Thursday, September 13, 2018

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1974 - Alagbon Close

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70
Alagbon Close

01. Alagbon Close 16:50
02. I No Get Eye For Back 11:23

Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Electric Piano, Vocals – Fela Ransome Kuti
Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Congas – Daniel Koranteg, Henry Koffi
Drums – Tony Allen
Electric Bass – Franco Aboddy
Guitar – Segun Edo
Maracas – Isaac Olaleye
Percussion – James Abayomi, Nicholas Addo
Rhythm Guitar – Tutu Shoronmu
Tenor Saxophone – Christopher Uwaifor
Trumpet, Soloist [Trumpet] – Tunde Williams

Fela wrote the track Alagabon Close to lampoon the police after he was detained at the police station which, not coincidentally, is located in a cul de sac of the same name. In this deeply anti-establishment song, Fela describes the harsh tactics that the police employ to control society, detailing their favoritism of the wealthy elite and their mistreatment of the poor. In Alagbon Close, Fela tells us, you can be detained indefinitely, you will be brutalized, you will be treated as an animal — the police have no respect for human beings. The song represents one of the first times anyone had directly taken on the Nigerian authorities in such a brash manner. “I No Get Eye For Back”, a song emanating from a lyric in “Alagbon Close”, is a more melodic, instrumentally focused piece, with Fela musing in both pidgin and Yoruba.

Released in the middle of Fela's peak, Alagbon Close is a little less structurally daring than either Gentleman or Afrodisiac, with Fela mostly riding a single groove all the way through both tracks. No matter, though - there was no one, maybe ever, writing funkier rhythms than Fela, and the fiery chanting and soloing that are the man's trademarks are in full effect. Not an essential Fela release like most of the records that surround it, but a rewarding listen nonetheless.

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1974 - Confusion

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 

01. Confusion Pt. I
02. Confusion Pt. II

Tenor Saxophone, Piano, Vocals – Fela Ransome-Kuti
Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Bass Guitar – George Mark Bruce
Congas – Daniel Koranteg, Henry Koffi
Drums – Tony Allen
Guitar [Tenor] – Segun Edo
Maracas – Isaac Olaleye
Percussion [Sticks] – James Abayomi
Rhythm Guitar – Tutu Shoronmu
Trumpet – Tony Njoku

This Afrobeat epic contains just one eponymous track clocking in at just over 25 minutes in length, and beginning with a mysterious and psychedelic musical interplay between Fela on organ and Tony Allen on drums. As the song takes on a righteously funky groove, Fela evokes the chaos of Lagos — the multitude of regional dialects, the gnarly traffic jams, the absence of a policeman to take charge — as a metaphor for the larger problems of post-colonial Nigeria.

4 mins of really awesome freeform jazz. 

A slow buildup: first bass, then electric guitar and tenor guitar (about the same time), and before you know it, the groove has started. 

Over this (by now extremely intense) groove, you hear a few improvised solos (2 sax solos and a trumpet solo). 

The (really intense) groove continues for a few minutes, then it calms down, and Fela starts humming, then starts singing. Call and response chorus comes, his backing singers doing the response. Continues for about 5-6 mins. 

After the singing, the groove having built up throughout, it is back at full intensity, and there is another solo or 2. Then the song gradually stops, then there is another minute of freeform jazz, and the song ends with all the instruments playing a chord each (and the percussionists hitting their instruments a few times). 

25 and a half minutes of the absolute best african funk music (not to mention the awesome freeform jazz). Essential for any fan of african music, freeform jazz, funk, or any fan of good music. 

What is there to say about Confusion? It's Fela's most epic composition, beginning with dark, minimalist funk before slowly expanding into one of his fullest and most lively Afrobeat jams. The piece is backed by the greatest production Fela would ever get, emphasizing the psychedelic qualities of his sustained tones and group vocals. It features potentially his greatest lyric sheet, a scathing indictment of colonial politics and the amorphous identity it imposed upon Nigerian people and culture. On top of that, Fela also composed maybe his funkiest guitar lines and organ riffs for this piece, locked them into a single, nearly 26-minute track, and gave his band free reign to improvise within his groove.

"Confusion" is the gold standard of long-form funk, and easily the most essential Africa '70 album. A watershed moment for music, and an album that will change the way you look at the world. A must-hear.

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1973 - Gentleman

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70

01. Gentleman
02. Igbe (Na Shit)
03. Fe Fe Ne Eye Fe

Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Electric Piano, Vocals – Fela Ransome Kuti
Tenor Saxophone – Igo Chico (tracks: B1, B2)
Trumpet – Tunde Williams

The title track of this excellent album has often been hailed as Fela’s masterpiece. Musically innovative, melodically addictive, Fela got it all right in this politically scathing song in which he opposes Westernization and those who imitate Western ways. “I no be gentleman at all,” Fela sings, and then goes on to detail the ways in which he’s a “true African original”, and therefore superior to those who wear three-piece suits and hold tight to their colonial mentality. 

Fela follows this track with Fefe Na Efe, which derives its name from an Ashanti proverb describing the beauty of a woman holding her breasts as she runs. Fela, who had many Ghanaian fans (and more than a few Ghanaian wives and girlfriends), sings this lush track as a tribute to Ghana, a country he loved. 

Finally, “Igbe” again shows the artist breaking cultural taboos by singing literally and figuratively about “shit”, as the word translates to, describing those friends who may betray you.

The title song takes me back to a moment in time that was very important for me. It was when I began to go out to the clubs. Since the early and mid-seventies were a harvest time for black music, I naturally gravitated towards the clubs that played black music. It was also a time when a lot of young Africans came to Germany to study or to flee from the revolutionary turmoil that had been going on in many countries there. I was in my puberty, and hanging out in those clubs was an act of initiation. I remember I became friends with some guys from Cameroon who I used to go out with, or I'd visit them at their shared apartments. Those guys eventually took me to the club where I would soon start to DJ myself. There they played Gentleman, too, and also lots of Fela other records.

Whenever I listen to the title song of this LP, it takes me back to those days. I start moving immediately. I see the dim-lit clubs, the packed dance floor with people from all over the world, half of them stoned, everybody moving to the hypnotic groove. I always thought Gentleman is one of Fela's best tracks. That's because of the ingenious beat, that fat bass line and really the entire band, and the fact that most of its 14+ minutes is instrumental, and the solos are also great.

Gentleman is one of his absolute best songs, and dare I say, has the best horn hook of any Fela song. Like many other Fela songs, it has an extended intro and then the bass comes in and you're hit with an unstoppable groove. The second half of the song has some of Fela's best call-and-response and some clever lyrics on colonialism in Africa. Let a KKK member listen to this song and I guarantee you he'd be singing along "I be Africa man original" by the end of it.

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1972 - Afrodisiac

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70

01. Alu Jon Jonki Jon
02. Chop And Quench
03. Eko Ile
04. Je'Nwi Temi (Don't Gag Me)

Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Bass Guitar – Maurice Ekpo
Vocals, Sax, Trumpet, Piano – Fela Ransome-Kuti
Congas – Akwesi Korranting, Friday Jumbo, Henry Koffi
Drums – Tony Allen
Percussion [Shekere] – Isaac Olaleye
Percussion [Sticks] – Tony Abayomi
Rhythm Guitar – Peter Animashaun
Tenor Saxophone – Igo Chiko
Trumpet [Solo] – Eddie Faychum, Tunde Williams

The collection of songs making up the album title AFRODISIAC were songs Fela and the Nigeria 70 (Later Africa 70) re-recorded at the EMI studio, Abbey Road London, in 1971. Originally recorded and released in Nigeria on 45rpm, they were Fela’s first successive hits in the Nigerian music charts. 

Alu Jon Jonki Jon: The first song in the collection is a traditional moonlight tale, made into a song. Yoruba mythology makes constant references to inter-reaction between the human and the animal world—a CO-habitation between the two worlds. Once there was a great famine that ravaged the entire world, so goes the tale. To survive this famine, all animals agreed to sacrifice their mothers in the collective cooking-pot. When it came to the turn of the dog, the other animals discovered that he had secretly hidden away his mother in heaven. Alu Jon Jon Ki Jon, the other animals chorused after the dog, treating him as a selfish and dishonest comrade. 

