…………………By David Alfred-Dogwo
Music is the universal language of mankind. Where words fail, music speaks. Where words leave off, music begins…
Michael Daudu alias ‘Nd ‘umwa Zo-umpwo’ of Ozongulo Ward in Bassa Local Government Area of Kogi state and few others came close to my heart at the early stage in life like the Egyptian dagger.
They nearly stole my heart and snatched it out of its pulsating cavity but they didn’t use their hands. They used the lazy groans of goat-skinned locally made bands, local-steel guitars, Bassa-psychedelic whine of ‘wah-wah’ pedals and funky synthesisers to hypnotise me.
They call them “Bassa Golden Stars” led by Michael Daudu alias ‘Nd ‘umwa zo-umpwo’ meaning, “Words Has no Bones”.
Long before Bassa Golden Stars, I soared in an affair where I splurged breaking dawns with Peter Gagba of Sharafu-Umaisha’s feisty trumpet solos and David Mbori of Inigu-Omono’s sultry croons.
December 25, 2016 was the last time I visited Wussa on merriment except on condolence visits. It was there I listened again to the old collections of Bassa Highlife Music……at adult stage and my heart re-awakened with full trucks of such memories. Thanks to Uncle Daruwana Dogwo’s archives.
The music’s frivolous rendezvous with Congolese-like makossa and Bassa-rumba highlife left me giddy and gloating….. and blushing……. and bubbly…… and desiring more.
These were the sonorous voices of Joshua Jere of the Zion settlement called Wussa; Zabutu Daudu and Musa Guda alias Canada of Ozongulo aborigenes respectively. Also was of Abel Wabare of Zenyi, Shiloba Tentengwu of Akuba II, Lot Jere of the famous Akakana and Gabriel Zugbe of Uzugbe-Refu. Not forgetting David Nwezhe of Umaisha and the indefatigable talented maestro soloist, Dekina Momoh of Udaba-Dekina ‘ane Igala’.
On the Womenfolk, were Alhaja Setu Isah-Sokwo of Oguma, Setu Jere of Wussa and Dukwo Yowuu of Umaisha.
The pace of Bassa Music was an “age of musical diversity” because they had more creative freedom. They were more willing to experiment with new music forms or reinvented music forms of the past. No classes, no riduments. They also took advantage of the resources and local technology that were available. By closely listening to the music of the 60s, we could hear these innovative changes. Like the prominence of percussion instruments, and the use of noisemaking as background and interludes.
His Blessed memory His Majesty Alagani Dodo during the maiden Bassa-Day in Oguma remarked that it was an “Ionisation written for percussion and sirens”.
The new ways of combining chords and building chord structures were also order of the day. For example, David Olubo of Jegwere’s bamboo piano suite was a 6-tone series. Even the meter, rhythm and melody became unpredictable. In Michael Daudu alias ‘Nd ‘umwa zo-umpwo’s “Fantasy,” he used metric and tempo modulations, a method of seamlessly changing tempos. Truly, music of the earlier century is quite different than the music of previous periods.
Although Bassa Golden Stars used and/or were influenced by the composers and music forms of the late 30s, but they created their own unique sounds. This unique sounds had many different layers to it, coming from the combination of instruments, noisemakers and shifts in dynamics, meter, pitch, etc. This differs from the music of the past.
During Bassa Dark Ages, musical texture was monophonic. Native vocal music such as ‘Agwatana nhuri nkpaa’ chants were set to Bassa texts and sung unaccompanied. Later on, church choirs added one or more melodic lines to the chants. This created polyphonic textures. During the Renaissance, the size of church choirs grew and with it more voice parts were added. Polyphony was widely used during this period, but soon, it became homophonic. The musical textures during the Baroque period was more of both polyphonic homophonic. With addition of instruments and developments of certain musical techniques (ex. basso continuo) hence, Bassa music during the baroque period became more intriguing. As the years progress, the musical texture of classical music in Bassa songs was mostly homophonic but flexible. During the Romantic period, some forms used during the classical period were continued but was made more subjective. All of the various changes that happened in Bassa music from the dark Ages to the romantic period contributed to the present day Bassa highlife.
The Bassa Golden Stars? I knew them all in one fanciful blur. They had kissed my palms when I was a baby, they have held me square on my shoulders one by one, they have sauntered into my happy-go-lucky dreams of hot and stifling nights…….
But no matter how far it drifted my heart it always comes back to consciousness of the African Highlife of today.
The Bassa Golden Stars is the story of my people, the hymn echoing in arboreal cathedrals where canopies of treetops gathers in holy arches; where tropical breezes conjure ancestral saints has destined to earthen the altars tucked away in understory sanctuaries of Bassa archives. It is a blessed sound and amazing grace.
They call you “Bassa Golden Stars” but I call you “My Lover”. And this is my ode to you.
My Lover, I do confess, you make me feel like I am your one and only- even if I am not. So with your assurances from overdoses of joy, I pressed my palms against my spinning head upon my initial hearing of Agwatana Namba n ‘ofo elele (God is everywhere).
