Grotto II Release Date moved to 8 December 2017
Duomo Sounds Limited Compilation Release Date moved to 19th December 2017


Grotto II- Freestyle (out in December on Grotto II, Wait No Hurry on Livingstone Studio)
Harry Mosco Funkees -Ada aku
Zogo-Africa
Tabu Ley-Hafi Deo
Franco- Bois Noir
Keep digging
Tony Allen-Think about it
Spirit Konek’son-Pass on love
Christy Ogbah- Advice (out in December Duomo Sounds Ltd Compilation on Livingstone Studio)
Johnny O’Bazz- Xmas Eve (out in December on Duomo Sounds Ltd Compilation on Livingstone Studio)
Hotline- Lets Merge

This one is super special. An amazing insight into the catalogue of a Lagos-based label in the early 80s, when good taste was still de rigueur and 70s keyboards and synths were still in active service. Its a mix of pop-disco, deep funk, and dreamy disco-highlife. The operative term is disco… Not, ABBA or Boney M, the tough and rugged, cosmic afro version.

The miracle is that Advice (Christy Ogbah), Bindiga, Mike Umoh, Johnny O’Bazz were all on one label. The selection of songs are plucked from albums that are routinely exchanged for big money.

This one is for the people. Enjoy!

We are elated to announce our first release post-Strut, Grotto’s second album, Wait, No Hurry… Its a mature afro-funk classic of the rarest calibre (I don’t own a copy, I had to get one from Uchenna Ikonne to create a master copy)..

This amazing album was made by some of the best musicians on the 70s Lagos live circuit.

Bass Guitar – S. Benson* (tracks: A1, B3), T. Mason Jnr. (tracks: A2 to B2)
Chorus – E. Bassey* (tracks: B3), M. Amenechi* (tracks: B3), T. Mason Jnr. (tracks: B3)
Drums – E. Bassey*

Toma Mason Jnr had evolved into a very capable and interesting bass player, highly sought after and rated. The rest of the band had a developed a chemistry from playing live on a steady basis. This can be heard clearly on the funk classics like Wait… No Hurry, Who Gives A Damn, Bad City Girl and Freestyle.

Its a very balanced album which provides a great listening experience. Enjoy!

We’ve decided to end our Production and Distribution deal with Strut/K7. After three albums, Friday Night by Livy Ekemezie (ODLIV 001), At Last by Grotto (ODLIV002), and Mind Twister by The Apples (ODLIV003).

We will be working directly with distributors, Rush Hour (Europe and UK), Forced Exposure (USA and North America) and Disk Union (Japan).

For anybody wanting to start a label, one word of advice, do it yourself….

Peace,

T

“Grotto started in ‘Gregs’ (St. Gregory’s College in Ikoyi, Lagos) around 1973/1974. The original line-up was myself on lead guitar and bass guitar, Martin Amenechi also played both lead guitar and bass and Jimi ‘Skid’ Ikemefuna was on drums. Over the years, the group went through several other members. The members of Ofege were also students in the same school and I also played lead guitar for them. We were all in our teens.

As Grotto, we played a rock/funk fusion. We were probably aged 15, 16 or thereabouts and we were heavily into music; we listened to Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and lots of rock bands like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. We listened to a lot of rock to learn guitar solos. As I grew older I think I got a bit jazzier, though. I also listened to Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Isley Brothers, Prince and a lot of funk groups from that era.

Odion Iruoje was the A&R manager at EMI at the time and he auditioned us, liked the material and signed us. He also produced our recordings. As a band, we were also very much involved in the production but, being kids then, I’m not sure that we were credited for that on the album.

It was a cool period musically – you could play in several bands based on relationships. A lot of guys moved around. Martin Amenechi, Femi Lasode and Etim Bassey played in a band called War Head Constriction before Grotto but they were also members of Grotto at different points in time.

Most of us were boarders and the school encouraged music and had instruments so we had time to jam and really gel together. Only Martin was a day student. We used to break bounds to go to the studio when we started. The group still continued after we left Gregs. We had to juggle A-Levels with gigs and I completed my studies. We used to skip school whenever we had a show, rehearsal or a recording date. Grotto was a very active live band unlike Ofege, which was mainly a studio band.

My old man was totally against me being involved in music, which is why my picture didn’t appear on the first Ofege album I played on. I was afraid he would spot me and ‘kill’ me! Even the pictures of Grotto were only featured on the back cover of the album, if my memory serves me right.

Apart from our recordings with Odion and EMI, we also started a couple of later projects which remained uncompleted. I think we recorded at Arc Studios (Ginger Baker’s studio in Nigeria) and some other studio I’ve forgotten the name of. Arc Studios was a 16-track studio back then while EMI was just an 8-track studio. So we preferred Arc.

We played at The Shrine with Fela, with Tee Mac, I think, at Batakoto, Blackman Akeeb Kareem at some club in Surulere, with Sonny Okosun at Kakadu, Segun Bucknor at Granada Hotel and lots of other places and with other musicians I don’t recall any more. We also played at UNILAG, the Lagos State Uni… We played a lot. The gigs were not paid as the organisers felt that they were doing us a favour. We all came from relatively comfortable backgrounds so money wasn’t the first consideration. It was like a very serious hobby for us and, besides, not many musicians made much money back then anyway.

We mixed very well in school and had lots of friends. There were lots of female admirers as well since we played some shows as part of our school activities and also played in some girls’ schools like Holy Child, Queens College and one gig at St. Agnes Yaba. The Grotto songs I really liked were ‘Come Along With Me’, ‘Bad City Girl’ and ‘Funk From Mother’. The songs were quite advanced because we were well travelled and well read. We were young but quite mature for our age.

