Mar 22, 2013

Monomono - Give the beggar a chance

As the name suggests, Give The Beggar A Chance shows the kind of social awareness largely absent from other releases of the same era. This is Africa, not America; out with 60s soul covers, in with themes exclusive to the concrete jungle that is Lagos.

“What do you want from a leper?” sings Haastrup on the title track. “Wake up, no hands to scratch his back.” And then “what do you need from a beggar? Wake up, no hopes to live tomorrow”. Through humour and clever wordplay, the seven tracks of Give the Beggar A Chance give two fingers to “the people sleeping in mansions”.

The album displays a rich celebration of the Hammond organ, an instrument that played an important role for outfits with limited funds such as MonoMono. Every church in the city has an organ. As many great singers from poverty-stricken communities came out of gospel choirs, so did the organ provide an opportunity for budding instrumentalists. Give the Beggar A Chance has that rough-edged “let loose after a Sunday service” feel; see The Upsetters’ galloping, spaghetti Western homage Return o Django for an excellent Jamaican equivalent. Doors fans should find a point of interest also, with Ray Manzarek most likely supplying the inspiration for Haastrup’s meandering organ solo on "Kenimania".


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.


Nigeria's Joni Haastrup created his band called MonoMono back in 1971. Though not truly a solo sojourn, Joni's friend Baba Ken Okulolo, who is also a bassist, added to the funk arena of West Africa. Initially released as an LP on the Odeon label in 1973, Give The Beggar A Chance featured seven tracks of funky rhythms and Latin infusions amidst an instrumental repertoire of organ, piano, synthesizer, percussion, and drums, set the stage for a new kind of jazz-rock-funk. Joni is joined by guitarist Jimmy Adams, and percussionists Candido Obajimi and Friday Jumbo. At the very core of its being, the soul of the 70's shines through in MonoMono's work. The bluesy-funk of 'The World Might Fall Over,' showcases a nice blend of bass, organ, and synthesizer with strong vocals. If you are seeking Afro-funk music from a living icon, then sample MonoMono today.


Joni Hasstrup has suffered a few strokes in recent years. His band's, Monomono, 1972 debut, Give the Beggar... A Chance, is a stroke of musical genius. Throughout, Hasstrups's dismay with his Nigerian brothers and sisters, who still felt reliant on British rule, is evident in his lyrics. On "Find Out," he proclaims: "Don't let nobody mess your brain around/the world is round, so you better find out/the nitty gritty of everything." Hasstrup's shrieking vocal proclamations, combined with the bass and percussion at the beginning of "The World Might Fall Over," are wholly captivating. Written in London and recorded in Lagos, this release is heavily informed and inspired by Hasstrup's experience touring with Ginger Baker in the late '60s. The influence of jazz-rock fusion is unmistakable throughout the intro of "E Je 'A Mura Sise" or Joni's organ licks on "Kenimania." Poetically frank protest lyrics make this killer Soundway reissue unique. Monomono's message to their listeners was simple yet profound. The album ebbs and flows with an underlying feeling of political awareness that attempted to evoke change in '70s Nigeria, a concrete jungle no longer shaded by the umbrella of British colonialism. Forty years later, it's still burning. This is highly recommended for anyone looking to add some sublime West African protest songs to their library. 


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