Bongos Ikwue showcases his signature blend of African roots and international influences in his latest album Wulu Wulu: African Roots Contemporary Blues & Jazz.
Ikwue is considered by most to be a living legend. He was born and raised in Nigeria in 1942 and his love of music was clear from a young age. From elementary school through college, Ikwue formed many musical groups with various friends and colleagues. But he didn’t become famous until the 1970s and ‘80s with his Nigerian pop band, The Groovies.
Ikwue took a long hiatus from music in the 1990s but returned in 2006 with a new band called Bongos Ikwue and Double X, which is in reference to the way his music’s local and international influences cross to make a unique sound all its own.
Wulu Wulu was released on February 11, 2013. It has 14 tracks that are a combination of Ikwue’s old classics - that have been reworked - and brand new songs.
His international influence is very prominent throughout the album. On each track, Ikwue sings in both English and in his native Nigerian dialect, Idoma. However, the language barrier does not break up the meditative effect of the hypnotic drums, twanging guitar, and smooth tenor of Ikwue’s voice. The vocalized harmonies coax you into a peaceful head space while the joyful beats keep you visualizing a care-free moment of relaxation.
Another international element is the fact that the songs cannot be pigeonholed as strictly contemporary jazz. The first two tracks are more reminiscent of island music welcoming you off the cruise ship. The third track is a bit slower, more smoky jazz room-style. Ikwue croons in Idoma while two female vocalists – who happen to be his daughters, Omei and Jessica – translate in a sort of call and response technique. The lyrics are reiterative at times, but it makes the songs catchy and hypnotic.
All the while, Ikwue retains his African roots by painting an intimate picture of African life with his voice. He sings of a religious divide separating two young lovers, blood thirsty rebel soldiers, the nostalgia of his childhood, and a girl’s lost innocence, but all on a backdrop of upbeat jazz.
Ikwue’s storytelling is a reflective observation of the human experience. Life can be dark at times but it’s never useless to hope for a brighter day.
Wulu Wulu is a comeback of sorts. The now 70-year-old musician hasn’t released any new music in almost a decade. But this album is by no means the desperate ploy of a has-been artist. You will find yourself shimmying your shoulders to the the staccato trumpets, bopping bass, and running electric piano without even realizing it.
With Wulu Wulu, Ikwue has proven that he always was and always will be a dedicated, soulful African musician who rightfully earned international fame.