A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Track #30 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist
This is a surprising little song, and somewhat mysterious to boot. It was recorded in England in 1972, by a band from Lagos, Nigeria. Possibly fronted, or maybe just produced by one Lari Ifedioranma, the band bounced around Europe in the early 70’s before returning to Nigeria in 1975. They only made a handful of other recordings, some of them live, some under the name Ofo and the Rock Company, and others simply under the name Ofo. Very few of those recordings ever left Nigeria. “Allah Wakbar” is the only track of theirs we have here at Thomas Ford. In years of listening to obscure world music anthologies, I’ve only ever managed to catch two other tracks by Ofo.
What’s so surprising about the song is that it doesn’t sound like anything that came out of either England or Nigeria in 1972. Given a random snippet, you’d probably guess you were hearing some early Iggy and the Stooges, or some long lost midwestern garage band. Really, only the intro gives it away as “World Music” at all.
It kicks off with a fuzz pedal destroyed guitar and what sounds like a Djembe or some other kind of palm struck drum. Then Lari chimes in with some scat-like chanting and the full band sings a couple triumphant sounding Al-lah-Wak-bars. Then the full drum kit joins in and with it a wall of growling guitars and organs. The next three minutes is some of the wildest hard rock to come out of anywhere in 1972. Crunching riffs, bonkers guitar solos, a couple funky drum breaks and Lari shouting all but incomprehensible lyrics. (I’m guessing “Allah Wakbar” is some colloquial way of spelling or pronouncing Allah Akbar. I also hear a few other recognizable phrases: “Never, never do that,” “Love is me, love is you, ” and “Sister, brother.” Otherwise, your guess is as good as mine.)
Even on anthologies of supposedly similar material from West Africa, like Luaka Bop’s Love’s a Real Thing, you mostly hear gentler pop/rock with a Fela-Kuti-like twist. The heavy Nigerian garage rock of “Allah Wakbar” can be found nowhere else. Of the other two tracks I’ve heard by Ofo, one called “Eniaro” and another “Ewu Aja,” only the latter even approaches the intensity of “Allah Wakbar,” and really both are much more reigned-in and under control. So here it is, a song that’s a genre all on it’s own. Stop by the library to check it out.
Review by Matthew