Mar 4, 2010

Nigeria Afrobeat Special

Bongos Ikwue & The Groovies


New Release on Soundway Records, Nigeria Afrobeat Special - The new explosive sound in 197O’s Nigeria. Soundway Records storms into 2010 with a cherry picked selection of explosive afrobeat from 1970’s Nigeria complementing the burgeoning Nigeria Special series.

Focusing on the big band sound dominated by wailing saxophones, brass solos and relentless poly-rhythmic grooves, Nigeria Afro heat Special delivers a no-nonsense collection of tracks that (bar one) have NEVER been reissued outside of Nigeria.

Set for release on February 15th, Nigeria Afrobeat Special is released as a CD digipack and triple Vinyl LP featuring five bonus tracks not available on the CD. Extensive liner notes are provided.

Nigeria Afrobeat Special is the fourth addition to the Nigeria Special series, a project initiated by Miles Cleret, owner of the Soundway Record label back in 2004. Cleret’s ambition to distinguish the blossoming music scenes of 1970’s Nigeria has lent to an indispensable series of CD and LP compilations documenting the influence of western blues, rock and disco amongst artists and musicians versed in the local musical styles of highlife and juju.

It was Fela Kutu and his musical and political ideals that formed the core of afrobeat’s message. Blending highlife, Yoruba music, funk and jazz, Fela dominated the musical tapestry of l970’s Nigeria and his influence in Nigeria and West Africa led to a craze where most of the bands of the day incorporated this new sound into their repertoires to satisfy the tastes of the audiences of the time. This compilation highlights some of those recordings that have, until now, not seen the light of day.

The collection features Fela’s rival and fellow afrobeat veteran Orlando Julius, represented by the track ‘Afro-Blues’ - amazing that this has previously managed to escape re-issue. Also featured are tracks by big names on the Nigerian scene — Eric Akaeze, Bongos lkwue & Segun Bucknor as well as a Victor Uwaifo produced cut by previously unknown artist Andrew “Madman” Jaga. The album also features a cut featuring Pax Nicholas, a singer whose album Na Teef Know De Road Of Teef has recently been made available after 30 years.

It was not just African musicians who responded and picked up the afrobeat/Fela Kuti mantel. Fela’s legacy influenced bands and musicians the world over with luminaries like the late godfather of soul, James Brown name checking Fela as a catalyst to his sound and today groups such as Antibalas and contemporaries the world over who play a version of the sound that started life in Lagos.

Appropriately, Fela’s highly sought after version of 'Who’re you' lends this set it’s lead. Originally released as a 7” in 1971, it would later be re-recorded at Abbey Road for his album Fela’s London Scene and here it is re-issued for the first time ever.


Over the last four years, Soundway’s Nigeria Special series has given us one new album each year packed with unusual cuts from the Lagos scene of the 1970s — Afrobeat, disco, funk, and rock. With the fifth album, Nigeria Afrobeat Special: The New Explosive Sound in 1970s Nigeria, Soundway returns to the original genre of the series and in the process unearths rare Afrobeat treasures. The first cut, for example, is “Who’re you?” by Fela and his Africa 70 — but not the relatively well-known version recorded in late 1971 at Abbey Road studios; the original Nigerian 45 recorded some months earlier in Lagos. This was just Fela’s third release, and that shows in the raw energy of his voice (as well as his rather meandering organ solo).

Like many of the recordings collected on this album, ranging in dates from 1972 to 1977 (“Do the Afro Shuffle” by Godwin Omabuwa & His Casanova Dandies), the funk influence is front and center with short ostinato licks by the guitar and bass, jazzy solos, and the drum kit asserting prominence over the other drums and percussion. Some of the performances also have flashes of highlife (“We Dey Find Money” by Eric Showboy Akaeze & His Royal Ericos), calypso (“Do the Afro Shuffle” by Godwin Omabuwa & His Cassanova Dandies, which combines afrobeat percussion with a shufflebeat on the drumkit), and even a bit of Juju (“Ariwo Yaa” by Bob Ohiri & His Uhuru Sounds). Ohiri’s performance is one of the most interesting on the disc, beginning with Juju-style vocal harmonies, but immediately swinging into a west coast funk groove that wouldn’t have been a surprise coming from War. Ohiri, King Sunny Adé’s lead guitarist, clearly deserves to be better known; this short (five and a half minute) cut leaves the listener begging for more.

Other performers collected on the disc are better known, although these specific tracks tend to the obscure. “Mind Your Business,” for example, by Saxon Lee and the Shadows International, features vocals by Nicholas Pax, Fela’s drummer and recently the focus of his own re-release on Daptone, Na Teef Know De Road of Teef. Afrobeat pioneer Segun Bucknor is here (“Gbomojo,” an instrumental piece), along with Orlando Julius (“Afro Blues,” a fantasy of polyrhythms and Motown horn lines).

Every performance swings hard, showcases tight ensemble work and imaginative, jazzy solos, and many of them incorporate traditional drums and percussion. Bongos Ikue & The Groovies go even farther, including balafon and traditional vocal styles with the electric organ, guitars, kit and saxophone. Although mostly remastered from 45s, EPs and LPs, the sound is clean and alive, and the portions are quite generous: half the cuts are more than eight minutes long, and one (Eric Showboy Akaeze’s “We Dey Find Money”) is more than 10. Listeners are thus given a good opportunity to sink into the music, experiencing full solos and dance breaks without fadeouts or silent edits. The result is a fascinating tour of early Afrobeat and Afrobeat-influenced music that satisfies from beginning to end.