Jeun Ko Ku (Chop’n Quench): This piece was Fela’s first musical success in Nigeria. It paved the way for his eventual popularity throughout Africa. Within six months of its release, this track sold more than two hundred thousand copies—a reason why it remains one of the most exploited(instrumental/vocal versions) of Fela’s repertoires. Jen Ko Ku is about a glutton—who eats himself to death. 

Eko Ile: is about the popular adage: ‘no place like home’. Eko is the traditional name for Lagos City, before the Portuguese renamed it Lagos. 

Je’nwi Temi (Don’t Gag Me): is the first of Fela’s attacks at the Nigeria ‘powers that be’. A strong message that he is not one to be gagged. Sung in Yoruba language, it says: …’even if you jail me? You cannot shut my mouth! I will open my mouth like basket! You cannot shut my mouth!’. He goes on to stress that the truth is bitter, but it remains what it is – the TRUTH. Hence, he will not stop talking and singing about the truth. 

Afrodisiac has a character to me that seems like the middle ground between Kuti's raw late 60s sound and his more polished post-Roforofo Fight output.  To me, the funkiest track is Eko Ile, the side two opener which also happens to be the shortest track on the album.  The sheer number of tracks make it seem like a tip of the hat to the days of the London scene.  After the Gentleman album, Fela would rely on the one or two song format almost exclusively through his career.  Eko Ile has a bounce to it which I appreciate, but I also dig the overdriven organ sound that Kuti gets by the close of the first track.  All things considered this is another consistent Kuti album that fits along well with the albums that surround it, which are arguably the best of his career

God damn this rocks.  Fela makes indescribably funky music without really sounding anything at all like the American music we traditionally think of as funk, and yet any of the four tracks here could sit comfortably on a mix next to Parliament or Sly Stone.  Absolutely amazing.

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1972 - Music Of Fela: Roforofo Fight

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70
Music Of Fela: Roforofo Fight

01. Roforofo Fight 15:33
02. Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am 12:00
03. Question Jam Answer 13:45
04. Go Slow 17:21

Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Bass Guitar – George Bruce
Congas [1st] – Henry Kofi
Congas [2nd] – Daniel Koranteg
Drums – Tonny Allen
Guitar [Tenor] – Segun Edo
Maracas – Issac Olaleye
Percussion [Sticks] – James Abayomi
Rhythm Guitar – Tutu Shoronmu
Tenor Saxophone – Christopher Uwaifor
Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Vocals – Fela Ransome Kuti
Trumpet – Tunde Williams

Roforofo Fight: Roforofo Fight is about human intolerance towards each other. Issues that could be resolved amicably usually end up in fist fights. Sometimes such fights end up bloody or muddy. Dramatizing the scenario that ensues before a fight, particularly in a muddy place. Fela says it usually starts with words like: ‘You dey craze! I no craze! Get away Who are you?’. These are two people who could quietly resolve their differences, screaming and yelling at each other. Unfortunately for both of them, the area where the argument is taking place is full of mud. Within seconds, they draw the attention of passers-by, turning into a crowd. ‘If you dey among the crowd wey dey look! And your friend dey among the two wey dey yap!…Tell am make him no fight oh!…’. Meaning if you are in the crowd watching, please advise your friend not to fight if he is one of the two arguing. Because human egos, instead of heeding the advise, walk away quietly. Both will feel disrespected and shamed. To settle score, the tow of them chose physical combat in the mud—a muddy fight follows. At the end of the fight, onlookers couldn’t differentiate the one from the other, both of them look like twins. They won’t get any sympathy from the people looking too: ‘…you don tell am before make him no fight! Roforofo dey for there!…’ 

Go Slow: Go slow is about the crawling Lagos traffic jam that symbolizes the confusion that reigns in Nigeria. Fela compares the traffic situation with a person in jail. He says: ‘you have to be a man in life!’. That is a natural instinct in man but when caught in Lagos traffic, all your aspirations and confidence as a man will wither away. You feel suddenly incapacitated, like a man in jail. Or how would you feel driving on a Lagos road and suddenly, in your front there is a lorry to your left a taxi cab, all vehicles in a standstill. Also to your right, a tipper truck and behind you a ‘molues’ passenger bus and above you a helicopter flying. To complete the picture of you imprisoned on the Lagos highway. 
Question Jam Answer: ‘When question drop for mouth! Answer go run after am! When question jam answer for road? Another thing will happen.’ Singing about human nature, Fela says when people pose questions at each other, they definitely get answered back — the result of the answer could result into something we never expect, such as: ‘Why did you step on my leg?’ ‘Didn’t you see my leg on the ground?’, these are questions that need answers. Quickly answer replies: ‘Why did you put your leg in my way? Don’t you see me coming?’. It is a song to those who like to pose questions to always bear in mind that they may not get the answers they expect to their questions. 

Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am: Broken English translation of ‘Trouble Sleep Yanga Am’ literally means: ‘toying with a loaded gun’ or ‘playing with fire’. It is a song talking about the limit to human endurance. Mr. Trouble is lying quietly and Mr. Provocation (yanga) goes to play around him. What else could he be looking for except palaver. A good example of such trouble-shooting is that of a man who has just got out of prison and goes about desperately looking for work in order to avoid what led him to jail. While at it, a police man stops and charges the man for wandering. Fela asks what could the police man be looking for, but trouble. It is like when a cat is asleep and a rat goes to bite its tail. Or a tenant who has just lost his job, sitting quietly thinking of where his next meal will come from. His landlord comes knocking, demanding his rent. Of cause he will get trouble bigger than the rent he came to collect. Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am simply means there is a limit to any human endurance. 

Shenshema: Sung in broken English, this song signifies different things. It could mean a shameful thing if addressed that way, and it could mean out of use or out-of-service if used to describe a problematic machine. A care you have to push to start is Shenshema. For a woman who has thirty-nine men because she feels thirty-six is not enough is regarded as Shenshema. A man who has thirty-three woman and complains he cannot get ninety-nine is regarded as Shenshema. A man or woman who uses chemical products to bleach her skin in order to lighten his or her skin is Shenshema. Same for the man or woman who wears a wig to cover his or her natural hair. 

Ariya: Ariya, in Yoruba language means ‘good times’. Fela, in Ariya, tries to convey the celebration of good times-saying: ‘…we are having a good time! It is no one’s business!’ What we get high on doesn’t concern them. It is a party song for everyone to get together and have good times. 
Waiting for the bass to come in on Roforofo Fight is the longest and most rewarding 1:40 of your life. And after you've heard the horn hook for the first time, you're in a total trance for the next 13 minutes.

I wonder what exactly stung him that got him to write this? I mean, his work prior to this was good, but this is just ridiculous. It's like a brand new man - All the energy and spunk of before cranked up to eleven and polished to mirror shine, and without forgetting to throw some experiments along the way (Trouble Sleep Wake Am remains one of the most singular tracks he ever made). It makes me wonder why he only felt like making sub-30 min albums from here on out, because in this whole hour of call and responses, African chants and fierce horns there is not one second wasted. What's more, every track has its own unique flavor - Take the relentless title track, the beautiful shambling 'Trouble...', the night sky expansiveness of 'Question...' or the sheer march-like strut of 'Go Slow', there's something here for basically anyone.

Pretty much perfect from top to bottom.

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1972 - Shakara

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 

01. Lady
02. Shakara Oloje

Recorded in Lagos, Nigeria in 1971

Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Bass Guitar – Tommy James
Congas [1st Konga] – Henry Kofi
Congas [2nd Konga] – Daniel Koranteg
Drums [Leader Drummer] – Tonny Allen
Guitar [Tenor Guitar] – Segun Edo
Maracas – Isaac Olaleye
Percussion – James Abayomi
Rhythm Guitar – Tutu Shoronmu
Tenor Saxophone – Igo Chico
Trumpet – Tony Njoku
Vocals, Trumpet, Piano – Fela Ransome Kuti

This is, to my ears, the first Fela masterpiece, with not a moment of un-funky, non-transcendent groove to be found. There would be plenty more, but they all follow this same formula: Fela, in a political rage, channeling his anger through tight grooves, interweaving guitar lines, horn charts, and his own smooth organ playing into a patchwork that fill every second with ecstatic bliss. Roforofo Fight had hinted at this but had too much fat; here, Fela trims it and delivers a totally flawless gem.

