Mar 8, 2010

The Afrobeat Diaries ... by (Pt.VII)


Thanx again to Michael Ricci and Chris May !!!

Knitting Factory rolls out Fela Kuti reissue program

Following the release of its The Best Of The Black President sampler in November 2009, New York's Knitting Factory has cut to the main event in its Fela Kuti reissue program. The label, which is scheduled to release all of Kuti's albums during 2010, put out the first batch of six discs in February. Titled the "Chop 'n' Quench" batch (after the title of an early single), the discs cover the years 1964-74, Afrobeat's formative years. They contain nine albums and a selection of singles.

This review considers the first three discs in the batch—Koola Lobitos 64-68 / The 69 Los Angeles Sessions, Live! and Shakara / Fela's London Scene. The discs chart the development of Afrobeat from its late 1960s fetal stage to something close to its fully developed form, as—session by session—Kuti creates the style's signature characteristics.

Part 8 of The Afrobeat Diaries will cover the second trio of discs in the "Chop 'n' Quench" batch—Roforofo Fight / The Fela Singles, Open & Close / Afrodisiac and Gentleman / Confusion.

The Knitting Factory program is an admirable one. All the music is available in CD, vinyl and download formats, and there are some imaginative optional extras, including ring tones. It's a shame Kuti didn't live to see it, but—13 years after his death and 40 years after the formation of Africa 70—America is waking up to his music. It had to happen one day.

Kuti's early recording history is a discographer's nightmare—an array of uncataloged 7" singles, variously recorded in the studio, for radio and at club gigs, some of which were reissued with new titles within a few years of their original release. This heroic attempt at a discography, itself strewn with anachronisms and other errors, gives an idea of the challenge facing researchers.

The 16 tracks on Koola Lobitos 64-68 / The 69 Los Angeles Sessions are not a complete collection of Kuti's early recordings as bandleader, but they offer a fascinating chronicle of the development of his music from the highlife-jazz hybrid of the mid-1960s to the proto-Afrobeat of the end of the decade.

Koola Lobitos emerged in 1964 out of the Fela Ransome Kuti Jazz Quartet, the first band Kuti formed after returning to Nigeria following four years in London studying at Trinity College of Music. The drummer in both groups was Tony Allen, Afrobeat's co-creator, who stayed with Kuti until 1979-80 (the parting wasn't an overnight one). Another longtime associate, baritone saxophonist Lekan Animashaun, who succeeded Allen as bandleader, joined in 1965. The six tracks which make up Koola Lobitos 64-68 are fairly typical examples of the highlife-jazz popular in Lagos at the time, albeit with a greater focus on jazz-based improvisation than was the case with most bands. The tracks document Kuti's impressive jazz chops on the trumpet, an instrument he would later abandon in favor of the saxophone and the electric piano. Here he solos frequently on trumpet, with a big, fiery tone, great range and a vibrant swing-to-hard bop vocabulary.

From an Afrobeat perspective, things start getting really interesting with the final 10 tracks on the disc, grouped together as The 69 Los Angeles Sessions. In 1969, Kuti and Koola Lobitos spent 10 months in the US, living a hand-to-mouth existence and, towards the end, trying to keep off the radar of immigration officials. Kuti went through some major changes during the visit, the most far-reaching of which followed his befriending of Sandra Isidore, a political activist who introduced him to the ideas of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver and other militant black thinkers.

Isidore also affirmed Kuti's use of reefer, though she didn't, as Mabinuori Idowu's liner notes claim, introduce him to it (he had enjoyed weed in London almost a decade earlier, and regularly in Nigeria from 1966 onwards). All in all, Isidore was a major influence on Kuti's development, and changes were heard in his music almost immediately....

Shortly before returning to Nigeria, the band, now calling itself Nigeria 70, scraped together the funds to record some tracks in Los Angeles. Several of these, in particular "My Lady Frustration" and "Obe," include what were to become key characteristics of Afrobeat. Tempos are more measured and the beat is heavier. Kuti's vocal delivery is earthier and more declamatory. Horn arrangements are more influenced by soul and funk than by highlife's Latin jazz-inspired charts. And Afrobeat's signature rhythms are starting to emerge, not so much in the drums as in the reiterative rhythm guitar riffs. There are no Broken English lyrics or tenor guitars yet, but there are clear links to the mature Afrobeat of the early to mid 1970s.

Political messages are also beginning to be heard: "Viva Nigeria," though sung in immaculate BBC English, addresses the then ongoing Nigerian civil war over Biafra from a pan-Nigerian, pan-African perspective.

Back in Nigeria, Kuti opened his first club, the Afro-Spot, changed the band's name from Nigeria 70 to Africa 70, and continued developing the style he'd explored on the Los Angeles sessions.

In 1971, British drummer Ginger Baker visited Nigeria, where he intended to take some lengthy rest and recreation following five years of heavy touring with, successively, Cream, Blind Faith and Ginger Baker's Air Force. As might be expected, given their flamboyant natures, Kuti and Baker hit it off big-time.

Despite the assertion in Idowu's liner notes that Live! was recorded using Baker's 16-track mobile studio in Nigeria, the album was in fact recorded in front of an invited audience at EMI's Abbey Road studios in London. Baker is featured alongside Tony Allen, and the two drummers, together with three conga players, bring to the music a degree of percussive intensity new to Kuti's recordings. Baker's extended solo on "Ye Ye De Smell" is magnificent, as are tenor saxophonist Igo Chico's turbulent solos on that track and "Let's Start" and "Black Man's Cry." Kuti is no longer heard on trumpet, sticking instead to electric piano and vocals.

The album adds two more of mature Afrobeat's signature characteristics to those introduced on The 69 Los Angeles Sessions. The lyric for "Black Man's Cry" is the first explicit expression of the philosophy Kuti would later call Blackism; and his interaction with the Africa 70 horn section on "Ye Ye De Smell," where the horns repeat his sung phrases, together with his sing-along vocals with the band on "Egbe Mi O," are precursors of the call-and-response vocals that would become a key feature of Afrobeat recordings. Above all, Live! ramps up the rhythmic and vocal intensity of Kuti's music to new heights, establishing the norm for Africa 70.

The album closes with a 16 minute drum feature for Allen and Baker recorded at the 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival.

With Shakara, Kuti and Africa 70 enjoyed one of their biggest early hits. A two-track set comprising "Shakara" and "Lady," it marks the transition of Afrobeat from its fetal stage to something very close to its full-grown form. The album is paired here with Fela's London Scene.

"Lady" introduces the rest of mature Afrobeat's signature ingredients. The band includes two guitarists, with rhythm guitarist Tutu Shoronmu joined by tenor guitarist Segun Edo, adding a mesmeric reiterative structure to the rhythm section; Kuti's use of Broken English lyrics enhances the African feel of the music and extends its potential audience beyond Yoruba speakers; and (uncredited) female backing vocalists respond to Kuti's lead vocals. All of Afrobeat's building blocks are now in place. The lyrics for "Lady" ridicule the adoption of European mores by African women. Kuti would address African men in similar fashion on Gentleman in 1973. Shakara is a thrilling album—both in itself and for the great strides Kuti had made in his music since the 1969 Los Angeles recordings.

Fela's London Scene is another top notch affair, made with a slightly smaller band. There is no tenor guitarist and no call-and-response choir (though some London-based friends add sing-along vocals to "Egbe Mi O," in line with the version on Live!). Kuti's electric piano is gym-ripped and razor sharp, and Igo Chico turns in three stirring tenor solos. On "Buy Africa," Kuti's extols the benefits of African self-reliance, a theme he would return to throughout his career.

The first three discs in the "Chop 'n' Quench" batch include some of Kuti's least known work, but it's the root of everything that followed. Any serious Afrobeat enthusiast will want to be familiar with this music.


