Jul 31, 2013

Ofo - Live In Europe - Fonk Afrika


Ofo The Black Company was formed in 1972 by Larry Ifediorama in Lagos, Nigeria.

That same year, he took his band to London, England to record their first for London Records. The single with “Allah Wakbarr” on the A side and “Beautiful Daddy” on the B side is highly collectable, usually fetching $100 or more per copy. Allah Wakbar has also been featured on the now defunct Afro Strut label’s Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970′s Funky Lagos compilation and recently on Luaka Bop’s World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love’s A Real Thing • The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa.

But in 1973, Ofo The Black Company was asked by the East German government to play the “World festivals of the youth and student Berlin capital of the GDR” International Folklore festival in East Berlin along with Miriam Makeba as well as other musicians from Argentina, Bulgaria, Chile and Vietnam.

As far as I know, they recorded two singles for London Records, the one mentioned above which was credited to “Ofo The Black Company” and another credited to “Ofo”. They released an album on the Afrodesia label – a subsidiary of Decca – in 1974, which has the song Eniaro that was featured on Soundway Record‘s Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970s Nigeria. There is also a live record by “Ofo The Rock Company” that was recorded somewhere in Europe

Larry Ifediorama died in 2005 in Lagos, Nigeria.


A1 We Are Back
A2 Don't Talk About Love Just Do It
A3 Adufu
A4 My Baby
B1 Ayaya
B2 Eni-Aro
B3 Africa My Darling (Home Is Everywhere)
B4 Okija
B5 Play With Me

Jul 26, 2013

Zamrock: Salty Dog

Having formed during the height of the Zamrock period, Salty Dog was a three piece band modled after the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  Having wanted to base the band around the concept of the force of life, Salty Dog was chosen as a result of being slang for SPERM.  The eighth release on the Zambezi imprint, Salty Dog is one of the most obscure Zambian titles from the era.  The self titled release is a combination of psychedelic, Zamrock, blues and folk, with all english songs.  Really good from start to end, essential for collectors of African rock.  As a bonus for this release we’ve also managed to press up the non-lp single that was released before the album titled “Sunday Morning Sunshine”.  Limited edition in paste on cover, comes with photos and liner notes written by the band and a non-lp 45.


Salty Dog like many other bands from Zambia was an acid fuzz rock band influenced by Rolling Stones, Hendrix and Cream, while also mentioning Beatles, -although not much can be noticed from that-, besides some locals like Rikki Illongo & Alick Nkata. Their earlier band formation was called called Way Out Impression, which was a more hard rock styled trio who also did covers. This first band became very popular especially in Lusaka. Salty Dog (-slang for sperm-) wanted to have more life songs, with a positive vibe towards life. For this band we have Jackie Mumba on guitar, Norman Muntemba on bass and Alex Mwilwa on drums.

The first track especially is the most amazing one concerning the fuzz guitars. It contains wild and slightly cracking fuzz guitars, played with emotion, with an acid blues rhythm, bluesy deep bass repetition, some song parts in English, the instrumental part with fuzz really goes over the top. There is at least one other track that recalls the hard rock styled accompaniment (track 4), with blues associations. The ninth track is a boogieing blues-rock fuzz-lead instrumental. Also the last track has wonderful electric guitar freak-outs. The songs are simple but effective and give what they promised. Even though a blues touch is in all of them, I have moments that I feel the songs are indeed somewhat celebrative to life. Some have more acoustic feeling. One track even has additional mouth harmonica. There’s dual or even group singing (occasionally with harmony vocals), we can still sense the African song ways of bringing songs to the people too, which makes the acid-primitive feeling very grounded thanks to these African foundations that can be heard in combination with those Western style loans. It is not difficult to appreciate these Zambian rock bands. I just wonder why it took so long for the Western market to discover them.

The lead single, which was released just before the album came out, is added too. The band continued for another 15 years. Their second album was released in 1980. Lack of money finally caused the band to collapse. Over these years only one member survived.


01. Fast
02. Mama
03. See The Storm
04. Down In My Shoes
05. Try A Little Harder
06. Tisauke
07. Sunshine In My Hair
08. Have you Got it
09. Doggy Rock
10. Lullaby
11. Sunday Morning Sunshine (Bonus 7" + CD)
12. Down In My Shoes ((Bonus 7" + CD)

Jul 24, 2013

Uchenna Ikonne Speaks about Nigerian Vinyl

Back in the fall, we had a chance to sit down with the founder of the legendary African music blog - Combs & Razor - to tap into his infinite knowledge about the Nigerian music scene...which we thought we'd share in advance of his insane Nigerian compilation: Brand New Wayo: Funk, Fast Times & Nigerian Boogie Badness 1979-1983...