Shakara is one of the most upbeat and exciting albums in the Fela catalogue.  The group is in its prime with two fifteen minute cuts that layout the formula for much of his seventies output.  The two tracks are remarkably alike with Fela's trademark riff accompanied by spidery guitar riffs, James Brown influenced grooves and some of the sharpest horn arrangements you are ever likely to hear.  Usually there are groovy sax solos in the instrumental portion of the tune (and more trumpets than usual on Lady) or a keyboard solo that sounds like a mix between an electric piano and a distorted harpsichord.  At approximately the half way point of the tune, the massive vocal chants start.  Lady is a controversial lyric but really one that forms a part of the Fela Kuti philosophy of African unity that is espoused on almost every album.  Even if the thought behind it might seem impossibly regressive, you have to admire an artist who was so singularly committed to his politics.  So... the tune won't win over any of your feminist friends when you crank it at your party, but it will get them dancing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 with Ginger Baker - 1971 - Live!

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 with Ginger Baker 

01. Let's Start 7:44
02. Black Man's Cry 11:40
03. Ye Ye De Smell 13:13
04. Egbe Mi O (Carry Me I Want To Die) 12:24

Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Congas [First] – Henry Koffi
Congas [Second] – Friday Jumbo
Congas [Third] – Akwesi Korranting
Drums – Tony Allen
Drums [Uncredited] – Ginger Baker
Guitar [Bass] – Maurice Ekpo
Percussion [Sticks] – Tony Abayomi
Rhythm Guitar – Peter Animashaun
Shekere – Isaac Olaleye
Tenor Saxophone – Igo Chiko
Trumpet [First, Solo] – Tunde Williams
Trumpet [Second] – Eddie Faychum
Vocals, Saxophone [Uncredited] – Fela Kuti

Quite a historic album - was this the first time a major Western music star joined forces with a non-Western music star on the latter's home turf? It might well have been. Back in the day Ginger Baker was very much a household name, having recently been part of a Top-5-in-popularity group (Cream). This album was made well before McCartney ventured to Nigeria to record Band on the Run, and 15 years before Paul Simon made the seminal Graceland with South African musicians. I believe it also predates musical visits to Africa by folks like James Brown, Bob Marley and Miles Davis.

It's easy to criticize having Baker so prominently featured on the sleeve as a "marketing ploy". But think of what that accomplished: it brought Fela's music to a large new Western audience who wouldn't have thought to try it otherwise. Which was an early step in a change to global culture that's still happening to this day. Sometimes a "marketing ploy" can be a very good thing.

The music on this album is quite timeless and excellent, and is very well recorded. Yes a lot of it is instrumental and solo-y, but it always maintains an infectious groove that makes for an enjoyable listen. There's lots of great melodies and smart arrangements. Baker never tries to show off; he integrates well with the band and is totally professional throughout. You can choose to listen actively to this CD or just treat it as background music - either way it's highly likeable.

This album was my introduction to Fela Kuti's music. I bought this album on a whim; it looked like it would be good. I'm also a Ginger Baker fan. I didn't know what I was in for. I've never been happier with a purchase of an album that I didn't know. Many compare this to James Brown, and where Fela was certainly influenced by Brown's funk, this seems so much more aggressive. It is a wonder how such a large band can be so tight, and sound so lean. Fela's got a great voice with tons of character that somehow displays anger and humor in the same phrase. 

Every time I listen to this album, I fall in love with it all over again. It may not be Fela or Ginger's best, but it ranks very high in both their catalogs.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1971 - Why Black Man Dey Suffer...

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 
Why Black Man Dey Suffer...

01. Why Black Man Dey Suffer
02. Ikoyi Mentality Versus Mushin Mentality

Fela Ransome Kuti: keyboards, vocals, percussion
Tunde Williams: first trumpet
Eddie Faychum: second trumpet
Igo Chiko: tenor saxophone
Lekan Animashaun: baritone saxophone
Peter Animashaun: rhythm guitar
Maurice Ekpo: bass guitar
Ginger Baker: drums
Henry Kofi: first conga
Friday Jumbo: second conga
Akwesi Korranting: third conga
Tony Abayomi: sticks
Isaac Olaleye: shekere, vocals

Initially recorded for EMI, but EMI refused to release it.

Why Black Man Dey Suffer is a more formative affair. It's one of a series of early 1970s' albums which made the transition between the highlife and jazz blend of Kuti and Allen's first band, Koola Lobitos, and the turbulent magnificence of mature Afrobeat. Trumpeter Tunde Williams, baritone saxophonist Lekan Animashaun and first conga player Henry Kofi, from later line-ups including that on Alagbon Close, are also in place. But Afrobeat's signature tenor guitar has yet to be introduced, and, crucially, Allen didn't play on the session, making way for Ginger Baker.
Baker does a creditable job on Why Black Man Dey Suffer, although Allen's absence means Africa 70 lacks the singular rhythms that would come to define Afrobeat a couple of years later. But the album is worth hearing, with powerful lyrics and some strong instrumental performances. A valuable snapshot of Africa 70's fetal stage. 

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1971 - Open & Close

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 
Open & Close

01. Open And Close
02. Suegbe And Pako (Part 1)
03. Suegbe And Pako (Part 2)
04. Gbagada Gbogodo

Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Bass Guitar – Ayo Azenabor
Claves [Sticks] – James Abayomi
Vocals, Piano, Trumpet – Fela Ransome Kuti
Congas – Akwesi Korrantin, Tony Kupoliyi
Congas [Lead Congo] – Henry Koffi
Design [Cover] – Mamuli Okotie-Eboh
Drums – Tony Allen
Guitar [Tenor] – Ohiri Akigbe
Rhythm Guitar – Tutu Sorunmu
Shekere – Isiak Olaleye
Tenor Saxophone – Igo Chico
Trumpet – Tony Njoku

Fela doesn’t seem to have as a much on his mind on Open & Close—a new dance and people who don’t do their jobs correctly dominate the discussion—but there’s a lot happening in the music. The most significant change occurs in the guitar chairs, as Fela employs two guitarists for the first time (Tutu Srunmu on rhythm guitar, Ohiri Akigbe on tenor guitar) to give the arrangements an added texture and richness. Fela also contributes a lot of musical ideas on top of the music with his loose, semaphore-styled keyboard playing. (Is it just me, or does he sound like he’s wearing mittens when he plays?) If Na Poi was a step back in terms of musical development, Open & Close is clearly a step forward. The opening moments of “Swegbe And Pako Part 1” slow down the Afrobeat sound and arrive at something completely new, before pursuing a more distinctive groove, and it’s this kind of experimentation that makes Open & Close an exciting discovery for Fela’s fans. With some lineup tweaks along the way, Africa ’70 had grown even stronger; bass player Ayo Azenabor, while not as pronounced as his predecessor, has a certain nimbleness that blends nicely with the sounds around him. The closing “Gbagada Gbagada Gbogodo Gbogodo” is the only overtly political track, recounting a military uprising against colonial rule, but even here the mood is upbeat and light on its feet. The pervading feel on Open & Close is one of confidence and professionalism. Some of Fela’s albums felt like hurried first takes. Open & Close, by contrast, feels well rehearsed and is nearly perfectly executed. Here, the music takes center stage while the politics take a brief rest, resulting in one of his most refreshing records.

Another long-thought-lost gem from the Fela Anikulapo Kuti archives, Open & Close was originally released in 1971 and, in the manner of He Miss Road and Fela's London Scene, is a total groove-fest loaded to the gills with raucous horn blowing, ferocious percussion (once again, Tony Allen take a bow), and song lengths over ten minutes. By this point, Fela could do no wrong when it came to recording; Afro-beat dissenters will claim that there is a trance-inducing similarity to much of Fela's '70s recorded output, that the grooves aren't enough to make the songs distinctive enough on their own. That's true of some of his later recordings (like in the mid- to late '80s), but at this point he was still breathing fire and the band was in top form. Perhaps the distinguishing factors of records like Open & Close and some of Fela's other '70s releases are that as much as he liked to ride a groove, he also liked to disrupt it, twist it and turn it, reshape it, only to bring it back to its original shape. There was less of that later in his career.