Thanx again to Michael Ricci and Chris May !!!

The Budos Band - Interview 2009

The interview

Do you still practice in that former Pentacostal church?

Yeah, we do. We have pentagrams hanging on the wall.

Mulatu Astatke said he tries to repurpose religious instruments for secular compositions. Is that connected to Budos band making secular music in a religious structure?

We’ve been in that building for 15 years now at this point. Keep in mind that half the band has come along the way, but that practice space has been inhabited by Budonians for the last 15 years—so I don’t doubt that there had been some repurposing, both intentional and unintentional. The space is just a second home for a lot of the guys. We’ve spent so much time there over the years. It’s been the hang, the party spot, the practice spot and it definitely has that history to it that’s really important. And it stinks like the rest of us, too.

Which is your favorite metal band that practices down the hall?

Oh man, I don’t even know their name. ‘Favorite’ is a generous term. We’re not opposed to metal at all, but we’re the one non-metal rock band in the building so we’re surrounded by—for the most part—pretty bad metal bands. Sometimes they try and cover Metallica or Slayer and—not trying to talk shit on them, but it leaves something to be desired. It’s hard to hear what we’re doing.

Ever consider a Slayer cover?

I’ll tell you what—we actually tried out doing Black Sabbath ‘Black Sabbath’ because a lot of us like Sabbath and there’s a metal thread through our tastes. And it was a little weird—we felt like we weren’t quite doing it justice. Having the horns play—you couldn’t have anybody play Ozzy’s voice for the lyrics and since we don’t have a vocalist so we tried to do it instrumental and it was kind of weird. We had this dream of doing a Black Sabbath cover album—just covering the entire album. We had attempted to initially start with ‘Black Sabbath’ and it just felt weird and a couple of the guys who are more metal purists weren’t really down with it, so we put it on the shelf.

Where did that idea come from?

A couple of us were having dinner one night and talking about how bands do cover songs. We’ve done a couple of cover songs on the album and we stick pretty close to the family of the genre that we are associated with. And we were like, ‘What if we totally did something completely different?’ And Sabbath—like I said, a lot of us are fans and we definitely go for that heaviness and darkness, and we share at least that with them so why don’t we give it a shot? We talked to our manager and he flipped out and thought it was the best idea ever—but like I said, it didn’t feel right.

How was it decided that you’re the guy who takes care of all the Budos money?

It’s funny because I was one of the last guys to join the band—about 6 years ago now. It’s a crew. There’s a couple of guys that started playing with them around the same time as me and aren’t around anymore and quickly got the picture that they were not part of what was going on. I don’t know why but we jive really well. Some people think we’re hard to get along with which I don’t really agree with.

Would you say ‘Screw you if you think we’re hard to get along with’?

Yeah. It’s that pack mentality and a bunch of the guys grew up together so there’s a common brotherhood sort of feeling I think. Sometyimes guys do stupid stuff and things get broken and some of the guys like to drink a little too much beer now and then probably. But like I said—we look out for each other. I’ve gotten really good at talking to hotel managers. I think part of it is—getting back to your first question—since we’ve been able to make some records and be on the road and stuff, somebody needed to step up and do some of the organizational, taking-care-of-talking-to-hotel-manager sort of things.

Is that easier with all your guys standing right behind you?

That depends. Sometimes they aren’t there—they’re still sleeping or they’re in the car. We almost got kicked out of one place last year, but we worked everything out. When it comes down to it, we’re all good guys and we’re not trying to make somebody’s life more difficult but sometimes we do stupid shit so it’s more about finding a common ground. This place that we almost got kicked out of, the people that run it were from Staten Island originally, and that came up and then we were best friends all of a sudden after a couple of guys just destroyed one of the rooms.

How badly was it destroyed? Who-level?

It was pretty impressive. I went in there in the morning and they had made a point to touch every single thing in the room. Beds were flipped over, the tables were flipped over, the mirror was off the wall, the microwave was flipped over, the TV was turned around. It was thought out. I think only one thing was actually broken-broken beyond repair—maybe a lamp and a chair—but besides that it just looked like a disaster zone, lots of broken glass.

That’s good you’re so thorough.

There was another place with a hole in the wall one time.

How important is scholarship and research is to the kind of music you guys make?

The way the band first came to all this was our drummer was a DJ at the College of Staten Island radio station and he came across some Desco records and he was like, ‘Wow this is amazing. These records must be from the ‘60s!’ But no, these guys are making this now in New York. Desco is no longer around—now it’s Daptone.

Do the Daptone guys know this story?

Yeah, they know that the band got our inspiration and the roots of what we’re doing by listening to what they were doing for sure. The ferry rides came into play when the guys started taking the ferry to Antibalas shows in the city around 2000 or a little earlier.

How did you go from zero to deep Afrobeat-Ethiopiques music?

That initial discovery of Desco was big and then just following that train and then once you get into it there’s never an ending—so we got the soul thing and the funk thing and then the Afrobeat thing and then the Ethiopian jazz thing which was huge for us. I can’t remember who was the one who initially brought in the Ethiopique series, but it became required listening and everyone was so heavy into it—we all are to a certain extent, but on that second album, that sound came through a lot in our writing.

Is that the sound you feel most comfortable with now?

We’ll be playing a lot of new songs out there—8 or 9 songs from Budos III. We’re thinking about calling it Budos IV, but we’re not sure.

Budos IV? Not Budos III? Did you have a conversation where you sat around and thought about how you’re going to mess with people?

Kinda, yeah. It was more like—‘I don’t know, maybe we should skip III. Fuck it, let’s just do IV.’ And when people ask, ‘What happened to Budos III?’ we can be like, ‘Oh, you didn’t get that? I guess it was super rare.’ The Ethiopian influence is still very much there, dark melodies and things. Definitely more of a metal influence on this one, too—again, we’re not a Sabbath cover-tribute thing, but heavy guitars and heavy bass lines. Not distorted, but playing in unison and sort of just heavy-sounding music. Especially our bass player and drummer who have a doom-metal side project. They’re still working on the name. For a little while it was called Bog, but I’m not sure if they’re sticking with that name or not.

Where do you guys like to source songs from? You’ve done Motown, Bollywood—

We kind of like to take things that people think they know and put our spin on them and hint at what’s there—so people know what we’re playing but put our stamp on it. The ‘Chicago Falcon’ thing was a fluke in that our guitar player was on tour with the Dap-Kings—he plays with them, too. He was in Holland and this guy in Holland was putting together this Bollywood comp and gave him some Bollywood music and we definitely improvised with it so even somebody that knew the original—which I don’t know if anyone does—they probably wouldn’t recognize it. So that one was a different story. It’s interesting because we’ve been talking about what we’re going to cover on this III/IV album and we’ve had a really hard time. We haven’t come up with any ideas yet. We did the Motown thing and we don’t really want to repeat ourselves like that. The first album had a Sly Stone cover and Sly is amazing—we love him and his songs are perfect for us to cover but we don’t want to repeat ourselves like that.

What makes a song perfect for you to cover?

The certain soulfulness behind it—and there is very much a psychedelic rock thing going on that we get into and I think those elements are what makes it so accessible to us. The first album we had the Ethiopiques cover—‘Aynotchesh Yererfu’—and we don’t want to go there again. We’re having a hard time. We’ve tried a lot of things out and nothing’s stuck yet, so we’ll see. We have that song ‘Up from The South’ that has been taken by a lot of folks in a lot of different ways but especially by b-boys and breakbeat guys as a great song, and we’re thinking of doing another song that goes in that direction. Or maybe we should do a rock song. But we don’t want to do something funky-funky because that’s not where we’re at right now.

What kind of rock stuff are you guys into these days?

It’s a wide wide range of stuff. Somebody suggested an early Floyd song—‘Bike,’ maybe? That was one suggestion.

