Nov 28, 2013

Rare Nigerian: Heads Funk Band & Akwassa

The heady funk of Akwassa is as infectious as it is rare. Actually, it is so potent that it couldn’t be contained within just one group:

The Akwassa band were born out of the groups The Founders (later to become the Foundars 15) and an obscure group called Red House. The duo of Felix Day (guitar, vocals) and Kevin Coburn (keyboards, synths, vocals)  are listed as the core of Akwassa, with guest musicians rounding out the ensemble. It turns out, however, that the duo and these guest musicians are in fact the group Heads Funk (or Headzfunk). Or, actually, all of them were both bands. The duo of Akwassa were signed to Afrodisia with the rest of the band listed as guest musicians, while Heads Funk were signed to EMI with the Day/Coburn duo listed as guest and the others front and center. Clever!


Under this system, Heads Funk recorded 3 albums and Akwassa recorded 2, La’ila (1975) and In the Groove (1977). Featured here are two tracks from In the Groove, a most apt title for music that conspires to keep your head nodding and your bell-bottoms swaying. As with other Afro-funk releases of the time, In the Groove showcases more than just straight funk numbers, but of course, it is the funk numbers that get my attention.


Everybody Is Getting On has got an Ohio Players-like groove, accentuated with wah-wah guitar and synth effects, with typical late 70s lyrics about everyone realizing their get-down partying credentials at the same glorious time for an euphoric booty shakin’ time on the dance floor!

Jam All Night takes this theme into the wee hours of the morning with an all out instrumental jam, a bedrock of afro-funk allowing ample room for synth experimentation and screaming guitar solos!

Price @ Heads Funks Band: Check out here!

Price @ Akwassa: Check out here!

For more info on Akwassa/Heads Funk and its individual members, check here.

Nov 25, 2013

Record diggin' in Africa ...

The trend of DJs from ”the West” travelling to Africa to (re)discover old vinyl gems has been going on for years and has now started to receive a fair share of criticism. DJ Chief Boima is one of the critical voices who has compared the new scramble for vinyl to the 19th century colonial scramble by the European powers. However, an important difference is that while the project of the colonial powers generally was one of change and exploitation, many of the vinyl diggers around are doing their best to preserve what’s currently being lost.

Spurred on by the rise of sampling in Hip Hop and electronic music and despite a downturn in vinyl production, in the 80′s and 90′s a rich vinyl collecting culture exploded in places like the U.S., Europe, and Japan. For years young hip DJs from the city, travelled to forgotten about record shops in backwater towns, the dusty basements of aging record collectors, or the back rows of an inner-city record shop looking for rarities that seemed to pop out of thin air. Collectors scoured their neighbors backyards for rare jazz, rock, and funk, motivated by unnamed sample sources, hoping to find that illusive breakbeat. The best DJs were the ones with the deepest crates. Around the early 00′s, Hip Hop stopped using samples and turned back towards synthesizers, the Internet started a deeper collective crate, and a vital source of inspiration dried up. For collectors, all the stones seemed to be overturned, the market had too many buyers, and people, starting to realize the value of what they had, turned to E-bay to make money off of their collections. With much of the rare vinyl being plundered locally, a few intrepid explorers decided to try their luck in uncharted territory. Of course, they made their way to Africa.  This map (that has been circulating on Facebook and other social media) and scenario may both be a little hyperbolic, but it does seem that the current mad-dash for rare African vinyl could be analogous to Europe’s 19th Century Scramble for Africa, a mad-dash for rare African minerals. There is a trend among rare-groove DJs to “find fortune” in the (re)discovery of musical gems in places where the value of vinyl and recorded music from the past has diminished. Just go to your local record shop (if one still exists) and peruse the display shelves to encounter dozens of new releases celebrating the recently uncovered recordings of Africa’s unknown musical heritage. The image of these guys as plundering opportunists isn’t helped by their reception in “The West”. As one music writer puts it,”Frank Gossner’s DJ sets burst with exclusive tracks that are so rare that they can’t be heard anywhere else on this planet” (from Rare music from planet Africa!?! Who wouldn’t want to get a piece of that?

On the other hand, vinyl culture has been long dead in most African countries. Perhaps these diggers are doing a service by restoring historical and cultural memory. Much of the music they are interested in is music from the Independence era, an important and optimistic time period. Many of the artists they are tracking down have been retired for years and some enjoy a revival. T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo, Orchestra Baobab, Mulatu Astatke, are all touring and enjoying popularity with a young hip crowd. For various reasons in places like Benin, Senegal, and Ethiopia (and also the U.S.) younger generations don’t know the previous generation’s contribution to the popular musical landscape. The DJs are engaging in a pop culture archeology to teach the masses about their own history, and at the same time are showing Europeans and Americans that our shared tastes and desires prove that we’re not that different after all. The European powers of the 19th century, sought to change the face of the continent through the colonial project. In contrast, the boldest vinyl diggers amongst us are trying to preserve what’s being lost.