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1971 - Na Poi

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70
Na Poi

01. Na Poi (Part 1)
02. Na Poi (Part 2)
03. You No Go Die.......Unless

Piano, Vocals, Trumpet – Fela Ransome Kuti
Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Bass Guitar – Maurice Ekpo
Congas – Akwesi Korranting, Friday Jumbo, Henry Kofi
Drums – Tony Allen
Percussion [Sticks] – Tony Abayomi
Rhythm Guitar – Peter Animashaun
Shekere – Isaac Olaleye
Tenor Saxophone – Igo Chiko
Trumpet – Eddie Faychum, Tunde Williams

"Na Poi" literally means "things will collide," and in the lyric Kuti describes what men and women get up to in bed in graphic detail, including references to angle of penetration and lubrication. The original, 1970 version, included as the "B" side was banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. Never one to miss the opportunity of raising the stakes, Kuti recorded a longer (25:37) version for Na Poi, released a few months later. 

In truth, contemporary shock value aside, "Na Poi" isn't an arresting lyric. Few things, surely, are as boring as watching other people have sex, but listening to someone else talk about having sex is even worse. Afrika 70, fortunately, is on burning form and on the longer version, in particular, there are several edge of the seat instrumental sections. 

This album is somewhat of an anomaly for Fela Kuti. Accompanied as always by the Africa '70 band, Kuti temporarily abandons his tradition of one song extending over an entire LP side -- although he hasn't strayed too far from form -- as the A-side track extends over basically one-and-a-half sides with the shorter funky rave "You No Go Die.....Unless" completing the B-side. In addition to that slight variance, the structure of Kuti's delivery, as well as the explicitly sexual intonation in the subject matter of "Na Poi" stray from tradition. The title song has somewhat of a history in that it was recorded and issued twice before. The first version from 1972 has not been reissued domestically; however, Yellow Fever (1976) updated the track, which carried the apt moniker "Na Poi '75." The following year the composition was revisited to comprise a lengthy version. In essence, the track is a sexual guide set to music. As such, it features both spoken narration as well as sung lyrics. "Na Poi"'s rhythms churn and grind through several notable movements -- including a spirited percussion section and several tight horn arrangements. These hark back to the same type of perpetual funk that became the cornerstone of Parliament and Funkadelic. Initially, the repercussions of such blatant sexuality resulted in the track being banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Company -- although when the song was reissued in 1975 it snuck back on the air as the new version had an ever so slightly different name. "You No Go Die.....Unless" is much in the same spirit as James Brown's hard-driven funk musings. From Kuti's impassioned vocals to the upbeat syncopation of the rhythm, this track contains many obvious parallels between the mid-'70s stateside funk movement and that of concurrently popular African music. The incorporation of the Africa '70 horn section -- which is heavily featured during the bridges -- also provides a much thicker punctuation to Kuti's vocals. Lyrically, the song deals with the urban sprawl that was beginning to occur in Lagos -- in many ways a social observation on par with Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" or Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City."

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1971 - Fela's London Scene

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70
Fela's London Scene

01. J'Ehin J'Ehin
02. E Gbe Mi O
03. Who're You?
04. Buy Africa
05. Fight To Finish!

Piano, Vocals, Trumpet – Fela Ransome Kuti
Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Bass Guitar – Maurice Ekpo
Congas – Akwesi Korranting, Friday Jumbo, Henry Kofi
Drums – Tony Allen
Percussion [Sticks] – Tony Abayomi
Remastered By – John Perce Ali Bears
Rhythm Guitar – Peter Animashaun
Shekere – Isaac Olaleye
Tenor Saxophone – Igo Chiko
Trumpet – Eddie Faychum, Tunde Williams

The sound of an artist coming into his own, this is Fela's first great album (I'm not counting at Afro Beat on Stage: Recorded Live at the Afro Spot because it's live and a lot messier than this one, though as a snapshot of Fela's development it's even more essential than this one). For the most part he's swung totally from his highlife roots into full-on funk, but Afrobeat is finally starting to rear its head here. The most glaring sign of things to come is on "Egbe mi o" (featuring Ginger Baker!), where Fela delves into one of the spoken word interludes that would become a trademark while The Africa '70 grooves behind him.

In 1971, Fela Anikulapo Kuti's record company (EMI) agreed to finance a recording date in London for Fela and band. Now huge stars in Nigeria, this trip was, in a way, a triumphant return to the country that had provided Fela with a musical education and the club scene where he cut his proverbial bandleader's teeth. What is important to note is that he had become good friends with former Cream (and at the time of this recording current Blind Faith) drummer Ginger Baker, who had traveled to Lagos a year earlier to meet, hang out, and play with Fela. Baker shows up on this recording (albeit uncredited) on the track "Egbe Mio," but more importantly helped get Fela gigs all over the city at such venerable venues as the 100 Club, the Cue Club, and the Four Aces. Recording at Abbey Road (a.k.a. the hallowed home of the Beatles) Fela cut these five awesome tracks in which his Afrobeat sound is more complex and jazzy than on the '69 Los Angeles Sessions. At over 13 minutes "J'ehin J'ehin" cuts a wicked groove for its entire length pushed by the horn section and Tony Allen's superlative drumming. "Buy Africa" is a anti-colonial rant worthy of the Last Poets, and "Fight to Finish" very simply kicks out the jams. A stunning record that marks the beginning of Fela's best period of recording.

Nothing here has the complexity or immediacy of his later works, but that isn't to say Fela wasn't a master experimenter already: several of these pieces change horses mid-stream, and the results are never anything less than funky. The man's playing around with song structures and with the very notion of African pop (as well as funk) as a genre, and you can tell that he (and everyone around him) is having a lot of fun doing it. "J'ehin J'ehin" features some of Fela's best organ playing, and this band was known as his most swinging lineup. Even if this isn't as developed as what would come just a couple of years later that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it on its own merits, as this is just a really, really great funk record

Monday, September 3, 2018

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1969 - Fela Fela Fel

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70
Fela Fela Fel

01. My Lady's Frustration
02. Viva Nigeria
03. Obe (Stew)
04. Ako
05. Witchcraft
06. Wayo
07. Lover
08. Funky Horn
09. Eko
10. This Is Sad

Fela Ransome-Kuti: trumpet, vocals
Lonnie Bolden: tenor saxophone
Isaac Olasugba: alto saxophone
Tony Allen: drums
Lekan Animashaun: baritone saxophone
Felix: bass guitar
Tunde Williams: trumpet
Christopher Uwaifo: tenor saxophone
Henry Kofee: congas
Fred Lawal: guitar

Fela Fela Fel was originally recorded in 1969 when Fela Kuti was living in Hollywood. The band performed six nights at the Citadel de Haiti on Sunset Boulevard and these songs were recorded there. Originally released in 1970 in Nigeria, the cuts featured here would later end up on an album called The '69 Los Angeles Sessions.

It's almost impossible to overstate the impact and importance of Fela Anikulapo (Ransome) Kuti (or just Fela as he's more commonly known) to the global musical village: producer, arranger, musician, political radical, outlaw. He was all that, as well as showman par excellence, inventor of Afro-beat, an nonredeemable sexist, and a moody megalomaniac. His death on August 3, 1997 of complications from AIDS deeply affected musicians and fans internationally, as a musical and sociopolitical voice on a par with Bob Marley was silenced. A press release from the United Democratic Front of Nigeria on the occasion of Fela's death noted: "Those who knew you well were insistent that you could never compromise with the evil you had fought all your life. Even though made weak by time and fate, you remained strong in will and never abandoned your goal of a free, democratic, socialist Africa." This is as succinct a summation of Fela's political agenda as one is likely to find.

Born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in Abeokuta, Nigeria, north of Lagos in October 1938, Fela's family was firmly middle class as well as politically active. His father was a pastor (and talented pianist), his mother active in the anti-colonial, anti-military, Nigerian home rule movement. So at an early age, Fela experienced politics and music in a seamless combination. His parents, however, were less interested in his becoming a musician and more interested in his becoming a doctor, so they packed him off to London in 1958 for what they assumed would be a medical education; instead, Fela registered at Trinity College's school of music. Tired of studying European composers, Fela formed his first band, Koola Lobitos, in 1961, and quickly became a fixture on the London club scene. He returned to Nigeria in 1963 and started another version of Koola Lobitos that was more influenced by the James Brown-style singing of Geraldo Pina from Sierra Leone. Combining this with elements of traditional high life and jazz, Fela dubbed this intensely rhythmic hybrid "Afro-beat," partly as critique of African performers whom he felt had turned their backs on their African musical roots in order to emulate current American pop music trends.

