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My Biafran Story

My Biafran Story .org website is a collection of eye witness accounts of the Nigerian-Biafran civil war.

Music in a time of war - 1

mybiafranstory.org Photo Credit - Chyke Maduforo

I was working with the International Committee of the Red Cross when I met members of the Figures Band taking refuge in

my village. They had escaped from Port Harcourt after it fell to the Nigerian soldiers and were trying to re-organize.

I fitted in perfectly with my skills and took over the drums. Berkely Jones moved from the drums to the lead guitar. Lemmy Faith was the lead singer and also handled the second guitar. Iyke Njoku was our Road Manager. Pat Moore joined us at Abba, Nkwerre, when we went to entertain the soldiers hospitalized at the Armed Forces Hospital. The commandant was Lieutenant Omoshe. We also performed at Research and Production centres. One was at Obizi High School at Mbaise here. Our music was so good that the Biafran Navy adopted us and changed our name to Sailors, so we started to perform for them when they had functions.

There were other music groups functioning in Biafra. One of them was the Atomic Eight, a High Life band which was in existence even before the war started. They were based at the Traveller’s Lodge, Aba. Their members were musically literate so the band was used by Mik Nzewi and Sonny Oti – a lecturer at the University of Jos – as a propaganda machine to entertain visitors and show the world what was going on in Biafra. Their performances were like orchestras and dance dramas and they were very effective. There were other groups, such as The Hykkers, The Fractions, The Jets and The Admirals. The propaganda group would use any of these groups, including ours, to entertain the forces in different camps, brigades and divisions. Sometimes we even played close to the front.

I remember an incident that happened at Akabo when the Nigerian soldiers were trapped in Owerri town. The brigade was very close to where we were performing and the soldiers were dancing and saying, “This war wey we dey fight so, abi make we come die when our ogas dey drink tea for house?” The following morning they’ll say, “Last night, that band good o!” Sometimes they even exchanged beer and cigarettes. But when there was a fight, they will fight to finish, because in the army they say the last order must be obeyed. These were the untold stories – the friendships within the war. This was the outlook in Biafra and it was very lively. It boosted the morale of the Biafran soldiers because they were not being paid. Where were they going to spend the money? What would they spend it on? There were supposed to do what was called allotments, which was to send part of their salaries to their families but when everything broke down – addresses, movements – that ended naturally. So they got their comfort through music. In fact the best friends of the soldiers were the musicians.

It was at this point we were called to come to Nkwerre to form another group. So, I, Berkely Jones and Pat Moore left Oguta and went to Nkwerre. We formed The Funkees and the day the group was launched was a terrific day. We decided on the name because the reigning dance style was funk and instead of spelling it FUNKIES, we decided on FUNKEES. We played with this name during the last bit of the war and that was what made us so popular. We were playing copy right by The Beetles, James Brown, Percy Sledge, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, many others. We couldn’t record our own music because there were no recording studios so we were playing live shows.



The Nigerian soldiers were approaching Nkwerre so the gun shots were coming closer. All they were doing at this time was looting. There was confusion everywhere. As if on cue, the other groups started to fold up one after the other. The Jets lost three of their members in a ghastly accident. The Fractions got locked up in military confinement for offences they committed against someone. The Hykkers split up while The Blossoms remained with the Nigerian Army at Owerri. But The Funkees had taken a decision to stay together and go into Nigeria together. We were prepared to be captured and we said, “If we must die, let us die together.”

That is how we became the only group that survived with both personnel and instruments intact. Providence also smiled on us when we met this Nigerian Army Lieutenant who saw us and it was as if he picked gold. He planned to take us to Owerri but he needed time to arrange for a vehicle that will take us and our equipment. It was at this time that we met Jake Solo, the bassist for The Fractions. He was with his brother, IK, now a medical Doctor, and Mike Collins, the drummer for The Fractions. They had just come out of confinement with their hairs shaved. We took them on and eventually, the army lieutenant came with a brand new Land Rover and we set off.

On the way, all we were seeing were dead bodies – both Biafran and Nigerian soldiers. It took us five hours to meander through this stretch of corpses. We arrived at Owerri at about 8.00 pm and were taken to Imo Motels. Later that night, Obasanjo, who was the commander of the 3rd division, came to receive us with his adjutant – Col Tumoye, whose brother-in-law was our bassist. His name was Felix Udofia and he had been the second bassist of The Hykkers. Colonel Tumoye came looking for Felix, who we called Murphy Lee, because they had information he was playing with a musical group. To determine we were not soldiers sent to kill him, Obasanjo asked us to play for him. Luckily, we had Jake Solo with us, so we performed and their fears were allayed. They handed us over to one Captain Keru who took good care of us.

Obasanjo promised to invite us to Port Harcourt but he didn’t. What we understood later on was they had asked all the Biafran officers to come and register at Owerri, but the Igbos were reluctant to come out. They were afraid they’ll exterminate them like what happened in Asaba. We later discovered that the reason Obasanjo left us at Owerri was to use our shows and draw young men out.

The same thing happened with civil servants at Enugu. Ukpabi Asika was finding it difficult to rehabilitate the Igbos and Enugu was a ghost town when we arrived. We started performing at Dayspring Hotel and Atlantic Hotel. Then we got into a deal with the 87 Division to perform monthly at the Officer’s Mess. The aim was to draw people out so that life can get back to normal. It worked because people started coming out, especially the young men who already knew The Funkees.

The Funkees is still in existence. Our policy is that the name will remain forever even if memberships change. Out of the original group, Berkely Jones, Pat Moore, Danny Heibs, Sonny Akpan and I are alive but they joined other groups after the war. I’m the only one from the original group that is left in the Funkees. Two years ago Danny and Sonny organised a theater show in London. I coordinate the new Funkees which is made up of two ladies and a man. They’ve done a remix of our songs in Igbo, English and French.

---- Chyke Maduforo 

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