THE 1971 GINGER BAKER STORY- HOW HE DROVE FROM ALGERIA TO NIGERIA TO SET UP ONE OF THE FIRST & BEST MUSIC STUDIO BY AN INDIVIDUAL
‘He drove from Algeria through the Sahara desert to Nigeria to set up ‘ARC’ Studios at Ikeja, Lagos state. The Studio was a huge success. Paul McCartney arrived with Wings to record part of his Band on the Run studio album there. Due to the level of expertise deployed on the project, the sound quality was far higher than any that EMI Records studio in Nigeria offered at the time……
The Ginger Baker’s ‘ARC’ studios was overwhelming and threatening to some. At Paul McCartney and Wing’s farewell party in Lagos, EMI’s overseas Managing Director informed Ginger, ‘We’re going to screw you… This is EMI’s territory!’…….
Words By Sesan Adeniji
The Ginger Baker in Africa story reads like a sold-out novel. How did one of the most influential English drummers of all time, an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, decide to come to Nigeria, set up what is arguably the best music recording studio (ARC studio located in Ikeja) that competed with some of the most established record company studios resident in Nigeria such as EMI, Decca and Tabansi. Baker impacted the Nigerian music industry massively.
It has been over fourteen years since I came in contact with his works. Ever since then, the legend of Ginger Baker has been playing in my head every time there’s a conversation about the history of the Nigerian music industry. For over sixty years, we have heard sound bites from various internationals that have proclaimed their love and interest for our music industry and the uniqueness of our sound but few have sincerely followed through with their words.
Ginger Baker is one man that kept his words and his promises. Arguably, maybe history will never again record someone like Baker that literally went through a road less travelled to get to Nigeria in order to understand our sounds (from the various borders), develop a strong affiliation with some of the most influential music icons from Nigeria and also invest in one of the foremost leading music recording studios in this country set up by an individual.
His relationship with Fela was epic; without his Fela’s documentary, we might have missed a major part in the history of Fela’s transformation from Highlife Jazz artiste to Afrobeat legend. With his inspiration, he put together Nigerians in the group called SALT that toured America and Northern Europe where the likes of Carlos Santana once opened for them. Without Baker’s earlier influence, we might never have had the success of the group BLOW and the exploits made by Laolu Akins and the Lijadu Sisters.
1971, Ginger Baker was one of the first Western Rock musicians that seriously took an active interest in the rich nature of Nigerian music. His curiosity with the sounds coming from various instruments and the performing artistes could be termed overwhelming. It was recorded that in 1970 when Ginger went to Ghana to visit his close friend, master drummer Guy Warren, he became fascinated by the music that he heard on a Nigerian radio station and he determined to go there and check out the scene, undeterred by the fact that there was a war going on at the time!
He sent a telegram to his old friend Fela Ransom-Kuti, whom he’d first encountered playing at The Flamingo Club in London quite a few years previously when Fela played the trumpet alongside fellow Nigerian, Remi Kabaka. Remi suggested to Baker that it would be a great idea to build a recording studio in Lagos; Ginger took up the challenge with alacrity. He wanted to achieve this great feat but wanted it done in a way that will make him share a personal experience, understanding, and relationship with the sound from the region and its people.
For the sound immersion with Nigerian music to be actualized, Ginger Baker did the unimaginable. With a Range Rover (that I presume he drove through France, especially because of lack of road paths in some regions, he shipped both himself and the car to Algeria- in my opinion), from Algeria, he drove through the Sahara Desert – via Niger until he got to Nigeria. On the way through, he made a stop in Kano and Ogbomosho to understand the sounds from these regions.
He finally ended up at Ikoyi in Lagos, where he gathered some of the great musical minds and hands in the industry. These few he called friends are from the group ‘Afro Collection’ put together by Tee Mac. The group includes the legendary drummer boy popularly known as Laolu Akins, Steve Black, and Beckly Jones among others. And for the several nights he spent putting together his documentary titled ‘Ginger Baker in Africa,’ they jammed together.
Baker also used this trip to record some of Fela’s performances. On one of those occasions, Fela invited him to Calabar to film during one of his performances that looked like an activation for Golden Leaf. Watching that aspect of the documentary where Fela was performing while the rain was pouring will forever remain epic. Through 1972 Ginger concentrated on getting the new Batakota ‘ARC’ studios up and running.
After many frustrating setbacks and technical hitches, it opened at the end of January 1973, close to the airport in Ikeja. The launch party was memorable with Fela Kuti and Milton Plumley from EMI in attendance. As Ginger says in ‘Hellraiser;’ the opening was a great success. It got in all the papers and was a high profile event. Things began auspiciously when Paul McCartney arrived with Wings to record part of his Band on the Run studio album.
Due to the level of expertise deployed on the project, the sound quality was far higher than any that EMI offered there at the time. However, it soon became apparent that all was not set to proceed without incident when at Wing’s farewell party in Lagos, EMI’s overseas Managing Director informed Ginger, ‘We’re going to screw you… This is EMI territory!’
Baker who founded the Rock Bank CREAM in 1966, lived in Nigeria up till 1976. During that period, he sat in for Fela Kuti during recording sessions in 1971 released by Regal Zonophone Regal as Live! (1971) Fela also appeared with Ginger Baker on ‘Stratavarious.’ (1972) Alongside Bobby Gass, a pseudonym for Bobby Tench from the Jeff Beck Group. ‘Stratavarious’ was later re-issued as part of the compilation ‘Do What You Like.’
In all of these, Ginger Baker came in, fell in love with our music, added value to it and left his mark in the sands of history in the Nigerian music industry.