First Look: Psychedelic Aliens Reissue

Out this week on the
Academy label – with an invaluable assist from the Voodoo Funk crew – the
essential
Psycho African Beat collects all known (or at least existing) recordings by this astounding
‘60s/’70s Ghana-based funk/psych band. Funk yeah, you need it. Definitely one
of BLURT’s candidates for this year’s top ten list of archival releases. Check
out the video clip, below.

 

By Jennifer Kelly

Eight cuts from a nearly forgotten 1960s and 1970s Ghana
funk band track a passage from laid-back Stax and Hendrix soul to an incendiary
psychedelic take on Ghanian high life. The disc, made up of one four-song EP and
two singles, was curated by Voodoo Funk‘s Frank Gossner, who had been hunting down
the lost singles for years. His search ended only when he found guitarist Ricky
Telfer in Canada
and learned that he still owned the only existing copy of one recording.   

 

The Psychedelic Aliens began life as the Aliens, a mostly
covers band that roamed Ghana
and Nigeria
playing familiar American-style R&B. By the time their first EP was
recorded, however, the band had shed its singers and begun to explore trippy,
vox-wailing grooves that resembled Booker T and the MGs. Of that EP’s four
tracks, “Biofonyobi Wo Atale” is the only one with an African-language title,
and traces of the band’s Ghanian origins are buried under layers of smouldery,
in-the-pocket but American-soul-style jams. “We’re Laughing” is, perhaps, the
most exciting cut, with a twitchy wah-wah-laced forward momentum, and a chanted
chorus (“We’re la-a-a-a-ghing”) that pitches the cut somewhere between the
O’Jays, Nigeria 70 and the “Theme
from Shaft.”

 

The African influence grows stronger in the two singles,
both recorded after an inspirational encounter with Santana at the Soul to Soul
festival in Accra
in 1971. According to one interview (read it here), Santana’s re-imagination of
Latin rhythms moved the Psychedelic Aliens to draw on their own musical
heritage, the percussion-heavy, hallucinatory high-life of West
Africa. You can hear the shift immediately in “Gbe Keke Wo Taoc”,
in the hard rush of syncopated drums. Now, the organ lines no longer drift and
meander, but push forward. Nothing is subdued. Nothing is laid back. Everything
drives relentlessly ahead. And when the band lets the drums fly, as it does on
the standout “Homowo,” it’s a frenzied, multi-tonal tour-de-force.

 

If you listen carefully, you can hear little shades of Santana
in the four single-sourced tracks, in the fiery interplay of keyboard and
drums, in the all-hands shouts that punctuate instrumental jams. Yet mostly
what you hear is a group of musicians nudged into a direction that becomes all
their own. You might think of outside influence as a negative, especially when
it comes from a band as big and established as Santana. In this case, though,
it was just what a band of Aliens needed to turn psychedelic.

 

 

 

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