Mar 26, 2021

From Portugal/ Brazil: Carapaus Afrobeat - Dois


Shortly after arriving in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2017, guitarist Zé Victor Gottardi joined eight more Brazilian and Portuguese musicians to form Carapaus Afrobeat. Before landing on the old continent, Zé had already played in the Abayomy Afrobeat Orchestra, of which he was one of the founders, and had also played with Jards Macalé and Céu. His goal with Carapaus is to revere African music, faithfully following the concept of the word afrobeat: “beat of afro origin”.

“I realized that the afrobeat scene was very vague [in Lisbon], there was only one band, They Must Be Crazy, [who are] very good by the way. I booked a Fela Day, which is an event to celebrate Fela Kuti’s birthday, and I set up Carapaus for the occasion. The members were very well chosen, they’re all monsters”, says Zé.”On the guitar with me there is Gabriel Muzak, who played with Frequency Selectors and Funk Fuckers, as well as Adriana Calcanhotto. On the drums there’s Del, who has played with Roberta Miranda. On keyboard there’s Cláudio Andrade who has accompanied Gilberto Gil, Jorge Ben Jor and Seu Jorge for 10 years. On the bass Ricardo Dias Gomes, who played with Caetano for 10 years. On the trumpet, Cláudio Gomes, one of the band’s two Portuguese [members]. He’s very active in the Lisbon music scene. On the trombone André Pimenta, also Portuguese, on the sax Alexandre Pinheiro, a saxophonist from Belém do Pará, who is fundamental to give a more Amazonian smell to the band. In percussion we have Duvale, a master who has ruled the timbal wing at the samba school of Mangueira (Rio de Janeiro), in addition to playing with Gabriel o Pensador and Sandra de Sá”.

This musical quality, added to the lack of afrobeat bands in Portugal, helped Carapaus quickly gain prominence. His commitment to maintaining all the original cadence of the African rhythm is clear on all eight tracks of the group’s second album, Dois. The influences of Fela Kuti and Tony Allen (who played on the single “Do Allen / Diabo na Terra”, along with with Boss AC and Oghene Kologbo, which preceded the album’s release) are evident. But it is not only the Nigerian source of afrobeat that supplies components. The bases also have funk, jazz, ska, elements of Portuguese musicality and spicy Afro-Brazilian seasoning, taking references from Naná Vasconcelos, Tim Maia, Elza Soares and from the batuques of African religions.

“We like to be broader with the issue of influences. We have Afrobeat in the name, but we take it more literally. Everything we like came from Africa: jazz, blues, funk, hip hop… everything had a direct influence from the African continent or its immigrants, so we think it makes more sense for us not to just be stuck with the Nigerian style of playing”.

This whole merger generates good results. The texture created also reveals the Latin DNA that Carapaus music has in its genetics. The different experiences used lead to a groove with Latin American rhythmic patterns, despite being recorded in Europe across two sessions. It has a swing. Some videos of live performances show the energy that the group led by Zé transmits. However, their upcoming performances had to be cancelled, as with everyone else, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, just at the moment when they had found their space, ascending in the Portuguese music scene with their new album freshly released.

“There was no time to do practically anything. At first we were very weak, and little by little we resumed our activities the way we did. We recorded a series of songs at home, literally each one at home, and it was super cool. [The videos are on YouTube.] But we are resuming contacts with festivals, sending material and doing what we can”, says Zé with optimism. “We have content already recorded for about 2 more records, but we still have to relaunch Dois, since we were unable to play as we had planned. We hope that in 2021 we will be able to circulate in Europe, because the band has extreme potential”.


Mar 23, 2021

BCUC - Emakhosini


Hailing from South Africa, the seven-piece band BCUC (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness) has released their newest album Emakhosini, an EP featuring three tracks that capture the sound of ancestral, indigenous musical traditions while also including contemporary and controversial commentary on modern Africa.

