AMG : http://tinyurl.com/5u3e4o
Info : http://www.nigeriaspecial.info/disco-funk-rock.html
Review : http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/release/dg8c/
Nigeria Disco Funk Special / Nigeria Rock Special
Rating: 8.2 / 8.5
Earlier this year, Britain's Soundway Records returned to compiling West African music after a four-year break. Not that those four years were spent lounging about in their pajamas--they reissued 45s from Colombia, Barbados, Nigeria, and elsewhere in that time, put out a couple LP reissues of vintage Afrofunk albums by Sierra Leone's Geraldo Pino, and put together funky comps of music from Colombia and Panama. And the label's founder, Miles Cleret, also spent a lot of time in Nigeria laying the groundwork for a stunning series of compilations of the country's pop music.
The first dropped a few months ago-- Nigeria Special, which focused mostly on highlife and assorted other mildly funky sounds from the 1970s over its two discs, was up to the extremely high standard the label set for itself early this decade with its Ghana Sounds and Afro Baby compilations. And now they've followed it up with two more discs, this time hitting the discotheque and the rock scene to bring some seriously funky music to a wider audience than it was ever afforded in its day.
Like his compatriot Samy Ben Redjeb of Analog Africa, Cleret painstakingly researches every song he wants to reissue and tracks down the musicians, making sure to properly compensate them for using their work-- there's a whole crop of reissue labels popping up now that do this, and it's sort of mind-blowing that it took so long for it to become the norm. Soundway's refreshing ethics aside, the real reason to pay attention to them is simply that Cleret has such good taste-- his intrepid journeys into the heart of West Africa's record industry yield thousands of records, but he's good at being judicious with his track choices. You're getting the cream of the cream here, and your ears won't be the only parts of your body that notice.
Nigeria Disco Funk Special: The Sound of the Underground Lagos Dancefloor 1974-1979 offers nine tracks of deep, quite well-produced groove-- by the late 70s, Nigeria was home to plenty of high-tech studios to give the country's musicians the sheen they required as they kicked their funk into a new disco gear. Cleret makes the unusual (for him) move of repeating someone else with his inclusion of Joni Haastrup's "Greetings", which previously appeared on Strut's now out of print Nigeria 70 compilation, but if you'd heard the song you probably would've repeated it too. This is one of my favorite Afrofunk tracks, with a great psychedelic intro featuring flailing flutes and distant calls from Haastrup that sets up an absolutely sick dancefloor beat that would require a truckload of mirror balls spinning in unison to do it full visual justice.
Otherwise, Cleret goes way off the beaten path. I'm a huge fan of the SJOB Movement's first album (1970's A Move in the Right Direction), but I didn't even know they had a second one. Nevertheless, Cleret sources a slamming disco-funk jam with an avalanche of a synth hook called "Love Affair" from it. Bongos Ikwue & the Groovies' "You've Gotta Help Yourself" is four boiling minutes of wah-drenched guitars, jazzy trumpet, and lyrics that reference "God Bless the Child" in the chorus. T-Fire's "Will of the People" has some of the heaviest drums I've ever heard. This is definitely disco-era funk, but it's still very gritty-- you'd never mistake any of it for Silver Convention or Chic-- and the Nigerian bands tended to add liberal doses of jazz freedom and rock crunch to their dancefloor mixture.
The opposite could be said for Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970s Nigeria, where the fuzz guitars, trippy vocals, and heavy riffs are spiced with liberal doses of bottom-heavy rhythm. Nigeria's rock scene rose mostly from the campuses of the nation's universities in the wake of the Biafran War, and the bands came from all over the country but were especially common in the East, which had suffered the most from the war. The members of BLO (it was an acronym of their first names) had played with Ginger Baker in Europe for a few years, as had Joni Haastrup, whose rock band Mono Mono is also featured here. These were two of the country's biggest rock bands, and BLO closes things out here with "Chant to Mother Earth" (another Nigeria 70 repeat), a slow, lysergic crawl toward some sort of bliss, chemically-induced or otherwise.
There are a couple of nasty psych-funk instrumentals, including Ofege's "Adieu", which has a great organ lead and a fantastically tangled guitar solo-- Ofege was a very prolific band, and their Higher Plane Breeze album provided one of the Nigerian rock scene's iconic images with its cover shot showing one member squatting amongst his bandmates, middle fingers raised high and proud toward the camera. If you're a dedicated collector of this music, you'll recognize the names Tunji Oyelana, the Funkees and Ofo the Black Company (the heaviest of them all), but it's amazing how many utterly obscure but great bands Cleret turns up here. The Hygrades? Colomach? Tabukah 'X'? The Elcados? These are not familiar names, even to collectors.
None of those unknowns disappoint, either. The Hygrades' "In the Jungle" is a dynamic heavy funk-rock instrumental with a brilliant guitar part played by Goddy Oku-- the guy made his own guitars and the wounds he could squeeze from them recall Hendrix at times, but with Carlos Santana's pinpoint tone control. The Elcados' "Ku Mi Da Hankan" has a great, breezy three-against-four rhythm, Colomach, who were actually a Malian band visiting Nigeria, offer a strange, minimal psychedelic chant with an Afro-Cuban rhythm, and Joe King Kologbo & His Black Sound mix hectic traditional rhythms with a heavy psychedelic chorus for a truly singular track. The most explicitly rock track, Question Mark's "Freaking Out", is still pretty funky, but it's definitely an oddity-- the vocalist sounds like he could have sung for the dB's, and there's an almost punk edge to the playing.
If you're already a fan of funky West African music, I recommend these sets to you without reservation. Go get them. More broadly, anyone into funk in general or the subtle permutations of vintage global pop music would be well-advised to dig this as well. From the royalty structure to the sound to the packaging to the research and of course the music, Soundway gets it right on these compilations. Afrofunk fans could hardly have asked for more.
Soundway Official: http://www.soundwayrecords.com/
- Joe Tangari, July 7, 2008