IN the forest there is a giant tree called by the Yorubas the “Iroko,” which is shunned by all people, for in it lives the spirit of an old man who prowls about at night with a little torch and frightens travellers.
Anyone who sees the Iroko-man face to face goes mad and speedily dies.
Seeing the thick branches and mighty trunk of the Iroko, woodcutters are often tempted to cut the tree down and make use of the wood, but this is very unlucky, as it rouses the displeasure of the Iroko-man and brings misfortune on the woodcutter and all his family.
In any house which contains furniture made of Iroko-wood, there can be heard at night strange groaning and creaking noises; it is the spirit of the Iroko, imprisoned in the wood, who longs to wander about again through the forest with his little torch.
Yoruba Legends – M.I. Ogumefu
Interest in African music in the West really took off in the 70’s when Ginger Baker of Cream heard some Nigerian music on the radio whilst visiting fellow drummer Guy Warren in Ghana. Ginger decided to relocate to Lagos and check out the scene for a while. He went on to set up the Batakota (ARC) recording studios near the airport.
Artists like Santana and Jimi Hendrix were starting to take off in Nigeria and local bands imitated the sounds they were hearing, Blues and Psychedelic Rock, and fused it with African rhythms to create a new style. Baker was keen to get these emerging bands to record at his new state of the art studio.
Infamously, Paul McCartney and his band Wings were invited by Baker and the Nigerian government to record Band of the Run, but after recording one track McCartney switched to the rival EMI studio, set up by the UK based label to get in on the act. Ginger was (dis)credited on the LP notes for the track and he called McCartney an arsehole. Even Ginger’s friend Fela Kuti got involved and stormed EMI’s studio with a forty strong army to stop the recording session.
One of the bands to cut a single through ARC was Ifeanyi Henry & the Jaguu. Unfortunately like many of the artists that recorded at the studio, after the 45 was released they disappeared and there is no information on them. What they leave behind is a Psych Garage record about the Iroko tree. In That Iroko a lord tells his son that he will one day grow tall as “that Iroko tree was once a shrub”, and how, “You cannot sit down and get it / You cannot lie down and have it”, but have to stand tall and face life.
The ghostly organ, like the spirit of the Iroko tree, shrill brass trills and off key guitar really give the song a great psych flavour. I love it. The B side Love your Own is a nice surprise too.
“We are meant to grow my son”
Ifeanyi Henry & The Jaguu – That Iroko / Love Your Own (1975) – ARC Studio (ARC 1114 EP)