Posted: September 18th, 2008
Today I went back to the Amoeba Music store in Hollywood and gushed my gratitude to Lance the clerk for strongly recommending that I pick up a copy of Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970s Funky Lagos. He smiled knowingly and gestured towards the sky: it just so happened that it was this very album that was blasting out from the speakers above. I gave him his props, then turned to survey the store. The African music section was thronged with the curious, ears ablaze, their eyes eagerly searching out the source of these throbbing grooves. The eternal music pusher, I handed a stranger this gem-packed two-disc anthology of funky Nigerian music from the 1970s, and pointed upwards. “Is THIS what they’re playing?” he asked excitedly, studying the eye-catching cover photo of an African funkster posing proudly in knee-high white platform boots. I nodded gravely. “Wow,” was all he could say. As I left the store, I noticed that only a few copies of Nigeria 70 remained on the shelves. Los Angeles record buyers are full of surprises.
Nigeria 70 appropriately kicks off with a track from the mighty Nigerian who gave Afrobeat its name, defined its sound, and brought it worldwide fame: Fela Kuti. For those already familiar with the shamanistic brew of this musical powerhouse, the remaining tracks on these two discs will offer a sonically stunning alternative to Fela’s distinct brand of Afrobeat. While hugely influential on his fellow countrymen (particularly in raising their political consciousness), his musical virtuosity remained unchallenged, as few imitators could afford to employ large ensembles of talented musicians, let alone play with that same black magic stirred up in Fela’s marathon improvised jams. But instead of trying to approximate Fela’s massive Afro-jazz-funk grooves, many of his musical contemporaries stepped out from under his shadow, imaginatively fusing a wide array of musical styles to the funky polyrhythms of the Nigerian Afrobeat.
From the rocking psychedelic guitar sounds of Blo‘s “Chant To Mother Earth” to the Islamic-flavored groove of Bala Miller & The Great Music Pirameeds of Afrika‘s “Ikon Allah” (not to mention Ofo & The Black Company’s thrilling combination of the two on”Allah Wakbarr”), Nigeria 70 samples the full spectrum of Afro-funk fusions to come out of Lagos. Loaded with rarities from Nigeria’s famous to its most obscure players, these two discs present a colorful and varied Afro-centric mix of jazz, rock, funk, blues, soul, reggae, disco, Muslim and indigenous influences.
But despite the impressive originality of many of the artists featured on Nigeria 70, it would be wrong to underestimate the influence that Fela had on the Nigerian scene. After all, it was Fela who successfully inserted biting social commentary into the groove, constructing a bullet-proof Afrobeat that transformed the Nigerian dancefloor into an arena for protest and movement in the face of successively repressive military dictatorships (Fela was imprisoned several times, a testament to the menacing power of his music).
Tony Allen, the drummer credited with pioneering the dauntingly complex Afrobeat technique, was one among many who internalized Fela’s lessons. In 1979, a year after ending his long tenure as Fela’s all-important drummer, he formed Tony Allen & His Afro Messengers, recording “No Discrimination,” one of several overt message-songs included in this collection. Incorporating elements of jazz scatting and guitar, “No Discrimination” is a horn-heavy and strongly Fela-flavored plea for peace and tolerance.
Similarly indebted to Fela is the Sahara All Stars Band Jos’s “Enjoy Yourself,” a philosophical, eight-minute, in-the-pocket jam. On the darker side of things, Fela’s misogynistic leanings are echoed in Bongos Ikwue‘s earthy folk-funk tune, “Woman Made The Devil.” Let there be no doubt, this song is an extremely guilty pleasure.
Exploding with extra-thick bass, heart-thumping percussion, blaring horns, slanky guitars, sweaty vocals, funky drummers, evolved influences and raw soul energy, Nigeria 70 might very well live up to its rather large claim of being the “definitive” collection. Whatever the case may be, this boxed-set makes for some incredibly great listening. Just ask anybody lucky enough to have been at Amoeba Music Hollywood on Saturday afternoon.
- Ololufe Mi – Koola Lobitos
- Tire Loma da Nigbehin – Monomono
- Chant to Mother Earth – Blo
- Jeun Ko Ku (Chop ‘N’ Quench) – Fela Ransome Kuti & The Africa 70
- Ifa – Tunji Oyelana & The Benders
- Ikon Allah – Bala Miller & The Great Music Pirameeds Of Afrika
- La La La – Segun Bucknor & His Revolution
- Shango- Peter King
- No Discrimination – Tony Allen & His Afro Messengers
- Akayan Ekassa – Sir Victor Uwaifo & His Melody Maestroes
- Better Change Your Mind – William Onyeabor
- Woman Made the Devil – Bongos Ikwue
- Alo Mi Alo – Orlando Julius & The Afro Sounders
- Allah Wakbarr – Ofo The Black Company
- Enjoy Yourself – Sahara All Stars Band Jos
- Dancing Time – The Funkees
- The Quest – Afro Cult Foundation
- Greetings – Joni Haastrup
- Kita Kita – Gasper Lawal
- Orere Elejigbo – The Lijadu Sisters
- Upside Down – Fela Anikulapo Kuti & The Africa 70 with Sandra Akanke Isidore
- Agboju Logun – Shina Williams & His African Percussionists
- Ja Fun Mi – Sunny Ade & His African Beats