In 1969, Fela brought Koola Lobitos to Los Angeles to tour and record. They toured America for about eight months using Los Angeles as a home base. It was while in L.A. that Fela hooked up with a friend, Sandra Isidore, who introduced him to the writings and politics of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver (and by extension the Black Panthers), and other proponents of Black nationalism and Afrocentrism. Impressed at what he read, Fela was politically revivified and decided that some changes were in order: first, the name of the band, as Koola Lobitos became Nigeria 70; second, the music would become more politically explicit and critical of the oppression of the powerless worldwide. After a disagreement with an unscrupulous promoter who turned them in to the Immigration and Naturalization Services, Fela and band were charged with working without work permits. Realizing that time was short before they were sent back to Nigeria, they were able to scrape together some money to record some new songs in L.A. What came to be known as the '69 Los Angeles Sessions were remarkable, an indication of a maturing sound and of the raucous, propulsive music that was to mark Fela's career. Afrobeat's combination of blaring horn sections, antiphonal vocals, Fela's quasi-rapping pidgin English, and percolating guitars, all wrapped up in a smoldering groove (in the early days driven by the band's brilliant drummer Tony Allen) that could last nearly an hour, was an intoxicating sound. Once hooked, it was impossible to get enough.
Upon returning to Nigeria, Fela founded a communal compound-cum-recording studio and rehearsal space he called the Kalakuta Republic, and a nightclub, the Shrine. It was during this time that he dropped his given middle name of "Ransome" which he said was a slave name, and took the name "Anikulapo" (meaning "he who carries death in his pouch") . Playing constantly and recording at a ferocious pace, Fela and band (who were now called Africa 70) became huge stars in West Africa. His biggest fan base, however, was Nigeria's poor. Because his music addressed issues important to the Nigerian underclass (specifically a military government that profited from political exploitation and disenfranchisement), Fela was more than a simply a pop star; like Bob Marley in Jamaica, he was the voice of Nigeria's have-nots, a cultural rebel. This was something Nigeria's military junta tried to nip in the bud, and from almost the moment he came back to Nigeria up until his death, Fela was hounded, jailed, harassed, and nearly killed by a government determined to silence him. In one of the most egregious acts of violence committed against him, 1,000 Nigerian soldiers attacked his Kalakuta compound in 1977 (the second government-sanctioned attack). Fela suffered a fractured skull as well as other broken bones; his 82-year old mother was thrown from an upstairs window, inflicting injuries that would later prove fatal. The soldiers set fire to the compound and prevented fire fighters from reaching the area. Fela's recording studio, all his master tapes and musical instruments were destroyed.

After the Kalakuta tragedy, Fela briefly lived in exile in Ghana, returning to Nigeria in 1978. In 1979 he formed his own political party, MOP (Movement of the People), and at the start of the new decade renamed his band Egypt 80. From 1980-1983, Nigeria was under civilian rule, and it was a relatively peaceful period for Fela, who recorded and toured non-stop. Military rule returned in 1983, and in 1984 Fela was sentenced to ten years in prison on charges of currency smuggling. With help from Amnesty International, he was freed in 1985.

As the '80s ended, Fela recorded blistering attacks against Nigeria's corrupt military government, as well as broadsides aimed at Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan (most abrasively on the album Beasts of No Nation). Never what you would call progressive when it came to relationships with women or patriarchy in general (the fact was that he was sexist in the extreme, which is ironic when you consider that his mother was one of Nigeria's early feminists), he was coming around to the struggles faced by African women, but only just barely. Stylistically speaking, Fela's music didn't change much during this time, and much of what he recorded, while good, was not as blistering as some of the amazing music he made in the '70s. Still, when a Fela record appeared, it was always worth a listen. He was unusually quiet in the '90s, which may have had something to do with how ill he was; very little new music appeared, but in as great a series of reissues as the planet has ever seen, the London-based Stern's Africa label re-released some of his long unavailable records (including The '69 Los Angeles Sessions), and the seminal works of this remarkable musician were again filling up CD bins. He never broke big in the U.S. market, and it's hard to imagine him having the same kind of posthumous profile that Marley does, but Fela's 50-something releases offer up plenty of remarkable music, and a musical legacy that lives on in the person of his talented son Femi. Around the turn of the millennium, Universal began remastering and reissuing a goodly portion of Fela's many recordings, finally making some of his most important work widely available to American and European listeners.

With Fela Fela Fel we're finally at Afrobeat. Well, nearly anyway. The tracks are still short! So no 15 minute jams, and Fela is still going about vocal performances in a very James Brown way. Don't get me wrong, he's quite good at it, and all these songs are great fun. They're just a bit toned down and simplistic compared to the masterpieces that are coming just down the road in the next couple years. 

It's easy to skip over these early releases and jump straight to better known names, but if you're a fan of Fela's London Scene you should make a point of getting back here and checking these out. 

Fela Ransome Kuti & His Koola Lobitos - 1966 - Afro Beat Swings Live At Afro Spot

Fela Ransome Kuti & His Koola Lobitos
Afro Beat Swings Live At Afro Spot

01. Everyday I Got My Blues
02. Moti Gborokan
03. Waka Waka
04. Ako
05. Oloruka
06. Lai Se

Fela Kuti (vocals, trumpet, Keyboards)
Tony Allen (drums)
Ojo Okeji (bass)
Yinka Roberts (guitar)
Isaac Olasugba (saxophone)
Tunde Williams (trumpet)
Eddie Aroyewu (trumpet)
Tex Becks (tenor saxophone)
Uwaifo (tenor saxophone)
Fred Lawal (guitar).

Fela Kuti is mostly known as being the man who invented Afrobeat (with assistance from Tony Allen) and for releasing more good music in the 1970s than any other single musician (from 1972-77 alone he released no fewer than 25 albums. Anyone who doesn't consider him one of the top 5 funk artists of all time probably has no idea what they're talking about, and his influence on music of all styles is totally incalculable. This isn't that Fela, though.

As a historical document, this record is indispensable. When this came out in 1966 Fela was only 27 years old and still hadn't found his original voice as an artist. He was still one hell an entertainer, though, and that's what really shows on this record. As a standalone piece of music, this is simply a really good highlife record. The first side has three lively pieces on it that are plenty of fun, and you can hear how good Fela was at working a crowd. But the real attraction is side 2.

Fela introduces the side as he and his band trying out a little Afrobeat. I can't imagine what the crowd thought he was talking about when he said it, but they seem receptive after the performance he's given on the first 3 cuts. And then they hear it: "Ako" is a long way from fully formed, but there's no way you can't hear Afrobeat in that track. I don't think the band was fully comfortable playing that style just yet but Fela sells it as best he can and the whole group continues straight into the best highlife track on the album, "Oloruka." By this point Fela is howling like a man possessed, you can hear the crowd loving it, and the band has settled in, playing looser and funkier after the stylistic experimentation. This leads straight into "Lai Se," which is another primitive version of Afrobeat, but this time the band is in a groove. It's violent, loud, free and ecstatic. Fela's trumpet soars here, and the album closes on a tribal rhythm that had to have had the crowd dancing to the last.

This is the very definition of "genius in chrysalis." "Ako" and "Lai Se" are by no means on the level of Fela's 70s Afrobeat masterpieces, but you can tell he believes in this sound and the effect is contagious. There's no way any member of the crowd could've known they were witnessing the wave of the future, but you couldn't blame them for thinking it. Do you think any of them were surprised this man became a legend?

Fela Ransome Kuti And His Koola Lobitos - 1965 - Fela Ransome Kuti And His Koola Lobitos

Fela Ransome Kuti And His Koola Lobitos
Fela Ransome Kuti And His Koola Lobitos

01. Signature Tune 0:23
02. It's Highlife Time 5:20
03. Lagos Baby 3:35
04. Omuti 3:52
05. Olulufe 5:22
06. Araba's Delight 4:58
07. Wa Dele 4:07
08. Lai Se 4:10
09. Mi O Mo 4:40
10. Obinrin Le 4:49
11. Omo Ejo 5:04

Fela Kuti (vocals, trumpet, Keyboards)
Tony Allen (drums)
Ojo Okeji (bass)
Yinka Roberts (guitar)
Isaac Olasugba (saxophone)
Tunde Williams (trumpet)
Eddie Aroyewu (trumpet)
Tex Becks (tenor saxophone)
Uwaifo (tenor saxophone)
Fred Lawal (guitar)

Is greatness there from day one, does it evolve or suddenly strike? Do artists in any discipline develop in steps or arrive fully-formed? How does the quotidian become exceptional?

