Jan 23, 2012
MonoMono - Dawn of Awareness
Soundway Records and Tummy Touch are proud to present "Dawn of Awareness" the second album by Joni Haastrup's band MonoMono. Re-issued on CD, LP and digital, the LP comes with a bonus 12" featuring two extra tracks. Amid the OPEC oil embargo, Watergate and IRA bombs, the sound of MonoMono's follow-up record, 1974's Dawn of Awareness, took on the bluesrock grooves of Santana and Hugh Masekela but with their own unique Yoruban flavor. A deeply spiritual record, Dawn of Awareness was Haastrup's reaction to what was going on in the world around him. One hears echoes of the Allman Brothers' Revival on MonoMono's Awareness is What You Need and after listening to Plain Fighting you could easily imagine the band sharing the stage with the Doobie Brothers at an East Side San Jose street festival.
Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Joni Haastrup may not be the household name Fela Kuti is, but he is as indelible a part of Afro-beat and Nigerian music as the Black President is. Haastrup was the vocalist on O.J. Ekemode and his Modern Aces’ 1966 album, Super Afro Soul, which was one of the early, formative Afro-beat records—an album a then-unknown Kuti played trumpet on (before he picked up his famous saxophone). He also toured with Cream’s Ginger Baker in 1971, replacing some guy named Steve Winwood, and then went on to form his own band MonoMono before moving on to his own solo work.
Soundway Records has now smartly reissued the first two MonoMono records—1971’s Give the Beggar a Chance and 1974’s The Dawn of Awareness—and Haastrup’s 1978 solo album, Wake Up Your Mind. They come on the heels of their reissue of Remi Kabaka’s great Afro-jazz soundtrack Black Goddess, where Haastrup played keys, and these albums further prove that his nickname—they called him the “Number One Soul Brother”—suits him quite well.
These three albums are all brief—each clocks in under 40 minutes—but they show a heavier soul mix in Haastrup’s vision of Afro-funk and rock music. If James Brown was a huge influence on Afro-beat in general, then Haastrup is his closest musical student. These are tighter compositions than Kuti’s, but they still manage a similar dichotomy: they are dynamic and shifting and yet build tension and inertia on insistent repetition.
Give the Beggar a Chance is a sweet and soulful debut that highlights Haastrup’s voice—his honeyed vocals are a far cry from Kuti’s gruff, spare singing and keyboard work. Playing with guitarist Jimmy Adams, bass player Baba Ken Okulolo, and percussionists Candido Obajimi and Friday Jumbo, Haastrup’s work with MonoMono doesn’t always feel much like the sound of a band. His vocals are mixed way high, as are his keyboards, and his larger-than-life charm nearly overwhelms the songs. Still, if you sift through the layers, the band is a tight outfit. They shift carefully, but effectively, tone and tempo throughout the record. “The World Might Fall Over” moves from Haastrup’s keyboard vamps to a bright and sped-up group jam, before settling into a smoldering soul number. “Find Out”, one of many strident calls to action on these albums, has a similar push and pull. The shifts are subtle, but in such relatively short compositions, they catch you off guard and keep you interested.
But if that album was a confident first step for Haastrup as leader of his own band, The Dawn of Awareness is a more cohesive and resonant sound for the band as a whole. The keys mesh with Adams’s careful guitar work and leaves space for the bluesy thump of Okulolo’s bass work. It’s a moodier set—recorded in the wake of the OPEC oil embargo and scandals like Watergate—and Haastrup dials down the Brown-ian showmanship in favor of a genuine and deep anger. “Ipade Aldun”, the longest song on any of these records, is a brilliant turn, insistent in its pounding beat and powerful group singing and, driven by a great solo from Adams, it is the band at its most cut-loose and impressive. It sets up the funkier space of “Make Them Realise” and the feverish shuffle of “Awareness is Wot You Need”. This album takes Haastrup’s raw charisma and his band’s promise from the first record, balances them out and makes them both shine. It is, of these three, the finest example of Afro-funk and Afro-beat Haastrup offered, and acts as a smoother counterpoint to Kuti’s larger musical furies.
Haastrup’s solo record, 1978’s Wake Up Your Mind, is as soulful and funky as its MonoMono predecessors, and in some cases comes off as larger than them. The horn section on “Free My People” delivers expansive, bright hooks, punctuating the drawn-out sweetness of his vocals with immediate punches of sound. As the title implies, Haastrup was still fighting for awareness, trying to bring consciousness to the people to affect change, but there’s a distinctly more hopeful sound to this record. “Champions and Superstars” seems like a guileless, and even goofy, ode to football players (or soccer, if you prefer), but it’s also a very real declaration of national pride. If there’s worry all around these songs—and there is, more than the MonoMono records—Wake Up Your Mind resides in the hope of coming change and not the despair of national repression. Haastrup recorded this record in London, with what seems like more resources, and the resulting album sometimes falls prey to late ‘70s recording sheen. The airy keys and thin drums on the title track, or instance, sand down its fangs a bit. Overall, though, it’s another solid set.