As you'll see, our discussion was exhaustive - and you're guaranteed to discover more about Nigerian music than you ever thought existed. Just sit back, relax, and enter the world of Comb & Razor.

Q: Most of us became acquainted with your superb musical taste through your Comb & Razor blog.  How long have you been collecting music and what inspired you to actually start blogging?

Thanks for the compliment! I’m always grateful and somewhat mystified when people tell me how much they appreciate my humble (and admittedly inconsistent) blogging efforts. It was something I did primarily for my own gratification, so I never expected so many people to so readily come along for the ride!

I’ve been an avid music fan since I was about nine years old but I think I only seriously started collecting records in the mid-1990s, shortly after I moved to the United States from Nigeria. At the time I was mostly collecting hip-hop, boogie and soul records that I had heard growing up in the 1970s and 80s but for whatever reason had never gotten to own. From there I started buying a lot of deep soul and funk from the 60s, as well as jazz, rock, reggae and Latin stuff. While I’d always been into a wide range of music, my tastes and knowledge were expanded exponentially by years spent working in record stores… back when we still had record stores.

My journey to music blogging was almost accidental. I started the With Comb & Razor blog as a journal documenting the production of a movie I was shooting in Nigeria. The style and content of the movie drew heavily from the last half-century of Nigerian pop culture: Drum magazine, old pulp novels and fotonovelas, forgotten TV shows, vintage fashion, and lots of highlife and pop music from the 60s, 70s and 80s.

When the production wasn’t proceeding as smoothly as we would have liked, we decided to take a break to regroup and then come back to complete the shoot. During this hiatus, just to keep the blog going, I started posting up some of the music I was planning to use on the soundtrack… just my way of trying to keep the dream of the movie alive. Plus, it was a bit of a therapeutic thing; I was so bummed out about the failing production and there was a certain comfort to be found in just immersing myself in the music of what seemed to be simpler, happier times. To my surprise, people seemed to dig it a lot and I started getting more page views than I ever did with my movie diary, so I kept doing it. I started spending more time researching the stories behind the records, and then record labels started contacting me to write liner notes for reissues, and somehow, alas, I never did get around to completing production on that movie! I intend to get back to that one of these days, though.

Q: I know your knowledge of African music is ridiculous. How did you become so knowledgeable about Nigerian music?

I came up in 1980s Nigeria, which might have been the most dynamic period in the history of the country’s music industry. The economy was pretty buoyant and there were so many labels releasing tons of music in so many different styles. Nigeria’s record market was so fertile that it drew musicians from all over Africa and beyond, so we were constantly exposed to a rich smorgasbord of sounds and I just soaked it all up.

Plus, we had a lot of good writing about the music scene in newspapers, magazines, and books. I read it all as a snot-nosed third-grader, and somehow managed to retain a good deal of it even when it seemed like the entire era and its music vanished from collective memory.  It was almost like a mass amnesia fell over the populace: I would say to people “Hey, you remember this record that was a big hit in 1983? Remember how we used to rock that at parties?” The only reply I got was blank looks. They sincerely lacked any idea of what I was talking about! Years later, when I started tracking down some of the musicians, I would sometimes have to remind them of some of their records that they had completely forgotten!

Q: For those of us looking to explore Nigerian music beyond Fela, do you have any suggestions?

There’s so much Nigerian music that the mind boggles trying to access it all. Obviously, a lot of these records are quite hard to come by in the West and when they do show up on eBay or other record markets, they are prohibitively priced. That’s why I think it’s great so many labels are putting out compilations and reissues that allow a wider audience to experience this music. I’ve been concerned that most of these reissues lean a bit too heavily towards funk-oriented material at the expense of all else, but I’ve seen some encouraging diversity on more recent releases. And of course, I look forward to adding to that myself!

Q: You wrote some liner notes for a Soundway Records compilation: The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria.  How did you first become involved in this project?

I've had a relationship with Miles Cleret of Soundway Records for a number of years, as most of us in the African record digging community do know each other. He had wanted to collaborate with me on something for some time but never really found the right project until The World Ends came around. Incidentally, I was already doing a lot of research on the 1970s afro rock scene at the time, so the Soundway comp gave me a ready outlet for stuff I was already working on.

