Most Nigerian pop stars adopt or acquire titles like King, Sir, Lord, Cardinal, etc, but the great Celestine Ukwu was happy to be a humble Professor and his band had the poetic name of the Philosophers. Ukwu began his career in the 1960s in Enugu, capital of the Eastern Region of Nigeria under Mike Ejeagha. He moved back to Onitsha where he formed the Music Royals, but the Biafran war put an end to their career in 1967. After the war he resurrected the band in the early 70s as the Philosophers National. Tragically Celestine Ukwu died in a car crash on 8 May 1977, not yet forty.

The liner notes to His Philosophies expound on his music:

"Listening to Celestine Ukwu generally and to this album in particular, he was not influenced by anybody. He evolved his own style and this is why he is an innovator and a true artist like Rex Lawson.

"His soft, gentle-paced music is totally reflective of his personality. He was soft-spoken, gentle, unassuming and highly talented.

"But perhaps what accounted mainly for his success was the fact that he was able to build the keyboards into highlife, blending and fusing them in an exotic manner with heavily accented percussion without losing the traditional flavour and rhythmic concept of the music.

"In the same vein, he introduced into highlife a great sense of group-vocal harmony singing, evident on the Efik song "Uwem Ereri Mbot' Emi" and he adopted a simple yet effective style of orchestration completely devoid of improvisations and embellishments, but thematic and basic in harmony and entire structure. 'Elege' is a fine example.

"As a composer, the late Celestine was prolific and outstanding. All his writings centred around the philosophy of life, moralising, correcting social ills and advocating for peace, unity and love -- from 'Ije Enu' his first big hit, and 'Osondu' to 'Money Palaver' and 'Elege' all of which are pregnant with meaningful messages and philosophy.

"As a singer he sang with conviction, feeling rather comfortable and at ease, at high, low and middle registers.

"Rex Jim Lawson dominated the highlife scene of the sixties. Celestine Ukwu took over and ruled the seventies."

--Benson Idonije, Radio Nigeria Two.

(His Philosophies was a compilation including three songs reissued from Ilo Abu Chi and two more from True Philosophy, his first album. However it did include part two of "Igede" and another hit in Pidgin English, "Money Palaver," about a woman who is a street walker, which was also gathered on Igede Fantasia.)

Celestine Ukwu was indeed soft-spoken and gentle and this is reflected in his music, which is softer and more laid-back than most Igbo highlife. He featured piano, vibraphone and pedal steel guitar. The vibraphone shimmers on "Ucha Chukwe Ka (God's will is supreme)" which was the B-side of his first single, a dreamy ten-minute workout replete with a lovely soprano sax solo, collected on the Tomorrow is So Uncertain LP in 1973.

His eleven-piece band truly was philosophical as their songs dealt with social evils and the need for peace.

"Igede," his smash hit from 1971, based on Igbo folklore, has all the earmarks of post-colonial Nigerian Highlife (music for those who could afford a good time): guitar, killer percussion, and an out-of-tune piano, but it has a relentless groove that sticks. While "Part One" of this classic of Nigerian danceband highlife can be found on the Flame Tree compilation, the album HIS PHILOSOPHIES features a second version of the song ("Part Two") that further deconstructs the melody. A muted trumpet with a wah-wah sound mocks the vocals as the hand-drums rattle in complex concordance. It's a sparkling, poetic track that will always conjur up the good times.

His album ILO ABU CHI from 1974 contained "Elege," "Ejina Uwa nya isi (Don't be arrogant)", "Uwem ereri mbot emi (No rest 'til Death)", "Nwa anyi egbuna anyi (We should not kill ourselves)", and "Okwukwe na nchekwube (Faith and trust)", all of which are included on the Flametree GREATEST HITS CD. "Ije enu (Life)", which leads off that compilation, is drawn from the album HIS PHILOSOPHIES, 1975, along with "Osondu (Escape from Death)." But, despite the title, this is not his greatest hits, just a slice of his great music. Missing here most notably is "Money Palaver," one of his big hits. And I have not yet discovered his earliest recording and hit "No Condition is Permanent."

Born in 1940, Celestine was educated musically by his uncle who taught him how to read music and play harmonium. His grandmother was a folk musician and dancer and his father, who worked as a coal miner, was a popular local performer of igede, ikpa and ode music. His mother was lead singer for a women's dance troupe.

