“Woyaya” ~ Osibisa & Elephant Art

Woyaya – the catchy title song of the second album by Osibisa, a London-based Ghanaian and Caribbean Afro-pop band led by Teddy Osei – was released in 1971 and would frequently be heard in various settings throughout 1970-80’s Africa. By the time it was reissued in 2004 along with the self-titled first album [Osibisa], the song had been covered by musicians such as The 5th Dimension and Art Garfunkel [click on pics for music]. For many Osibisa fans, the uplifting expression “woyaya” has since come to literally mean “we are going…”

Woyaya [lyrics] ~ by Osibisa

We are going,
Heaven knows where we are going,
[But] we know within…
We will get there,
Heaven knows how we will get there,
[But] we know we will…
It will be hard, we know,
And the road will be muddy and rough,
But we’ll get there,
Heaven knows how we will get there,
[But] we know we will…
Woyaya… woyaye… woyaya… woyaye…!

The name “Osibisa” derives from osibisaba – the Fante word for a proto-highlife African rhythm. Interpreted in album notes and interviews as “criss-cross rhythms that explode with happiness,” Osibisa’s blend of African roots, Caribbean influences and foreign pop made them Africa’s best-known band and inspiration to struggling musicians for several years. However, music industry changes [punk, disco…] and Sunny Ade’s rise with his undiluted Nigerian juju music began to eclipse Osibisa in the 1980s.

The artistry which nevertheless helped Osibisa captivate the popular imagination and retain their global renown over the years is in the band’s logo and album cover art, thanks in part to English artist Roger Dean whose professional training included architecture. His art on Osibisa’s earliest albums became a signature style for the band [see gallery below] and a career breakthrough for him… a design Dean described as “credible African fairytale imagery” which features “flying elephants and not architecture.”

Though it’s not clear to me what the elephant may represent in Dean’s architecturally-trained artistic imagination, during my subsequent online research on this majestic animal I grew up as a neighbor to, I was astounded by my own new lesson… the elephant-as-artist. How completely ironic!

I grew up knowing my elephant-neighbor as a revered symbol of maternal strength, power, longevity, stamina, loyalty, cooperative spirit, wisdom, moderation, patience, happiness, clarity, dignity, status, and royalty. Elephants have been used in wars such as the one led by Hannibal, a General from Carthage, against Rome in 218 BCE. Legendary in Africa for their excellent memory, there’s a saying that goes “women and elephants never forget an injury.” As reported in the Scientific American, this adage has a basis in the fact that remarkable power of recall is critical to the survival of elephants. Studies conducted at Amboseli National Park in Kenya have demonstrated that elephant matriarchs in particular maintain and use their store of social knowledge for their family/community welfare. As a species, elephants are endangered because of the destruction of their environment, and the killing of them for their tusks which are traded on the illegal $$$billion ivory-market.

The emotional-awareness of elephants is highly advanced relative to other animals due to the superior development of their hippocampus from where they register and emote humor, compassion, and grief. They gather in groups to grieve the loss of a loved one who may even be of another species, exemplifying the unity-consciousness Africans refer to as UbuNtu… meaning “I am because we are.” When “elephant whisperer” Lawrence Anthony died in March 2012, for instance, two herds of elephants traveled over several hours through the South African bush to his house to mourn him. Things that make me go “Hmmm…”

…I can’t help wondering now how real elephants might react to the artistic fairytale depictions of themselves on Osibisa‘s album covers? The green reptilian in this apocalyptic composition looks like he’s about to get schooled on what time it really is by a winged pachyderm… an avenging savior-figure delivering a refresher course on Divine Feminine energy which, like elephants, are said to “never forget an injury.” Woyaya! Heaven knows…

Abundant blessings in 2019 and beyond ❤ UbuNtu

GALLERY OF SELECT OSIBISA ALBUM COVERS [1972 – 2009] :

 

 

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