Taken together, these albums represent a musician in Joni Haastrup who distinguished himself from the other greats in Afro-beat while still remaining true to the sound. With MonoMono and by himself, he succeeded on his beautiful voice and innovative keyboard work—think Ray Manzarek, only more playful and, you know, good—and used them to shake the people up. In that way, these albums work as a pretty convincing whole, moving from worry to unrest to burgeoning hope, one thumping song at a time.
popmatters.com, written by Matthew Fiander
The second release by Nigeria's MonoMono was originally released on LP in 1974. Thankfully, the folks at Tummy Touch Records revived the music of MonoMono, which features the work of Joni Haastrup and his friend, Baba Ken Okulolo. The original six songs are presented on this rerelease. The blues, rock, psychedelia, and funk elements are quite pronounced throughout. The instrumental segments are especially intriguing, as they set the stage for a perfect soundtrack to lounge around, dance, or trip-out. The down-tempo elements of 'Make Them Realise,' cnojures up comparisons to the North American group, Action Figure Party. The soul of Yoruban funk emanates from the tracks without causing boredom or sleepy episodes. The Dawn Of Awareness is a little more blues and rock-driven than the previous release. Still, MonoMono knows how to move those feet with rewarding results.
The second album in a series of three reissues from Nigerian bandleader Joni Haastrup, Dawn of Awareness was the sophomore effort by his band MonoMono, following their very impressive debut, Give the Beggar a Chance. It's tempting to read more into the two albums' titles than one probably should: while the first album focused on relatively concrete social issues (best song title: "The World Might Fall Over"), the mood on Dawn of Awareness is a bit more introspective. Sonically, this is real Age of Aquarius stuff: the grooves are at times downright spacy (note in particular the acid-drenched "Awareness Is Wot You Need" and the only slightly less discursive "Plain Fighting"), and even by Afro-pop standards they sometimes focus a bit too much on the extended elaboration of a single two-chord idea (note in particular the jazzily pretty but eventually rather tedious "Get Yourself Together"). But those ideas and their elaborations are consistently attractive, and there are moments of genius here; "Tire Loma da Nigbehin" is very lovely, and "Ipade Aladun" surprises with its spoken word intro (a defense of the band's energetic stage presence: they may jump around on-stage as if drunk, Haastrup explains, but it's only because they love the music and want to share its energy) followed by a startlingly slow, almost deliberate groove counterposed by vigorous and heartfelt vocals. This album is more uneven than its predecessor, but very much worth hearing.
The Dawn of Awareness sees the MonoMono Band expand on their previously set role as social commentators. Joni Haastrup looks beyond Lagos at the volatile state of the world, as did his American contemporaries at a similar time at Woodstock - war in Vietnam, the OPEC oil crises, Watergate and the IRA bombings.
The psychedelic cover bears a strong resemblance to the artwork of Marti Klarwein - who illustrated Carlos Santana’s Abraxas and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew - and sets an appropriate tone for the blues-rock grooves of the album. Santana once again shows to have been an influential guitarist in Nigeria. The Latin percussion of Abraxas also surfaces here, imitated well by Candido Obajimi and Friday Jumbo. Their shakes, scrapes and subtle drum hits provide the perfect backdrop for Jimmy Adams to plug in his guitar and let rip, often taking over the second half of the songs with an impenetrable amount of feedback. This makes for a more established formula than on MonoMono’s previous Give The Beggar A Chance: Haastrup’s heartfelt vocals, sometimes in English, sometimes in Yoruba, sometimes a personalised mish-mash of the two, Adams on guitar, Obajimi and Jumbo workmanlike in their simple percussion style.
When you consider the political situation in Nigeria, The Dawn of Awareness is more daring than other protest albums of the 70’s. “Awareness is what you need,” warns Haastrup, clearly not one turn a blind eye in fear of the consequences of the government. “If you see a man cry and don’t ask why, you can’t look yourself inside.”
01. Plain Fighting (Your Life Is What You Make Of It)
02. Ipade Aladun
03. Get Yourself Together
04. Awareness Is Wot You Need
05. Make Them Realise (Everybody's Gotta Be Free)
06. Tire Loma Da Nighbehin
Vinyl Bonus Tracks
A: Water Pass Gari (Pts 1 & 2 edited together)
B: Kenimania (7" version)