The Lijadu Sisters
Mother Africa (Knitting Factory Records, 2012)
Mother Africa, one of the classic Nigerian Afrobeat albums by The Lijadu Sisters is now available as reissue on Knitting Factory Records
While most Afrobeat acts in 1970s Nigeria were led by men, The Lijadu Sisters successfully entered this male-dominated genre. The group was led by twins Taiwo and Kehinde, who wrote their own material that included love songs and politically and socially charged lyrics. “The music business was hard for women in Nigeria,” says Taiwo Lijadu. “Back then, they didn’t think women had brains.”
Taiwo and Kehinde were born in Jos, in northern Nigeria, on October 22, 1948. They liked to sing and their mother encouraged them. She bought them records by a wide range of Neigrian and intyetrnational artists, including Aretha Franklin, Miriam Makeba, Ray Charles and, later, Fela Kuti, who was their second cousin.
Kehinde wrote her first songs when she was 10, Taiwo when she was 17 “All our records include songs with deep messages,” says Kehinde. “Artists should be the voice of the world. Not just of their own people, but of the wider world, for a problem which faces one, faces all.”
Although the The Lijadu Sisters initially started as session singers, their talent and perseverance led to their first recording under The Lijadu Sisters, “Iya Mi Jowo” (“mother please”), which was released on Nigerian Decca in 1968. The song was written by Taiwo in 1965 and the story behind it is included in the liner notes for the album Mother Africa, for which the sisters rerecorded it.
In 1971, The Lijadu Sisters met famed British rock drummer Ginger Baker (Cream, Blind Faith, Airplane), who at the time was a frequent visitor to Nigeria, where he recorded and performed with Afrobeat star Fela Kuti and his band, Africa 70. In 1972, Taiwo and Kehinde performed with Ginger Baker’s band at the cultural festival accompanying the Munich Olympics in Germany.
Multi-instrumentalist Biddy Wright played an essential role in the production of all four of the classic 1970s Lijadu Sisters albums released on Decca’s Afrodisia imprint. Wright co-arranged and played most of the instruments on these discs – including electric and acoustic guitar, bass guitar, saxophone and keyboards. In the same way as Taiwo and Kehinde, Wright was skilled at bringing traditional and electric styles together.
By 1980, the Lijadu Sisters were getting international attention. They were featured in British director Jeremy Marre’s fiIm Konkombe: The Nigerian Pop Music Scene in 1979, and in the Nigerian chapter of Marre’s TV series on “world music,” Beats of the Heart. In 1984, American record label Shanachie released the compilation album Double Trouble, and the British label Earthworks rereleased Horizon Unlimited. In 1985, Kehinde and Taiwo were a big hit on British television, on the music show The Tube. In 1988, they visited the United States with Sunny Ade, and performed under their own name with Ade’s band, winning an enthusiastic review in The New York Times.
The Lijadu Sisters stayed in the United States and things were going well until misfortune struck. Kehinde suffered horrible spinal injuries in a fall in the hallway of the twins’ Brooklyn (New York) apartment building. “The first doctor who saw me gave me six months to live,” says Kehinde. “Then they said I would never walk again. But I said to myself, ‘I will be strong, I will not give up, I owe it to my family.’”
While Kehinde was recovering, the twins disappeared from the music scene. After many years, Kehinde got better. “I am walking, even dancing again now,” she says. “But I cannot sit down for more than two hours at a time, and I cannot fly any distance at all.”
The accident kept The Lijadu Sisters disconnected from the music scene until 2011, when Knitting Factory Records’ reissue program began. “Our mother taught us that unless we had something to promote, it was best not to do interviews,” says Taiwo. “Save it for when you have something to talk about. And we have not spoken for a long time. But the Knitting Factory program means we have something to talk about once more. We are back, and we are going to perform again.”
“It is decades since we have performed publicly,” adds Kehinde, “but now we are ready – and the music will be of today! We thank our fans for remembering us, and we want them to know why we have been silent. We love them very much.”
Kehinde and Taiwo currently share an apartment in Harlem, New York City.
Mother Africa is a masterful Afrobeat album by two of the greatest Nigerian performers on the 1970s, The Lijadu Sisters.