Each of the three songs, though all very different, contain the essence of ‘Africangungungu,’ the name BCUC has given to their ‘afropsychedelic’ music. The tracks are best described as vibrant—each is buzzing with the distinct energy that BCUC brings to all of their music and performances. A mix of traditional indigenous South African music with funk, hip-hop, and punk-rock influences, BCUC’s music is nothing short of unique. As vocalist Kgomotso Mokone declared, “We bring fun and emo-indigenous Afro psychedelic fire from the hood.”

The album also tackles the issues of modern Africa head-on, including commentary on the harsh realities of uneducated workers. One song from a previous self-produced EP expressed views about a national idol and was so controversial that it was ultimately removed from the album. Despite this and other criticism regarding the group’s refusal to identify with a single social or political movement, BCUC sticks to their philosophy of creating “music for the people by the people with the people.” This philosophy is expressed in the video for the final track, “Nobody Knows (the Trouble I’ve Seen), filmed in Soweto.

Although Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness faces criticism for their stances, their commitment to representing the voiceless, speaking on important social and political issues, and exposing audiences to indigenous music is admirable. Emakhosini perfectly represents and lives up to the rebellious, lively spirit of the group. 

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There may be stirring harmony vocals, but these dynamic, ‘afropsychedelic’ artists are anything but bland.

BCUC, AKA Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness, are a young seven-piece band from Soweto who are shaking up South African music. Vocals and sturdy harmony work have always played a dominant role in township styles, but here the tradition is updated and reworked with the powerful but subtle use of drums and bass.

They play lengthy songs (the opener lasts nearly 20 minutes) that mix ancient and modern influences in a style that is distinctively South African, and includes soulful, elegant playing with passages that are as dramatic and frantically menacing as the best Congotronics bands in Kinshasa. BCUC have an impressive sense of dynamics, allowing songs to develop, fade away, change direction and then build to an often furious climax. Insistent, inventive bass guitar work holds it all together, as in Moya, which begins with a brooding riff and distant chanting, before the voices and percussion take over. Then there’s another switch, as echoes of what sound like ancient African war chants give way to cool, soulful vocals from Kgomotso Mokone, the one female member of the band, before the drums and chanting vocals return. 

Elsewhere, what they call their “africangungungu” and “afropsychedelic” music includes passages of sturdy township styles. There are stirring harmony vocals on Insimbi that would provide a reminder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo if it weren’t for the drums and bass riff. The final track, Nobody Knows, brings further surprises. It starts off with a reworking of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, the gospel classic that has been recorded by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Sam Cooke, but is then transformed as chanting, rap and percussion take over. Those who fear that South African music is becoming too bland, or dominated by US influences, should take heart.

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After a year of intensive touring in Europe in 2017, the group from Soweto is back with a second album. Emakhosini is as stunning as their first album, Our Truth, released in 2016 to accolades in the French media. As on their first disc, the band offers two long pieces of funky tribal trance, Moya and Insimbi, that by their intensity evoke the Afro-beat of Fela even though they were not inspired by it. Because the music of Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (which can be translated as “Man on the move towards his freedom of conscience”) draws on the South African cultural roots of the group’s members — Zulu, Sotho, Shangaan — to invent a contemporary electric version of their musical traditions. On these ancestral rhythms and spiritual songs, BCUC builds a music tinged with soul, rap, and a driving by a punk energy. 


Mar 2, 2021

Recently discovered ... positively surprised: BCUC - Our Truth


A stone’s throw from the church where Desmond Tutu organised the escape of the most wanted anti-Apartheid activists of Soweto, the BCUC band rehearses in a shipping container-turned-community restaurant, where their indomitable outspokenness echoes in a whole new way.

Make no mistake, this buzzing township has lost none of the creative, rebellious energy it had when the “Rainbow Nation”, with its now less-than-vibrant colours, emerged twenty years ago.

Like its elders, Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness sees its music as a hedonistic trance, but also as a weapon of political and spiritual liberation.

Artistic heirs to Philip “Malombo” Tabane and Batsumi, they seek to give a contemporary voice to the ancestral traditions of indigenous peoples. Jazz sounds of 1970s and ‘80s productions have been replaced by hip-hop influences and a punk-rock energy.

