city. At Owerri they stayed and performed at Ambassador Hotel while Ambima Hotel, Uwani, was their Coal City home port. The group was actually formed by Godwin Kabaka Emeka Opara who also led it. However, Warrior was more or less the band, because of his golden voice as the lead vocalist. Dansatch in alternate lead and backing vocals, wasn’t as always a good singer compared to Warrior. But Kabaka was a master guitarist who showed so much sparks at a time the East African guiter flare was of so much influence in the evolving post war high life in Nigeria, when Oriental Brothers flourished.
However, it was Dansatch who composed most of those later long plays that characterise the peak of their Decca days, before their final disintegration. In between, musicians like Alloy Anyanwu, who left in very acrimonious circumstances and had inspired the song, Ozo Bu Iwe m, came and went. They had actually blazed in with the famous album sleeve design of the five fingers line up, featuring the unforgettable Ihe Oma, followed up with Nwada Dimma, Osa Enwe Akwu, Akwa Uwa, etc. They were incredibly talented and manually did all their recordings live and straight, in those analogue days of the reel, and would start all over if they made mistakes after hours of laying down a track.
Warrior was outstanding in his vocal dexterity as his rendition of Dansatch and other members’ compositions made the songs sound like his own, with his inimitable ability to adlib with all those small talks that persuade the listener. Soon, this would bring the many tensions and quarrels they experienced, as Warrior increasingly became more assertive, undermining as it were, the authorities of the nominal leader. After all, his was the voice the fans knew and loved. He was the brightest star in their constellation. Kabaka left relinquishing band leadership to Dansatch. He and Warrior carried on when the rest left.
When Warrior eventually left to start his group, Dr. (Sir) Warrior and His Oriental Brothers International Band, the original Oriental died as a band. Dansatch on his own brought in some fillers but could not sing like Warrior. Kabaka couldn’t sing and as such all of his guitar playing skills could not save his band, Kabaka International Guitar Band. So, it sank into oblivion. All would be buried by Warrior’s super powering and great output that filled the vacuum created by the absence of the original band. None of the splinter groups released any notable song, not to talk of album. The only person that got anywhere near to seeing Warrior’s back was Alloy Anyanwu whose offence to the band was that he came, learned their styles and went away for a solo career which eventually proved remarkable.
Warrior commanded his heights by not only being prolific in churning out album after album, as an experienced side man himself, he got good musicians who were able to retain the original and unique Oriental sound riffs he had helped to create. And of particular note was the congarist, Imensa, who played the conga in ways that were evocative of Akwela’s wizardry as was paraded and immortalised in Nwada Di Mma album.
The band did come back in 1987 to release an album, Anyi Abiala Ozo, that has the hit, Onye Egbule Nwanne Ya, on the flip side. While it delighted fans, it was obvious their days of playing together as a group was over for good. Warrior remained on top until he succumbed to chronic diabetes that had made his life a real misery. At death, his parents were still alive and his children very young. I mourned his passing greatly in 1999 after hearing the sad news on NTA in Birnin Kebbi where I was doing my national service.
But, I was fortunate to have briefly met him at Etche in Rivers State, in 1994 or thereabouts, when he came with his band to perform at Egwi playground, during the coronation ceremony of His Royal Majesty Job Nwala, as Onye Ishi Agburu (King) of Etche Kingdom. The band was on break when he strolled past me to smoke a little bit away from the crowd. I met him. He looked pale and somewhat gaunt. All the tales being peddled about him, like being sick because he was injected after being caught while trying to smuggle drugs, came back, even when I never believed them one bit.
As we talked and I wished I could ask him about it, I connected with his persona, his aura, and was instantly star struck. So many things came to my mind. So many Oriental songs flooded through my mind. I remembered those days in the early 70s. I remembered those beer parlours in my neighbourhood at Coal Camp, Enugu, where my father and his friends occasionally relaxed after the day’s job at the nearby Tinker, where he had his mechanic workshop that specialised in Opel cars (he had two, Record and Kadette), and drank Heineken, Becks, and sometimes palm wine shandied with Guinness. My father chain smoked the Target brand of cigarettes. His habit and the sickness that struck him which was attributed to it, probably discouraged me from smoking till today.
I still remember the vynil plates spinning on the Changer record player as the unhurried, penetrative guitar of Kabaka, and Warrior’s sonorous voice, flowed through the big box speakers with drawings and murals in the fashion of the commercial arts of the time, into the hearts of these men, singing Ibe Zim Ako, Nwoke Ezuike, Ndidi, Kelechi, etc, as they grappled with their post war recovery challenges and sought healing in the good time came back. I never forgot the many hangouts at Wounded’s Bar at Broderick Street when those who got the Udoji bursary, do you remember Ego Udoji, would host their friends to long drinking sessions. It never stopped intriguing me whenever an uproar in celebration erupted nearby in yet another awardee coming home with his money. If I thought that generation had been imprudent in frittering away our future by squandering the excess oil earnings in organising FESTAC, and sharing money to citizens, what would I do of the brazen heists going on today in the country?
When we finally relocated to the village in 1978, I would continue to grow with Oriental Brothers and the rest of their contemporaries like Ikenga, Abraka, Alloy Anyanwu, Oliver De Coque, Osadebe, etc, even when I wasn’t much of an Osadebe person as a lad, as I am now as adult. And today, as a presenter of old school music in Solid 100.9 FM Enugu, each day I load any of these songs on the deck and they play, I never fail to reminisce over those days of glory when art and message were in music. I never stopped seeing my father on his big wrapper with this huge bunch tied under his belly that were partially covered by that white, netted singlet, with his chewing stick in the morning, as he prepared to leave for the day to his workshop.
Most times, when the madness and complications of today’s world would overcome me, I always wished those days would return, when the world was simpler, more beautiful and people loved their brothers and trusted their neighbours. Well, they are gone forever, but leaving behind beautiful vestiges in songs that preserve the good days in their time capsule.