the lijadu sisters

Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu, better known as The Lijadu Sisters, are the much loved Nigerian singer-songwriters. Born in Jos - northern Nigeria - in 1948 the pair sang and wrote songs from a young age and later established themselves as session singers. By the time they were 20, their beautiful voices and unique sound helped them get ahead, even in a music industry whose best-known stars - Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti, Victor Uwaifo, Ayinla Kollington - were men.  At just 20 they had released their first single ‘Iya Mi Jowo’ (“mother please”). The track ‘Danger’ was released in 1976 on an album of the same name. On the surface at lease it’s about a ‘dangerous lover’, but it might also be said to address broader contexts (compare it to Fela’s ‘Zombie’, also released in 1976, an eviscerating take on army and police abuse of power). A little known about ‘Danger’ is that it has a bridge which is almost identical to the one used by Jamaican duo Althea and Donna on their international hit ‘Uptown Top Ranking' (1975) and Trinity's 'Three Piece Suit' (1977). The Sisters say the influence is a matter of coincidence, 'something that was in the air at the time'.

Going for ADDS on 11.1: The Lijadu Sisters - 'Danger' (KF)

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In Nigeria in the 1970s, only a tiny handful of female artists broke through the backing singer/dancer ceiling to become stars in their own right, particularly if they wrote all their own material – as did The Lijadu Sisters, whose repertoire ranged from love songs and dance anthems through philosophy and political/social commentary.

The Lijadu Sisters’ Afrodisia debut, 1976’s Danger, is as funky and mellifluous as it gets, the twins’ gorgeous harmonies underpinned by a solid Afro-rock beat and framed by Biddy Wright’s funky organ and guitar work. Danger has the vibe of uplifting positivity which would be a feature of all four of The Lijadu Sisters’ Afrodisia albums.

Lyrically, most of the songs address social and political issues, sometimes directly, sometimes through metaphor and allusion. The uptempo opener, “Danger,” is on one level about a “dangerous lover.” But in the wider context of the times – with the police and army’s abuses of power running rampant and otherwise unchecked (Fela Kuti’s eviscerating Zombie was also released in 1976) – it captures life on the edge in contemporary Nigeria.

In Yoruba, “Amebo,” which follows, literally means “someone who gossips.” The twins here extend the word to mean they are watching the powers that be – “your office of power” and “the work you have done” – and will not be afraid to speak up about wrongdoing and incompetence.

They do just that on “Cashing In,” which addresses the complacency and corruption of the Nigerian ruling elite in general, and in particular the then-recent revelation that government ministers were flying prostitutes into the country at the tax payers’ expense. Such people are cashing in, sing Taiwo and Kehinde in the refrain, while “poverty’s a common sight.”

The slow and mournful “Lord Have Mercy,” which closes the album, returns, heartbreakingly, to the idea of poverty amidst national economic wealth. It tells the story of a boy the twins saw “dying on the street…children starving; mama’s dead, poppa’s gone; life is wasted; Lord, have mercy; Lord, hear me crying.”

The remaining tracks, “Life’s Gone Down” and “Bobby,” are respectively an example of The Lijadu Sisters’ signature positivity (“it’s not too late, if we hurry; people get together, life’s gonna get good”), and a rock-steady infused love song.

Focus Tracks: 1, 3, 4, 5
FCC: CLEAN

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Twin singers Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu work out a number for a new album and discuss their experience as female artists in the Nigerian music industry. 1979-80

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In one of the most brazen displays of jacking someone’s work, look no further than the song Life’s Gone Low by Nas.

It wasn’t just a simple sample, Nas literally took the chorus, hook, bridge, instrumental and title from The Lijadu Sisters and just rapped between it. He did it without their permission.

The song he lifted was Life’s Gone Down Low off the 1976 Danger album by the Lijadu Sisters. Click here to hear the original version. While you’re at it, buy their records. They’re still alive.

In Afrospect: The Lijadu Sisters

BEHIND THE MUSIC: THE LIJADU SISTERS- This Nigerian 70’s band was made up of a set of twin sisters with a wicked sense of humour and a unique perspective on life. Here’s a transcript of a short interview they did, along with a snippet from a documentary from the 70’s in which they talk about the role of women in the music industry at the time.


A reporter once asked them: Now that your horizon is opening up, what plans do you have for your future?

Lijadu Sisters: We don’t always look beyond our noses, because Man proposes but God disposes, but we are optimists.

R: Are you as rich as you are famous?
LS: As rich as rich can be. We are comfortable. We own one Volkswagen beetle and a joint bank account with plenty of money in it. Most of the time we are broke.

R: Are you religious?
LS: Very. We are catholics although not the Church going type. Every time we feel the spirit moving in our hearts we walk into the nearest church or Mosque and pray.

R: Do you have lovers?
LS: We are not dead. Not yet. We are living beings. To live and to love is the essence of our life. If you don’t have someone who loves you, you are dead. If we didn’t have lovers how come we compose love songs?

R: Do you take drugs?
LS: NO. We are permanently high.

R: You said you have four children but you are not married.
LS: We are not baby killers. Just because we had children with men we never got married to does not mean we had to kill them. We love children because children are a gift from God.

R: Would you have the same lover?
LS: If we did, we don’t see the need for it because there are many eligible men around. Even though we are twins, we want to be exclusive.

R: What do you think of yourselves?
LS: We are fantastic.

R: Do you wear the same clothes?
Kehinde: Taiwo is wearing my blouse and I’m wearing her wrapper.

R: What do you do when not singing?
LS: Playing with our kids, cooking, painting or climbing trees.

R: What kind of men would you like as friends?
LS: Simple, intelligent and responsible men.

R: Do you plan to get married?
LS: You talk too much.

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Life’s Gone Down Low - The Lijadu Sisters

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lijadu_Sisters

Juju stars Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey and Dele Abiodun; Afrobeat originator Fela Anikulapo Kuti and ozzidizm originator Sonny Okosuns; highlife rejuvenators Victor Uwaifo, Prince Nico and the Oriental Brothers; fuji stars Ayinla Kollington and Ayinde Barrister; apala veteran Haruna Ishola; waka child prodigy Salawa Abeni; and roots-modernists the Lijadu Sisters. With the exception of Abeni and the Lijadu Sisters, the biggest names on the 1970s Nigerian music scene were all men.

In Nigeria in the 1970s, only a tiny handful of female artists broke through the backing singer/dancer ceiling to become stars in their own right, particularly if they wrote all their own material – as did Abeni, with lyrics closely based on or taken straight out of Islamic scripture and folk wisdom, and the Lijadu Sisters, whose repertoire ranged from love songs and dance anthems through philosophy and political/social commentary.

“The music business was hard for women in Nigeria,” says Taiwo Lijadu. “Back then, they didn’t think women had brains.”

More Vintage Nigerian photos

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The Lijadu Sisters in rehearsal and conversation

“Twin singers Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu work out a number for a new album and discuss their experience as female artists in the Nigerian music industry. (circa 1979/80)”

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The Lijadu Sisters - “Life’s Gone Down Low”