Q: Can you give us a little background about how rock inspired Nigerian artists?

Like most kids around the world, Nigerian youths first encountered rock & roll via Elvis Presley, quickly followed by "the British Elvis," Cliff Richard, who was arguably even more popular in Nigeria. This was the beginning of youth culture in Nigeria. For the first time, teens and young adults had music that was aimed squarely at them and their experience, unconcerned about appealing to the adult audience. These kids called themselves “hepcats” and started forming regional fan clubs where they listened to and traded their favorite records amongst themselves Out of these fan club gatherings, the hepcats started to form rock & roll bands of their own. So you got the first wave of Nigerian pop groups like The Spiders, The Harmonaires, The Cyclops, The Hykkers, The Postmen and The Figures.

As the 1960s wore on into the 70s, these local pop groups imbibed more influence from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, but the most influential foreign rock act might have been Santana. Because that group had such a strong Afro-Latin flavor to their sound, they illuminated the potential of infusing rock with African rhythms. And that led to the development of afro rock.

Q: I understand that most of the artists recording rock in Nigeria came from the eastern part of the country. Can you explain this phenomenon?

It’s true that most of the noteworthy Nigerian rock bands came from the east, but there were also plenty of groups in the southwestern metropolis of Lagos, which at that time was the country's capital. For various reasons, though, the Lagos groups tended not to last very long. I have a few theories as to why this happened.

In Lagos, rock mostly remained an underground scene patronized by university and high school students and some young adults. The mainstream, however, stayed devoted to more indigenous pop styles like juju and apala. So already, you have a gaggle of groups scuffling for the spotlight within this relatively small subculture. And while Lagos today is an enormous megacity, it was not quite as big then as it is now. Competition was fierce, and the stakes were close to all-or-nothing: If you had a major act playing a big show at one spot, just about everybody who was anybody in Lagos would be there and at venues across the city, other bands would be performing to an audience of empty seats. So musicians went to great lengths to sabotage each other’s sets and even to try to force one other out of the market altogether.

Furthermore, Lagos can be a very tough place to live for anybody, and especially so for artists. A big part of the reason that someone like Fela was able to thrive in Lagos (apart from the fact that he had a huge, forceful personality and his music was, you know, pretty brilliant) was because he was to some degree a native son; he came from a middle-class background and his family owned property in the city. So he could comfortably sit down to compose and cultivate an audience without worrying about keeping a roof over his head. For a lot of musicians who didn't have the same luxury and might have come to Lagos from other places, they had to desperately scramble to keep their heads above water. If they didn't see any significant rewards—which most didn't—sooner or later they would probably have to pack up and go back to their hometowns. Or they just disappeared into the masses of the disenfranchised in slums such as Ajegunle and Mushin and were never heard from again. And then the ones who might have been native Lagosians, if they stayed with music, ended up joining juju and highlife bands. So you find a lot of Lagos rock groups recording just one or two records and then completely dropping off the radar.

In the east, however, the scene was not concentrated in one urban center but spread over a wide network of cities and towns across the region. There was more room to breathe, and bands could ply their trade within their respective turfs without stepping on each other’s toes. There was still competition, but a lot more camaraderie. Also, it seems that people in the east, for a number of reasons, were just more into this kind of music than the folks in Lagos. Even the Lagos-based bands spent a lot of time touring eastwards because that was where the real audience was.

Q: What happened to the whole psychedelic rock scene in Nigeria? It seems to have vanished.

Well, what happened to the psychedelic rock scene in America or the UK or Germany or Mexico? It was a style that captured the zeitgeist of a particular period in history, but time marches on and people move on to the next popular sound. In Nigeria in particular, the audience began to want to ”get down” more than they wanted to “freak out” and so there was the demand for much more direct dance music like funk, disco and guitar-band highlife, then pop and reggae and Congo music and hip-hop and the wheel keeps on turning.

Q: You have some other projects coming up with Now & Again Records, as well as your own label. Would you mind giving us a sense of what to expect from you in the future?

Yeah, I’m collaborating with Egon of Now Again on a compilation of Nigerian rock and funk. This is of course a subject that’s been visited by a few compilations lately but we hope we can bring a new twist to it. I’m also working with Luaka Bop Records on an anthology of the Nigerian avant garde funk musician William Onyeabor.