It all started about twelve years ago in a community centre workshop. The format of the band hasn’t changed much since that time, but its musical language has been greatly refined. While vocals and percussion have always driven their music, in the past they’ve explored “electronic” avenues and for many years even included a rock guitar that swung between folk and free jazz.

BCUC found its magic formula in 2013, however, when they folded a frenzied electric bass into the simple drum-and-vocals mix.

And that’s the alchemy of “Africangungungu”, the name they’ve given to their “afropsychedelic” music. Both on stage and on this album (their first commercial production), their songs refuse to be formatted. Their “incantations” in Zulu, Sotho and English and their funky modulations extend over twenty minutes in a whirlwind of sound reminiscent of Fela’s Afrobeat.

Nguni rhythms mix with Tsonga rhythms, the whistles of Bhaca and Shona miners meet the traditional Imbomu horn, while ancestral war songs and Ngoma busuku (night song) choruses mingle with the soul music of singer Kgomotso and the raging rap of Jovi and Luja.

“Yinde”, which opens “Our Truth”, means “the road”: a symbol of the distance left to cover towards a fairer South African society. Similarly, “Asazani” (“we don’t know one other”) pleads for a reconciling of all the components of the “Rainbow Nation”.

BCUC’s willingness to look these social and identity questions in the face has already led to the banning of one song from their only self-produced EP, which points the finger at a national idol. But neither this event, nor the criticism to which they are exposed by their refusal to belong to a specific movement, can change their minds. “Music for the people by the people with the people” – a people they refuse to box into one community, to circumscribe to one skin colour. 

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Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (BCUC) present their first commercial production 'Our Truth', featuring their very own genre of afropsychedelic music - 'Africangungungu'.

GO ON...

Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness sees its music as a hedonistic trance, but also as a weapon of political and spiritual liberation. Artistic heirs to Philip “Malombo” Tabane and Batsumi, they seek to give a contemporary voice to the ancestral traditions of indigenous peoples. Jazz sounds of 1970s and ‘80s productions have been replaced by hip-hop influences and a punk-rock energy. While vocals and percussion have always driven their music, in the past they’ve explored “electronic” avenues and for many years even included a rock guitar that swung between folk and free jazz. BCUC found its magic formula in 2013, however, when they folded a frenzied electric bass into the simple drum-and-vocals mix.BCUC’s willingness to look social and identity questions in the face has already led to the banning of one song from their only self-produced EP, which points the finger at a national idol. But neither this event, nor the criticism to which they are exposed by their refusal to belong to a specific movement, can change their minds. 'Music for the people by the people with the people' – a people they refuse to box into one community, to circumscribe to one skin colour.

Feb 28, 2021

Reissue of "Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou Dahomey" (Superlfly Records)


I finally received my vinyl of  "Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou Dahomey" re-issue from Superfly Records ... and it's amazing as always with Orchestre Poly-Rythmo...
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**1000 copies** We’re proud to introduce the new Superfly reissue of ultra rare 70’s Nigerian collection of some of their best 45’s, full of funky psych killers, check ‘Wodeka Roe’ or the hit ‘Gbeti Madjro’ (though every single track is dynamite!). As usual, beautiful quality repress with paste on covers made in Japan, Obi and 180grs vinyl, limited to 1000 copies only!

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo are much more than a band. They’re a window into the culture of Benin and the music associated with the Vodoun traditions of West Africa. They’re also a reflection of the impact funk music made throughout the region, not to mention an enduring symbol of creative drive – having produced their early work during times of political and economic instability, managing to access the better-equipped EMI studio in Lagos to achieve the best sounding recordings possible.

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Benin is not exactly one of those countries from which new music is constantly being reported. One name - although the one name is such a thing - that regularly draws attention, even through reissues, is the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou Dahomey. Also known as Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou, Le Tout Puissant Poly Rythmo or L’International Poly-Rythmo, the musicians from Cotonou, Benin's largest city, have identified themselves as a band in around nine variations of their name. Listed under these names from 1968 onwards, their greatest period was in the 1970s, from which the single titles collected here come from. Their music mixes traditional styles of the country with jerk, the local term for soul or funk. Although one could say that this sound, whose influences include Afrobeat and Highlife, also integrates a few portions of rock into its rhythms. In a good sense, because the polyrhythm clearly dominates the groove, but the drums thrash in every now and then. It sounds a bit different from what you're used to from a Tony Allen, for example. What does not harm the music at all, the energy simply transmits itself energetically in an even more direct sense. Tout puissant!