After Catholic primary school, where he excelled in drama and music, Celestine went to teacher training school for two years, dropping out in 1960 to join Mike Ejeagha's group as vocalist and maraca player. But he soon left to join a group led by Mr Picolo who were going to tour the Congo. Thus an early exposure to Congolese music had a huge impact on his own musical formation.

On his return to Nigeria he briefly joined a group called African Baby Party. Three months later he moved to Maiduguri and formed Freedom Jazz Band, but then he moved to Zaria and formed The Republic Knights with Charles Jebba.

But he moved again, to Onitsha, where he fronted the Niger City Starlighters. With this formation he made his debut recordings, and scored hits with "No Condition is Permanent," "Artificial Beauty," "Appolonia," and "Ije Enu." This latter song sold 200,000 copies in 3 months.

After nine months he decided to start anew and with the help of Matthias Okafor who owned the Frontline Hotel, Onitsha, and who rented instruments for him, Ukwu was able to start Celestine Ukwu & His Music Royals of Nigeria in April 1962. The band was a huge success for five years. In 1967 the Biafran War broke out and the non-Biafran members of the band fled, while Ukwu recorded "Hail Biafra!" and did his bit to boost morale during the strife. In addition to singing he also played drums and vibraphone on his recordings. The band toured neighbouring countries and even went to West Germany. In 1972 students at the University of Nigeria renamed his band the Philosophers National. In 1977 at the age of 37, Ukwu died in a car wreck.

Band members

The band members sometimes wore a uniform: a striped shirt with dark trousers, while Ukwu generally wore a dark suit over a white polo neck shirt.
From the net we learn about John "Afro" Odigwe, who grew up in Benin. He is a professional trumpet player who started out in 1967 with Fela Ransome Kuti. In 1968 he quit Fela's band (the musicians weren't paid: just given food and accommodation) & joined Rex Lawson for 3 years. He also played with Ukwu in the early days, performing on the hits "No Condition is Permanent" & "Ijenu."

From the biography The Life & Work of Celestine Ukwu, by R. Okafor, A. Nwokike, C. Eziechi & J. Egudu (Enugu & Lagos: New Generation Books, 1999) I have gleaned the following names, and song title translations. A photo on p. 113 shows Ukwu singing with Joe Ugokwe (i.e. Igbokwe?) from Abagana playing saxophone (now with Stephen Osita Osadebe), and Dennis Akwa, an Efik vocalist.

The Philosophers National Dance Band

Emma Ikediashi was lead guitarist
Anthony Mogbo (aka Buzuzu) was vocalist
Harry Mosco Agada (lead guitar, composer of "Sugar Cane Baby")
Goddy Oku (lead guitar)
Paul Adis & Dennis Akwa (rhythm guitars)
Didi (from Cameroun) on bass
Joe Igbokwe (sax & trombone)
Roxy Edet (trumpet)
Joe Ibeto (sax)
Walter Igbodo (tenor sax, band leader)
Goddy Eze (clarinet, sax, flute)
Jacob Okii (maracas)
Blessed Bazima, Bolingo, and Black Shadow (congas).
Goddy Odinkemere & Ferdy Ohans were drummers. With the Philosophers Celestine Ukwu released seven albums. His output is only about 40 songs, listed below.

After Ukwu's death they continued for two years as the Celestine Ukwu Memorial Dance band, led by vocalist "Buzuzu" Mogbo.



"Artificial Beauty" (Pidgin English) by Celestine Ukwu & the Niger City Starlighters. Philips 38 3025 PF

"Ije Enu" (Ibo: Igede) b/w "Uche chukwu ka (God's blessing is supreme)" (Ibo: Pachanga) by Celestine Ukwu & His Music Royals of Nigeria. Philips 38 3250 PF (A side on True Philosophy; B-side on Tomorrow is so Uncertain)

"Uso Ndu" by Celestine Ukwu & His Music Royals of Nigeria. Philips Phono 3846172 PF (A side on True Philosophy)

"Appolonia" (no info)

"Asili" by Celestine Ukwu & His Music Royals of Nigeria. Nigerphone NXF 372

"Okwu eji n'elo (Matters of mutual agreement)" (Ibo: Egwu obi) b/w "Akwa a na-ebelu ego" (Ibo: Highlife) by Celestine Ukwu & His Music Royals of Nigeria. Nigerphone NXF 388

"Hail Biafra!" by Celestine Ukwu & His Music Royals of Nigeria. Onitsha: Nigerphone NXF 388 / NXF411 (Ashe) Guitarist: Harry Mosco Agada

