Saadou “Bori” Abdullahi – Pioneering Innovator of Hausa Disco Music

It was with absolute shock and sadness that I learnt of the death of Saadou, the Nigeriene modern Hausa musician along Maiduguri road on Thursday 26th June 2008. He was returning from a concert which he gave in Maiduguri.

Saadou, born in 1966 in Niger Republic was best known as Saadou Bori, after his best selling solo album, Bori, released on tape in Nigeria in 1990. I learnt of the tape, and subsequently the musician, after I returned from US where I rediscovered African music. On returning to Kano, I made a direct beeline for the Bata roundabout where a series of Nigerienes keep shops selling music and video items from Francophone Africa. Amidst the tapes of Ami Koita, Nodibo Kone, Zoni Diabate, Salif Keita, Ali Farka Toure, Oumou Sangare, Djenba Seck, Kandia Kouyate, and Inna Baba Coulibaly, there sits Saadou’s Bori – standing as the one out of the mélange of Malian wassolou singers and African blues guitarists.

Bori turned out to be the biggest selling tape-album of 1990 in Kano and other parts of Hausa northern Nigeria. It came at a time when there was simply no Hausa modern music. And the traditional music was relegated to the background of aristocratic palaces and the elegant edifices of the fabulously wealthy merchant class.

Modern music in northern Nigeria was introduced by non-Hausa artistes such as I.K. Dairo and His Blue Spots (Tuwo Da Miya, Mu Tafi Damaturu) in the 1960s. In The Sudan, the Hausa diva, Aisha Fallatiya, demonstrated the power of women in modern Hausa music with Muna Maraba da Sardauna Sakkwato, a welcome song composed for the then Premier of Northern Nigeria, Alhaji (Sir) Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto on a State Visit to the country. Backed by the “sound of Sudan”—predominantly string quartet of sorts with an accordion, and as popularized by Sudanese male singers such as Hamza Kalas—Fallatiya’s lyrics—sung in Hausa, found a ready niche in the radio plays and urban clubs of northern Nigeria. Some musicians merely use Islamic iconography to appeal to Muslim Hausa club punters. For instance, Ofo & The Black Company’s Allah Wakbarr (sic) as well as I.K. Dairo’s Hungry for Love endeared themselves to Hausa Muslim listeners due to their use of religious expressions. Ofo’s composition consists of repeated chanting of “Allah Akbar” accompanied by a scintillating funk guitar rhythm, while Dairo’s more sober high-life approach was captured in the initial start of Hungry for Love with the lyrics, “Wayyo Allah (Hau. Oh my God), I feel hungry, not for food, but for love” repeated over and over.

The 1970s brought more Hausa modern music principally from Ghana and Niger Republic. In Ghana Sidiku Buari—trained as a professional musician in the U.S.—pioneered the Hausa disco sound as in his debut album Buari—a composition straight out of Kool and the Gang, Ohio Players, The Fatback Band, Earth Wind and Fire, Chic and Brass Construction disco sound of the 1970s. This was sustained much later by Maurice Maiga with Kudan Gida (Hau. housefly) employing disco and highlife sound of Ghana and Togo.

In northern Nigeria modern Hausa music was pioneered by Hausa Christian entertainers such as Bala Miller & The Great Pirameeds of Africa and Sony Lionheart – both from Zaria. With extensive Church training in the use of guitars and the organ, their preferred musical language was Hausa, if only to indicate that not all Hausa are Muslim and not all Hausa musical entertainment is based on Hausa indigenous instruments. Bala Miller’s compositions such as Sardauna Macecinmu (Sardauna our Savior), Karya Ba ta Ta Shi (The lie does not last), Ikon Allah (The will of God) and Sony Lionheart’s Zaman Duniya (This life) became club anthems particularly in Kano, Kaduna and Jos. These modern Hausa musical traditions were sustained in clubs by small bands around Jos and Kaduna such as The Elcados and Super Ants who although predominantly singing in English, nevertheless forayed into Hausa lyrics—all using what can be called domesticated Hausa soul music, with not a single indigenous instrument – kalangu, sarewa, kukuma, kakaki, kwarya, shantu, etc – in sight. The mainstream Hausa youth soon became consumers to these globalizing currents, preferring them, in most part over “the real” music from African American stars. I remember our attempts to copy the Elcados sounds at the Kano State College of Advanced Studies Auditorium in the early 1970s with Yusuf AbdulLateef, trying to create a “Kano modern” sound – which did not work out at all!

