Sep 11, 2009

Funke Williams - Mr. Big Mouth

Babatunde 'Tunde' Williams was born in Nigeria, in 1943. Like Fela, his family was from Abeokuta, but his father was employed by the United Africa Company in the middle belt city of Makurdi, where Tunde was born in 1943. He attended primary school at Gboko Elementary School in the nearby town of Gboko, and later attended Katsina-Ala Middle School in the northern town of Katsina. Unbeknownst to most people, Tunde’s first instrument was percussion, and his earliest professional experience was as a conga, bongo, and traps player for various highlife bands in the early 1960s. By 1965 he was playing with the highlife band of Olu McFoy, and he later joined Atomic Eight, a highlife and copyright band from Aba in eastern Nigeria. It was in Atomic Eight that he befriended the bandleader Raymond Baba, a multi-instrumentalist who was proficient on both brass and woodwinds. Inspired by Baba’s example, Tunde switched from percussion to trumpet shortly thereafter, with Baba as his first teacher. He also cites Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis as formative influences on the instrument.

Tunde joined Fela’s Koola Lobitos as a trumpeter in late 1967, and remained with Fela through 1978, when he and several other bandmembers left the group acrimoniously following the Berlin Jazz Festival in September of that year. In Afrika 70, he was the most consistent soloist, and his trumpet improvisations graced virtually of the band’s 1970s recordings. The tracks for Mr. Big Mouth had been recorded in 1975, but by the time they were released in 1977, Fela was engaged in a bitter battle with the original label, Decca Records. As a result, many of Afrika 70’s Decca releases from 1977-8 fell through the proverbial cracks, and Mr. Big Mouth was unfortunately one of them. Although it is a great album, it was given little promotion and as a result, is known only to the most committed Afrobeat aficionados, even in Nigeria.

The music on Mr. Big Mouth is similar in feel and mood to other Afrika 70 releases from this time on Decca’s Afrodisia imprint such as Fela’s No Agreement, Stalemate, and Fear Not for Man, and Tony Allen’s No Accomodation for Lagos. The title track is typical of Afrika 70’s uptempo grooves and like much of Fela’s music the lyrics are socially-critical in tone, although unlike Fela’s songs, Tunde’s lyrics are not directed at the government. Rather, he says the title track was a commentary on “…some of the indigenous contractors at that time. The government would give these contractors money to complete a job, and instead they would take the money and surround themselves with women, fancy clothes, and flashy cars, and go around the town bragging like big shots. The jobs never got done, and many of them ended up going to jail for defrauding the government. That’s what I was singing about.” Tunde’s mid-tempo instrumental “The Beginning” (so named because it was his first piece of music to be recorded) is certainly one of the most infectious tracks to come out of Fela’s organization. The laid-back Afrobeat groove is dark and suspenseful, and one can easily hear why the song was often played during Afrika 70’s warm-up sets, as it perfectly sets the tone for a late, smoky night at the Afrika Shrine. by Michael Veal


These four sides of classic 1970s afrobeat vinyl from Nigeria recover two great albums that might well have been lost to history. Though produced by Fela with perhaps the strongest band of his three-decade-plus career, these tracks let trumpeter Tunde Williams and baritone sax man Lekan Animashaun take the microphone while the maestro assumes the role of sideman. Tunde Williams' "Mr Big Mouth" slinks in with the familiar, restless sizzle of hi-hat and feathery funk of strummed electric guitar building to a tuneful blare of horns. Williams can't match Fela's bluster at the mic, but he's got an edge of his own as he slams the corruption of Lagos contractors. The vocal is memorable, but it's the spot-on music and arranging that makes this grade-A afrobeat. William's B-Side, "The Beginning," is a slow and moody instrumental, contrasting lush brass section passages with an eloquent trumpet solo. Williams was truly one of the most talented soloists Fela ever worked with. He left Africa 70 in 1978, and this album fell victim to a dispute between Fela and his label, Decca. So we're lucky to have it.

Lekan "Baba Ani" Animashaun, Fela's baritone man to the end, is also a better instrumentalist than singer, but it is fascinating to hear his lithe, slightly nasal voice weaving through the punchy replies of the band's trademark female chorus. These two numbers--"Low Profile" and "Severe"--have a fractured history. First recorded in 1979 during the dark days following the Nigerian army raid on Fela's compound, they were not finished until 1986, and released only in 1995, to little fanfare. The songs were often played at Fela's Africa Shrine in Lagos, though, and much loved by the city's diehard afrobeat fans. "Severe" has a big, satisfying sound, and an exquisitely wailing baritone sax solo. In all, this release is an indispensable addition to the growing catalogue of historic afrobeat.



01. Mr. Big Mouth
02. Beginning
03. Low Profile
04. Serere

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