"A Nation is Born" (1968?) Biafra Association in the Americas, First Independence Anniversary Special XB-339

"Ilo Abu Chi" [Philips 6043 251 PF 1971 -- redone for the album]

"Igede" Philips PF 384 617 1970 (On True Philosophy)

"Adam" b/w "Uwem ereri mbot emi" (written by Ukwa & Dennis Akwa) Philips 6259 172 PE 1972 (B side on Ilo Abu Chi)

"Ejina uwa nya isi" b/w "Ilo abu chi" Philips 6259 139 PE 1972 (Both on Ilo Abu Chi, 1974 & No Condition is Permanent, Mississippi Records, 2022)

"Okwukwe na nchekwube (Faith & hope)" b/w "Mma anyi egbuna anyi (May our kindness not lead us to doom)" Philips-West African-Records 6259 173 1972 (tracks A4 & B1 on Ilo Abu Chi LP)

"Onwunwa (Temptation)" b/w "Ife si na chi (Destiny)" Philips-West African-Records PF 384 618
Tracks 3 & 4 on True Philosophy; "Onwunwa" also on No Condition is Permanent, Mississippi Records, 2022

"Elege" b/w "Wishes" Philips 6043 250 PF 1974(?) (B-side uncollected)

"Obialu be onye abiagbunia (A guest must depart)" b/w "Mmefie Adiro Mgbayalu Ama Di"
(from His Philosophies Philips-West African-Records 6043 251PF 1974-5)


[TRUE PHILOSOPHY] (Lagos: Philips Nigeria 6361 009 PL) 1971

[titled on disc but not on sleeve]

A1. Igede pt I
2. Uso Ndu (The Sweetness of life) His second single release
3. Onwunwa (Temptation)
4. Ife si na chi (Destiny)
5. Ije Enu (Life's sojourn) His first big hit, originally recorded with the Music Royals
B1. Ilo Oyi (Betrayal among friends)
2. Uwa bu Olili (Life is a Social call)
3. Onye akwana uwa (Let none bemoan the world)
4. Onwu bu ugwo (Death is a debt)
5. Akwa a na-ebelu ego (Worries over money) "B"-side of his third single

A3 included on No Condition is Permanent, Mississippi Records, 2022
reviewed on Nigeria part 3 page

TOMORROW IS SO UNCERTAIN (Philips Nigeria 6361 048 PL) 1973

A1. Tomorrow is So Uncertain
2. Ndu Bulu Ililo (If life were weed)
B1. Uche Chukwu ka (God's will is supreme) "B"-side of his first single
2. Man Proposes and God Disposes

The title cut of this LP included on No Condition is Permanent, Mississippi Records, 2022

alternate cover

ILO ABU CHI (Philips Nigeria 6361 058 PL) 1974

A1. Elege
2. Ejina uwa nya isi (Do not boast of what you have)
3. Obialu be onye abiagbunia (A Guest must depart)
4. Okwukwe na nchekwube (Faith & hope)
B1. Mma anyi egbuna anyi (May our kindness not lead us to doom)
2. Mmefie a diro mgbayalu a ma di (No offence, no forgiveness)
3. Uwem ereri mbot emi (Life in this world)
4. Ilo abu chi (The enemy is not God) -- this song first recorded in 1971, rerecorded in 1974 for this album
(Also issued on cassette); A4 & B1 released as a 45rpm in 1972
A2, A4, B4 included on No Condition is Permanent, Mississippi Records, 2022

NDU KA AKA (Philips Nigeria 6361 075 PL) 1974

A1. Ndu ka Aku (Life is greater than wealth)
2. Ego Eju Aka (Money never suffices)
3. Onwu Ama Eze (Death knows no king)
B1. Ebe mi O (My husband)
2. Ife Uwa Adi Agwu agwu (Earthly things are inexhaustible)
3. Chi Ji Oke (God is the distributor)

alternate cover

EJI M NK'ONYE (Philips Nigeria 6361 111 PL) 1975

A1. E jim nke onye (Whose share have I taken?)
2. Ima echi (Do you know tomorrow?)
B1. Ome ife Jide Ofo Pt 1 (Whoever acts should act righteously)
2. Asili (Gossip)

IGEDE FANTASIA (Philips [Nigeria] PolyGram Records [PL] 6361 159) 1976

A1. Jisie Ike (Keep on trying)
2. O me ife Jide Ofo part 2 (Whoever acts should be upright)
[part 1 on previous album]
B1. Grade by Grade
2. Money Palava

