Apr 12, 2011

Highlife classic: Dan Satch and the Professional Atomic 8 Band - Ikoro's '70 Special

Dan Satch has quite the mysterious background, not much is known about this particular gentleman or his band. Originally from Nigeria and presumably from Aba, according to the back cover of Ikoro’s 70’s Special, “Dan Satch Joseph was a seasoned trumpeter and arranger. He started playing the trumpet in 1959 and was the trumpeter leader of Bobby Benson & his Jam Session Band until 1961. In 1962 he made the move to Aba and formed the Atomic “8? Dance Band.” He’s released some 45s and a 10” album including an LP with Mary Asi Usuah, although there’s seems to be some confusion about his name. The 10? credits him as Dan Satch Joseph while the later (LP) credits him as Dan Satch Ekpe. He has also been confused with Ferdinand Dan Satch Emeka Opara, who was the co-founder of the Oriental Brothers Band. The Atomic 8 band were a more traditional based Highlife dance band where as the Oriental Brothers were a more guitar based Highlife band. It only seems natural to assume the relation of the two, since Ikoro’s Special was recorded in ‘69 and the Orientals were founded in ‘71, both bands were from different areas, the Atomics were based in Aba, while Dan Satch Opara hailed from the Owerri area.

Former conga player Sonny Akpan who left the group to play with the Funkees, confirmed that Dan Satch Joseph came from Akwa Ibom and the actual vocalist singing on Woman Pin Down is Mohammed Ahidjo, who later became the lead singer with the funkees as well. Woman Pin Down was a record I seeked for quite sometime and I was able to ease my mind once I finally got my hands on it. This is the perfect example of West African Highlife at it’s finest, I hope this track moves you just as much as it did me.



Ikoro's '70 Special (Philips West Africa 6386008) by Dan Satch and the Professional Atomic 8 Band is an album I've been intrigued by for many years. A friend loaned it to me twenty years ago, minus the sleeve, and I dubbed it to a 10" tape reel. The reel lay unlistened to for many years in a box in my office, until I finally was able to digitize it, and many others, last fall.

What has always been a mystery to me has been the identity of "Dan Satch." There is, of course, a well-known Nigerian musician by that name, guitarist Ferdinand Dan Satch Emeka Opara, a co-founder of the legendary Oriental Brothers Band of Owerri. I had always assumed that the Atomic 8 Band was something he was involved in before hooking up with the Orientals (since Ikoro's '70 was recorded in 1969 and the Orientals were founded around 1971 this seemed plausible).

There are some problems with this assumption. The Atomics followed the style of danceband highlife greats like Rex Lawson and Bobby Benson, with some interesting pop and Afrobeat touches. The Orientals, of course, were the pre-eminent representatives of the guitar-based highlife sound that displaced the old dance band sound in the '70s. The two bands' respective styles couldn't be more different. Moreover, the Atomics were based in Aba while Dan Satch Opara hails from the Owerri area.

Which is where things stood until a few months ago, when I received an email from our friend Rainer in Switzerland. It seems he had obtained a copy of the original Atomic 8 10" LP, including the sleeve, and he kindly sent me a scan. One look and it was clear that the leader of the Professional Atomic 8 Dance Band and Dan Satch Opara were not the same person. The liner notes state:

The Atomic "8" Dance Band is led by Dan Satch Joseph who is a seasoned pure tone trumpeter and an arranger. Thirty years old Dan Satch started playing the trumpet in 1959 and was the trumpeter leader of Bobby Benson & his Jam Session Band until 1961. In 1962 he moved to Aba and formed the Atomic "8" Dance Band.

So even though it is fairly clear now that there is no connection between the Professional Atomic 8 Band and the Oriental Brothers, Ikoro's 70 Special is an excellent album in its own right: a glimpse into the long-lost era of sophisticated Nigerian dance music. Moreover, the use of various languages indicates that the Nigerian music scene was maybe not always as splintered as it is today.

Tracks by the Atomic 8 have been popping up lately on various compilations of classic Nigerian music, on Rusted Highlife Vol. 1 (Mossiac MMCD 1812, 1996), Lagos All Routes (Honest Jon's Records HJRCD 17, 2005), and this year's much-acclaimed Nigeria Special (Soundway SNDWCD 009). The track order on the Ikoro's 70 Special record sleeve is different from that on the record itself and includes two songs that are not on the record, "Eluwa" and "Hasiam." The track order here follows that of the record.



01. My Girl
02. Ikoro
03. Eluwa
04. Ochu Okuko Nwe Ada
05. Hasiam
06. Tamuno Dan Satch
07. Kente
08. Adiagha Obong
09. Aka Di Nwata Mma
10. Onye Huru Odum
11. Take Your Time
12. Calabar - O

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