Kuti had recorded in London in 1960 while he was studying at Trinity School of Music and two singles were issued, but it was his return to Nigeria in 1963 which kick-started the run of tracks collected here. At this point, the trumpet – which he had studied – was his instrument. The saxophone came later. Jazz was the focus: his first Nigerian band of the Sixties was the Fela Ransome-Kuti Quartet, which soon became Koola Lobitos. This was musical evolution, not the arrival of a fully-formed, original voice.

Before Afrobeat, there was Highlife-Jazz and Afro-Soul. Highlife music, originally from Ghana and widely popular across West Africa, dominated the music scene in Lagos when Fela Kuti returned to the newly independent Nigeria in 1963. Fela had been studying trumpet at Trinity College of Music in London where he met drummer Tony Allen, who also joined him in new group Koola Lobitos as they sought to mix things up by introducing the sounds they had heard in the capital's jazz clubs.

While Fela's Afrobeat compositions took the groove to its limit over side-long tunes, the first disc of early 7" singles here demonstrates the group's desire to take existing sounds and create something new, if not the extended focus and political message that would come later. The group were still developing ahead of the curve though and the abstract sounds were new to listeners in Nigeria, incorporating jazz chords into highlife arrangements.

The group's mid-60s self-titled debut album opens with 'Signature Tune', a short, sharp blast of percussion-led brass that leads into 'Highlife Time', which provides a statement of intent as Fela introduces the music that's "got the beat". You get a feel for how the group could ignite a dancefloor, as the group's highlife rhythms fuse with Fela's jazz licks on the trumpet, inspired by Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. 'Ofulufe' shows a steadier side of the group, as snaky saxophone lines weave around Fela's vocals, transporting the influence of American jazz musicians back to Africa. The horn blasts around the extended dance rhythms of 'Obinrin Le (Women Are Unpredictable)' is perhaps the closest to the kind of arrangements that would be developed later.

The Koola Lobitos lineup visited the US in the late 60s and made recordings later released as The '69 Los Angeles Sessions, under the name Nigeria '70, ahead of the prolific period that followed. Around the time of this trip Fela met American black rights activist Sandra Izadore, who introduced him to the Black Panthers and revolutionary writings by Malcom X and Angela Davis that inspired his political thinking and to use his "music as weapon". Fela and Allen's musical partnership continued into the 1970s, along with another long-time collaborator, baritone saxophonist Lekan Animashaun, who had joined Koola Lobitos in 1965, as they developed their progressive musical vision in the form of a new music – the Afrobeat sound.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Shina Williams & His African Percussionists - 1979 - African Dances

Shina Williams & His African Percussionists
African Dances

01. Cunny Jam Wayo
02. Agboju Logun
03. Gboro Mi Ro

Alto Saxophone – Fuzzy Gbagi
Clavinet – Sylvester Degbor
Drums – Prince Bola Agba
Guitar – Biddy Wright, Tutu Shoronmu
Tenor Saxophone – Brother Humphrey
Trumpet – Papa Okokon Udofia, Tunde Williams

Bass Guitar – Tunde Martins
Clavinet – Gboyega Adelaja
Synthesizer – Biddy Wright
Drums – Prince Bola Agba
Tenor Saxophone – Eji Oyewole

Arranged By, Cowbell, Lead Vocals, Written-By – Shina Williams
Backing Vocals – Caroline Adegbite, Funke Moloney, Gloria, Joyland Sammy, Ogoegunamokwuose Iyabo, Ronke Shomade, Shola Akitoye, Tinuke Toriola, Yemisi Odukoya
Bass Guitar – Kenneth Okulolo
Congas – Friday Jumbo
Congas, Cowbell – Friday Pozo
Drum [Gudugudu] – Azeez Olaiya
Organ, Synthesizer – Papa Doe (Gold Finger)
Piano – Frankie Song
Rhythm Guitar – Alli Sheikh
Shekere – Uvoe
Talking Drum – Saliu Alabi
Trombone – Fred Fisher
Trumpet – Big John

Back in 1979 when Shina Williams’ ‘Agboju Logun’ frst appeared on his ‘African Dances’ LP, Williams knew well that the track was breaking new ground. “I want to show the whole wide world that Africa is alive with modern musicians to reckon with anywhere,” he stated. Now an accepted Afro disco classic of its time, ‘Agboju Logun’ did indeed bring together the cream of Nigeria’s players as a oneoff supergroup in one inspired session. As a long-standing and well respected highlife musician and vocalist, Williams called in the ‘A’ list: Tunde Martins from Afro Collective played bass guitar, the brilliant Biddy Wright (player on albums by Lijadu Sisters, Blo and many more) contributed the famous synth lines and handled production, Fred Fisher was on trombone and Saliu Alabi played talking drum. 

Enjoying limited success upon its release in Nigeria, ‘African Dances’ nevertheless gained some international attention when Earthworks’ Jumbo Van Renan licensed two tracks from it for an international 12” single release in 1984, remixing ‘Agboju Logun’ in a more stripped back mix for dancefloors. However, it was the period following Fela Kuti’s death in the late ‘90s that truly ignited interest in archive African grooves for a new internet generation. Strut’s frst ‘Nigeria 70’ compilation featured the track in 2000 and it has been a staple in DJs’ crates ever since.

Monomono - 1974 - Dawn Of Awareness

Dawn Of Awareness

01. Plain Fighting (Your Life Is What You Make Of It)
02. Ipade Aladun
03. Get Yourself Together
04. Awareness Is Wot You Need
05. Make Them (You) Realise (Everybody's Gotta Be Free)
06. Tire Loma Da Nighehin

Bass, Percussion, Vocals – Kenneth Okulolo
Drums – Stephen Kontor
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Friday Jumbo
Lead Guitar, Vocals – Jimi Adams*
Vocals, Talking Drum – Joni Haastrup

"Thanks to brother Fella for the little hint that did a good job"

The second album in a series of three reissues from Nigerian bandleader Joni Haastrup, Dawn of Awareness was the sophomore effort by his band MonoMono, following their very impressive debut, Give the Beggar a Chance. It's tempting to read more into the two albums' titles than one probably should: while the first album focused on relatively concrete social issues (best song title: "The World Might Fall Over"), the mood on Dawn of Awareness is a bit more introspective. Sonically, this is real Age of Aquarius stuff: the grooves are at times downright spacy (note in particular the acid-drenched "Awareness Is Wot You Need" and the only slightly less discursive "Plain Fighting"), and even by Afro-pop standards they sometimes focus a bit too much on the extended elaboration of a single two-chord idea (note in particular the jazzily pretty but eventually rather tedious "Get Yourself Together"). But those ideas and their elaborations are consistently attractive, and there are moments of genius here; "Tire Loma da Nigbehin" is very lovely, and "Ipade Aladun" surprises with its spoken word intro (a defense of the band's energetic stage presence: they may jump around on-stage as if drunk, Haastrup explains, but it's only because they love the music and want to share its energy) followed by a startlingly slow, almost deliberate groove counterposed by vigorous and heartfelt vocals. This album is more uneven than its predecessor, but very much worth hearing.
The Dawn of Awareness sees the MonoMono Band expand on their previously set role as social commentators. Joni Haastrup looks beyond Lagos at the volatile state of the world, as did his American contemporaries at a similar time at Woodstock - war in Vietnam, the OPEC oil crises, Watergate and the IRA bombings.