In addition, you can look forward to some releases from my own Comb & Razor Sound label. The first one will probably be available in February 2011: it’s an overview of Nigerian boogie music from the 1980s with an 80-page mini-magazine featuring lots of exclusive photos and information. We have similar examinations of other genres coming after that, as well as a full-length book chronicling the development of the post-war eastern rock and pop scene. Also, more collaborations with Voodoo Funk and AfricanHipHop.com

Q: Who would you say are your favorite artists from yesteryear?

Nigerian artists? Wow… Too many to choose from! I really like the funk-rock groups The Hygrades and The Funkees. I’m a big fan of Jake Sollo, who was a member of The Funkees before going on to become a prolific and influential producer in the 80s.  I love a lot of highlife artists like Sir Victor Uwaifo, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, The Oriental Brothers, Dr. Victor Olaiya and Etubom Rex Williams. I used to be a big, big(!) fan of William Onyeabor too, but I must admit that my personal interactions with him have dulled my enthusiasm for his music somewhat. I guess I still dig his records, though.

Q: How about your favorite find on vinyl?  Do you have any that you're particularly proud of?
I come across so many records of different types that it’s hard to isolate any particular one (or five, or ten) as my favorites. They all appeal to me for different reasons—sometimes on a sentimental level, sometimes because they’re just so rare, sometimes because they fill in the gaps of a story that I’m researching. And sometimes it’s that they just offer mindblowing music. Some recent finds I’ve been fond of include:

1. Shango Dance Band, 6th Infantry Brigade – S/T LP (EMI, 1974)
This is a pretty rare and heavy afrobeat album by this group led by Ojo Okeji, formerly a sideman in Fela’s Koola Lobitos group. There’s some similarity to Fela’s sound, but it’s a bit more relaxed and less raucous. And with song titles like “I Need Your Love” and “Women Are Great,” you know he’s got loving on his mind more than political agitation!

2. The Front Page – Sparkle In Your Eyes/Gimme Some Time 45 (Anodisc, 1975)
This is one of those records that I don’t necessarily think is musically superlative though it’s still quite enjoyable. But I was pleased to find it because it’s not all that often you come across 45s from the Anodisc label. The Front Page was a relatively obscure soul group from my hometown of Aba. I think they released just two singles, this one and another, “You Can’t Change Anything.” The group would re-record both singles with a heavier, funkier sound about a year later under the new band name The Friimen Muzik Kompany.

3. The Semi-Colon – Ndia Egbuo Ndia (Afro-Jigida) LP (EMI, 1976)
Semi-Colon is one of my favorite Nigerian music acts and this little-seen LP is considered the group’s best album. A lot of heads have mixed feelings about Semi-Colon albums because the styles usually fluctuate radically from funk to pop to rock & roll to reggae, but this one is lean, fierce psychedelic afro rock from end to end.

4. The Hygrades – Baby/Jumping Cat 45 (EMI, 1971)
Debut single from the influential eastern rock group, The Hygrades. “Baby” is a nice light pop tune, though not particularly compelling. The real winner is the wild guitar instrumental on the flip.

5. Stone-face & Life Everlasting – Love is Free/Agawalam Mba 45 (EMI, 1973)
Excellent single from former Hygrade Stoneface Iwuagwu. The a-side is a beautiful psychdelic pop rock song with beautiful vocals. The b-side? One of the heaviest, most aggressive and relentless funk tunes I’ve ever heard!

6. Charles Duke – Send Them Back/Suk Usan Idang 45 (EMI, 1973)
Two sides of groovy funk-rock from Duke, formerly of The Ceejebs. I count myself really lucky to have found this one as it’s almost completely unknown. Even Duke himself had forgotten about it when I asked him!

7. The Doves – Ewat Udem/Akan Anwan Isong Idung 45 (BEN, 1974)
The Doves were a very popular pop-rock group throughout the 1970s and early 80s, but this early work from them has a deeper, more rugged vibe. The a-side is a delightfully unruly highlife number and the other side is wiry native rock. Total gem.

8. Foundars 15 – Fire Woman LP (EMI, 1977)
Foundars 15 was one of the more sophisticated funk-rock groups of the 1970s and this is their most satisfying LP. The sound is heavy and distorted and the arrangements are audaciously complex for the time.

9. The Apostles – Down Down The Valley/Battery Rock 45 (BEN, 1973)
This was the first record by The Apostles of Aba, one of the east’s biggest groups. It was the pleasant pop of the a-side that put them on the map, but the organ-driven instrumental b-side is the real winner for me. While it’s clearly derivative of “Acid Rock” by The Funkees, it goes much further than that track. It sounds pretty futuristic by today’s standards, so I can only imagine how far-out it must have been in 1973!