Do you feel anything is off limits?

Probably folk. I don’t know if we could get down with that. Maybe not modern country, but we could do old country for sure. Some of the guys like surf rock. I think there’s a pretty wide range of stuff and that’s part of the reason why we’re having a hard time with the cover for this next one, having a hard time focusing in on the sound we want.

What exactly is the Budos stamp on a song?

The rawness. We don’t try and sound pretty like a full band would or an Afrobeat band would. Fela is amazing and incredible with the rawness that he had on his recordings but a lot of Afrobeat bands these days are trying to get a polished, pretty sounding-sound, especially in their horns and harmonies and bullshit. We’re heavy and raw.

What did you think of the whole Vampire Weekend ‘Afropop’ moment last year?

About three months before they were on the cover of Spin or whatever their first cover was, they opened for us at a eMusic party.

So do they really sound… African?

I haven’t really listened to their album to be perfectly honest, but I didn’t think so. I don’t really get it, to be perfectly honest. I don’t want to talk smack on another band too much, but I don’t really get it.

Ever think of covering one of their songs?

I think that’d be pretty funny, actually, but the guys wouldn’t go for it. It has to be pre-1980 at least.

Once Reagan got into office, it changed music for the worse?

Maybe. Certainly the music that permeates most of our listening diet is before then.

What year would make you guys feel the most at home?

I think it would vary widely depending on who you ask in the band. Maybe 2012 when supposedly the Mayan calendar calls for the end of the world.

What does Daptone change your song titles to and why?

The one example that I remember from the first album was ‘The Volcano Song’—which was really only named that because there was a volcano on the front of the album—was originally called ‘500 Wolves.’ We thought it sounded like a Ghostface Killa song title, so that’s the one that always sticks out. We come up with stupid names and I’m sure on the new album they’re going to rename one of our songs we titled ‘Super Dirge.’ ‘Plague Wind’ is another one.

Sounds like it all bled over from the doom band.

Our drummer names the songs, that’s why. He wants the album art to be like wolves tearing apart a carcass.

‘THE BUDOS BAND’ dripping blood over a pentagram?

If we can’t get it as album artwork, maybe we can at least make some t-shirts out of it.

What’s the best time you ever had with Inspectah Deck?

Our guitar player played with part of the Wu Tang at SXSW a few years ago and from how he says, he was a genuinely nice together dude who’s really talented and just—for whatever reason—hasn’t got his full due. He’s overshadowed by the other guys in Wu Tang. Maybe he had a little more modestly about him that made him a much cooler dude to play with and also has a talent that hasn’t been fully recognized.

What’s the best time you had with Maceo Parker?

Maceo is a legend and as a saxaphone player, he’s bar-none one of the best guys I’ve listened to a lot over the years. His band is weird. These old funk bands that have sort of a more jazzy funk whatever. They don’t look like dentists but they play like them.We played with him a couple of years ago at a festival in Vermont and just played with him a month ago in Philly. The best time we had around him or associated with him was probably stealing all the beer in his dressing room.

You stole Maceo Parker’s beers?

Shameful. But nothing happened.


Mar 6, 2010

Hallelujah Chicken Run Band - Take One

Information and Reviews

The first steps of the lion called Thomas Mapfumo, started somewhere here,let's follow them. Zimbabwe was still called Rhodesia when the songs on this cracking compilation were recorded between 1974 and 1979 by a seminal band, originally set up to entertain the workers at the Mangura copper mine.The country was in a sort of limbo -between its British colonial past and full independence. It was a time when pride was swelling across the African continent. Trumpet player Daram Karanga hired after the mines management request,four friends and colleagues,including singer and drummer Thomas Mapfumo. The Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, or HCR,was born.

The record is a must for fans of southern African music, and a great insight into the early career of Thomas Mapfumo, who was with them for most of their first year. He’s represented on four murky sounding but atmospheric cuts written just as he and guitarist Joshua Hlomayi were beginning to move away from their mix of Afro-rock,
rumba, cha-cha-cha and ‘copyright’ soul material (covers),towards a more original neo-traditional sound.

“Ngoma Yarira” finds Mapfumo’s distinctive yodel-like vocal style almost fully formed, along with the shuffling triple-time groove he would later coin ‘chimurenga’.
Another standout track from this period is the ghostly, throbbing “Alikulila”,
based on a Malawian traditional tune,in respect for the mineworkers in Mangura,
many of whom came to Rhodesia for work from neighboring Malawi.

The group's name has its own story:Taking care of poultry at the mine's chicken coop, was Thomas Mapfumo's day job. It would be one of the last times Mapfumo would have to resort to manual labor.His Shona songs would soon be his calling card.The band members in HCR worked hard for their living. But some in the management at the Mangura Copper Mine felt they were overpaid and pushed to have the band's wages cut. Thomas Mapfumo was the first one to complain. He was fired, and so began the slow demise of the Hallelujah Chicken Run band and the rise of chimurenga,the sound of struggle.


It's impossible to talk about music of the late seventies and early eighties without mentioning The Hallelujah Chicken Run Band. Back then Thomas Mapfumo featured on drums.

The legendary Mapfumo has become synonymous - if not something of an icon - with the liberation struggle, partly because he continued to compose despite being incarcerated and having his music banned. Today however, the former critic of the Smith government is as critical of the Mugabe administration. Now Mr Mapfumo lives in self-imposed exile in the United States.

The Hallelujah Chicken Run Band also included other Zimbabwean musicians Lovemore Nyabenzi, Daram karanga, Joshua Hlomayi Dube, Robert Nakati and Elisa Jingo, to name a few.

Initially created to entertain workers at Mangura Copper Mine (with financial backing from mine chairman Mr Walker), the band became one of the trademark groups of the time. It was often invited to perform at fishing and gold clubs, as well as at weddings.

Gramma record's digitally re-mastered 18-track CD features the Band's hits from 1974 to 1979.

Its opening track is a song called "Mudzimu Ndiringe", which is about a man who was told that his life would be all right. But his children aren't attending school, he's unemployed and his home has been burnt down. He complains that life is tough adding he's approaching a traditional healer - and the prophets - for help.

While "Mudzimu Ndiringe" was written in the seventies, it is poignantly relevant today. Many of the issues raised during the struggle for liberation have re-surfaced today.

Another song bound to get tongues wagging is a track titled "Kare Nanhasi". Appropriately, it's about the expensive prices of commodities. The song compares the past - when people seemed to obtain goods with relative ease - with the present, when everything (including the price of beer) seems to go up daily.

But the album isn't only political; it features love songs too. In "Mukadzi wangu ndomuda" a man says he loves his wife, despite her being blind. He insists he still desires and admires her, no matter how others laugh at him or criticize.

This compilation is bound to rouse nostalgic feelings about the past, both good and the bad.

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.


In Zimbabwe, if you criticize President Robert Mugabe publicly, you could end up in a whole lot of trouble. Such is the case of singer Thomas Mapfumo. So strong were his critiques of Mugabe, that he left Zimbabwe in fear for his personal security.

Mapfumo now lives in Oregon -- and he continues to rail against Mugabe's un-democratic ways. It's hard to fathom that -- at one point -- Mapfumo and Mugabe saw the world through the same revolutionary glasses. A newly released collection of Mapfumo's early songs takes us back to that point in history.

It was the late sixties and early seventies. Zimbabwe was still called Rhodesia. The country was in a sort of limbo -- between its British colonial past and full independence. It was a time when pride was swelling across the African continent.

In many countries, culture ministries tapped into that pride by funding home-grown pop bands But in Zimbabwe, one of the most important bands was funded not by the government -- but by a copper mine. The white owners of the Mangura Copper Mine were charitable types.