The psychedelic cover bears a strong resemblance to the artwork of Marti Klarwein - who illustrated Carlos Santana’s Abraxas and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew - and sets an appropriate tone for the blues-rock grooves of the album. Santana once again shows to have been an influential guitarist in Nigeria. The Latin percussion of Abraxas also surfaces here, imitated well by Candido Obajimi and Friday Jumbo. Their shakes, scrapes and subtle drum hits provide the perfect backdrop for Jimmy Adams to plug in his guitar and let rip, often taking over the second half of the songs with an impenetrable amount of feedback. This makes for a more established formula than on MonoMono’s previous Give The Beggar A Chance: Haastrup’s heartfelt vocals, sometimes in English, sometimes in Yoruba, sometimes a personalised mish-mash of the two, Adams on guitar, Obajimi and Jumbo workmanlike in their simple percussion style.

When you consider the political situation in Nigeria, The Dawn of Awareness is more daring than other protest albums of the 70’s. “Awareness is what you need,” warns Haastrup, clearly not one turn a blind eye in fear of the consequences of the government. “If you see a man cry and don’t ask why, you can’t look yourself inside.”

The Dawn of Awareness is a more cohesive and resonant sound for the band as a whole. The keys mesh with Adams's careful guitar work and leaves space for the bluesy thump of Okulolo's bass work. It's a moodier set -- recorded in the wake of the OPEC oil embargo and scandals like Watergate -- and Haastrup dials down the Brown-ian showmanship in favor of a genuine and deep anger. "Ipade Aldun", the longest song on any of these records, is a brilliant turn, insistent in its pounding beat and powerful group singing and, driven by a great solo from Adams, it is the band at its most cut-loose and impressive. It sets up the funkier space of "Make Them Realise" and the feverish shuffle of "Awareness is Wot You Need". This album takes Haastrup's raw charisma and his band's promise from the first record, balances them out and makes them both shine. It is, of these three, the finest example of Afro-funk and Afro-beat Haastrup offered, and acts as a smoother counterpoint to Kuti's larger musical furies.

Monomono - 1973 - Give The Beggar A Chance

Give The Beggar A Chance, The Lightning Power Of Awareness

01. Give The Beggar A Chance
02. Ema Kowa Lasa Ile Wa
03. The World Might Fall Over
04. Eje'A Mura Sise
05. Find Out
06. Lida Lou
07. Kenimania

Acoustic Guitar – Kelvin
Organ, Piano, Lead Vocals, Percussion, Synthesizer [Axe] – Joni Haastrup
Backing Vocals – Eppi Josef, Jenny Jackson
Bass Guitar [Fender], Vocals, Percussion – Keni Okulolo
Congas, Vocals – Friday Jumbo
Drums [Trap], Percussion – Candido Obajimi
Electric Guitar – Berkely Ike Jones

Led by keyboardist and singer Joni Haastrup (himself a scion of Nigerian royalty), the band MonoMono was one of the most popular funk-rock acts in West Africa in the early '70s. The music itself is fascinating and sometimes deeply compelling. Of the band's two albums, Give the Beggar a Chance is the most consistently fun and interesting. This was a period when Afro-pop was coming into its maturity, and the endlessly repetitive grooves of Fela Kuti were starting to give way to influences from British and American traditions -- listen closely to the title track and you'll hear more than a hint of Ray Manzarek in Haastrup's organ playing, while "The World Might Fall Over" hints at a Santana-esque blues-rock and "Find Out" segues abruptly from a jaunty, swinging jazz-reggae groove to an even jauntier and sauntering 6/8 feel. It must be said that Haastrup is a good singer but not a great one; he often struggles to hit his high notes, which can distract from what are generally pretty good songs and ferocious grooves. But his arrangements are brilliant, dense, and busy without ever feeling ponderous. Surface noise notwithstanding, this album is a genuine gem that should be welcomed back to the commercial marketplace.

Joni formed MonoMono in 1971 with his friend and bassist Baba Ken Okulolo, guitarist Jimmy Adams and percussionists Candido Obajimi and Friday Jumbo. The band recorded seven original tracks for their debut LP, a drastic departure from the soul covers of the 60’s groups in Nigeria but a logical progression from the jazz-rock fusion saturating the London scene. Joni’s keys on the lush, meandering title track ‘Give the Beggar a Chance’ reminds one of Ray Manzarek (The Doors) while on ‘Kenimania’ he wails like an African counter-point to the Skatalites’ master organist Jackie Mittoo. Written in London and recorded in Lagos, the album was released in 1972.

Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Joni Haastrup may not be the household name Fela Kuti is, but he is as indelible a part of Afro-beat and Nigerian music as the Black President is. Haastrup was the vocalist on O.J. Ekemode and his Modern Aces' 1966 album, Super Afro Soul, which was one of the early, formative Afro-beat records -- an album a then-unknown Kuti played trumpet on (before he picked up his famous saxophone). He also toured with Cream's Ginger Baker in 1971, replacing some guy named Steve Winwood, and then went on to form his own band MonoMono before moving on to his own solo work.

Soundway Records has now smartly reissued the first two MonoMono records -- 1971's Give the Beggar a Chance and 1974's The Dawn of Awareness -- and Haastrup's 1978 solo album, Wake Up Your Mind. They come on the heels of their reissue of Remi Kabaka's great Afro-jazz soundtrack Black Goddess, where Haastrup played keys, and these albums further prove that his nickname -- they called him the "Number One Soul Brother" -- suits him quite well.

These three albums are all brief -- each clocks in under 40 minutes -- but they show a heavier soul mix in Haastrup's vision of Afro-funk and rock music. If James Brown was a huge influence on Afro-beat in general, then Haastrup is his closest musical student. These are tighter compositions than Kuti's, but they still manage a similar dichotomy: they are dynamic and shifting and yet build tension and inertia on insistent repetition.

Give the Beggar a Chance is a sweet and soulful debut that highlights Haastrup's voice -- his honeyed vocals are a far cry from Kuti's gruff, spare singing and keyboard work. Playing with guitarist Jimmy Adams, bass player Baba Ken Okulolo, and percussionists Candido Obajimi and Friday Jumbo, Haastrup's work with MonoMono doesn't always feel much like the sound of a band. His vocals are mixed way high, as are his keyboards, and his larger-than-life charm nearly overwhelms the songs. Still, if you sift through the layers, the band is a tight outfit. They shift carefully, but effectively, tone and tempo throughout the record. "The World Might Fall Over" moves from Haastrup's keyboard vamps to a bright and sped-up group jam, before settling into a smoldering soul number. "Find Out", one of many strident calls to action on these albums, has a similar push and pull. The shifts are subtle, but in such relatively short compositions, they catch you off guard and keep you interested.

Joni Haastrup - 1978 - Wake Up Your Mind

Joni Haastrup 
Wake Up Your Mind

01. Free My People
02. Greetings
03. Wake Up Your Mind
04. Champions And Superstars
05. Do The "Funkro"
06. Watch Out

Lead Vocals – Joni Haastrup
Backing Vocals – Sister Angie
Drum [African Drum] – Gaspar Lawal
Lead Guitar – Stephen Lipson
Rhythm Guitar – Jake Sollo
Bass - Tunde Kuboye

The founder of MonoMono, Nigerian Joni Haastrup took a slightly different turn with his 1978 solo debut, Wake Up Your Mind. Recorded in London, he made a disc that was decidedly more American funk than something African, with deep grooves and some fiery solos (listen to the sax and flute work on "Greetings," for example, both flying over a disco backdrop). It's politically aware ("Free My People"), but above all, it's a gem of ‘70s funk. That means there are strings as part of the overall sound, and the bass is mixed happily to the fore, ready to get dancers out on the dancefloor. Although a very talented keyboard player it's Haastrup's vocals and composing skills that are front and center here, a move away from the jazz-rock that had been his sound earlier in the decade. Africa is still there, underneath everything, but Haastrup made a truly international album, one that deserved more exposure when it was released, and which should find a wider audience now.

Growing up in a royal household in Nigeria, Joni Haastrup began his musical journey performing for his brothers band Sneakers and was quickly snapped up as a vocalist for O.J. Ekemode and his Modern Aces’ ‘Super Afro Soul’ LP, one of Afro-beat’s formative LPs. Soon after, Ginger Baker of Cream fame replaced Steve Winwood with Joni on keys for Airforce’s UK concerts in ’71 and the success of the collaboration led to further shows with Baker as part of the SALT project before he returned to Nigeria to set up MonoMono
Back in London in 1978, Joni recorded his solo gem ‘Wake Up Your Mind’ for the Afrodesia imprint. Laced with funk basslines, swirling keyboards and screaming guitars, this is Joni’s most ‘western’ record but at the same time unmistakably of the African origin. From the slow-motion disco of ‘Greetings’ to the stone cold groove of ‘Watch Out’ to the Rueben Wilson style funk of ‘Free My People’ Joni was soaking up the sounds of the times and blending them with the music of his roots.

