Aug 26, 2009

Ayetoro - The Afrobeat Chronicles Vol 1



Reviews

Jazz sometimes is most adventurous when it is interwoven with certain cultural styles, such as Brazilian, Latin, and South African. Well, there's another side of the African influence. Brought to us from Nigeria, Ayetoro delivers a funky beat the merges that country's native music with some hip, groove-driven jazz.

Founded in 1996 by Funsho Ogundipe, a Yoruba composer, Ayetoro presents a five-track selection of music that combines jazz with Nigerian Afrobeat. Ogundipe plays Fender Rhodes electric piano, writes, and produces. He actually leads two versions of the band: one based in London, the other in Lagos, Nigeria. It's the London ensemble, with a few additional players, that's featured on The Afrobeat Chronicles Vol. 1.

If there's one disappointment about the album, it's that there are only five songs, which breeze through in less than half an hour. Fortunately, that's the worst that can be said. The music is upbeat, joyful, funky, and of course jazzy. All the songs are good, but perhaps the coolest is the one with the most original title: Revenge of the Flying Monkeys. Some of the sidemen featured on this album are Byron Wallen, trumpet; Linus Bewely, clarinet and soprano sax; Robert Fordjour, drums; and Orefo Orakwue, bass. Whether playing solo or in the background, each brings a sharp performance to the recording. Hopefully, this won't be the last time we hear from Ayetoro.

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Ayetoro is a Yoruba word that means world of peace. Ayetoro is also the name of a band formed in Nigeria ten years ago in 1996 by Funsho Ogundipe. Funsho has quite an interesting and unusual biography for a musician. He has never played the piano before he was seventeen and he only discovered his deep love for music while he was at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in Nigeria. After he graduated he worked in a law firm for five years and then for the Prudent Merchant Bank (now Prudent Bank). Oddly enough one of his early encounters with a world famous musician ended in disaster. “I remember when I was in Law School, I used to hang out and go and watch Fela play at the Shrine on most Friday evening after school,” Funsho recalls. “There was this day I just walked up to him and told him that I wanted to play the piano. I was wearing a jacket, so I think I must have convinced him. At this time, I didn’t know what they were playing. I didn’t have a clue about what they were doing. So, he took me on stage and put on the piano and I succeeded in making a fool of myself because everybody laughed. I remember one of Fela’s dancers called Folake laughed at me and said ‘You this man, lawyer, Fela friend, you want turn to musician abi? Fuck off men!’ That was in 1988“.

Luckily Funsho didn’t give up then and continued to practise the piano, formed the band Ayetoro and has since then released four albums: Naija Blues (1996), Something Dey (1998), Six Thousand And A Minute (2004) and the Afrobeat Chronicles Vol. I, which was already released in 2003. Like most independently released albums the Afrobeat Chronicles Vol. I has escaped my notice back then. But as we all know there’s really no expiration date for good music. And Ayetoro’s own blend of afrobeat and jazz, with a strong emphasis on jazz on this album, is simply good music.

The album was recorded in London with no overdubs with Funsho Ogundipe (fender rhodes electric piano), Byron Wallen (trumpet), Robert Fordjour (drums), Linus Bewely (clarinet, soprano sax), Olalekan Babalola (percussion), Ayokunle Odia (tenor sax), Angela Al Hucima (percussion), Orefo Orakwue (fender jazz bass) and Curtis Shaw (guitar).

The album starts with the cheerful From Benin To Belize, a catchy tune with subtextual Latin references. Becklow Gardens (Afrofunkycool) with its tight woodwinds section is just that, afrofunkycool. One of my favourite tracks is Revenge Of The Flying Monkeys (yes, I’m always a sucker for oddly titled songs), an inspiring and danceable afrobeat song, I just wish it would last much longer than its 5:20 minutes.

Blues 4 The Earth Mother is another highlight that shows what a great band Ayetoro is and what beautiful songs Funsho writes. The album’s closer Yoruba Boyz Club can best described as afrobeat meets broken beats done with real instruments. And it features some fine fender rhodes playing by Funsho.

There’s just one letdown with this album and that is, it’s too short with five songs in less than half an hour. Especially the repetitive Yoruba Boyz Club could be a (dancefloor) monster in an extended version that could accent its trance-like qualities.

All in all The Afrobeat Chronicles Vol. I (The Jazz Side Of Afrobeat) is a great album that shows that afrobeat isn’t dead but but very much alive and it flourish if married with jazz and played by talented musicians. Highly recommendable.

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Tracklist

01. From Benin to Belize
02. Becklow Gardens (afrofunkycool)
03. The Revenge of the Flying Monkeys
04. Blues For the Earth Mother
05. Yoruba Boyz Club

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