They believed their mineworkers needed some entertainment after they got out of a long shift in the bowels of the earth. And management hired a musician they knew, the son of a security guard at the mine, to put such a band together.

Trumpet player Daram Karanga hired four friends and colleagues, including singer and drummer Thomas Mapfumo. The Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, or HCR, was born.

At first HCR played a lot of rumba, cha cha cha, and soul covers. The band members saw that the white management at the mine liked those tunes. But the African mineworkers didn't.

Thomas Mapfumo decided to do some mining of his own -- digging into southern African roots music for musical inspiration. And he got his HCR band mates to go along. The so-called "traditional Zim style" was the trick that got the mine workers on the dance floor. HCR's popularity grew.

They put on gigs around Rhodesia. They recorded a now well-known studio session, from which many of the tracks on the newly released collection of material is drawn. In 1974, the band won a major national talent contest.

In respect for the mineworkers in Mangura, many of whom came to Rhodesia for work from neighboring Malawi, HCR recorded this traditional Malawian tune.

It's called Alikulila.

The band members in HCR worked hard for their living. But some in the management at the Mangura Copper Mine felt they were overpaid and pushed to have the band's wages cut. Thomas Mapfumo was the first one to complain. He was fired, and so began the slow demise of the Hallelujah Chicken Run band.

On his own, Mapfumo became a more political musician. He sang songs in the local language Shona. The white government didn't understand the lyrics. But Mapfumo's tunes were fomenting revolt -- one urged mothers to send their sons to war against the whites. He called his style "chimurenga" or struggle.

Meanwhile, HCR had a couple more years left in them.

"Take One" is the title of the just re-released collection of songs by the now defunct Hallelujah Chicken Run Band.

You may be wondering about the group's name.

Taking care of poultry at the mine's chicken coop, was Thomas Mapfumo's day job. It would be one of the last times Mapfumo would have to resort to manual labor. His rootsy Shona songs would soon be his calling card.

And Mapfumo's music would play a role in flipping Rhodesia out of the colonial era and into the country that is today called Zimbabwe.


One of my all-time favorite recordings was released this summer: a classic re-issue of early-70s tunes from The Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, presented in a CD titled "Take One."

These tracks represent the recording debut of Zimbabwe’s musical and revolutionary hero Thomas Mapfumo, and they are a revelation that have lost none of their rhythmic freshness and unique groove over the years. This is inspiring, dynamite stuff musically and historically.

The tale of the band is legendary: founded during the brutal, racist colonial regime of Rhodesia, the group formed when the white-owned Mangura Copper Mine hired them as a pick-up group to perform for exhausted miners at the end of their shifts. Inspired by Mapfumo and guitarist Joshua Hlomayi Dube, the group proceeded to create a dynamic new musical form that was captured on tape by Teal Records.

The recordings feature a driving rhythm section anchored by crisp, intricately-picked, multiple electric guitars. Often working in 6/8 time, the melodies are all layered over beautiful harmonic vocals and Stax-style horn blasts. The 2006 release is re-mixed to a warm and enticing glow.

The vibe on these recordings evolved into Mapfumo’s heralded Chimurenga music, the soundtrack for the Zimbabwean Revolution (since betrayed, of course, despite Mapfumo’s efforts from exile). Mapfumo wrote himself into history when he continued to compose music during the late-1970s while imprisoned by the Rhodesian government for his revolutionary and anti-racist activism.

I’ve been planning to post about these recordings for weeks, but each time I listen to the tracks, I hear more details that I want to add. This is a supreme recording---listen to it and you’ll understand.

Needless to say, the CD has received widespread attention among African music fans throughout the world—I think it’s a major addition to the growing body of re-released 1970s classics from Africa. For example, from All Music Guide:

The founding fathers of Zimpop are presented here in all of their original glory, with the added bonus of some much-needed remastering. While most of Zimbabwe was still singing Western pop covers with a bit of rhumba mixed in, the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band were changing the sound of the country. Under the guidance of guitarist Joshua Hlomayi Dube and singer Thomas Mapfumo (in his earliest years), the band was replacing pop songs with traditional ideas — the guitar being given a staccato sound to mimic aspects of the mbira, and Mapfumo's vocals mimicking its sounds as well. At the same time, lyrics were at least occasionally made political and rebellious, and sung in Shona, a major issue given the political climate of Rhodesia at the time. The work is always excellent, and the band has far more coherence and ability than one might expect from a ragtag group of performers, barkeeps, part-time farmers, and the like.

All About Jazz reports on the origins of the band’s name:

As the story goes, two members of the group found day jobs working at a local chicken run. Upon hearing this, the mine's boss man, one Mr. Walker, shouted “Hallelujah!” and proceeded to christen the band with a name that was destined to become an acronym. Several months later, after he cut the musicians' salaries, a young Thomas Mapfumo went to complain and was fired on the spot, but thankfully Mapfumo still had the day job with the chickens. Or so the story goes. And so began the ups and downs of the HCRB.

Public Radio International’s review of the recording also has an update on Thomas Mapfumo:

In Zimbabwe, if you criticize President Robert Mugabe publicly, you could end up in a whole lot of trouble. Such is the case of singer Thomas Mapfumo. So strong were his critiques of Mugabe, that he left Zimbabwe in fear for his personal security. Mapfumo now lives in Oregon -- and he continues to rail against Mugabe's un-democratic ways. It's hard to fathom that -- at one point -- Mapfumo and Mugabe saw the world through the same revolutionary glasses. A newly released collection of Mapfumo's early songs takes us back to that point in history.

Also check out the blog post from Candie Pop (“some of the most infectious rhythms and melodies I’ve heard in a longtime”). You can hear song samples for yourself on the emusic website.


One silver lining of the cloud that currently hangs over the music industry is the prevalence of re-issues. The financial squeeze that’s curtailed investment in new productions has made it more attractive for record companies to scour their vaults for forgotten gems, and let’s face it they don’t make ’em like they used to, whichever way you look at it. They’re not making much of anything at all these days in Zimbabwe, which was called Rhodesia when the songs on this cracking compilation were recorded there between 1974 and 1979 by a seminal band, originally set up to entertain the workers at the Mangura copper mine.

It’s a must for fans of southern African music, and a great insight into the early career of Thomas Mapfumo, who was with them for most of their first year. He’s represented on four murky sounding but atmospheric cuts written just as he and guitarist Joshua Hlomayi were beginning to move away from their mix of Afro-rock, rumba, cha-cha-cha and ‘copyright’ soul material (covers), towards a more original neo-traditional sound. “Ngoma Yarira” finds Mapfumo’s distinctive yodel-like vocal style almost fully formed, along with the shuffling triple-time groove he would later coin ‘chimurenga’. Another standout track from this period is the ghostly, throbbing “Alikulila”, based on a Malawian traditional tune.

As explained in the detailed, though not entirely complete sleeve notes (e.g. why were there no recordings between 1974 and 1977?) Hallelujah Chicken Run Band personnel was constantly changing, with guests and members leaving for and arriving from other better known groups such as Devera Ngwena and Four Brothers. Though fourteen musicians are listed in the credits, they generally seem to have existed as a five or six-piece, with founder member Daram Karanga’s trumpet and Robson Boora’s sax frequently softening the tight guitar counterpoint of Adbulah Musa and Hlomayi. The material isn’t chronologically sequenced, but it does hang together in an engaging way. Thus, things kick off in confident style with the propulsive rhythms and memorable guitar licks of guitar “Mudzimu Ndiringe”, from 1979. An hour later, you’ll be wanting to press replay.