I always travelled out for the holidays so I was able to buy original instruments. I looked up to established cats like Berkeley Jones (from Blo) but I would say that the best guitar players then were people like Tony Isikalu, Martin Amenechi, Erasmus Yurenki and, of course, my humble self.”

Soga Benson (Theophilus Olusoga Shobowale Benson)
Musician, Guitarist

“I remember the Grotto audition, they were a bit cocky, St Gregs boys, they had some material that they thought was great, but I felt otherwise. Grotto was a rock group but we needed to get them somewhere original. That was the challenge, not to sound like Ofege or some British rock group, but for them to sound like their authentic self. I was into youth bands at the time, I felt they offered something fresh, most pros were into reggae which I hated (not as a genre but the aping of it).. youth bands allowed me to experiment, I gave them something and they in turn gave me something, which I could take to the next project. They made me in a way. EMI (Nigeria) did not really get the emergence of the youth market, they thought I was fooling around with kids”.

Mr Odion Iruoje
(Resident A&R exec/Producer, EMI Nigeria)
———–

Ghana is a cool country. Fela thought so. For a long time in his formative years, it was where he went to reboot, take refuge and think about his music. It was a place for taking off. Highlife took off here. The first truly West African Modern music. A music that was a true reflection of our aspirations, dreams and struggles.

I love Ghana highlife. You find a lot of Ghana highlife in Nigeria. Some Ghanaian musicians enjoyed so much success in Nigeria, that they spent most of their lives cutting records for Nigerian labels like Okukuseku, Opambuo, Sheggae Reggae, even the mighty African Brothers cut several records in Nigeria. I made this mix after a digging trip to Ghana.

I love 80s boogie. I love it for so many reasons. I was born in the 70s and came into adolescence in the 80s. On vacation from secondary school, I used to go to a dj in Jos, I can’t remember his name. All I remember is he played basketball and was a mad mixer. He would play us songs and we would hand over a list of the latest jams from which he would subsequently proceed to create a mixtape.

Some of his mixes were so intricate, half science, half turntablist artistry. He very ably blended Prince’s “When doves cry”, with UB40’s, “Sing our own song”. The feat was unbelievable in the emotions it provoked. That tape brought great happiness to me and my brother until, it went missing. I wasn’t surprised that it was stolen. Cassettes were a hot commodity. People stole them, so we scratched tell-signs, logos, and initials on the plastic with the hope that being indelible would deter potential thieves. But that rarely worked when the music was this good.

Cassettes were also, susceptible to getting destroyed by the tape player. We bought Chrome tapes, for sound quality and the hope that they would last longer. But those tapes rarely lasted beyond a few months.

I still smile when I remember that mixtape, it was ridiculously high art.

I created the selection below for that dj..

Peace, Light and Love forever and ever and ever and ever… amen…

The biggest South-African musician for most Nigerians is Mariam Makeba, she was the struggle personified, in her we saw the pain, the grace, the royalty, the greatness…

Her music was familiar and foreign at the same time. And when she danced we saw beauty in motion, sensuality and class. She single-handedly started the fixation some Nigerian men have for South African ladies. She came to Nigeria for the first time in the 1960s as a member of the ANC and as a freedom fighter but also as wife to Hugh Masekela, to which this post is dedicated.

A friend told me, Mr Masekela plays an Orlando Julius tune at each concert, any of these three: Asiko, Awaade and Going back to my roots. Actually, Ashiko was first “recorded and produced” by Masekela in 1975. They both worked together in the US and were involved in the disco classic, Going back to my roots, which shares a lot with Ashiko but for which Orlando was not properly credited. The song was originally written for Lamont Dozier (LP, Peddlin’ Music On The Side, 1977, Warner Bros). Masekela was also friends with Fela and he spent time in Nigeria staying and playing with him in the late 70s. He dedicated his album, The Boys Doin’ It, (LP, 1975, Casablanca Records), to him. The album contains a song titled Ashiko, composed by O.J Ekemode AKA Orlando Julius).

I met Hugh Masekela when he came for Lagos Jazz Series 2013 I was shooting the festival for the Organisers and had full access. He was practising Tai Chi behind the live stage and he had a timeless quality like he was hewed from granite. We (Folarin my assistant for the shoot and I) went up to him and asked if we could shoot him privately. He agreed and when he had an hour we took him to the Radisson, set up lights backing the 5 Cowries Lagoon and started shooting.

He had tales for years, the one that stuck was when he was about 17, already a working artist and a member of the cool set of black bohemians. He and his girl at the time, were widely recognised as two of the sharpest dressers around. Alf Kumalo came round looking for a shot for Drum magazine. He told Masekela, “I need you to jump up with you hands spread out like so”. “I knew right away it was a bad idea, but Alf had a way you know, he was very persuasive a bit like you guys…”. The picture came out and it was serialised, it epitomised for many, that bubbling happening jazz revolution that was happening at the time in South Africa.” My girl saw the picture and thought, very rightly that it was the corniest thing ever and she left me.” “I saw her recently and she said, ‘we could have still been together but you had go take that stupid picture”.

Masekela and Makeba were signed to western record labels so their music is widely available they aren’t that much of a thing (rarity value low). Orlando Julius on the other hand for the early part of his career was signed to Nigerian labels (Philips West Africa, Jofabro etc) and his Nigerian releases are highly sought after by dance music DJs and collectors.