The Importance of Odion Livingstone Records and the Impetus of Decolonizing African Music

African and Asian musicians are often living subserviently working for a white privileged man practicing homogenous postcolonialism. For decades, and to this day, African and Asian music was/is controlled by European and American corporations of the global north who impose their capitalist structures onto the south. In England with EMI, this meant: 1) pushing their products into the south to inundate and influence the markets; and 2) investing in studio infrastructure in former colonies to record and market music regionally, with no real intention of allowing it back the other way to compete globally. More often than not, these local studios employed professionals who were connected to the music scene and could find and sign talent.

Debut reissue by Odion Livingstone Friday Night by Livy Ekemezie remastered & pressed on blue vinyl originally released 1983

To that end, EMI was lucky to have producer/arranger Odion Iruoje on staff as it entered the Nigerian pop market in the early 1970s. He had an amazing ear, recruiting and recording some of the best artists of the 20th century: BLO, Ofege, Geraldo Pino, Grotto, The Black Hippies, Apples, Lijadu Sisters, Monomono, Question Mark, Tony Grey, and Fela Kuti. His signature sound was to produce bands who played African indigenous rhythms, vocalizations, and instrumentations, but synthesized to incorporate western funk, rock, and psychedelia. What he did not want, by his own admission, were artists blandly recreating Western pop sounds while adding nothing of their own musical fingerprint. Listening to Iruoje’s diverse productions today, whether it’s highlife, boogie, disco, or afrobeat, one can hear this singular aim everywhere, especially in percussion and bass lines.

Identify With Your Root (Which One You De?) Odion Iruoje

Over the years, some of these rare productions would be “discovered” and reissued in unauthorized form by privileged white northerners, some of which would negotiate royalties with living artists or their relatives, while others would not. Some label owners use their cultural capital as niche genre aficionados to justify their (re)exploitation, perceiving themselves as committed to a “good cause” (e.g. sticking it to EMI and/or bringing obscure artists to humanity) while failing to see the broader postcolonial picture and how others might be impacted by their actions. Ingrained with notions of ownership, expertise, and prestige, they cannot accept that they need to step aside and be removed from the equation completely.

In 2016, Nigerian DJ/archivist Temitope Kogbe, having spotted Odion Iruoje’s name as the common denominator among dozens of obscure masterpieces, approached him about a partnership to rectify this. Together they founded the label Odion Livingstone. Since the company is African owned and based out of Lagos, Nigeria, one might say Odion Livingstone is decolonizing popular African music, some of which was originally owned by Iruoje’s former employer, EMI. The label seeks to reissue his productions while making sure that the African musicians involved, or their next of kin, get the royalties they are due. Moreover, Iruoje and Kogbe are preserving and taking economic control of their own cultural heritage and ensuring that those responsible for these creative accomplishments reap the continued benefits of their work.

Gboyega Adelaja Colourful Environment LIVST006

As for the quality of their reissues, they are deep and highly satisfying, with superb sound and art design that adheres to the original releases, often with new liner notes by both the artist and Odion Iruoje. 

Get to know more about Odion Livingstone from the founders themselves.

Check out their catalog of offerings.

Written by Karen Lee (Weekend Family Music Hour) & Jim Bunnelle (Center for Cassette Studies)

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