# 1 Mudzimu Ndiringe
# 2 Kare Nanhasi
# 3 Ngoma Yarira
# 4 Manheru Changamire
# 5 Tamba Zimba Namashe
# 6 Mutoridodo
# 7 Mukadzi Wangu Ndomuda
# 8 Sekai
# 9 Gore Iro
# 10 Murembo
# 11 Mwana Wamai Dada Naye
# 12 Musawore Moyo
# 13 Alikulila
# 14 Ndopenga
# 15 Ngatiende Kumusha
# 16 Shumba Inobva Mu Gomo
# 17 Tinokumbira Kuziva
# 18 Chaminuka Mukuru

Mar 5, 2010

Assagai - Assagai

The Band

Assagai was an Afro-rock band from South Africa, active in the early 1970s in London. It consisted of five members: Louis Moholo, Mongezi Feza, Bizo Muggikana, Fred Coker, and Dudu Pukwana. They recorded for the British label Vertigo Records.

Assagai's self-titled debut album was released in 1971. It was reissued on CD by Repertoire Records in 1994.

Their second and final album, Zimbabwe, was released later in 1971. The album was re-released as LP by Music for Pleasure label, but under a different title, AfroRock.

Both their albums featured songs written by members of Jade Warrior and also included guest appearances from them as well.

In the 1960s, Pukwana, Feza and Moholo were also members of the jazz band The Blue Notes.

Other information

Assagai was anchored by respected African musicians Louis Moholo, Mongezi Feza, Fred Coker, and Dudu Pukwana. They were signed by British label Vertigo in the label's attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Afro-rock bands such as Osibisa. They were, I'm told, the only African or "Black" band ever signed by Vertigo. Their career was relatively short - two albums plus a couple of additional songs, released over a period of about two years in the early 1970s.


Assagai was an Afro-Beat group consisting of South Africans and Nigerians that recorded in England. What I like best about their sound is that they had concise, well structured songs unlike some Afro-Beat groups that composed epic tracks that devolved into extended jam sessions. Telephone Girl makes an excellent beginning with two full measures of open drums before short horn stabs come in on the one. Eventually the vocals and the rest of the band join in. That’s followed by a nice instrumental entitled Akasa that also features an Afro-Beat drum break. The equally funky Cocoa follows. The rest of the album is more Afro-Beat oriented with the laid back Irin Ajolawa and Ayieo comparing well with the more upbeat Beka.


Ethan Zuckerman writes:
I took a few minutes to dig a bit into the background of Assagai's cover of "Hey Jude", featured in entry #140. Assagai was a band of South African expatriates, living in Britian, led by Dudu Pukwana, a legendary alto player who passed away in 1990. He and Assagai trumpeter Mongezi Feza played together, along with Assagai drummer Louis Moholo, in the revolutionary interracial sextet Blue Notes. Increasing harassment in apartheid South Africa forced the ensemble to emigrate to Europe, first to France and then to Switzerland, Denmark and other locations where the musicians were able to make a living. While not as well known as musicians like Hugh Masakela (who they both played with), Pukwana and Feza were prolific and well-respected within the expatriate South African music scene in 1970s Europe. Indeed, you can find Pukwana in truly unexpected places, including in sessions with the Incredible String Band. Assagai had another interesting cover on the album in question - "Telephone Girl" by Jade Warrior, a relatively obscure English prog-rock band who Brian Eno name-checks as an influence on his ambient work. As for what language Assagai are singing in, I'm forced to guess. It's pretty clearly within the Bantu language family. Pukwana was born in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, where the indigenous language is Xhosa, which is probably what we're hearing. I'll try to get a friend who's got a few Bantu languages to give it a listen and see if she can give a definitive answer.

ames Silberbauer writes:
I was very interested to see you had an Assagai track on your site curated by Jen. They were formed in England in 1971 by South African exiles and a couple of Nigerians (one is the singer on this track). The group is also interesting for having as members Dudu Pukwana (alto sax), Mongezi Feza (trumpet) and Louis Moholo (drums) who were in the South African jazz band The Blue Notes with Chris McGregor (piano) and Johnny Dyani (bass) formed in 1963. The Blue Notes went into exile in 1965 - they had great difficulty performing as a mixed-race group in Apartheid South Africa. Chris McGregor formed his big band Brotherhood of Breath with these players as a nucleus. Sadly only Louis Moholo lived to see South Africa end Apartheid when the first democratic elections were held in 1994.



01. Telephone Girl
02. Akasa
03. Hey Jude
04. Cocoa
05. Irin Ajolawa
06. Ayieo
07. Beka
08. I'll Wait For You

The man who saved African Funk ... Duncan Brooker!!!

A great story of diggin' for African funk music ...

Duncan Brooker

by Duncan Brooker, The Guardian, Friday 27 July 2001

'If I didn't save this music no one else would'

Record-collecting obsessive Duncan Brooker spent seven years trawling Africa for rare 60s and 70s funk in an attempt to preserve it for posterity. He didn't know he'd also end up trying to save the musicians who created it.

In February 1994, when I was 19, I got a job in London with the television wing of the news agency Reuters, as a runner, driver and general dogsbody. The job involved a lot of travelling, from one news story to another, and later that year it took me to Nairobi to work on a co-production with the Kenyan agency Camerapix. Camerapix was run by Mohammed Amin, the extraordinary cameraman whose pictures of the 1984 Ethiopian famine stirred Bob Geldof to launch Live Aid. Amin subsequently lost an arm in a rocket attack, replacing it with a prosthetic one so he could still work the camera.

After the job was finished, I asked Amin for a work placement, explaining that he didn't have to pay me, if he could just sort out my accommodation. Instead he gave me an African wage of £70 a month, and left me to sort out my own accommodation. I arranged a houseshare in a Nairobi slum with one of my Camerapix colleagues.

I stayed in Kenya for six months, fetching and carrying, flying, driving and bussing around east Africa: Zaire, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia. I'd be sent to the borders of Ethiopia to pick up people or tapes, or to the airport to collect Amin. When I wasn't working, and sometimes when I was, I'd be looking for records.

Music and vinyl have been my obsession since I was 13, when I picked out the Best of James Brown album in a Woolworths sale. I spent the rest of my spare time as a teenager going to car boot sales, and rooting through the bargain bins in second-hand shops, looking for soul, jazz and funk. When I was 16, I found an album by the Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, which seemed much deeper and more spiritually and musically complete than anything I had heard before. I knew there must be more: you don't get one amazing album in isolation. But information about African music of the 1960s and 1970s was even harder to find 10 years ago than it is now.

Vinyl is increasingly rare in Africa. Except in South Africa and Zimbabwe, records have been phased out in favour of cassettes, many of them pirated. But the biggest problem, as I started scouring east Africa for funk, was finding vinyl in good condition. In Africa, records were an expensive luxury and most people didn't buy them to play once or twice, but hundreds of times. A lot of people seem to have bought a turntable in 1970 and still be using the same needle, which now has the sensitivity of a nail and is about as damaging for the vinyl. Then children would get hold of the records and they'd be used as frisbees or doorstops. By the time I got to them, they were usually in very bad shape.

Sometimes I found them in the market: there would be boxes of old records sitting on the ground, usually in direct sunlight, covered in dust and slowly warping in the heat. If I was lucky, I might pull one or two clean ones from a pile. Sometimes I found them in people's houses. In parts of Africa they call records "plates". Someone I met in the street might say: "Yeah, I've got some plates. Come and have a look." Then we'd drive out to their house in a village in the bush, which could take 45 minutes or half a day, and I'd be shown a pile of records, usually sleeveless, covered with mud. Perhaps one in a hundred of these would be useful to me. I tried not to pay more than the equivalent of 3p or 4p for each record. They only sold for 1p or 2p and people would try to charge 15p a record. I just couldn't afford that. I had to make people believe I was poor - which was the truth after all. I was living on £35 a month after rent.