Feb 5, 2021

Femi Kuti & Made Kuti – Legacy

The influence of the legendary Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti is displayed gloriously with the next two Kuti generations connecting on this joint release. Legacy + is in fact two albums, with one each presented by father and son. Femi Kuti, Fela’s son and former Egypt 80 band member, has been a driving force of Afrobeat and the power of music to change the world for some years, but it’s Femi’s own son, Made Kuti, that now steps up to present his own vision.

 As Femi was preparing his album - Stop The Hate - he invited Made, who plays bass, alto-saxophone and percussion on his dad’s album, to release his own debut record ‘For(e)ward’ alongside his own in a joint package. It’s a smart yet honestly touching move on his and the label’s part: and naturally pays dividends to the listener. 

Femi Kuti’s output on Stop The Hate is relentlessly fierce and funky, and for his eleventh album there’s no easing off the pedal. Kuti Senior delivers messages of freedom and positivity that are as bold and defiant as they’ve ever been: central themes of the album focus on corruption in Nigeria’s local government, equal rights and the end of police brutality for Black people. Pure and powerful and dispatched with experience and confidence, it’s Afrobeat+ direct from the source.

On Made’s ‘For(e)ward’ album, we’re presented with a wealth of influences added to the Kuti Afrobeat formula, with the talented musician also performing everything on the record. While the hypnotic basslines, rhythms and horns inherited from previous generations are vital ingredients, Made takes more than enough turns to make this record his own.

He studied at the famed Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance (the same place his grandfather Fela studied, back when it was known as Trinity College), while also soaking up the riches in London’s underground scene, and the city's diverse influences of club music, dub, hip hop, punk, jazz and other improvisational disciplines are audible in his music. The song’s powerful messages come from his own perspective, with the direct effects of years of political negligence and corruption, alongside sexual harassment of and inequality for women, brought to the fore. 

The (Positive) Force is strong in the Kuti family. Fela would no doubt be proud of what the next generations have delivered here - one continuing to play at the top of his game, the other emerging with promise, both still fighting for the people.

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The contemporary End SARS protests across Lagos come more than four decades after Fela Kuti’s Zombie album launched its musical uprising against the methods of the Nigerian militia, who responded by raiding his Kalakuta compound, burning down his studio and throwing his 77-year old mother out of a third-story window. They come four decades after Fela married 27 women on the same day, either for misogyny’s sake or to delegitimize the government’s claims that he’d kidnapped his backing band and dancers, depending on which sources you read. A life’s worth of rebellion assembles this kind of political nuance to a man whose influence seeps through Afrobeat and into the fabric of a country’s resistance.

Take the centrepiece of Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela’s Rejoice – a feverish, limbless hard-bop holding Fela’s legacy on the shoulders of a street parade: “Lagos never gonna be the same, never, without Fela!” He was Afrobeat’s originator, who mystified the concept of rebellion, combined the greatest freedom-searchers in Blue Note jazz with the euphoria of highlife and escapist groove of American funk, and peddled joy as an act of opposition. In parallel to Northern Soul’s takeover of postindustrial Britain, Fela’s rebellion mobilised a world whose resistance hit under the dense fug of igbo smoke, with a shamanic trance and an open invitation to dance away the hardship.

In the years since his death, Fela’s legacy has been joyfully upheld: his son Seun still fronts Egypt 80, Knitting Factory have meticulously reissued his solo archives and the legendary communal moments at the New Africa Shrine, while the likes of Ginger Baker, Questlove, Brian Eno and Erykah Badu have curated selections of his work alongside essays and political commentaries. As the archeological dig of a lifetime’s work continues to show the historical weight of Fela Kuti, Legacy+ adds urgency to the tradition – a double release as one, comprising Fela’s son Femi Kuti’s new album Stop The Hate and Femi’s son Made Kuti’s new album For(e)ward. It’s an instant masterpiece in supplementing the heft of a surname. The music isn’t Fela’s, but the feeling is the same, and the protest is current. 

