Nigerian artist Celestine Ukwu grew up in a musical family and from a very young age he was surrounded by and inspired greatly by music! In his all-too-short life (he died at just 37 in a car accident) he brought colour and influence to Igbo highlife, channeling this through his bright vocals and the array of instruments he played (including horns, brass and drums!).
As a child he learnt how to read music and play the harmonium with the help of his uncle, and after completing his school education he went to teacher training school for two years – but dropped out to pursue music as a full-time career. By the early 1960’s he was singing and playing maraca’s in a group called the Paradise Rhythm Orchestra, but left this band to join Mr. Picolo’s band who, at the time, were touring the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He returned to Nigeria in 1966 and formed his own band, Celestine Ukwu & His Music Royals of Nigeria, but a year later they disbanded following the Nigerian Civil War. After the war in the early 1970’s, Ukwu formed another group called Celestine Ukwu & His Philosophers National; and with this band he released several albums, including his 1976 Igede Fantasia record, which was one of his big successes!
Okwukwe Na Nchekwube (translating as “Faith and Hope”) was released as a single by Celestine Ukwu and his Philosophers National in 1972 and was backed with the easy sounds of Mma Anyi Egbuna Anyi (translating as “We Are The Best”). I love the gloriously vibrant sounds of sunshine erupting from those bright horns as they immediately welcome you into their lands of golden paradise. The guitar is sooo dreamy too and has this (almost) Hawaiian tinge to its melody as bends and twists like the breeze. I was floating on this sound alone and didn’t even anticipate the added bonus of vocals, but halfway through this is exactly what you get! As these celestial tones drift in and work their magic, it shifts the dynamic to a whole new (and very divine) level and all I can say is that this is so gracefully beautiful and lives up to its name and then some! Check it out above.