Perhaps then, what we have to question is for who’s value is it being preserved? My biggest criticism is not that they are going to Africa to shed light on these “lost” recordings and forgotten about artists. I’m instead worried that they concentrate too much on those forms of music that fit nicely into the story that they, the DJs, want to tell about the music. The cataloging tendency tends to be a colonial one. Also, many of the DJs and label owners, perhaps because of its shared lineage with Hip Hop, have concentrated on Afro-Beat, or have given more weight to genres that are popular in the west like Rock and Funk. For African artists, these are generally styles that artists often used as tools, or influences to fuse with their own popular local styles. The reissue train has been slow to recognize larger genres in Africa like Soukous, Highlife, or Benga, unless they find an artist that has an added funk or rock influence. In the past the tendency was to look for “authentic” music that sounded more “traditional.” Are they now shying away from things that sound too … African?

If you’re interested in discovering more about the history of African pop, now is a better time than ever. While the blogging world may at times suffer from its own imperial tendencies, there have been some great free sources of information on African pop music history like Benn Loxo du Taccu, Likembe, with Comb and Razor, and Africolombia.*

For a nice visual on the typical digging journey, check out the trailer for Frank Gossner’s yet to be released documentary, Take me Away Fast.

The 2011 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival ended last week Sunday. On the scene at the festival's North Carolina location was Shadow And Act woman-about-town, Ms Alece Oxendine.
While there, she saw a film called Take Me Away Fast, a title I profiled on the old S&A site in March, and which I expressed some concerns about, given the subject matter. In short, the film follows successful German DJ Frank Gossner on his journeys through West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, and Benin, specifically) in search of rare 1970s funk and Afrobeat records, which he buys, and takes these these cultural artifacts back to Germany to play for his European and American audiences.

I haven't seen the film yet, but, thankfully, Alece has, and she confirms some of my initial concerns in her review which follows below:

A couple weeks back, Tambay posted an entry profiling Take Me Away Fast and I had the chance to see it at Full Frame.

If you’re not familiar with Full Frame, it is a documentary film festival that premieres major documentaries from around the world and it just so happens to be in my hometown of Durham, NC :)
Take Me Away Fast screened after another short documentary about music called Sound Underground, a moving essay about musical performers on subway platforms. There are several other documentaries about these performers (one as recent as 2007 and with a suspiciously similar name) but none shot as beautiful as this one. The documentary captured these performers at their best-clean, perfect pitched and a sound that could as easily been produced in a studio (and probably was).

Sound Underground got up close and personal with the performers while still giving some distance; we do not know where they come from or why they perform, we just hear them and life moves on. This is evident with the constant passing of the trains that constantly interrupt the performances to remind us that we are on a subway platform and not in a symphony hall.

To New Yorkers who are familiar with, and sometimes annoyed with, the sounds of the underground, this piece attempts to romanticize these performers when we just tune them out. But there is always that one performer who we actually take the time to listen because they’re that good.

For me, in this film it was the Trombone Man’s solo; just sublime! If this film comes your way, it’s definitely worth seeing and listening to. Sound Underground invites you to take off your headphones and listen to the sounds we sometimes take for granted.

Before watching Take Me Away Fast, I tried to keep an open mind regardless of Tambay concerns about the film. The film focuses on a German DJ named Frank Gossner and his mission/life’s goal to find the best in Afrobeat and African funk music on vinyl, mix it, and play it in clubs.
Sounds harmless doesn’t it? The premise of this short documentary is interesting but it unfortunately comes off as pretentious.

Frank ventures to West Africa specially Ghana and Benin and is determined to find a long lost record by the African Brothers Band. He claimed he needed to find that record and the audience did not take him seriously. When expressing his concern about finding it, the audience, mostly white, laughed at him.

There was no arch, major discovery or climax to the film. Frank’s discovery of the long lost record became anti-climatic because we knew all along he would. Take Me Away Fast lacked substance and depth to convince an audience to feel something for the subject of the film. Most audiences do not relate with someone who comes off as arrogant, and I think this is where the documentary fails.

Overall, the documentary was well-intentioned but not well executed. Throughout the film, Frank claims that he wants to re-discover this wonderful music and spread the love of it in discos around the world. What’s so unfortunate is that he honestly thinks he is doing some good for the music and the people of Africa. But Frank’s arrogance stunk up the film, compromising what could have been a very interesting and compelling documentary about Afrobeat and African funk music.

Quite frankly he was not that interesting but I found the African musicians he interviewed such as Gustave Bentho of Orchestre Poly-Rythmo. The best parts of the films were when the musicians spoke about rediscovering their music.