Stop The Hate is the literal father album of the collection. Lead single ‘Pà Pá Pà’ is a groove-filled checklist (“I want you to listen to me well”) and its scope is extraordinary. Femi calls for structural and social change in government; the need for clean water, safer roads and working electricity is demanded in the same breath as gender equality and continued resistance against corruption. Circular grooves lock on key lyrics: “Stop the hate” and “Stop the land grab” sound the visceral frontlines of protest, while the organ-laden, trumpet-heavy ‘Na Bigmanism Spoil Government’ stands with a vicious, Fela-worthy critique of power. 

Made’s contribution on For(e)ward swirls into the mental strains of resistance. The hypnotic locked groove – “free your mind and set your soul free” – picks up from the closing track of his father’s album, but the message after three minutes of mesmeric, sprawling future-Afrobeat holds a demand for freedom that you won’t find on Stop The Hate. Made plays every instrument on the album; ‘Your Enemy’ and ‘Higher You’ll Find’ become possessive with spiralling horns, instrumentals and brass cacophonies that conjure an internal Fantasia. As Tony Allen went on to reject lyrical content to find his loose-limbed percussive protest, For(e)ward conjures as much of a tempest with furious strums and astral horns as it does with words.

Subjects cross between albums; Femi’s ‘Young Boy Young Girl’ is the utopia that Made’s ‘Young Lady’ longs for, uncovering the sexual scandals at the University of Lagos. The wide-eyed circle jams of Made’s ‘We Are Strong’ look to solve the same injustices lamented in Femi’s ‘You Can’t Fight Corruption With Corruption’. The most striking moment in Legacy+ is Made’s monologue in ‘Different Streets’ to the somber effect of ‘Sorrow Tears and Blood’, ruminating on Fela’s message: “Grandpa was not predicting the future… we must now understand just how scary it is that we are facing the same problem from the ’70s, and think for ourselves how hard we must work collectively to be free.”

On their own terms, neither body of work is starkly more enthralling than its contemporaries. Yet what makes Legacy+ such a remarkable collection is how each album brings vibrance to the other and revitalises Fela’s archived resistance. There’s something in the family name that feels as vital now as it did forty years ago. 

Mar 25, 2020

It' so sad: RIP MANU DIBANGO!!!

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The musician Manu Dibango, who has died aged 86 after being treated for Covid-19, covered a vast spectrum of styles, from traditional African roots music to jazz, soul, Afrobeat, reggae, gospel, French chanson, Congolese rumba, salsa and solo piano. Most importantly, Dibango was a founding father of funk.

In 1972 he made his mark with the hit Soul Makossa. As soon as it was released, as the B-side of a tribute to the Cameroon football team, there were at least five different cover versions in the American charts. The use of the refrain “mama-say, mama-sa, ma-makossa”, on Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Starting Something, from his 1982 album Thriller, earned Dibango substantial compensation two decades later.

Dibango was an unmistakable figure, with shaved head, shades, a benign grin and a deep, reverberating laugh. The instantly recognisable tone of his music was always swinging, melodic and invigorating. Although best known as a saxophonist, Dibango was also a consummate keyboard and vibraphone player and a great arranger, who could get the best from a quartet or a 28-piece orchestra.

As he once said: “What is special is that Africa has a long historical relationship with sound, and a communion between sound and the visual stronger than in any other culture. The sound carries the rhythm and the movement creates the images. The way an African moves compared with the environment is different from the western conception.”

Emmanuel Dibango was born in Douala, in French-administered Cameroon. His father was a high-ranking civil servant, his mother a fashion designer, and both parents were devout Protestants who disapproved of secular music. Manu received encouragement from the musical director of his church choir, and surreptitiously broadened his musical perspective with a bamboo flute and a home-made guitar. In 1944, he was in the school choir for the state visit of General Charles de Gaulle to Cameroon.