10. Mary Afi Usuah & the South Eastern State Cultural Band – Ekpenyong Abasi LP (SESCULT, 1975)
Mary Afi Usuah is one of Nigeria’s unsung national treasures. She trained in opera singing in Italy and sang on the score of a couple of movies there, such as Demofilo Fidani’s spaghetti western And Now Recommend Your Soul to God. She also happened to be my music teacher for a while in the early 80s, but I didn’t know at the time that she had recorded this amazing album with highlife bandleader Dan Satch Joseph. It’s so rich and deep and spiritual, with notes of rock, jazz, traditional rhythms and European film music. Soundway included a track from this LP, “Ima Mma Nyem” on the Nigeria Special 2 compilation, so you should check that out.

Q: By the way, what are your thoughts about the musical FELA?

I've really not had the chance to see it, unfortunately. From the bits of it I have caught on the Tony Awards and elsewhere, it does seem like quite an exhilarating aural and visual experience! But I have to admit feeling a bit dismayed at the apparent lightness of its libretto. It seems to me that there isn’t much focus on storytelling beyond a few bullet points of the man’s life. I was really hoping the upcoming Steve McQueen-directed Fela biopic would deliver a more fleshed-out portrait, but I recently read that the producers had scrapped the screenplay written by Nigerian playwright Biyi Bandele and opted for a looser, more abstract, music-driven narrative approach. Which to me sounds like they might be looking to draw inspiration from the musical. And that’s okay, I guess… It seems to be a fantastic concert party and scads of fun, but I’d really love to see a well-done, sufficiently nuanced examination of Fela and, perhaps more importantly—to me, anyway—of the society that shaped him.

Q: The other day I was listening to nothing but Afro Funk on Pandora...and I found myself wondering how come we don't get this caliber of musicianship anymore.  Do you think there's hope for the African music scene?  Are there any contemporary artists that you listen to from back home?

Does Pandora have a good afro funk selection? I’ve never really tried programming for any of that stuff on there! I should probably check that out…

Anyway, the music industry in Nigeria is more vibrant right now than it’s been in a long time and I’m very excited about the progress that’s been made. I mean, for the first time—in my lifetime, anyway—most Nigerian youths support and identify with homegrown music more than they do stuff from overseas! That’s a pretty big deal, considering how enamored Nigerians have always been of foreign sounds.

That said, while I listen to and enjoy a lot of the contemporary Naija pop music, I really can’t say there’s too much of it that really grabs me and shakes me to the soul or dazzles me on a consistent basis. I think the reason that I’ve been unable to connect with it on a deeper level is because of, as you said, the paucity of the musicianship. And mind you, when I say “musicianship,” I don’t even necessarily mean it in the traditional sense of live instrumentation; I think there are some incredibly inventive musical things that can be done with computers and sampling and sequencing. The problem is that the basic concepts of musical construction have largely been abandoned.

Q: What sort of concepts are you talking about?

Well… Just the structure through which we create and listen to music. In the past, in appreciating a piece of music, you had any number of features you might observe. Beyond fundaments like melody, harmony and rhythm, you might listen for tone, texture, syncopation, voicing, phrasing, and so on. But now, through a gradual process of reductionism, this array of musical elements has been boiled down to the binary formula of “beat” and “lyrics.” And the lyrics are given primacy of place in the equation, with the “beat”—the actual musical component—being relegated to a background role. People dance to the “beat,” but they don’t really listen to it per se. When’s the last time you heard a commercially-released instrumental track? That idea barely makes sense now because music on its own has little value; it’s just the hodgepodge of sounds that act as a cushion for the words.
Mind you, none of this is unique to the Nigerian situation—it’s pretty much the status quo for most contemporary pop music almost anywhere in the world. And I don’t want to come off as the old geezer shaking my fist and grumbling about how these darn kids have destroyed music, because these trends were actually initiated by my generation.

To make a parallel, look at what's happened in Congolese music. The classic Congo songform was like a three-course meal: you had your lovely, melodic verse, then your lilting chorus, then you get your verse again, maybe served with a dollop of countermelody. Then you have another chorus. Then, you get the moment everyone's waiting for, the sebene.  That's the breakdown section where the tempo accelerates, the rhythm changes direction and the guitars start playing hypnotic, interlocking rhythm patterns. That's the dessert portion of the meal—when all the dancers get to throw down and show out. And then maybe you’d cool done with another verse before the band hit you with another helping of sebene on the way out.