Joni Haastrup ‘Soul Brother Number One’ 
Joni Haastrup came of age in a royal household in the waning days of colonial Nigeria; his grandfather was a king in the Yoruba town of Ilesa in Western Nigeria. Joni grew up surrounded by music, local drummers would perform for his grandfather whilst a steady flow of old American 78’s and calypso discs were on rotation at the local record shop.
So it was little surprise Joni chose to become a musician. The burgeoning  jazz tinged high-life scene he walked into was led by bands like the Abalabi Rhythm Dandies and Eddie Okonta & his Top Aces all basking in their country’s newfound independence after years of British colonial rule. It was in the midst of this a young Joni Haastrup made his debut singing in his brother’s band Sneakers at a 1964 New Year’s gig in Ondo
Later in 1966, when James Brown was all the rage, O.J. Ekemode and his Modern Aces’ released their ‘Super Afro Soul’ LP, an album that many see as laying the foundations of Afro-beat. Featuring Joni Haastrup on vocals, an unknown Fela Ransome Kuti sat in on trumpet before taking up sax and forming the Koola Lobitos.
At this point Joni Haastrup tearing up stages across Western Nigeria and soon became known as his country’s “Soul Brother Number One”. Later that year the cover band Clusters International, seeking a dynamic stage presence took Joni as their front man, a role Joni flourished in for the next few years.
In 1971, an invitation from Ginger Baker was extended to Joni Haastrup as part of the Airforce tour and the success of the collaborations was to be a catalyst for Joni’s Nigerian exodus and the forming of MonoMono.

Afrocult Foundation - 1978 - Black Goddess

Afrocult Foundation
Black Goddess

01. Brothers And Sisters
02. The Quest
03. Slave March
04. Black Goddess
05. The Quest (Piano Solo)
06. The Warrior

Drums [African], Keyboards – Remi Kabaka Adenihun
Keyboards, Bass Guitar, Percussion – B. D. Wright
Lead Guitar, Keyboards – Joni Haastrup
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Percussion – Dele Okonkwo

The soundtrack from Ola Balogun's film: Black Goddess. An Afro-Brazilian film. Written and directed by Ola Balogun. Delegate Producer Jece Valadao. Starring: Jorge Coutini, Sonia Santos, Zozimo Bulbul, Lea Garcia

Olá Balógun is not just a pioneer of African cinema, he was the first black film director who shot a movie in Brazil! “A Deusa Negra” (Black Goddess, 1978) is another amazing story - click the video above for a preview. We recently published an article on this blog (see The 19th century Yoruba repatriation) that was shared very often on Social Media. It explains the intense relations between Yorùbáland and Brazil and the returned Aguda slaves from Salvador da Bahia, who became a kind of elite among the early Lagosians. One day a Brazilian businessman appeared in Lagos and asked Balógun, who himself has ancestors among the returned slaves, if he was interested in shooting a movie. Balógun developed a very unique screenplay: A young Nigerian Yorùbá man, called Babátúndé, talks to his dying father, whose last wish is that his son travels to Brazil to search for the lost part of the family. The father speaks to his son about their Aguda ancestors, who returned as freed slaves from South America to Yorùbáland. One of the establishing shots for the scene focuses on an old house in the Brazilian quarter in Lagos, probably demolished today like the Ile´j?` Bar, as the architectural heritage, built by returned slaves in the baroque "Portuguese" style, is not protected by the city of Lagos. The dying father continues to tell his son that it was promised to the rest of the family, left in the diaspora, that one day they would be taken back to Yorùbáland. Unfortunately, this never happened, and now all the hope lies within the young man to fulfill this promise of his ancestors. His name, Babátúndé, literally means “the father has returned again”. Traditional Yorùbá believe in reincarnation, in the sense that a part of the ancestor's multi-dimensional soul - and not the whole individual soul - shapes the newborn child's destiny.

Babátúndé, who thus bears the "Brazilian heritage" in his name, then receives from his dying father a carved statue of Òrìsà Yemaja. Let's better call it in Portuguese spelling Orixá Iemanjá, because the statue has been brought back from Brazil. The father gives it to his son and wishes that the deity may guide him on the way. In Brazil he should look for a similar carving, a replica, and find the lost family members. The carved image is interesting, it is shaped in the form of a typical “ab`b?`”, a ritual fan, used very often in the Brazilian diaspora for Oxúm or Iemanjá. Françoise Balógun describes this statue in her essay as “sea goddess”, which is a Brazilian (Iemanjá) or Cuban (Yemayá) expression and a view that became popular in the West through many academic diasporic publications on the Orisha religions. To the Yorùbá people in Nigeria and Benin Yemoja is a riverine deity, associated with the river Ògùn and not connected to the ocean, where Òrìsà Olókun (Yor. “owner of the ocean”) resides. In the movie itself it is never mentioned that Yemaja was the deity of the sea. I am quite sure that Olá Balógun himself is aware of this story and chose Yemaja as a symbol for both the connection and separation of the Yorùbá people, she is the perfect symbol for this movie. All the actors were Brazilians, but the ones who are playing the Africans pronounce the Òrìsà as Yorùbá "Yemoja", while all the others in the Candomblé temples call her in Portuguese "Orixá Iemanjá". They clearly must have been instructed by the Yorùbá film director.

Babátúndé arrives in Rio, gets into contact with Candomblé practitioners and in a ceremony a mounted priestess of Iemanjá sends him to the city of Salvador da Bahia. It is an interesting image, that this young Yorùbá man gets explanations on Orisha trance by the Brazilian practitioners of the religion. I am sure when the movie was shot in 1978 the Yorùbá traditionalists at home were in an even worse situation than today, discriminated by Christians as idol worshippers, while in the diaspora Yorùbá culture was already officially supported by the state since decades (see Communism and Yorùbá culture). On the other hand Babátúndé answers contemporary questions on African languages or politics to the Brazilians. He enters the mystical and magic world of Òrì?à, abroad from his original Yorùbá home. All the houses Babátúndé enters in Brazil have split palm fronds, Yor. màrìwò, above their entrance doors, a typical Yorùbá sign for sacred Orisha spaces that have certain taboos - while the dying father in Lagos had an image of Jesus Christ next to his bed. It is really funny getting into the movie's details and all the different levels of what is "original" and what "diaspora" Yorùbá culture. Babátúndé gets a reading with cowry shells, Port. "jogo de búzios" or Yor. "`rìndínlógún", and participates in Orixá ceremonies and Afro-Brazilian folkloric dances. At the end of his journey his ancestors appear to him in trance. The story goes back to colonial times and the cruel life of the plantation slaves. Like in every good movie, Babátúndé also falls in love and at the end - no, I do not tell the whole story here... What a great movie! It addresses many topics of the diasporic dimension of Yorùbá culture, from the point of view of a Yorùbá filmmaker. As far as I know this is absolutely unique. The Portuguese version is on Youtube now. Many of Balógun’s original movie soundtracks were released on vinyl, the records are highly sought after by collectors and DJs. ?lá Balógun had to face some difficulties in the organization of “A Deusa Negra”, but at the end he got a professional film crew and actors and all the production facilities he needed. It is “Ola’s best film, the one which comes closest to a successful work” (Françoise Balógun). Highly recommended for all the people interested in Yorùbá transatlantic culture!

A Deusa Negra is a love story that spans two centuries. In 18th century Yorubaland, Prince Oluyole is taken prisoner in the course of internecine warfare fanned by overseas slave traders. He is sold into slavery in Brazil. In present day Nigeria, at his father’s deathbed, the young Babatunde promises to go to Brazil and search for traces of their once-enslaved ancestors. Beginning with a Candomblé ritual, his journey takes him ever deeper into this culture and, in a dream-like sequence, affords him a deeper understanding of his ancestors’ suffering and powers of resistance. Balogun effortlessly links present with past, real with magical worlds and discourse with trance. The hypnotic atmosphere is also heightened by the music of the Nigerian drummer Remi Kabaka, which plays with repetitive patterns and distortions.