Very occasionally, I would just take them. I remember looking for somewhere to stay in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and going to check out a hotel room. It was cheap but not nice and I wasn't sure whether to take it. Then I saw there was a pile of records, covered in inches of dust, stacked on the wardrobe. They were an odd mixture, some Indian soundtracks together with African records. So I took the room and, when I left, I took some of the records with me. I don't think anyone missed them.

I found vinyl in shops, too. Not record shops as such, but cassette shops, bicycle repair shops, garages and electrical shop. I would walk past and something would give it away - perhaps a record sleeve nailed to the wall. I would ask if they had any vinyl and, if I was lucky, they would show me around the back where I'd see a heap of old records. Sometimes I would go weeks without finding anything.

In downtown Nairobi, I found Melodica, a shop run by a man called Abdul Karim. It was founded by his father, Daudia Karim, who was a serious force in the Kenyan music scene in the 1970s, and whom Abdul swears was poisoned as he was about to be made head of the musicians' union in Kenya. The ground floor is a cassette shop selling everything from Jim Reeves to Manu Dibango, and upstairs is a room full of records.

It took me weeks to persuade Abdul to let me go up there. The room is half- height, so you have to bend nearly double to walk around, and it's pitch-black as there are no lights. The floor is covered with the debris of another era - old gramophones, album covers, bits of broken vinyl, even a stuffed gazelle. The shop backs on to one of Nairobi's busiest roads, which over the years has kicked up enough dust to leave six inches deep on the racks of decaying 45s that line the shelves. I guess there are around 18,000 records there and I spent weeks rooting around in the dark, taking records out into the sun to read their battered sleeves and labels, checking and listening to every record of interest. The dust got to me in the end and I became ill. Abdul offered to buy me a face-mask.

I returned to London in July 1995. I caught the plane with a trunk full of singles and bags full of hundreds of records. I didn't realise - properly - what I'd got until I got it back to my parents' house and started sorting through it. If I believed that Africa had produced a lot more original music than Fela Kuti, I now had the evidence: hundreds of albums and singles of material unheard in the west.

It was a natural progression to want to put a compilation together: if I didn't do it, it seemed clear that nobody else would, and the music would be lost. The tracks I was looking for were mostly put out on small, independent labels, usually for a local market, and sometimes only 500 copies were pressed. The master tapes were being destroyed - sometimes they had simply been recorded over - the musicians were dying and people's memories were fading. And there is no record of much of this music ever having been made. Most countries in Africa have no body that deals with music copyright. Where musicians' unions exist, they are too corrupt or too inefficient to be effective.

In the early days, I thought about bootlegging the music. I could just put it out and most of the artists would never find out. I began to look into it, then changed my mind. Partly, I realised that selling this music in Africa would be impossible because Africans don't want it. "This is old-time music, my friend," one man told me. "Why are you interested in this stuff? It's no good. We listen to Snoop Doggy Dogg." And partly it was because I was beginning to find out about the poverty most of the musicians were living in. If I could get the music over here and get people to buy it, I could get the money sent back to Africa and they could do what they liked with it. Hopefully, it would get these musicians working again and encourage new young musicians. Most of the people who are on the album don't even own instruments any more.

I now work freelance, as a sound engineer, but in those days I was a runner and a driver for film companies. The film industry goes dead over Christmas so in November, December, January and February, I could take off for Africa with my savings. In London, it seems, you spend a lot of money even when you're doing nothing, while in Africa you can live for very little. So I spent the next six years travelling between London and Africa. In London, I would do as much research as I could, trying to find out what I had and what was out there that I didn't have. In Africa, I was buying more vinyl and trying to trace the artists who created and developed Afro funk.

One of the bands I was most interested in was Air Fiesta Matata. A Kenyan 10-piece, Matata produced east Africa's finest funk in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1969 they played with Miles Davis in Germany, and Davis was impressed enough to invite them to America. In 1971, the BBC World Service crowned them Best Band in Africa.

The key to finding Matata was finding the singer and bandleader, Steele Beauttah. I asked around the usual shops and bars in Nairobi. Several people told me he was dead. Then, on a Christmas trip in 1998, Abdul Karim told me he had found him, that he was working as a band booker in a sleazy bar called Simmer's - the sort of place where you can order anything from kebabs to prostitutes. We walked there and Abdul introduced me to him, a short, stout, grey-haired man but with an extraordinary level of calm around him.

Beauttah had been addicted to heroin for 25 years. He got into drugs at the same time as everyone else in Matata, after the "world tour" in 1974. The band were at the height of their ability and fame, and were invited to Hong Kong for a six-week tour, their payment being the instruments they played with. Quality musical instruments were rare and expensive in Africa at that time.

Then they came to Europe, playing the exclusive Swiss ski resort of Gstaad, which Beauttah told me was his favourite gig ("It gave me great pleasure to hear the American celebrities applaud") and London, including Ronnie Scott's. On the return flight to Kenya, their manager, Mogosti, told them there was a problem with customs and that he would follow them on the next plane home, bringing the instruments, equipment and cash from the tour with him. He never turned up. I heard later that he had moved to Jamaica.

Without any money or instruments, Matata fell apart. Several of them got heavily into drugs. Beauttah had a stab at a solo career but this fizzled out in 1976. A year before we met in Simmer's, Beauttah was lying in the gutter, preparing to die. His son and daughter picked him up and turned him round: he became religious ("I discovered a power higher than me"), gave up the smack and found a job related to music. I explained why I was looking for him and showed him the sleeves of the Matata albums and handed him a copy of "Africa" from 23 years before. There was a record player in the bar and I put it on. The waitresses and all the staff and people around couldn't believe it was him singing on the track. "He's no singer!" they said.

Beauttah said he would introduce me to the Matata guitarist, Sammy Kangenda, and sent a message to him. I waited at the appointed place for several hours before he turned up. He apologised for being late and said he didn't have the money for the bus fare - it was around 10p - and he had walked for three hours from his village outside Nairobi to get here.

Kangenda wasn't in good shape. He had also been addicted to heroin and seemed unable to remember the songs he had written. I sang one to him, humming the bassline, but he couldn't remember it.

Digging through the Camerapix archive later, I found a previously unseen photograph by Mohammed Amin of the band on Kenya's Rainbow television show. Beauttah is pictured holding a sledgehammer, about to crack a rock balanced on the chest of an Ethiopian strongman, while the rest of the band, including Kangenda, look on. I gave a copy to Beauttah. He couldn't remember the moment, or even remember being on the show, and he cried. He had had all his possessions stolen in the 1980s.

One or two of the musicians who wrote the music I had collected were impossible to find. Others were dead. In 1994, in an electrical shop that's now closed down, I found a copy of the single Fever by Ishmael Jingo. I had tried to find him on two previous visits to Africa and was unsuccessful. In 1998, I spent three weeks looking for him. I was told by people who said they had played with him that I should go to Mombasa. I finally found his village and his family, saw the garage where he had recorded the track, and met the bass player from the band, who gave me the photo of Jingo that features on the album . He granted me licence to use it.

Tracking down Slim Alli was as difficult, though he is still alive. Typically, when I asked people who had played with him if they knew where he was, they said they hadn't seen him for a decade, that I should look east. I spent three or four weeks asking around Mombasa and was getting closer and closer. It was 10 years ago, then five years ago. Then three. Then it was: "Oh, yeah. I saw him play down the hotel by the beach." So I went to every tourist hotel on the beach on the strip north of Mombasa and couldn't find anyone who had seen him recently.

I had been eating in a small restaurant in Mombasa called Swahili Eats for several weeks. One day the proprietor asked what I was doing there. Looking for a musician, I said. You've probably never heard of him. "Oh, you mean Slim Alli?" he said. "He's my friend. Come tomorrow and I'll take you to his brother's house."