CUMB ASSEMBLE (Celestine Ukwu Memorial Band) - Tribute to Celestine Ukwu (RAS 1978)

A1. Tribute to Celestine Ukwu
2. Uche Chukwu
B1. Chi na Elo
2. Don't lose courage


A1. Obialu be onye Abiagbunia [reissue from Ilo Abu Chi]
2. Uwem Ereri Mbot Emi (Traditional Efik song) [also reissue from Ilo Abu Chi]
3. Ije Enu (His first big hit; reissue from True Philosophy)
4. Igede version II
B1. Uso Ndu [reissue from True Philosophy]
2. Money Palava [reissue from Igede Fantasia]
3. Elege [reissue from Ilo Abu Chi]

* cover signed by Ghariokwu Lemi 28-8-83 on reissue; despite the 1975 date this appears to be a 1983 compilation. The only track on here not duplicated elsewhere is a variant take of the classic "Igede."

<><><><><><><><><> CD Reissues: <><><><><><><><><><>

GREATEST HITS (Flame Tree African Classics FLTRCD532)

(1: Premier Records 1973 LP; 2: Timbuktu Records London, 1997 LP)

1. Ije Enu
2. Uso ndu (The sweetness of life)
3. Ejina uwa nya isi
4. Igbo Abuchi
5. Uwem eberi mbot emi
6. Nma anyi egbuna anyi
7. Okwukwe na nchekwube
8. Elege
9. Igede
10. Onmwunwa
11. Ife Sina Chi

-- tracks from True philosophy and Ilo abu chi

Celestine Ukwu & his Philosophers National: The Best Collection Vol. 1 (CD; Premier Music [Lagos] PMCD 011) 2001

Igede Pt. 1
Uso Ndu
Ife Sina Chi
Ije Enu
Ilo Oyi
Uwa Bu Olili
Onye Akwana Uwa
Onwu Bu Ugwo
Akwa Ana Ebe L'ego

-- reissue of True philosophy

Celestine Ukwu: Best Collection Vol. 2 (CD; Premier Music [Lagos] PMCD) 2001?

1. Grade By Grade 11:09
2. Money Palava 07:56
3. Jisie Ike 10:10
4. Ome Ife Jide Ofor (Part II) 07:11
5. Ejim Nke Onye 12:45
6. Ima Chi 07:24

-- reissue of Igede Fantasia with the title track & one other from Eji M Nk'onye

Celestine Ukwu: Best Collection Vol. 3 (CD; Premier Music [Lagos] PMCD 017) 2002

Ndu Ka Aku 5'33
Ego Eju Aka 6'59
Onwu Ama Eze 7'37
Ebemi 6'03
Ife Uwa Adi Agwu Agwu 6'22
Chi Ji Oke 6'17
Omo Ife Jide Ofor 11'09
Asili 7'35

-- reissue of Ndu Ka Aku with last 2 added tracks from Eji M Nk'onye

Celestine Ukwu & his Philosophers National: Best Collection Vol. 4 (CD; Premier Music [Lagos] KMCD 018) 2004

Ejina Uwa Nya Isi
Obialu be Onye Abiagbunia
Okwu Na Nchekwube
Mma Anyi Egbuna Anyi
Mmefie Adiro Mgbayalu Ama Di

-- reissue of Ilo Abu Chi minus two tracks

Celestine Ukwu & his Philosophers National: Ejim Nke Onye (CD; Premier Music [Lagos] KMCD 060) n.d.

Ejim Nke Onye
Ima Echi
Ome Ife Jide Ofo pt 1
--another repackaging of all of Ejim nk'onye


Celestine Ukwu leads off the Rough Guide to Highlife, compiled by Graeme Ewens, with "Igede Pt 1". This was released in 2003. In 2006 Martin Sinnock included him on the Rough Guide to West African Gold, where he is represented with "Ife si na chi," also taken from the IGEDE album.

"Igede" seems to be very popular with compilers, it also appears on the following comps. Originally it is the name of a traditional dance popular among people of the old Udi Province, made up of Nkanu, Udi and Ezeagu. It is a song of celebration for wealthy folks, as Ukwu himself says, in "Ome Ife Jide Ofo, part 1" (1976):

"Igede is our traditional music,
The music of the wealthy,
The music of the titled,
The music of the Ogbu-efi titled men
Igede is music that never goes to the destitute."

