Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu, better known as The Lijadu Sisters are identical twins musicians who blazed through the charts in Nigeria in the 70s and early 80s. Stylistically, it would be hard to put them in a box. Their sound was an amalgamation of afrobeat, reggae, soul, R&B, disco and traditional Yoruba rhythms. The usually sang in Yoruba and English, and occasionally in other Nigerian dialects. On Mother Africa, they mostly sing in Yoruba, the exception being the track Dibe Nuwa, which they sing in Yoruba and Igbo.
As youngsters, their mother, noting their affinity for singing, encouraged them and bought them records by musicians like Victor Olaiya, Miriam Makeba, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles among others. These artists inspired them. They also happened to be second cousins to Fela Kuti, so music was sort of in the blood.
Before The Lijadu Sisters became big stars in Nigeria (they already had local success in Lagos), they toured Europe and North America with Ginger Baker’s band Salt. They played at the World Music Festival in 1972, which was held during the Munich Olympics. On their return they embarked on tandem solo careers. But while found national success, their international success was only moderate. Nevertheless, they rode their success well into the 80s, culminating in a US tour with King Sunny Ade.
After that tour, they started fielding offers from record labels, but nothing ever materialized. They also felt that the labels they’d recorded under had been ripping them off, so they essentially retired from the entertainment business. They made NYC their home, and have lived there ever since.
The recent resurgence in West African music in the west brought them attention and new fans outside of their Nigerian base, but along with the attention was also appropriation and copyright-infringement. One such incident was the rapper Nas’s use of Life’s Gone Down Low off their Danger album. It wasn’t just a sample; he literally took the entire chorus, hook, bridge and instrumental.
Mother Africa was the second release (Danger was first) of four albums by the twins on the Afrodisia label, a label launched by Decca West Africa. The label was a powerhouse in Nigeria; it was the home of major players like Fela Kuti, The Oriental Brothers International Band and BLO. Like its predecessor, social and political issues are at the core, addressed in mesmerizing and enchanting lyrics, which are accompanied by unmistakable Yoruba percussion.
On the surface, it’s a great album, full of great songs, and it should be lauded for that. But it’s more than just a funky album. There are messages embedded in this 35-year old-album that remain relevant today. Take for instance the song Dibe Nuwa. I mentioned earlier that it was sung in both Yoruba and Igbo. That wasn’t just a stylistic decision. The Biafran war had ended less than a decade before, a war in which most of the casualties were Igbo people. It was still fresh in the minds of the populace, and ethnic tensions were still high (the tension remains to some degree today). The song was a plea for peace, not just in Nigeria but all over the world. It was, however, the victims of Biafra (Igbos) that inspired the song, hence the Igbo lyrics. With the current ethnic tensions and clashes in the middle belt of Nigeria, this, and other messages on this album, still needs to be heard.
Mother Africa is now available as a reissue from Knitting Factory. I can’t recommend it enough; top stuff from start to finish. Even if you are not a native Yoruba speaker, you’ll find that the popular description of music as a universal language rings true here. The Lijadu Sisters convey their points succinctly and with palpable emotion. When you can do that, language will never be a barrier.
The Lijadu Sisters are as enchanting today as they were decades ago. They still dress alike and complete each others sentences. Below is a video of them in their NYC apartment.