Various Artists – Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of Funky Lagos [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(Strut)

 

www.strut-records.com

 

Now in its
second reissue, this influential compiliation (originally from 2001) was one of
the earliest windows onto Nigeria’s
late 1960s/early 1970s Afro-Beat scene, an explosion of musical creativity
dominated by Fela Kuti, but far broader and more diverse than most Westerners
realized. Afro-beat, or sometimes Afro-Funk, incorporated traditional West
African forms like the horn-heavy, hypnotically repetitive highlife, the drum
based juju music, as well as Western jazz, funk and R&B, especially James
Brown.  Syncopated, ever-shifting
rhythms, blares of saxophone and brass, long, undulating melodies and loosely
constructed call and response patterns characterized the music. As in the US, the funk became a vehicle for protest – and
in oil-rich, famine-ravaged, corrupt Nigeria there was plenty to protest
– but even the most strident calls for justice were set to body-shaking,
danceable rhythms.

 

Fela Kuti casts
a long shadow over the compilation. “Ololufe Mi (My Lover)” by one of his early
bands Koola Lobitos, starts off disc one. That same disc contains cuts from
Fela Kuti & The Africa 70 (“Jeun Ko Ku (Chop ‘n’ Quench)”)  and his drummer, Tony Allen’s band The Afro
Messengers (“No Discrimination”). The second disc has yet another track from
Kuti and Africa 70, this time with Sandra
Akanke Isidore (“Upside Down”). Other contributors who are well known in the
West include King Sunny Ade, the definitive figure in the Yoruba-based juju
music , Sir Victor Uwaifo who made his name in the Joromi style, and Orlando
Julius Ekemode. All these artists are represented by really superb examples of
their work, and yet, perhaps the most interesting, and ultimately rewarding
aspect of this compiliation comes from the artists that are less well known.

 

Consider, for
example, the luminous protest funk of William Onyeabor’s “Better Change Your
Mind”, which amid the snap and lash of wah guitar, the jangle of tambourine,
the slush of open-and-close high-hat cymbal, Onyeabor asks if America, Russia,
China, Britain, (even for god’s sake Canada) think the world belongs to them. It’s
a smouldery, long playing meditation on colonialism, as wonderful, in its way,
as anything Marvin Gaye ever accomplished. And if you know anything at all
about William Onyeabor, a cinematographer who studied filmmaking in the Soviet Union, it is probably because you have heard this
track on this compiliation.

 

Other
lesser-knowns make a mark as well. Monomono’s “Tire Loma Da Nigbehin” is all
jittery motion in its percussion, all smooth transcendence in the vocals – an
extraordinary juxtaposition of heat and chill. Joni Haastrop, a member of this
pioneering afro-beat band also has a later, solo contribution in the set; His
“Greetings” is a glorious mix of ghostly tribal calls and citified funk.  

 

This is a
wonderful compilation, pretty much every track a winner. (I could maybe skip
Bongoes Ikwue’s misogynist and weirdly country & western “Woman Made the
Devil,” which closes out disc one, but that’s the only one.)  If you didn’t pick it up the first time, or
even the second, here’s your chance.

 

Standout Tracks: Monomono’s “Tire Loma Da Nigbehin”,
William Onyeabor’s “Better Change Your Mind”, Koola Lobitos’ “Ololufe Mi (My
Lover)” JENNIFER KELLY

 

 

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