During the second world war, West Africa provided many reluctant recruits to the allied forces and Dibango would recall helping to cut loose the ropes binding “volunteers” press-ganged into the French army. One of them was an uncle of his.

In 1949 his parents sent him to France to study and, as an incentive, promised to pay for music lessons. He arrived on a steamer to take up his education at Saint-Calais in the region of Sarthe. The only black child in this small country town, he got on well with his schoolmates, who remembered him bringing the first bananas they had ever seen. For his part, he found snow exotic and tried to post some home in an envelope.

He was adopted by the community and settled quickly into the French way of life, but his individuality, his cultural roots and, possibly, memories of the “volunteers”, prevented him from accepting the complete national identity expected by his host country. Due to his parents having different ethnic backgrounds, he was never satisfied with an imposed identity. He was unhappy to be classified as an African musician, preferring to be considered as an artist, and an African.

Considered too old to take up the violin, his preferred instrument, he studied classical piano for four years. His fellow students included Francis Bebey, who would become a novelist and musicologist, with whom Dibango played classical and jazz pieces, although for student dances they became a blues band.

While he was on holiday in 1953, a friend lent him a saxophone and Dibango took to the instrument, enrolling for two years of private tuition. After doing the rounds of French jazz clubs, he moved to Belgium, where his soulful style attracted the owner of the Bantou club. Within months Dibango had been signed up by Joseph Kabasele, the founding father of modern Congolese music, whose band, African Jazz, spearheaded a musical revolution in Africa. In Brussels he also met his future wife Marie-Josee (known as Coco), whom he married in 1957.

In 1959 Kabasele recorded the pan-African anthem Independence Cha Cha Cha and invited Dibango to the Congolese capital, Léopoldville (now Kinshasa), to work with him. They made many hit records for the Ngoma label in the prevailing rumba style. Dibango also ran a recording band called African Soul in which he played the organ on his own interpretations of American music. He managed a nightclub, the Tam Tam, but despite financial success, he and Coco experienced racism, so they moved to Abidjan in Ivory Coast.

After a period as leader of the Ivoirian national broadcast orchestra, Dibango realised that the creative “miracle” he thought he was observing in Africa had turned into a mirage, and he returned to France.
In the late 1960s and early 70s he recorded film soundtracks - including that of Ousmane Sembène’s celebrated feature, Ceddo (1976) - incidental background music and commercials, and singles for the African market.

In 1972 he joined the Congo rumba combo Ry-Co Jazz for a tour of Algeria, along with the guitarist Jerry Malekani, who thereafter became his permanent accompanist. Following the death of the US tenor sax supremo King Curtis in 1974, Dibango released a tribute single which identified the American as a major influence on his technique. He then recorded two albums for Chris Blackwell’s Island label, including the instrumental Big Blow (1976).

In 1982 Dibango worked on a masterful triple album, Fleurs Musicales du Cameroun, which gathered contemporary and traditional musicians from the various ethnic groups of Cameroon.

In the same year he toured France with the American jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, exploring everything from soul to Malian folk music and Thelonious Monk. Soon after, he was blowing ice-cold funk on his album Electric Africa (1985), which featured Herbie Hancock, and the hit single Abele Dance. He collaborated with a long list of top class performers: Hugh Masekela, Fela Kuti, Tony Allen, Fania All Stars, Ray Lema, Bill Laswell, Sly and Robbie, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and many up and coming Cameroonians.

In 1984 he joined more than a dozen artistes on the fundraising single Tam Tam Pour l’Ethiopie, released indignantly in response to Band Aid, which many Africans considered condescending. Dibango’s 1994 album Wakafrika featured King Sunny Adé, Peter Gabriel, Salif Keita, Papa Wemba and Youssou N’Dour.

In 1967 he was bandleader on Pulsations, the first black music programme on French TV, and in the early 1990s he hosted his own prime-time French TV show, Salut Manu. In 1998 his achievements were celebrated by the rural community where he grew up, with the naming of a cultural centre after him. He reciprocated by donating the saxophone he had used on Soul Makossa.

