Ebenezer Obey

  • Ebenezer Obey
  • Je Ka Jo (UK Virgin) 1983 
  • Miliki Plus (UK Virgin) 1983 
  • Juju Jubilee (Shanachie) 1985 
  • Get Yer Jujus Out (Rykodisc) 1989 

Along with King Sunny Adé, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey dominates the juju music genre, that beautiful, spiritual and eminently danceable combination of traditional chants, hymns, highlife, rock and country- western. An easy way to think of juju is as inverted Western pop: interlocking guitars function as rhythm instruments while numerous drummers take on the melodic responsibilities. Born in Western Nigeria in 1942, Obey joined his first professional band, the Fatai Rolling Dollars, in 1958. By 1963 he had formed his own group, and has since released over 90 singles and albums.

Obey calls his personal style the miliki (enjoyment) sound. Beginning where noted juju entertainer I.K. Diaro left off, Obey has drawn in such Western elements as multiple guitars and a Hawaiian steel guitar soloist, adding them to the traditional rhythmic fundament. Songs tend to reflect Obey’s strong Christian beliefs as well as the common problems (often economic) of everyday life.

No record could do justice to the endlessly intense melodic and rhythmic variations heard during one of Obey’s all-night concerts. (His touring band is fifteen members strong.) Most juju albums contain side-long songs, but even those rarely put across the scope of a single number. Je Ka Jo and Miliki Plus are similar to Obey’s many Nigerian records; Jubilee is a sampler package — edited versions of eight tunes — that displays Obey’s progression from grassroots juju to ever-more- sophisticated compositions. Unfortunately, it suffers from a severe case of enjoyment interruptus.

Recorded onstage in exotic Seattle (1987) with his Inter- Reformers Band, Get Yer Jujus Out delivers the live goods, as Obey weaves a sinuous spell for nearly 70 minutes. Featuring nine songs from his scores of Nigerian records, the music rolls with a hipshaking pan-African lilt informed by the guitar styles of soukous, highlife and, of course, juju.

[Richard Gehr]