If you listen to the direction a lot of soukous music went in the 1990s, this measured sense of dynamics was largely thrown out the window. Tracks started out with the sebene and rode that sebene all the way to the end of the song. It’s like nobody had the patience to make their way through the “courses” of a song, they wanted to proceed directly to the dessert and eat only dessert. And hey, I’ve got a massive sweet tooth myself but if I eat nothing but cake and ice cream all the time, eventually I’ll get sick!

Now in Naija you don’t have the sebene, but what you have is the hook. A lot of the popular songs are really all hook. The primary concentration seems to on fabricating an insanely catchy lyrical refrain, preferably one that’s built on a trendy catchphrase, or has the potential to create a new one—“Kini Big Deal!” “Gongo Aso!” “Ginger Ur Swagger!” “Wa Wa Alright!” And if you can score a big enough hook, you barely even have to write verses.

Of course, I don't rule out the possibility that perhaps I'm too old to truly "get" it because it's not really made for me to "get." Just like the highlife generation never understood the hepcats in the 1960s because they made music that was not designed to be “got” by the old squares. I guess I’m one of those old squares myself now. While I may listen to the new music and come away disappointed because it’s not meeting my expectations of what music should be, the kids really feel that this music is expressing their unique experience and worldview, then I think that’s cool. Music should not stay in one place… It’s got to keep moving, and if that alienates some dusty old geezers, so be it. Time marches on!



Jul 19, 2013

Voltaique Panoramique Vol. 1

Containing 13 rare and some very sought after recordings from Burkina Faso. Rich and fascinating stuff! The release comes with extensive liner notes and an insert with photographs of the original 7 inches the release was compiled from... TIP!

Until recently not much was known about music from Burkina Faso, formerly called the Upper Volta. It is still one of West Africa lesser known forms of popular music. A few years before the country changed its name to Burkina Faso, thanks to Thomas Sankara’s dream for a new society, Voltaic music emerged as some form of true cultural revolution. Remote, poor and isolated, Burkina Faso looked to the orchestras and artists from neighbouring countries such as Mali, The Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin. Located at its northern border, Niger is the only other West African country whose music stayed as isolated as the music hailing from Burkina Faso. Most of its bands and artists hail mostly from Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. They infuse some of the rich local traditions, such as mossi dances or dioula singing, with afro-cuban flavours, American rhythm’n’blues, French pop or Congolese rumba. Electric guitars and organs swirl around balafon and solid horn sections. Despite the fact that the 1960’s and 1970’s Upper Volta lacked a proper recording studio and record pressing plant, there was a great deal of popular music produced in the country from the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s, mostly on seven inches.

With over thirty 7 inches released, Bobo-Dioulasso’s Volta Jazz is the most prolific of those Voltaic bands. One of their hymns, composed and sung by sax player Moustapha Maiga is Djougou Malola. Praising Bobo and its inhabitants, this amazing bolero embodies perfectly the thinness, remoteness and grace of modern Voltaic music. On the same emotional level, Nogleem Nooma is one of the loveliest ballads to have come out of Burkina Faso. A short instrumental number Killa Naa Ye Killa displays the masterful playing of Semporé, perfectly at ease with his tenor saxophone, his flute and band direction.

Hailing from Sifarasso in south west Burkina, Richard Seydou Traoré is one of Burkina’s most elegant musicians, Rassemblement is a tongue in cheek number nodding to American jerk rhythm with military orders sung in French. A close friend of Traoré, Jean-Bernard Samboué belonged to the same generation of students coming of age in the early 1970’s. Aïcha stands certainly as his best song. With the help of his band, Mange Kondé recorded three singles released under his own name. Beni Idjananko is reminiscent of the great mandingo songs from Guinea. Warm and fierce, Woulouni displays some exceptional groove virtues. Born in Boulsa in 1947, Pierre Sandwidi is one of the most beloved Voltaic stars. One of his stronger moment, the infectious Yamb Ney Capitale benefits from the participation of Super Volta musicians. A true highlight of Voltaic music, Super Volta’s La Guitare de Tinga displays the masterful guitar playing of Désiré Traoré and the artistic maturity of one of Burkina’s best bands. The same musicians are to be found on Abdoulaye Cissé’s Jeunesse Wilila. He reached for fame in 1974 with A Son Magni, one of CVD first 7 inches while the b-side, L’homme à la Guitare gave him an instant nickname. In 1976, he recorded another four song session, done live at the Maison du Peuple with a simple Akai tape stereo recorder. A true masterpiece and a generational hymn, Jeunesse Wilila is an ode to the empowerment of the youth to build up the country, fifteen years after its independance. A perfect blend between afro-funk and afro-beat, Deny tologuelen is the last release of the Volta Discobel, just after owner Master Boureima’s death. Intense, fresh and full of creativity with vocal interjections one could think might stem from Jean Rouch’s cult movie Cocorico Monsieur Poulet, it is a true and unsung masterpiece. 