We spent half a day on buses, riding out to a village north of Mombasa. The house was made of concrete blocks with cast iron doors and a corrugated iron roof. Alli wasn't there but his brother, Abdul Said, was - and he was stunned that this white kid had come looking for his brother and knew almost every recording he had ever made. He got out all the photos of him and his band, the Hodi Boys, on stage in the 1970s and told me stories about the good times, when there was a little bit of foreign money, as well as local money, coming in, an industry that supported musicians, and clubs to play. There is nothing of that left now. Most of the people who are still making a living from music are playing hotel lobbies for tourists.

In west Africa, I found I was dealing mainly with producers - frequently the rights to a piece of music revert to the producer after a period of time. In order to trace music by the Ghanaian great K Frimpong, I needed to trace a producer called James Ofori and went to visit a man I knew, AK Brobbey, who styles himself "Africa's number one producer". Brobbey told me he knew Ofori well and that he would take me to him.

I jumped in the car with his driver, his daughter and two or three people that we were just giving a lift to. The village was a two-hour drive from Kumasi but it took us all day because the car broke down a lot and - because I was Brobbey's guest - I wasn't allowed to help push, though his daughter had to. In the end, I climbed out and pushed anyway. We got the car patched up at a garage and bumped on over the potholes to Ofori's village.

Ofori has become a poultry farmer. He lives in a two-storey house - the lower level is taken up by chickens while he and his family live upstairs. He was amazed to see me, telling me he hadn't talked about his music with anyone for seven or eight years, and started getting out all his photos of his studio and musicians in enormous flares and Afros. I told him I was looking for music by K Frimpong. "I have a copy of the cassette here somewhere," he said.

He found it and put it on, and his seven children came running in. They stared at me for a little while - I was, I suppose, the first white man they'd ever seen - then started dancing around. I told him I wanted to license the music, so that it could be heard outside Africa. "No, no. Come with me," he said, and led me downstairs into a room full of chickens. He started pulling out bags and reels of tape crusted with a thick layer of chicken shit and dust - everything in Africa gets coated with dust. "My God," he was saying, looking into cans of tape. "I don't know what's in this one. I haven't looked in here for 20 years. Which track were you after?" he asked. "Kyenken Bi Adi M'Awu," I said (which means Come Back My Love in the local language). "I can't believe you've still got it."

"It's lucky because Frimpong came here about seven years ago and took it away. But he came back. It's been in this room ever since." I told him I needed to take it away to get it recorded on to digitial audio tape. Fine, he said, bring it back when you've finished with it. I thought it would be completely shot, unusable, but in fact it was really very good, very clean stuff. I had another track.

I now have around 20,000 records. I have set up a label, Kona records, and enough of Africa's 1970s musicians have trusted me with their music for three volumes of Afro-Rock, as well as numerous other projects. There are 11 tracks on the first album and the royalties are split 11 ways. The plan for me is to go back to Africa and, now that I have something concrete to show, find even more musicians and more music. And I want to start a register so that foreigners who want to trace African musicians can find them without having to search for as long as I did.

I also want to get some of these musicians back on the circuit. I was planning to get a UK tour together for Steele Beauttah and Matata. Several venues seemed interested. But four weeks ago, the news came through that Beauttah had died. I'm not sure if he ever got to see and hear a finished copy of the album. The next volume will be dedicated to him.

by Duncan Brooker, The Guardian, Friday 27 July 2001

Mar 4, 2010

Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra - Who Is This America?


Just when I start gloating about afrobeat legend Fela Kuti's influence permeating the underground, what should find its way through my mail slot but the new Antibalas LP? Let it be known: the American afrobeat awakening is in full effect. [Much rejoicing ensues.]

All year, Fela-inspired ensembles have been rocking dancefloors and picking fights with nervous Republicans across the country. Antibalas, of course, predates them all, having staked their claim to Fela's dynasty back in 2001 with their Ninja Tune debut, Liberation Afrobeat Vol. 1. That release beautifully conveyed Fela's bravado and bluster, even while the band was yet unable to evoke his humor, intimacy and personality. Of course, while I was thrilled to hear a new multi-culti spin on the Nigerian afrobeat legacy, I couldn't shake my disappointment at the record's lack of focus, or its departure from Fela's tried-and-true blueprint.

But, never daunted, Antibalas regrouped to drop the bomb the world was waiting for: Their 2002 follow-up Talkatif lightened their sound with sharper songwriting, including some truly memorable melodies (no mean feat within afrobeat's syncopated firestorm) that popped with addition of bright major chords, Afro-Latin rhythms, briefer track lengths, and more compelling lyrical fomentations from Duke Amayo. Now arrives the third installment of the Antibalas handbook for global empowerment, Who Is This America?, which, in the midst of the current trickle-up afrobeat revival, has Antibalas bringing a more galvanized and urgent righteous noise than ever before, and proving they lead the pack when it comes to the re-imagining and recreating of Fela's archetypal artform.

If you're familiar with afrobeat, you'll have a basic grasp of this record's sound: Clean, staccato guitars and conga 'n' snare breakbeats are quickly avalanched by monstrous horn sections, shakere counter-rhythms, and kinky clavinets. Opener "Who Is This America Dem Speak Of?" enters with several minutes of polyrhythmic pyrotechnics, before Amayo finally busts in with a scathingly ironic vocal introduction, kicking the album into a high gear it never shifts back down from. At 12 minutes, it's one of the longer tracks in the group's repertoire, though a peek at the runtimes reveals that America contains two even lengthier tracks, one of which nears the 20-minute mark. Indeed, where Antibalas' previous works were abridged for accessibility, here they've clearly become more comfortable with their staying power, and more confident with their voice.

While Fela was a master at submerging political censure under metaphor (see his 1973 release, Gentleman, a denouncement of colonialism that employed pants as symbolism), Antibalas is more didactic, though they do dabble in some amusing poetics. Both the opening track and the breakbeat powerhouse "Big Man" come down on America's wholesaling of capitalist consumerism, augmented by a newfound razor-sharp wit. That sense of humor is also apparent on "Indictment", a stylistic watershed for the band. The track opens with a Superfly-echoing riff as spastic tenor sax man Stuart Bogie recites a litany of offenses committed by everyone from Donald Rumsfeld to "the game of baseball," in what sounds like some funky People's Court. The terrific throwback production-- cracking, overmiked drums, theme-show guitar, and background chatter reminiscent of James Brown's original Live at the Apollo-- make for one of the most unique, compelling songs the group has ever laid to tape.

The decision to close America with two monumental midtempo songs gives Antibalas the opportunity to show off all the tricks and insight they've gained in their seven years together. Victor Axelrod's liquid organ initially takes something of a plodding lead on "Elephant", but at six minutes in, the track briefly dubs out and Ernesto Abreu's Yoruba vocals come on like a Nuyorican boogaloo crooner. "Sister" is a 19-minute percussive workout; every instrument-- clavinet, horns, guitar, bass-- is a drum, rising and falling through a sexy, hypnotic and occasionally spacey plotline that, even in its extended length, keeps a tight, tense grip on the ear.

Like hip-hop and reggae, afrobeat is one of the crucial forms of expression for the world's disenfranchised. As time passes and we get further from the initial heat of Fela's influence, bands like Antibalas play a greater role in keeping the flame lit. Who Is This America? is the group's most powerful fuel for the fire.

— Jonathan Zwickel, May 18, 2004

On its first album for the illustrious Rope a Dope label, the Brooklyn-based Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra continues to mine the deep sonic and political fields first breached by the late Fela Kuti. This is deep funk Afrobeat, full of deep, fat horns, trancelike pumping bass, snaky guitars, and hypno-groove percussion.

In addition to the orchestra, which numbers 14 pieces, the band adds another ten guests in various places and extrapolates its chunky, funky Afrobeat sound by grafting it onto Latin beats and, in the longer pieces, elliptical modal considerations.