Now I am sure that my brainwaves had gone awry, swung right off its paths into awakening of euphoria.
How could your music touch me in places that I existed so much like the world cup finals? You wooed me and stripped me naked with thumping percussions accompanied by lightly lilting guitar riffs with the intermittent metallic clangs of insanely righteous harmonies and subtly pacing bass notes that ran like blood in my veins.
Dont blame me but just have mercy on me. I fell in love with you.
Your feverish bellows has loosened my hips eons ago, springing them left, right, up, down, front, back. My fluttering praying hands flailing softly and my knees quivering whenever your memories enter my brain bringing in the vocals and yet, you gone.
For those of you departed from this mother earth, your bodies are here, but you are gone. Pulled into another plane of existence where highlife music emerges, a realm of God-like Bassa blackness and a love so innocently pastoral and innocently sublime.
The Bassa Golden Stars in their highlife was the soundtracks of my life. Spinning fusions of agony and hope, despair and joy, peace and turmoil.
You expressed what I cannot express with those other worldly rhythms. The Heartbeat is “more.” And when time calls for a transition into a more sentimental mood, a more philosophical atmosphere, that is when I will bask in you oncemore.
Anyone who has not heard you has not quite lived well.
And if you people, were to manifest as food, then, my children would have bowls full of ripen strawberries of Juicy refreshing bites of sweetness on a steamy evening.
In that vein, the band notes popularly known as “Ekperegede or Ekpende” would be a bar of granola, chewy and crunchy.
The Bassa Music has given me a new meaning to the phrases food for thought, sugar in my tea, and butter on my bread. It has made me feel precious, like gold and raw, like a buddy flesh.
The Bassa Golden Stars was born into the belly of central Nigeria, pulled into this world by ancient hands that cradled together to receive their coming.
They knew from birth that they were coming to Bassa homeland the way our old women knew when death was coming. Their birth sparked a cascading symphony of thunderstorms pounding through the land from Oguma, Makurdi, Nassarawa, Jos Gwagwalada and Minna and beyond.
The Bassa music has pushed us way into this dimension of the living, bringing with her an extraterrestrial power and bringing with her the griots voice to the people.
Bassa Highlife, is the sound of a quaking world wrapped in the colors of Africa that cradled humanity. Dusty, root laden, shadow colored, earthy tones of nirvana and ethnic highlife of honey.
You have brought me happiness and pain. How do I thank you?
You have given me the courage to see my homeland the way it deserves to be seen, in all its dignified nudity in a homeland where people dance like convulsing spirits, thrusting the dusts of Sahara from beneath.
You have shown me the way to appreciate everything that came before me and to anticipate what will come after me. Because of you, I now have deeper understanding that Bassa nation will survive in spite of all the rape of hundreds of years; Bassa will come to know herself better than any hegemonic colonialists can, even the neoliberal ones with stark resemblances to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. And if only politics of our homeland could sync as well as your message did, I am sure that our smiles would be more authentic.
So teach us how to blend, groove, love, rationalize, thrive, exercise the things in our heads and brains and nurture us to truer democracy because Bassa land is not really a land of crooks and thugs but a land of people who have forgotten themselves.
Help us to remember that there was a time when we knew our names and we bore them proudly. And we were guys and ladies in our own rights with high heels, oyibo wigs, and skin toners; gentlemen with neckties and boxer briefs. And we told our own stories without shame. But now, we wear shame and disgrace in drab hues strewn across our bodies, flying first class to faraway lands where we have ignored the reflection of our dying souls.
Please, disregard the poverty of our people. We have diminished your relevance to mere party music, played while we wiggle our expanding waists. But you are a way of life. Your lyrics speak of ageless truths, moral goodness, a respect for the Supreme. So with my offerings of Highlife to the Supreme, I come to worship and draped in bright adire, crowned in glittering silken head scarvesno oyibo shoes, because Bassa music is thronged on holy grounds.
You make me feel like running home, like dancing, giving, thriving until I return to the ground from whence we came.
You have brought me through happiness and pain. How do I thank you?……
-Dogwo is a prolific writer & an adventurist in grammar psychology, addicted to prints and pixels. He served as Senior Special Assistant on Communications Strategy to former Executive Governor of Kogi State Capt. Idris Wada from where he pinched his tent as Media Consultant to Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu. He has just started a new role as Associate acquisitions co-Editor and Freelancing in Investigative Journalism for Scandinavian citizens where he get paid on each publication, and has many mentors to thank for their generous guidance and support along all the twists and turns of the own career path. He is blessed with Stephanie Alfred-Dogwo and David Alfred-Dogwo (Jnr).
He can be reached at: <email@example.com>
*This piece was first published in 2013 hence this review due to popular demand. The first issue was published along with other critical Research on the State of Bassa nation and the fields of Comparative Study of Bassa Citizenship Legislation in Nigeria. Thank you for being part of Bassa oldies.