Of the many great talents of the classic Nigerian highlife scene, none contained the existential depth, transcendence and grace of Celestine Ukwu. During his brief time in this world, he pursued education, music, and philosophy; first as a school teacher, then ultimately a singer, lyricist and musician, first as a member of Gentleman Mike
Ejeagha’s Premier Dance Band, and eventually fronting his own groups, The Music Royals and The Philosophers National. Beginning in the early 1970s, The Philosophers National established a radical shift in the possibilities of Nigerian highlife by moving away from the typical mid-century style and cutting a new path with a distinctly hypnotic and cerebral atmosphere. This sense of depth was apparent in the lilting, multi-layered and pulsing music of The Philosophers National, as well as the concise and clear-eyed lyrics sung so beautifully by Celestine Ukwu. The arrangements establish a living, breathing environment for each song; muted trumpet solos, hypnotic guitar runs, driving percussion; every instrument gracefully following a tide of patience, tranquility, wonder, climax, knowing and unknowing.

“Celestine ditched the jaunty dance rhythms and relatively facile lyrics typical of the reigning highlife tunes, and ignoring the soul music tropes most of the highlife bandleaders were appropriating in an effort to inject new life to their ailing format. Instead Celestine concocted a new highlife style that was more contemplative and lumbering; with the layering of Afro-Cuban ostinato basslines and repetitive rhythm patterns that interlocked to create an effect that was hypnotic, virtually transcendental. Meanwhile, Celestine himself sang as he stood coolly onstage in a black turtleneck and a sportscoat, looking like a university professor. The message was clear: this was not necessarily music for dancing—even though the rhythms were compelling enough. This was music for the thinkers.” – Uchenna Ikonne

This LP compiles some of Celestine Ukwu’s deepest and most affecting songs from the 1970s, which have been gorgeously restored and remastered by Tim Stollenwerk to highlight the brilliant details of Celestine and the entire Philosopher’s National. Pressed on 160 gram black vinyl at Smashed Plastic in Chicago, and comes in heavy 3 spot-color jacket, with fold-over insert with bilingual lyrics and notes by Uchenna Ikonne (Comb & Razor Sound).