2.07.2006

Lijadu Sisters, Double Trouble

IMG_0267 by you.

There is much to love about the Lijadu Sisters, identical twins of entirely self-determined nature who sing like birds, albeit carnivorous birds with roomy lungs. The sisters raised a brood of four kids, none of whom allegedly knew which Lijadu sister, either Kehinde or Taiwo, was their respective mom. The Lijadu Sisters seemed to be well in control of their professional destiny and critical of the colonial mentality that pervaded Nigerian record companies. They also had little patience for the male chauvinism that was seemingly part of the furniture in their native Nigeria.

The Lijadu Sisters also featured in one of my favorite music documentaries, Konkombé. The work of English director Jeremy Marre, Konkombé was the Nigerian installment in his 14-episode world music series, Beats of the Heart, which ran often on PBS during the late '80s. The three chapters concerning the black diaspora (Jamaica, South Africa and Nigeria) held the best blend of musical, political and cultural content, and of this trio Konkombé was beyond fabulous. It was loaded stem to stern with great performances, fascinating archival footage, revealing interviews and near-palpable neighborhood funk. (With much of the last; speaking at New York's Museum of Natural History, Marre described the horrors — corpses left in front yards —routinely encountered during his Nigerian shoot.)

The Lijadus are seen taking care of their kids and rehearsing in the side yard of their house. Without much accompaniment beyond a couple of talking drums and acoustic guitar, the sisters sing in unison, laid-back and vibrantly erotic in the same breath: "If you want to…you can touch me." Then the camera invades a session with the Lijadu Sisters at the cramped, over-heated Lagos recording studio run by their record company, Decca West Africa. The same song is being recorded, but feels rushed, not nearly the wonderfully loose-limbed affair heard a few minutes previous. Aside from coping with their crumby work environment, the sisters do battle with their overbearing producer (a Nigerian version of the evil producer portrayed so well by Lou Reed in Paul Simon's otherwise regrettable film, One Trick Pony). It's a wonder Kehinde and Taiwo got anything done at all, much less music of the quality heard on today's download.

Double Trouble, released in the U.S. by the Shanachie label in 1984, compiled tracks from then-recent albums (Danger, Horizon Unlimited) by the sisters. Though obviously working in the same climate that gave rise to Afrobeat, being the great invention of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and drummer Tony Allen, the Lijadu twins drew additional rhythmic inspiration from reggae and West African high life.

The last I had heard of the Lijadus, both sisters had moved to Brooklyn, possibly in the late '80s. They played some dates at Wetlands, the lower Manhattan club-as-Petri-dish partially responsible for culturing the jam band plague. They also did a gig in Harlem, with King Sunny Adé's African Beats as their backing band; first on the bill was Robert Farris Thompson, noted Africanist and author of a genuinely deathless work, Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy.



Unfortunately, that's the last I'd heard of them. It would be a dreadful shame if their fate mirrored that of another great African singer, Bebe Manga. The latter's epic "Amie-o" has been revived of late on the Golden Afrique Vol. 1 compilation, yet Bebe Manga's career seemed to end with her own move to Brooklyn. Much as I loathe Bob Dylan, I am reminded of his line about pitying immigrants who wished that they'd stayed home. Hopefully, the Lijadu Sisters are still up to something good.

DOUBLE TROUBLE

It never fails to amaze me, but there are humans — sentient types with driver's licenses and all, individuals presumably capable of dressing up and going places — who still have not twigged to the fact that there is music to be had from this site. So, with the consummate subtlety of a flying anvil, I will list the following and remind all concerned to check out the final link always, as encoded in the album title at the end of each entry. And there are new entries planned for the near future, "If we are spared," as my Scottish grandmother used to say. Oh, my grandmother, fun at parties…