The album begins with the manifesto "Who Is This America Dem Speak of Today?" Stuttering guitar lines insist on ushering the quantum rhythms before the horns kick it into pure hypno-groove. Amayo's vocals are pure righteousness as the track winds back on itself three times before it eclipses at 12 minutes.

The wildest thing here is saxophonist Stuart Bogie's "Indictment," with its jagged-edged, hard shadowy funk where muted trombones, keyboards, and even strings collide in a loose backbone twist-o-flex groove before the vocals come in to lay down the law with rage and authority.

The final two cuts on the set, "Elephant," with its entwined organ, synth-bass, and horn lines that become a ghostly, post midnight Afro-Latin dance jam, and B. Mann's killer dub-inflected "Sister," account for over half an hour of the disc's total playing time. The two are consistent in the way they gradually and purposefully unfold into labyrinthine considerations that are deeply textured, multivalent exercises in intervallic groove and shimmer, allowing the band's jazz pedigree to articulate itself more fully.

Antibalas may have begun its recording career by paying tribute to the nearly overwhelming influence of Fela, but as this disc attests, the band has been carving out its own space from other traditions as well, and has developed a grand woven basket design that bears the group's signature exclusively. This is its best effort yet.


True, some bands are simply meant to lead, and Brooklyn’s Antibalas--as tough and diverse as the city that birthed them nearly a decade ago--has continued to do just that. The group, whose name means “bulletproof” in Spanish, has indeed proved they possess the mettle to not only survive but also thrive by employing a musical arsenal that has become known worldwide. Initially using the revolutionary blueprint of afrobeat as a launching pad, the dozen-strong members of Antibalas weave a rich tapestry of latin, jazz, classical, funk and soul into their horn-driven mix. Words fail in trying to describe the result: simultaneously polyrhythmic and political, independent and contagious, and the reason why many have credited the band for introducing afrobeat’s framework to a new generation.

Always looking to push their unique sound further, however, Antibalas recently entered the studio to record their fourth album with much-heralded musician/producer John McEntire (Tortoise, Stereolab, Tom Ze). Holed up for a month in McEntire’s Chicago lair, the band explored and unleashed sonic sides of them not previously tapped. The resulting gem is guaranteed to shock and dazzle new and old fans alike, and will be forthcoming from ANTI- Records (no, not just because they share half a name), known for distinguished releases over the years from such artists as Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, the Refugee All-Stars and Blackalicious. The new album and record deal illustrate Antibalas’ penchant for taking chances, building upon a history of previous fiery album releases and recent, stunning collaborations with diverse heavyweights such as Medeski, Martin and Wood, TV on the Radio, Baaba Maal and Gomez.

As distinguished as their recordings may be though, Antibalas has truly become renowned via their relentless live show. And though it’s certainly no easy task to keep (and feed) such a vast ensemble on the road, the band has managed to average over 100 concerts a year, incessantly traversing the U.S, Canada and Europe in venues large and small be they the sweaty clubs of Brooklyn or in front of hordes of festival goers in places like Bonnaroo, Bumbershoot, Montreux and Roskilde. 2004 also bore witness to the group’s first-ever tour to Japan, as well as debuts at the Glastonbury and Coachella music festivals. It’s not by chance the Village Voice exclaimed “their music is right on time,” while the New York Times, the New Yorker, Rolling Stone Magazine and a slew of others have taken serious notice. Make no mistake, as XLR8R exclaims, Antibalas are indeed “the baddest on the block.”


This is the album Antibalas fans have been waiting for. Anyone who has spent time losing themselves in the polyrhythmic layers of Afrobeat funk at one of the hundreds of shows they've put on over the past half-decade knows their potential. Maybe it was their label switch, moving from the experimental Ninja Tune to the saviors of jamband and roots, Ropeadope. Maybe it was the decision (finally!) to portray on wax what they do on stage: extended versions rather than brief snippets. Maybe it was their steady gradation from pure Afrobeat to Latin flavors ("Che Che Cole" on Turntables on the Hudson 4 a great starting point). Maybe it was the inclusion of frontman's Amayo's vocals, the warmly domineering figure live finally given the chance to shine in the earpods. Or maybe it was the Yoruba deities of Lagos setting up a massive skyward sound system which the 16-member collective heard standing atop their mountain of Brooklyn, screaming, "Give us what you got already, damn it!"

What they got is one of the hottest releases this year. Formed in '98 by saxophonist Martin Perna after a brainstorm meditating on Zapatistas while in Mexico, the decision was clear: to keep the lineage of Nigeria's Fela Kuti alive. Never having received the much-deserved international attention of a Bob Marley, Kuti has been enshrined (much like his hometown club where he started the madness) by audiences globally hip to the fact that, to get inside a song, to really feel the build and sway and emotion of a tune, it takes more than 3 1/2 radio minutes. Opening with a slightly-extended take of the album title ("Who is This America Dem Speak of Today?"), the 12 minutes spent let you know they're in it for the full ride. And while this, again like their performances, is a group effort, there's something undeniably engaging about the power of Amayo's vocals. His likeness to Kuti is poignant, but for those who've watched his show-stealing live antics, he is a character unto himself. The man can rhyme a hypnotic pattern relating the CIA, HMO and NBA and make sense of it; it's the suspending of disbelief comprising his craft.

"I personally tend to like the mid-tempo and slower grooves because that's where you feel the hypnotic elements," he told me earlier this year in an interview for Rattapallax. "If you go too fast you tend to miss the message. But in terms of an Afrobeat show, there needs to be room for the meditative aspect and hopefully people leave with new rejuvenation with whatever struggle they have." The blaring subject matter of struggle on this record is, obviously, the upcoming election. "Indictment," the shortest cut here, is brilliant in its maddening horn lines and bullet-like drum patterns, along with shouted indictments of Bush, Rice, Cheney and crew. But they never loose the groove; like proper political statements, the song doesn't submit to a message, but enhances it. Even more so on the closing "Sister," a heartfelt tune where Amayo truly muscles his way through the slowest - and longest - cut at 19+ minutes. He doesn't even speak until after 9, and when he does, this track dedicated to masculine support and softening towards women carries you gorgeously to the album's end.

"Not jams" drummer Phill Ballman told me a few years back in a piece in Relix, assured that, despite the circuit they constantly find themselves on, Antibalas is not a jamband. Searing through the 14-minute "Elephant," a traditional Yoruba chant arranged and sung by Ernesto Abreu, the freeform feeling is structured tightly. Throughout any show there may be moments of improvisation, but when dealing with 15 other cats on stage, one best not stray. This has been Antibalas' cornerstone: the ability to keep to the program while liberating the sound enough to sound completely inspired by the moment. With Talkatif and Liberation Afrobeat Vol. 1, their first two records, this never came across quite right. Fortunately the Orishas caught wind of it and decided it was time to speak up.



1. Who is This America Dem Speak of Today?
2. Pay Back Africa
3. Indictment
4. Big Man
5. Obanla'e
6. Elephant
7. Sister

Matata - Air Fiesta

Matata which means fire in Kenya, offers an album to variations in local movements with some jazz, funk, even Psychadelic; with songs Mijikenda (tribes along the coasts of Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania &), Lingala ( Bantu language), Swahili (Bantu group of languages of East Africa) & English. The local instruments are the ngoma & syatiti accompanied by guitar, harp, etc. ..


1. Wild River (3:19)
2. Beautiful Burra (3:08)
3. Mayo mayo (3:18)
4. Jungle Warrior (2:15)
5. Wowo Woswo (2:29)
6. I need somebody (3:18)
7. Wanna do my thing (3:05)
8. Vujana Africa (3:42)
9. Picha Yako (2:30)
10. Mosala Tokosalaka (3:41)
11. You've gotta find me (2:32)
12. Maendeleo ya Kenya (3:29)

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)