Guest Post: Back to the Lab #13, by Frances Morgan
Podcast version: http://www.mediafire.com/?v66g247oou7ksi7
Some old pop music from Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Senegal and Congo
The practice of starting a positive review with a snarky disclaimer is kind of a crappy one, and a habit all writers should try and kick, but it's tempting for sure. That opening paragraph covers your back, and shows you know just enough no to get, you know, too excited about this new thing that actually isn't all that new, I-think-you'll-find. It's quite fun to write, too. Hey, perhaps I'm even doing it now - but not quite as much as the Dusted reviewer who covered the Legends of Benin compilation - http://www.dustedmagazine.com/reviews/5076. "It's like a dude can hardly walk down street without tripping over Obi Dandy’s Reasonably Good Looking Soldier Band Volumes 92 through 142, The Hidden Lost Funk Years", he laments, before going on to give the CD a well-deserved praising, a neat mix of ennui and enthusiasm.
Sure I know what he means (and I don't doubt his own love of Beninese and other African music), but I'm uneasy with his assumption that our attention spans are so shot to shit, and the implication that we're all moving on to the next world music 2.0 sensation now – as if 'African music from the 70s' were some blog-hyped synth band, not the vast output of a really vast continent over an entire decade. Is he, in fact, the bored one? Is this just a projection? I could think about this a lot more, but instead I decided to make a mix for Daniel's show that I hope doesn't display such disaffection, and which contains some right bangers straight off the more recent Analog Africa and Strut comps as well as some old records scavenged from charity shops many years ago and some others that I spent more money on in second-hand shops, like a proper collector (which I'm not).
There are some superstars on here - Tony Allen, Sir Victor Uwaifo, King Sunny Ade, Orchestra Poly-Rhythmo - and some less well-known artists. I've also mixed up the styles quite a bit (warning: this ain't a mix for purists), although the choice falls somewhat in favour of Nigerian music. In a perverse way I particularly enjoyed the slipperiness of trying to get old juju vinyl to fit into a digital mix for a radio show - it's long-form, continuous stuff for parties and dances - and the reminder, in doing so, that not everything can be parcelled up for compilation and re-appraisal. That's my excuse for the crappy mixing, anyway.
But a word in favour of compilations: Samy Ben Redjeb of Analog Africa has done sterling work in compiling music from Angola and Benin that goes beyond crate-digging novelty hunting. He and his label (and the musicians re-releasing their work on it, all of whom I think have been involved in the process as much as possible) deserve more than hip talk about 'saturation', and I've included a couple of favourite tracks from AA releases. The Tony Allen track is from a Vampi Soul reissue and the Orchestre Lissanga track is from a Strut comp. The only thing about mixing old records with stuff from compilations is that you can hear what's been remastered here and what hasn't, but it's up to the listener to decide whether the hiss and crackle (or lack of it) attracts or detracts from their pleasure. I wish I had a remastered CD version of Johnny Bokelo rather than a massively hissy record, actually.
Chronologically, the music is all from the 1970s and 80s. I've kept it to those two decades (and chosen pop stuff, ie mostly electrified rather than traditional or folk instrumentation) just to provide a bit of sonic glue, I guess, but also because that's the stuff that I like the most. There is one older track, though - the opening one, which was recorded in 1959. It's from a great compilation on Rounder Records called Juju Roots http://www.amazon.com/Juju-Roots-1930s-Various-Artists/dp/B00000038C. I included it because it has a cool kazoo solo on it. I also really like the record it's from because the sleevenotes - by Chris Waterman - are excellent, comprehensive and knowledgeable, as all Rounder sleevenotes tend to be.
They're not, however, free from a little touch of snark. The album was released in 1985, not long after King Sunny Ade's breakthrough Island release, and Waterman is aware of this: "The high-tech juju music of Yoruba superstars King Sunny Ade and Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, 'discovered' and lauded by the American alternative popular music press in the early 1980s," Waterman says, "is the product of some fifty years of continuous experimentation by African urban musicians." I agree: while I'm no expert by any means, we would all do well to know more about what we listen to, where it comes from and why it sounds like it does, if only to stop it becoming just another thing on a list, just another stylistic tick-box. But I also think we need to stop with the snark. There are few things that can't be made a little better with the liberal application of Tony Allen's drumming and a highlife guitar lick or two, and it doesn't matter who heard it all first. Peace and prosperity x
1 JO Oyesiku & his Rainbow Quintette - Baba Oni Taxi
2 Sir Victor Uwaifo - Ebibi
3 King Sunny Ade & his African Beats - Aba ni je dehin/Ma je koju ti mi
4 Cutlass Band - Mede Adagya Boe
5 Gnonnas Pedro & his Dadjes Band - DaDJe Von O Von Non
6 Tony Allen - Progress
7 Orchestra Lissanga - Okuza
8 Johnny Bokelo - Kakese
9 Thione Seck - Aida Soukeu
10 Orchestre Poly-rythmo de Cotonou - Mi Ni Non Kpo
11Uncle Toye Ajagun & his Olumo Sound Makers - Moti Foro Mi L'Oluwa Lowo