In later years he was an ambassador for Unicef, received several honours from African countries and in 2010 was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur. He was still working last year, on tour with Symphonic Safari, blending jazz with classical music.

In the UK his frequent concert appearances included a 2008 Africa Day show in Trafalgar Square, but the most satisfying for him were the regular bookings at Ronnie Scott’s club, where he enjoyed being recognised as a “jazz man”.

Coco died in 1995. He is survived by his daughters, Georgia and Anya and son, Michel.

Originally published at

Mar 23, 2020

London Afrobeat Collective – Humans

Hard-driving, politically-charged, rhythmic, irresistibly-danceable music; what else could be expected from a band that mixes influences from Fela Kuti, Parliament/Funkadelic, Frank Zappa, and Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards into one exciting and uplifting musical pot? Such expectations are high, but the London Afrobeat Collective meets them with ease.

There have been a few personnel changes since Food Chain (Self Produced, 2015). Percussionist Zak Cohen has left without being replaced, Giuliano Osella is now on drums and, most noticeably, Juanita Euka has replaced Funke Adeleke on vocals, so the band has pared down slightly to a nine-piece line-up. Euka's voice has a lower range than Adekele's, but it's just as powerful, with a rough edge that gives added force to the anger to be found in many of the lyrics. Euka's vocal power is matched by that of the instrumentalists; this is a mighty band of musicians (and video evidence—see YouTube, below— suggests that the band is a superb live act as well).

The London Afrobeat Collective formed in 2009, so this release celebrates its tenth anniversary. Following the pattern of Food Chain, Humans combines politically forthright, socially aware, lyrics with powerful wall-of-sound music. All of the songs are credited as whole-band compositions and, for the most part, focus on ensemble performances—highlighted particularly on "Prime Resources," "Stop Talking" and "Tolembi" where the horns fly in unison above the punchy rhythm section. There are some strong solos, too. Taken together, this three-pronged attack of voice, ensemble and solos makes Humans one of the best of 2019's releases. 

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This album goes to show the importance of context when listening to music. London Afrobeat Collective’s self-released third album ‘Humans’, embodies their live performances. The project is treated as a set list rather than an album, and that’s worth bearing in mind when listening to it.

Having been lucky enough to see them support Femi Kuti last year, the positives and negatives here are also the same as they were that night too: a tremendously upbeat album that will get you moving, but at the same time can be difficult to listen in one go, with little variety from song to song (save for Tokomona).

As a general rule, Afrobeat - a genre made famous by the legendary Fela Kuti - is a mix of jazz, funk and rock, with simple, repeatable lyrics and platitudes punctuating the instrumentation. This is a genre with a strong identity, often relying on powerful an almost God-like figure at the centre, controlling the band and audience through their lyricism and presence. Fela was well-known for this and even founded his own small pseudo-state through his charisma and sheer force of will.

London Afrobeat Collective have taken this identity, and rather than trying to change it too much have simply added to it embodying the strength of their own singer: Juanita Euka, putting female empowerment front and centre in the album (something that arguably was not Fela Kuti’s primary concern).

From the very first note of the album it’s clear what it’s geared towards: dancing and chanting back and forth with Juanita Euka more than ably assisted by the tremendous band. However, to really hear and appreciate the nuance of its parts, the project needs to be heard through a decent sound system – there is so much in the production that through small speakers, or even through decent headphones, too much of the magic will be missed.

There are some stand out songs: ‘Tolembi [We Speak]’, ‘Tokomona’, ‘Stop Talking’ and especially ‘Walk Alone’ make the album. However - much like their live set - each song melds into the other so much so tthat it’s possible to dip in and out of the project at any point and not quite know which track is playing.

In places the pieces can be slightly laboured too, with rambling sections that could easily be cut to bring song running times down. Live, this works - giving time for people to dance and become a real part of the music, building atmosphere in the room - but on an album it can feel a little self-indulgent.
Overall, though, this is a positive project. Some great musicianship with the horns particularly stand out from the mix. As the name of the band hints, it’s a homage to Afrobeat rather than progressing the genre - but this should never get in the way of having a good dance.