BBE Music launches a major vinyl reissue series from pioneering Nigerian record label Tabansi, including unreleased material from Ebo Taylor.



That was the Igbo praise-name given to the late, great Chief (Dr) G.A.D. Tabansi (1932-2010). It’s a trademark of Nigeria’s Igbo people for accomplished leaders to be hailed by an indigenous acclamation – a sort of embodiment of excellence. In this case, the simple translation is: Son, Take Your Glory….

Chief Tabansi started to take his glory in the early 70s, amid the hustle and bustle of Nigeria’s thriving and fast-developing record industry.

The history of West African recorded music goes back as far as 1927, starting in Ghana when the Zonophone EZ shellac series appeared. The UK company Decca moved in and capitalised on the 40s and 50s highlife boom: they’d send engineers out from London, record on the spot in Kumasi, Lagos or wherever the artist was based, and send back the tapes to England for pressing the records-which were then sent back to West Africa a few months later for sale. Decca (and, later, Philips) then upped the ante by building record studios in Africa, first in Accra, then in Lagos. EMI, lagging behind, signed an agreement with a local corporation, The United African Company (UAC), who contracted to scout local talent for subsequent signing to EMI’s subsidiary HMV. To this end, the UAC built studios around Accra, neither of which paid for themselves. Eventually, by the early 60s, UAC pulled out of the recording business and concentrated on international imports, to meet the enormous demand of an upwardly mobile, newly affluent population who wanted American and European music.

Here’s where Nwawelugo stepped in. Taking advantage of the growing lack of interest by the majors in ‘local’ music, Chief Tabansi recorded his own artists, pressed up the records at UAC, and promoted them through villages in ‘music vans’.

By the early 70s, Chief Tabansi was the most successful record-man in the north of Nigeria. He’d set up Tabansi Records (later renamed Tabansi Music Publishers), in Onitsha, complete with its own studios and pressing plant, and by the 80s, with the help of his son Godwin, he was promoting and developing many of Nigeria’s young musicians and stars, including reggae superstar Majek Fashek, whose 1988 album Send Down The Rain remains one the biggest local-selling African LPs of all time; Felix ‘Lover Boy’ Liberty, whose Ifeoma became a pan-African sensation; and Stella Monye, whose three LPs (two of them on the Tabansi label) established her as an international soul vocalist.

BBE founder Peter Adarkwah, long an admirer of Tabansi tunes- from folklore to funk – decided to hunt down (in the nicest possible way) the current deal-maker and mover-and-shaker behind the 100-plus -album Tabansi catalogue, Mr Joe Tabansi.

After negotiating a multi-album deal, BBE combed through the list and decided that the only way to do real justice to the label would be straight. LP- by- LP reissues, with updated sleevenotes, heavyweight remastered vinyl, original sleeve artwork on solid card jackets and contemporary revised liners. In other words, the full works, no shortcuts, no compilations.

The first 50 or so titles are primed and ready, with an initial target of three releases per month. And to make things interesting, BBE will be mixing -not matching– genres. So, for example, one month might see a rare funky-highlife classic, the next a mid-80s boogie killer, the month after, a soukous- flavoured Igbo dance monster, and so on. Here at BBE Music, we try to do Eclectic rather than Generic.

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