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Published: 2001/05/21
by Ray Hogan

"Apala Messenger" – Haruna Ishola and his Apala Group

IndigeDisc 495002
If you find Mickey Hart’s percussion projects a little too foreign for your
musical taste, you’ll probably want to turn off "Apala Messenger" by the
second or third track.
Haruna Ishola was a widely popular Nigerian praise singer who played in the
"apala" style. Unlike the more familiar West African "juju," apala is devoid
of Western musical elements. It’s a style that certainly isn’t for everyone.
As evidenced on "Apala Messenger," the music is built totally on rhythm
instruments. Two or three fixed-pitch talking drums are played in
counterpoint to each other with the accompaniment of a thumb piano and the
occasional rattles and bells. The lyrics are built on a call-and-response
similar to gospel and blues between Ishola’s booming baritone and a
higher-pitched male chorus. The result is often trance inducing even if it
is overly repetitive.
The 20 songs – including a 20-minute and six-part opus called Egbe
Gbobaniyi
(Odogbolu) – on "Apala Messenger" are culled from recordings made
between
1967 and 1971. The music isn’t easily digested for anyone raised on Western
music because you’re not hearing any of the things you’re used to. But
considering the music is built on rhythm, it’s surprising that the overall
sound is heavily melodic.
Between 1955 and 1980, Ishola sold in the six-figure range annually – magnificent success for a praise singer. His 1972 album, "Oroki Social Club"
sold more than five million copies over the course of several years. Lore
throughout Nigerian villages had it that Ishola’s voice was so powerful that
it could kill its intended recipient if it wasn’t used with restraint. Fable
for sure, but also testament to the mythical reverence he was afforded.
Ishola passed away in 1983 but the disc’s liner notes indicate that this
effort may be the first of many by the new World Music label.

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