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Funmi Adams caused a massive sensation in uniquely adapting a Hausa folktale – Labarin Gizo da Koki (Story of the Gizo the Spider and his wife) – to modern music. What made it more enchanting was a video clip that accompanied the audio tape, giving a rich background to the simple tale of morality for young children.

This fusion music, interestingly enough, was not wholly embraced as an entertainment form by mainstream Hausa youth. This was caused by two factors. The first was the religious and cultural divide. The modernized “Hausa” music of non-ethnic Hausa was seen predominantly as “Christian” and “southern” Nigerian (kade-kaden ‘yan kudu). Secondly, such musical adaptation appealed basically to club circuit patrons—an exclusive class of civil servants far removed from the street level reality of urban youth.

Hausa traditional musicians had always occupied a lowbrow status as maroka (praise-singers) and this had the effect of discouraging the musicians from either training their own children into the craft—for it is considered an occupational craft—or even encouraging “students” to learn the craft and sustain it (rarely do Hausa occupational and craft guilds accept outsiders, are referred to as “shigege”_. A typical example is this response by Alhaji Sani Dan Indo, a kuntigi musician who responded to a question on whether he wanted his children to succeed him:

Unless it is absolutely necessary. I definitely don’t want my son to become a musician. I have seen enough as a musician to determine that my son will really suffer if he becomes a praise-singer. You only do praise-singing music to a level-headed client, and it is only those who know the value of praise-sing that will patronize you. Those times have passed. I certainly would not want my own son to inherit this business. I would prefer he goes to school and get good education, so that even after I die, he can sustain himself, but I don’t want him to follow my footsteps, because I really suffered in this business. Therefore I am praying to Allah to enable all my children to get education, because I don’t want them to become musicians like me. (Interview with Sani Dan Indo, a Hausa popular culture kuntigi musician, Annur, Vol 1, August 2001, p. 48).

However, Saadou changed this perception with the release of the tape-album, Bori (Hau. Spirit possession ceremony of the traditional Hausa) in around 1991, earning him a nickname, as he subsequently became known as Saadou Bori.

The tape-album was a mega hit in northern Nigeria. Filled with heavy disco funk and Jazz rhythms, and with tracks sung almost entirely in Hausa language, it proved for Hausa musicians on both sides of the postcolonial divide that Hausa music can be “modernized”, indeed evidenced by the fact that in 1994 Saadou teamed up with Moussa Poussy and released an extended version of Bori as Niamey Twice.

Saadou’s Bori – The New Age Hausa Disco Sound

Bori redefined Hausa dance music and provided a paradigm shift in the evolution of modern Hausa music. Not only does it provide a dance floor series of numbers, it also neatly meshed modern with traditional in its lyrical forms. Maintaining a heavy disco beat in all the compositions, it uses elements of Hausa call-and-response mechanism in many of the lyrical renditions, where a choir of female (‘yan amshi) echo a specific refrain.

The tape-album version of Bori had eight tracks: Side 1 – Dango, Yelleru, Badossa, and Boudje; Side 2 – Hadiza, Bori, Soyeyya, Maidawa.
Of these eight tracks, two became Saadou Bori’s “bakandamiya” (defining masterpiece) and ultimately signature tune. These were Yelleru (from Side 1), and Hadiza (Side 2). Both were well composed with tight horns and musical arrangement. Yelleru offered a new perspective to Hausa fusion music because it contained lyrics in pulaa (Fulfulde language of the Fulbe). Simple and catchy, it tells the story of a how the economic hardships befell the Fulbe who may have to give up their cattle and nomadic lifestyles for a settled farm life. A pure dance floor composition, it contain at least three midsections that provided the backing musicians opportunities to display their skills with drums and horns.

Hadiza hit the spot more directly with Hausa women. It tells the story of a new bride (amarya) in a two-wife household. The song extols the virtues of the amarya thus:

Kai mata, Oh, women
A rike darajar aure da kyau Hold fast to the values of marriage
A bar hushi da ikon Allah Stop being annoyed with Allah’s will
Dan ikon Allah ya wuce hushi For all that Allah wills is beyond your anger

Zama da kishiya tilas ne Living with a co-wife is inevitable
Ba don Uwargida na so ba And not because the Senior wife wants it