The Authentique Dafra Star de Bobo-Dioulasso had the opportunity to record two full albums and a dozen singles, almost released locally on the Music Hall record label. One of the highlights of the band’s repertoire is Ram Pasonayé, sung with passion by Siaka ‘Elvis’ Ouattara. In the same league as the Dafra Star, Echo Del Africa was one of Bobo’s finest bands. Six years later, this band was able to release their first 7 inch in August 1974 under the brand Discaf, owned by Antoine D’Albin, one of the band first singers. The next release is the politically correct 1975, Année De La Femme, sung by bandleader José Thiono-By. On the b-side, the fierce younger singer Youssou Diarra stole the show with Yiri Wah, one of the hardest sounding songs from Burkina Faso in the 1970’s. 


01. Jean Bernard Samboue - Aicha
02. Cisse Abdoulaye- Jeunesse Willa
03. Pierre Sandwidi - Yamb NeY Capitale
04. Konde Mangue - Woulouni
05. Konde Mangue - Beni Idjanako
06. Orchestre Dafra Star - Ram Passomaye
07. Traore Seydou - Rassemblement
08. Orchestre Les Vaudou De Flamboyant - Kogo Ni Toulou
09. Ama Maiga - Deny Tologuelen
10. Echo Del Africa - Yiri
11. Idy-O-Idrissa - Bissongo Lebguin'wa
12. L'harmonie Voltaique - Killa Naa Ye Killa
13. Orchestre Volta Jazz - Djougou Malola
14. L'harmonie Voltaique - Noglem Nooma
15. Orchestre Super Volta De La Capitale - La Guitare De Tinga

Jul 18, 2013

For the Record: African Funk with Taran Escobar-Ausman

Written by DJ Jerry Nice who is a vinyl junkie; no ifs, and buts about it. The Frisco resident's collection started back in ’93 when he started purchasing grunge and rap tapes. It eventually turned into a vinyl addiction that’s been going strong for over ten years now. 

Although discovering rare records is attractive enough, Nice also looks forward to meeting people who are just as passionate about records as he is. With that in mind, Jerry and FRANK present For the Record, a column about all things wax-related.

Before meeting Taran Escobar-Ausman, I didn’t know much about African music aside from a handful of classic Fela Kuti tracks and the occasional random compilation. With that said, my understanding of music from this area of the world was limited, to say the least. Being constantly immersed in music over the years, it’s not as easy to throw me off guard as it once was. Sure enough, Taran and his insanely deep knowledge of West African records did just that.

I was at a record swap near downtown San Francisco, and aside from the great mix of genres present, Taran and his bright, handmade signs attracted my attention immediately. He was very forward with sharing knowledge on each record, and was more than happy to let me listen firsthand. After briefly explaining my taste in music, he recommended the Ezbee Family’s Chics & Chicken LP. The second the needle dropped on the title track, I was hooked.

From that moment on, Taran has hipped me to some amazing music that I have a hard time leaving without. Everything is refreshingly original, and always on point. However, due to the rarity of this music, much of the Western world doesn’t have the pleasure of experiencing it firsthand.

Just like these records, Taran is a rare breed. His dedication and passion for the genre has opened ears across the Bay Area, and has several people like myself hooked to the funk from West Africa. I recently caught up with the man himself to talk about this genre in detail, his personal favorites, and the ever-difficult cleaning process involved throughout.

West African funk is a very niche (and extremely rare) genre to specialize in. How did you first get hooked on this music, and how did this turn into becoming a dealer?

Well, I was aware of Fela Kuti from early on, which completely blew my mind and drove my parents nuts. You could say I was hooked then, but it took a while before I realized the true breadth of West African music. I became aware of a few more artists through some low budget European comps sent to a record store I worked at but I didn’t completely dive into the genre until I found a $1 highlife record at my local library. I came across a mint copy of an early Oliver De Coque LP, a Nigerian originator of the Ogene style of highlife¬—very upbeat with fast guitar work, which clued me into the fact that there was much more going on in this region then I realized and I knew I needed to hear it all.

