Sep 9, 2009

Segun Bucknor And His Revolution - Poor Man No Get Brother




Another side of Nigerian music is revealed in this compilation of Segun Bucknor's...

This reissue of various Bucknor recordings made from 1969 - 1975 represents an interesting slice of Nigerian pop music history and culture. Much of the Nigerian music packaged for export to the West has promoted a particular musical style or point of view - hence the popularity (and availability) of recordings by the likes of juju artists King Sunny Ade and Chief Ebenezer Obey, as well as the more controversial Afro-Beat of Fela Kuti.

Bucknor, on the other hand, was one of the rank and file, a journeyman who was trying to eke out a living in Nigeria as a popular musician, and who was beholden to local record labels and the demands of the marketplace. Even over this relatively brief six year period, playing first with a group he called The Assembly, and then with The Revolution, Bucknor displays a stylistic diversity reflecting everything from pure commercial opportunism to heartfelt political and moral exhortations.

Regardless, Bucknor's individual talent almost always shines through. He's a strong, convincing vocalist in the American soul tradition, and had obviously listened closely to the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke. In fact, Bucknor had a direct connection to Western pop music influences, because he studied in New York City at Columbia University in the early 60's, pursuing a liberal arts curriculum and taking courses in ethno-musicology.

The strongest pieces in this collection are arguably the least commercial. "Adanri Sogbasogba" is one of two songs rendered in a native dialect (presumably Yoruba), and while the lyric is not translated, the funky James Brown-inspired horn riffs and throbbing bass communicate quite nicely, and Bucknor's urgent, half-sung, half-shouted vocals would be persuasive in any language.

Also very fine is "Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow" a typically earnest African admonition to count ones blessings, because "there's always someone worser than you." This long piece gives the band time to stretch out, and Bucknor demonstrates his touch on the organ. The rhythm is light and graceful, almost calypsonian, and the prominence of the clave as a dominant percussion element enhances a solid Afro-Cuban groove.

The centerpiece of the CD is clearly "Son of January 15th (the date of Nigeria's first military coup). This is Bucknor's impassioned foray into social commentary, but as he relates in the liner notes, he lost his taste for political statements after a Colonel from the Northern army sent a couple of his lackeys onto the stage, and they took him aside and told him not to sing the song again.

In Nigeria, social and political commentary came to be associated almost exclusively with Fela Kuti, but Bucknor can't really be faulted for not having Kuti's unique combination of bravery and megalomania.

However, when Bucknor narrows his focus to personal relationships ("La La La," "That's the Time," "Love and Affection," "You Killing Me"), his music loses some of its conviction, and he sounds more like an American soul singer looking for a chart hit. "La La La" (which is inexplicably presented in three rather similar versions) is certainly funky enough, but it sounds like a manufactured cross between Otis Redding's "Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)" and Toots Hibbert's "Funky Kingston." The band still cooks, and Bucknor is always in good voice, but these pieces lack the personal stamp of songs like "Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow" and "Son of January 15th."

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f anything good came of Fela's death, one thing was the attention focused not only on the music of the man, but of his country. As aficionados of Afro-beat have known for a long time, there were other bands and sounds that erupted from Lagos during the '70s. Bucknor was a contemporary of Fela, and hugely popular in the country. Of course, a lot of this sounds like the man himself -- it would be asking a lot not to be influenced by that sound. But the progression of the songs here is more rhythmic and more circular -- not a march toward the abyss, but a march around your head. The first and most important thing Bucknor wants to do is to make you dance. The lyrics are strong and mostly political, but the groove is the thing here. These tunes are drenched in sweat, played with the hard-edged precision of men who could and often did play for hours. Fans of the sound will love this. Anyone who's fond of funky music or who loves the sound of Memphis and Muscle Shoals and Detroit but hates the time limitations of the 7" groove will dig this severely. This is another great moment from a scene that is only now reaching Western ears. Stay tuned.

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Nigeria has always been known for top-notch music. But the 1970s saw an explosion of former highlife bands willing to create a unique form of Nigerian music influenced by James Brown, 60s American jazz, 50s Latin jazz, and African folk. The most famous composer to come out of that scene was, of course, Fela Kuti. Fela is the inventor, and master of Afrobeat. Thanks to music fans willing to search out and reissue lost Nigerian gems, lesser known Afrobeat bands are now being re-discovered and exposed to a larger audience, and Segun Bucknor's recordings are quite a discovery. Segun Bucknor started his career playing traditional 60s highlife. Influenced by Kuti and Brown, while taking advantage of a temporary relaxed atmosphere in Nigeria where musicians could openly record and distribute their works through Decca, Segun moved away from highlife and started experimenting more with Afrobeat and soul music. Segun, unlike Fela, stayed away from extreme forms of rebellion, and social criticism, while also embracing enough of it to push his music a little further out. As a result, half of the 12 tracks featured on this CD stay within the 3-minute mark(the time limit that music studios forced on musicians), while the other half of the tracks range between 5 to 12-minutes in length. The lyrics tend to talk about everyday Nigerian society, while mostly staying away from offensive attacks on the local government and its military. While listening to the Segun's recordings(recorded between 1969-1974), it's hard not to think about Fela. Segun, though, has a slightly different composing style. First, to my ears, the funk here is much more open than Fela's. While Fela's form of funk is majestic and dense, I found Segun's compositional style much more open, and loose. Segun equally had the talent to throw in rhythmic and melodic surprises that keep the ears constantly guessing. I found the lyrics, though, a little less interesting than Fela's, and they even remind me of Femi Kuti's lyrical style. Yet, Segun rises up a notch by throwing in 60s-soul influences into his vocal style; what Fela lacked in vocal abilities he certainly made up with charm, while Segun delivers great vocals. Overall, fans of Afro-beat's Fela Kuti, Tony Allen, and Orlando Julius should keep your eye out for this little gem.

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Tracklist

01. Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow
02. Dye Dye
03. Adanri Sogbasogba
04. Son of January 15th
05. La La La (Hard version), Part 1
06. La La La (Hard version), Part 2
07. Smoke
08. That's the Time
09. Love and Affection
10. Who Say I Tire
11. You Killing Me
12. La La La (acoustic version)

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