Gyara gida, Hadiza Look after the house
Duk na ki ne It is all with your purview
Gyara wuri, Hadiza Fix the places in the house
Duk na ki ne It is all with your purview
Gyara wurin ki, Hadiza Fix your own apartment
Duk na ki ne It is all with your purview
To ladabi biyayya With respect and obedience
Duk na ki ne It is all with your purview

Ki ba ni ruwa, Hadiza, Fetch water for me, Hadiza
Sai ta durkusa She brings it and courtesies
Ki ba ni hwura, Hadiza, My porridge, Hadiza
Sai ta durkusa She brings it and courtesies
Ki ba ni tuwo, Hadiza Bring my dinner, Hadiza
Sai ta durkusa She brings it and courtesies
Ruwan wanka, Hadiza, Fix my bath, Hadiza
Sai ta durkusa She brings it and courtesies

This song created three mixed reactions. The feminists hated it because it was a reaffirmation of what some of the more militant amongst them perceived as the servitude of women in a male dominated society. Similarly, Senior wives were not too keen on it because it is like rubbing salt in the wound – first being told they have to live with a co-wife, and second the beautiful virtues of the co-wife are being extolled; as if they were the opposites of their own behavioral patterns. A third reaction was from young male husbands who took to playing the song with glee (and I am speaking from an ethnographic experience!) whenever the Senior wife and their amarya are together.

The title track from the tape-album, Bori, is a celebration of the Hausa bori cult medicine. However, it was very clear from the lyrics that Saadou perceived bori not as a form of worship, but as pure entertainment – a process more related to its actual function.

Mace kucaka ba ta bori, A woman of easy virtue does not do the bori
Mace kazama ba ta bori A slovenly woman does not do the bori

Iya bori abin (wa) tsoro Bori is truly frightening
Aljani abin (wa) tsoro Sprits are frightening

Kai bori manyan sarakai Bori really is for important people
Yara kanana ba su yi nai Children cannot do it
Ali aboki na na da bori Ali my friend does it
Kai Bello aboki na na da bori Bello, my friend does it
Ee, Madu aboki na na da bori Yes, Madu my friend does it
Ee, ni na sa kai na bori Yes, I have the bori

In these lyrics – which appeared in a different sequence in the song from here – the stereotypes of bori amongst the Hausa are being reversed. Suddenly, it is glamorous to be a “bori” – evidenced by singer himself. Even album cover photo of the singer – wearing a headband made from cowry shells, one of the many unknown hallmarks of bori practitioners – speaks volumes about bori as an entertainment, rather than a serious religious advocacy of the traditional Hausa cultural anthropology.

Saadou subsequently released other tape-albums, but none had the stunning success of Bori, which even won an award in Niger republic during a festival of Hausa modern music (although I can’t recall the year). In place of the tape-albums — which were easy targets for pirates anyway – he spent the last few years working on what I call the “ceremony circuit”, putting shows for “big” people (politicians and other rich people) during the wedding ceremonies of their children.

Saadou was an innovative songwriter, arranger and vocalist. His creative works appeared in the slack transition period between the when Christian and mainly southern Nigerian musicians used the Hausa language to appeal to the Muslim Hausa (from the 1960s to end of 1980s), and when the video film soundtrack genre (called Nanaye – term for female children’s playground songs – because of its predominant gender base and call-and-response structure must use female voices) emerged from mid 1990s.

With the death of Bala Miller in February 2003, Saadou indeed represented the last breed of truly innovative Hausa musicians and composers with a focus on using real instruments to present their craft. In the mid 1990s, the Yamaha synthesizer became available to the young Hausa filmmakers interested in reproducing the multi-instrument sound similar to that of Hindi films which Hausa filmmakers avidly and religiously appropriate into Hausa language versions. With neither skills to compose music, nor understanding of the relationship between the different musical instruments and sounds, the new breed of musicians rely heavily on sound samples stored in the synthesizers, and the sequencing facility provided to arrange tunes to produce a melody.

In this respect, and without any formal music curricula in the schools for the teeming Hausa Nanaye composers, Saadou Bori remained the last of the great composers of Hausa modern music on World Music level. He practiced music with the true attention to detail of a professional composer and arranger – aware of the relationships between tune and harmony; and inter-twining Hausa mindsets and world views in his lyrics.

Saadou “Bori” Abdullahi was born in Maradi, Niger Republic in 1966. He died in June 2008 in Maiduguri, Nigeria. He is survived by one wife and five children. He will be surely missed as an innovator in modern Hausa disco music.

By Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu
Chairman, Center for Hausa Cultural Studies,
Kano, Nigeria

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