AFRICAN MUSIC (Vertigo [i.e. Phonogram Holland] 814 480-1) 1983

Ekassa 24: Sir Victor Uwaifo & His Melody Maestros
Obiako Nnwani: Gentleman Mike Ejeagha & His Premier Dance Band
Onu Kwulunjo: Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe
Five days a week love: Victor Uwaifo & the Titibitis
Ewa: Dr Victor Olaiya
Tamuno bo ibro ma: Cardinal Rex Lawson & His Majors Band of Nigeria
Odindu Nyuliba: Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & His Nigeria Soundmakers International
Let them say: Prince Nico Mbarga
Igede: Celestine Ukwu & His Philosophers National
Mo fe mu'yan: Dr Victor Olaiya & his International Stars Band
Ndito Isong Emana Nyin: Martha Ulaeto

-- One of the strongest compilations of Nigerian music ever issued.

Various Artists: High Life Kings Vol. 1 (CD; Premier Music [Lagos] KMCD 01) 2002?

Osondi Owendi (Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe)
Onye Uri Ubata (Mike Ejeagha)
Igede (Celestine Ukwu)
Usondu (Celestine Ukwu)

Bere Bote (Rex Lawson)
Omo Pupa (Dr. Victor Olaiya)
Joromi (Sir Victor Uwaifo)
Kwue Nkenyi (Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe)
Anate (Rex Lawson)
Okwudili (Paulson Kalu)
Ugwu Onyirika Watu (Paulson Kalu)
Sanmari Adugbo (Wuru Fadaka)

Various Artists: The Kings of Highlife (CD; Wrasse Records, UK WRASS 097) 2003?

Guitar Boy (Sir Victor Uwaifo)
Makojo (Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe)
Joromi (Sir Victor Uwaifo)
Omo Pupa (Dr. Victor Olaiya)
Osondi Owendi (Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe)
Anate (Sir Rex Jim Lawson)
Okwudili (Paulson Kalu)
Sanmari Adugbo (Wura Fadaka)
Esonta (Chief Inyang Henshaw)
Ikpechakwa A-Akem Kpee (Gentle Man Ejeagha)
Igede (Celestine Ukwu)
Bere Bote (Sir Rex Jim Lawson)
Usondu (Celestine Ukwu)
So Fun Mi (Dr. Victor Olaiya)

--An abbreviated version of the 2-volume Premier Records set High Life Kings (above). Then "Okwukwe Na N'chekwube" became the pick to click on two subsequent comps:

Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife Afro Sounds (Soundway 2007)

1. Ayamma: The Anambra Beats
2. Okwukwe Na N'chekwube: Celestine Ukwu & His Philosophers National
3. Amalinja: The Don Isaac Ezekiel Combination
4. Akula Owu Onyeara: The Funkees
5. Oja Omoba: Dele Ojo & His Star Brothers Band
6. Koma Mosi: The Harbours Band
7. Nekwaha Semi Colon: The Semi Colon
8. Osalobua Rekpama: Sir Victor Uwaifo & His Melody Maestros
9. Onwu Ama Dike: St. Augustine & His Rovers Dance Band
10. Feso Jaiye: The Sahara All Stars Of Jos
11. Ema Kowe Iasa Ile Wa: Mono Mono
12. To Whom It May Concern: Tunji Oyelana And The Benders
13. Ugali: The Tony Benson Sextet

HighLife Time 2 (VampiSoul 2011)

1. Eyaa Duom: Professional Uhuru Band
2. Ours, This is Our Land (Yenara Asase Shena): Guy Warren
3. Ogiobo: Sir Victor Uwaifo
4. Okwukwe Na N'chekwube: Celestine Ukwu & His Philosophers National
5. Ilhe Chinyenre: Dr Sir Warrior & Oriental Bros
6. Osondi Owendi: Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe
7. Folk Spiritual Medley [Excerpt]: Smart Nkansah & Sweet Talks
8. Osuala Oru Enene: Cardinal Rex Lawson
9. Calabar: Nigeria Police Band
10. Koko Ahataw Kur: George Williams Aingo

By Richard Okafor et al. New Generation Books, 1999. ISBN: 978 2900 39 7

Contains all song lyrics and English translations

Send additions/corrections to "contact [at] muzikifan [dot] com"

Thanks to Zim Bida & my New York posse, Gilbert & Dr Chris
Update: 15 August 2021, courtesy of Yoshiki Fukasawa
Update: 1 October 2022, thanks to Mississippi Records