In the 1970s, Nigerian popular music was lush with endlessly inventive hybrids and re-graftings of funk, soul and rock to home-grown roots and earlier hybrids such as highlife and juju. Less known to listeners outside of Africa, however, are the young Nigerian bands who took the bulk of their inspiration and energy from American and British pop and rock.
Question Mark’s 1974 Be Nice to the People is a fine example of Nigerian rock, featuring young, earnest and adventurous musicians who took parts of Mersey beat, progressive rock and psychedelia and blended them into something utterly personal, quirky and unforgettable.
The melodies are simple, the lyrics teenaged, innocent and heartfelt (“Hey, hey, girl...just give me a try.”; “ I wanna feel free…”; “Mary Anne is a very pretty girl”). The melodies and textures echo The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, The Grass Roots, The Youngbloods -- even Genesis and early King Crimson -- in their vocal harmonies, clean rhythm guitars, Farfisa-ish combo organ, melodic and busy electric bass, and crisp snare and cymbal work. Lead vocalist and keyboardist Frank Izoureh evinces a particular gift for melody and hook, creating nice little twists and turns that the other players navigate with enthusiasm and exuberance.
It’s that collective exuberance that gives the record its overall mood, that pulls the listener in. Drummer Chyke Okafor is a juggernaut, his power and precision occasionally propelling him ahead of the rest of the band. Bassist Amehi Izoureh is solid and churning while at the same time melodic and questing. Keyboardist Frank Izoureh’s solos pulse with the sense of a musician actually finding new ideas right in the unfolding moment. And when guitarist Victor Egbe steps on his fuzz pedal and takes flight, one might think of Ernie Isley sitting in with c. 1967 Jefferson Airplane.