By Richard Miller

Of course, hardcore Afrobeat collectors will tell you, the genre was more than just Fela Kuti-- I mean, he was very important, nobody's going to deny that, but he was only part of an evolving tradition, only part of a lively scene. Soundway's Nigeria Special series has found some remarkable stuff in the crates, mostly from what was happening elsewhere in Nigerian music in the 1970s; this fifth volume turns its attention to Afrobeat proper, and that means grappling directly with Fela's legacy.

Nigeria Afrobeat Special kicks off with an actual Fela Ransome Kuti & His Africa 70 recording: The single version of "Who're You", from 1971. It's an extraordinary record-- as promised, it's a harder, brasher take than the more familiar one from Fela's London Scene, a crazily taut, rubbery rhythm whose lyric is Fela snapping back against old-timers who didn't get his new thing. It's also the best thing on Afrobeat Special by a significant margin-- tight, cleverly constructed, and rhythmically on-point in the way that not much else here is.

That's fine if you're a Felaphile: One way to understand the impact of a major pop artist is to listen to the people who ripped them off, and figure out which parts of their work caught on with their peers. (The recent Black Man's Cry: The Inspiration of Fela Kuti compilation of international Fela covers and impersonations is enthusiastically recommended to anyone who thinks they might enjoy hearing three consecutive steel band covers of the same Fela tune.) Nigeria Afrobeat Special focuses on obscurities rather than hits; apparently, even third-rate Nigerian bands' drummers in those days were pretty great. The slowly bubbling instrumental "Gbomojo", by Segun Bucknor's Revolution, is like a Silly Putty impression of Africa 70, but it's not bad in its own right. Eric Showboy Akaeze & His Royal Erico's "We Dey Find Money" suggests that he'd figured out that Afrobeat songs were supposed to be long and include some horn parts and keyboard solos, but that he hadn't picked up on how to structure one so that it stayed interesting for ten minutes, or worked out how to keep his band playing at a consistent tempo.

A lot of the artists here were dance bands first and foremost-- calypso, highlife, whatever moved the crowd-- and in the early 70s, Nigerian clubgoers wanted to hear Afrobeat. Saxon Lee & the Shadows International, whose 1973 "Mind Your Business" is the second-catchiest tune here, were a long-running act who glommed onto Fela's grooves the way American funk groups shifted into disco a few years later. There are touches of American funk here, too: The hop-and-stomp intro of Anansa Professionals' "Enwan" could be a Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm riff.

In some ways, Fela is to Afrobeat what Bob Marley is to reggae: The outsize figurehead who frustrates serious fans by being the genre's alpha and omega to musical tourists, the father of an ongoing bloodline and franchise. There was more to 70s Nigerian pop than Afrobeat-- the earlier volumes of Nigeria Special have made that clear. But all the evidence from this reissue, as with others in the last decade or so, is that Fela and his immediate circle really did have a lock on the best of the form he invented.

by Douglas Wolk

There has never been an artist quite like Fela Kuti. A singer, composer, bandleader, multi-instrumentalist and fiery political rebel, he didn’t just shake up the Nigerian music scene back in the 1970s, but he created his own fusion style of Afrobeat, one that’s still growing in popularity alongside the legend of the man himself.

Fela was best seen on his home turf, playing in his club The Shrine in the Lagos suburb of Ikeja, where he often didn’t appear until the early hours of the morning, and kept playing until dawn. His songs were always lengthy, and involved his trademark blend of American funk and R&B mixed with jazz improvisation, traditional Yoruba influences, chanting line-and-response vocals, extended solos on saxophone and keyboards, and then sudden furious outbursts in which he would denounce the policies of the military government of the day.

He was an exhilarating performer, and it’s only to be expected that Fela and his Afrika 70 band provide the rousing opening of an album dedicated to ‘The New Explosive Sound in 1970s Nigeria’. The track is called Who’re You?, a song that Fela released as a 7” 45 rpm single in 1971, and was later re-recorded at Abbey Road for his album Fela’s London Scene. This original version has not been re-released until now, and it’s a classic example of early Fela, mixing a driving funk rhythm with fine brass work, chanting vocals and playful improvised keyboard solos.

Fela set the pace, but others were bound to follow, and this cheerfully intriguing set also features ten of Fela’s competitors, who were never as inventive, brave or unpredictable as the great man himself, but still created some great dance music following his musical formula. There’s Eric ‘Showboy’ Akaeze mixing a sturdy R&B riff, impressive organ work and wailing rock guitar on We Dey Find Money; a light, funky work-out from Saxon Lee & the Shadows International; and a cheerful dance song from Godwin Omabuwa & His Casanova Dandies with Do the Afro Shuffle. And as a contrast to the upbeat dance material there’s Segun Bucknor’s Revolution with Gbomojo, a slow and moody saxophone workout set against a funk beat.

This collection is a reminder that Fela wasn’t the only Afrobeat star in 1970s Nigeria – but he was certainly the best.



1. whore you? (original 45 version) / fela ransome kuti & the africa 70 (8:33)
2. we dey find money / eric showboy akaeze & his royal ericos (9:54)
3. enwan / the anansa professionals (5:23)
4. mind your business / saxon lee & the shadows international (9:43)
5. otachikpokpo / bongos ikwue & the groovies (8:28)
6. afro-blues / orlando julius & his afro-sounders (6:05)
7. ariwo yaa / bob ohiri and his uhuru sounds (5:17)
8. hankuri / madman jaga (4:15)
9. do the afro shuffle / godwin omabuwa & his casanova dandies (5:25)
10. gbomojo / segun bucknors revolution (8:14)
11. ole / the black santiagos (3:10)

No comments:

Post a Comment