02. Music for Gong Gong
03. Ayiko Bia
06. Phallus C
07. Think About the People
- Teddy Osei / Flute, Saxophone, Sax (Tenor), Vocals, African Drums
- Wendel Richardson / Guitar, Vocals
- Spartacus R / Percussion, Guitar (Bass)
- Mac Tontoh / Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Kabosy
- Loughty Amao / Conga, Sax (Tenor), Sax (Baritone), Saxophone
- Sol Amarfio / Drums
- Robert Bailey / Organ, Keyboards, Piano, Timbales
- Roy Bedeau / Bass
OSIBISA means Criss-Cross rhythms that explode with happiness, and what a precise name, the first thing that anybody who listens this band admires is the fantastic rhythm section, combining drums and bass with tribal percussion instruments in a delightful way, even Uriah Heep couldn't resist the chance to add their percussion to the song Look at Yourself.
But if this was their only particularity, they wouldn't be added to Prog Archives, this group of talented African and Caribbean musicians blend African chants with Psychedelia in the most incredible and skilled way, long before the term World Music was coined, it's so well crafted that nothing sounds artificial, the music flows from start to end with joy for live and sadness of centuries of oppression and adding a spectacular show on stage.
The story of OSIBISA starts in London in 1969, when three musicians from Ghana ( Teddy Osei on the Sax, Sol Amarfio on the drums and Mac Tontoh on the trumpet); join Spartacus R from Grenada who played the bass and complemented perfectly the African percussion, Roger Bayle from Trinidad and Tobago on the keyboards and Wendel Richardson from Antigua on the lead guitar.
Very soon they found another member, Asisi Amao from Nigeria who added extra percussion plus tenor Sax. and in that moment OSIBISA was born.
During the next two years they were preparing their first album but in 1970 they released their first and very successful single: "Music for Gong Gong" that caught attention from all the world.
In 1971 they release the fantastic "Osibisa" with an extremely beautiful art cover by a young painter named Roger Dean.
From the beginning this album broke schemes, the opener "The Dawn" starts as a tribal ceremony to receive the day with complex percussion surrounded by birds and sounds you could easily listen in central Africa, but soon the vocals and instruments prove us that they were incredibly talented to blend different influences that go from, Hendrix, Santana, Bob Marley, R&B, Jazz and all the British Psychedelia they listened and assimilated during the years they were in England, this capacity to blend styles supposedly incompatible is what took them close to Progressive Rock.
But my favorite song from this album is Ayko Bya, a total tribal chant with an amazing organ to perfectly backup the contrapuntist vocals between two singers as if they were in a contest trying to get more complex than it's predecessor , simply amazing. The success was instantaneous, the offers and invitations came from all the world, from Psychedelic to Jazz festivals, but this guys took the music seriously.
“Dawn” is full of the Caribbean percussion and rhythms that so distinguished the band, but combined with the Roger Dean cover, psychedelic guitars and complex keyboards their overall sound set them apart from pretty much anyone else at the time. Some have claimed that Osibisa were key in paving the way for the emergence of reggae and calypso music in popular culture in the seventies, and there may be some truth to that – the Wailers had been recording in Jamaica since the mid-sixties, and Neil Diamond put out ‘Tap Root Manuscript’ in 1970, but Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer never really hit the international spotlight until shortly after Osibisa paved the way with this album. So who knows really.
“Music for Gong Gong” is in much the same vein as “Dawn”, but here the horn section is even more prominent, and would become even more so after the band stepped away from the more psychedelic sounds in their music later in the decade. But that wouldn’t happen until after “Ayiko Bia”, which features some of the spaciest guitar in the band’s repertoire. “Akwaaba” is more subdued and jazzy, and with “Oranges” the band’s jazz influences shine through even more.
The last couple of tracks seem to lean a bit closer to filler, although “Phallus C” still includes quite a bit of tasty percussion, and “Think About the People” formed the basis for a number of anathematic social-commentaries the band would indulge in over the decade.
I would rate ‘Woyaya’ as the band’s most consistently excellent album, but this debut is certainly strong in its own right, and well worth adding to your collection if you have an ear for ethnic instrumentation, complex percussion, and upbeat progressive music. This is a solid effort, and highly recommended.