Remembering my past discoveries, I knew it was time to find out more and started to do some research. The breadth and diversity of music recorded throughout West Africa between the ’50s and ’80s is truly astonishing. Even more unbelievable is that for the most part, much of it is still buried (in some cases, literally) in obscurity. One discovery leads to another and soon a whole new world of music opens up.

This research eventually led to an opportunity to buy records in bulk, which seemed like the best way to get my hands on as many records as possible. It required a lot of work on my part to sustain a habit that was quickly growing into an addiction. It was at this point when I started Fat Headphones African Wax, hoping to share some of the wonderful and beautiful music from this region.

From all the stories I’ve heard, dealing with vinyl from Africa can be very difficult at times due to the condition they originally arrive in. Are most of the records as dirty as speculated, or is this just a myth?

Definitely no myth there! The records arrive from dirty to extremely dirty—we’re talking gloves-and-well-ventilated-room dirty. Many of the records are covered in red clay dirt that gets its color from the iron present in the local soil. There is a lot of mold present on the wax itself and some of the covers. Any bit of moisture that becomes trapped during the vinyl’s storage will make any soil or mold sitting there harden and is difficult to remove and gentle scraping is usually required. It’s pretty satisfying to bring a piece of wax back to life, though there are causalities from time to time. Bowl warps are the saddest things to see, as it usually happens to the cleanest copies. It’s common for these records to be stored in stacks hundreds of records high!

It has been noted that there isn’t a strong culture of preservation in Nigeria and other West African nations of media artifacts, which makes it difficult for the record enthusiast, really makes the verb “digging” earn its meaning.

When we first met, I was really impressed with not only the amount of pieces for sale, but also the presentation. Everything was in a nice sleeve, and the records looked like they’d been cleaned like crazy. When they first arrive, what is your process for getting them in this condition?

Yes, the process is a time-consuming labor of love. First, I have to rinse each record to get any loose dirt and mold off. Then I spray a special cleaning “cocktail” on the vinyl and let it soak for a bit before scrubbing it down with a record brush. After that I rinse, dab dry, and let the record air dry. If it’s really soiled, I may have to repeat the process with a different cleaner. Now that Side A is clean, I flip it and repeat!

I also wipe the sleeves clean with baby wipes. Then I have to sleeve them, play grade each one, and price them. The first thing to go, as they lay somewhere forgotten are the covers, which become paper thin and fragile. They don’t do much to actually hold a piece of wax any longer, so putting them in poly-sleeves comes out of necessity.

Are there any favorites in particular you’ve discovered over the years?
The Funkees are the band all other Afro-funk rock bands looked up to for their professionalism and the consistency in their output. These guys can go from in-the-pocket soul-funk grooves to pastoral English folk-rock, all infused with African polyrhythms, in seconds. Now I’m a Man is my favorite album by them, as it has all the best elements of their sound.  

You can’t talk about West African music without mentioning the mighty Poly-Rythmo. I’m quite stuck on this 7” of theirs at the moment. The drums of Leopold Yehouessi are always a treat, but it’s the way Poly puts together different elements making it all work, and it always comes out soulful and funky.

Most people aren’t up on music from this particular section of the world, due to the physical location of these records. In your opinion, what is it about this region that hooks people in the first place?

Well…good question. I think one obvious factor is Fela Kuti’s music. His legacy has brought a lot of attention to Nigeria and the region, at least among music enthusiasts, over the past 10 years. Also, in my opinion, West Africa has played the most prominent role in the transatlantic musical conversation between Africa and America.

In short, you can follow the Griots of West Africa to the blues musicians of the Reconstruction era; then from the blues to jazz. From blues and jazz you’re led to rock and soul. Soul leads to funk, funk to hip-hop, and so on (this is overly simplified for time’s sake). This was and is Africa speaking to America.

In the late ’60s/early ’70s, the States started to speak back, as musicians from Nigeria and Ghana started listening to rock, soul, and funk acts from the US and Britain. These West African bands took these styles and incorporated various native rhythms (vodoun, sato, etc.) that populated the region into a new breed of aural pleasures: Afro-funk, Afro-boogie, Afro-psych…well, you see the pattern.
Anyways, the point being here that when listening to this music you can hear all these elements being mixed and synthesized together producing something familiar, but just off-kilter and distinct enough to make listeners come back for more. That, and it makes you dance.