On the technical side, there were several inconsistencies especially with the editing, camerawork and sound. I’ve learned not to really pay attention to technical stuff in documentaries because my focus is usually on the subject. But I did not have anything else to pay attention to besides the music in the film.

The music he found was nothing short of amazing so I cannot blame him; the music moves the soul. It’s just the way he comes about them that can rub most audiences the wrong way.
Frank does acknowledge how it can be seen as “cultural imperialism” but justifies himself by claiming he paid good money for those records. My main issue was not the alleged cultural imperialism, but rather that some of these people who made this beautiful music are still living and need more recognition. But let’s face it, Frank is not a cultural anthropologist, he’s definitely not a filmmaker and he’s not that interesting. At the end of the day, he’s just a DJ and we should not expect more from him or this film. He’s not trying to change the world; he’s just trying to throw one helluva party.

Nov 20, 2013

Ogassa - Ogassa Original Volume 1

Ultra rare 2nd album recorded in 1978 in Nigeria by a band of 6 band members from Porto Novo, a city based in the east part of Benin.

Information about the band remained really hard to find, sadly all the musicians died, as did the lead singer in a tragic car accident.

After its 1st album in 1976, Ogassa (“Oga” means master in Nigerian dialect) was touring a lot in all West-Africa, thanks to radio hits such as "Segbele-Gbele" or "Ajimevi". They were also very close to the famous Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, with whom they worked together once in a few.

Most of these songs were only pressed once on vinyl by the famous Albarika label in Cotonou and have remained unreleased famous Albarika label in Cotonou and have remained unreleased ever since.


The Ogassa story is a short one, given that the group only issued a handful of recordings – one of which is this really unique Nigerian album! Ogassa have a style that's much more deeply soulful than some of their contemporaries – as equally committed to sad-tinged lyrics as they are to a groove, which means that there's some real standout moments of blueness that you'd not likely to find on other records like this from the time! Rhythms slow down at a few points on the record – which gives plenty of space to the wonderful vocals that echo out with this plaintive quality – lead singer then matched by the group, as guitar and thin organ lines trip out nicely when given a chance to solo. All tracks are nice and long – and the album's nicely balanced between the groovers "Gbe We Gnin Wa Bio" and "Ogassa Story", and mellower cuts "Avale" and "Production Vido Tche". (Very cool deluxe pressing – super-heavy cover and vinyl!) 


A1 : Avale      
A2: Ogassa Story      
B1 : Production Vido Tche      
B2: Gbe We Gnin Wa Bio   

Nov 13, 2013

From Mr. Voodoofunk: Christy Azuma & Uppers International

High-quality reissue of holy grail 70s Ghana Funk LP available for the first time in 30 years. Totally unique sound, a rare Funk attempt by African female singer backed bu the legendary Uppers International, 3 massive Afro Funk tunes + some deep Highlife of the highest caliber. One of the nicest and rarest African records ever made in our opinion. Includes a nice insert with some treasurable vintage photoss. Strictly limited to 1000 copies, don't sleep!



A1 Di Ya Sugri 7:01
A2 Asullamani 5:53
A3 Kypaa 4:07
A4 Ja Wenle 3:17
B1 Eye Kyerew 4:22
B2 Ba Mai Ayikin 3:35
B3 Mu Banda Girma 3:34
B4 Naam 4:38
B5 Aja Wondo 3:54

Nov 8, 2013

From Ivory Coast: François Lougah

François Lougah (above) was one of the first Ivoirien musicians to have an international impact. He was born in 1942 in Lakota in the southern central region of Côte d'Ivoire, and had varied careers as a mason, football player and actor before hitting the music scene. His first hit was "Pekoussa" in 1973. Countless chart successes, a brief marriage to Tshala Muana and numerous tours throughout Africa and the world followed until his untimely death in 1997.




A1 Bravo Sotra 9:18
A2 Zazou 9:30
B1 Gnazoua 6:22
B2 Bonheur Perdu 6:12
B3 Dehiminke 6:20

Nov 5, 2013

The Martin Brothers - Money

Soon to be released on Voodoo Funk Records

The Martin Brothers are pioneers of the Nigerian Funk and Afrobeat scene. Besides many releases under their own name, as the Tabansi Studio Band they lit up innumerable recoding sessions — it's them on Pax Nicholas' Na Teef album, for example; and the same team is behind the legendary Saxon Lee & The Shadows International LP.

Money is the Martins at their deepest and heaviest — tearing, wailing, mid-seventies funk, heady with spirituality. Superbad from start to finish with no let-up.  

Original copies are amongst the most sought-after of all African and funk records on the international collectors' scene. It seems there is just a tiny handful of copies at large.

The tracks were originally laid down at Ginger Baker's ARC recording studio in Lagos and later mixed down at London's Tin Pan Alley Studios. The audio restoration and remastering for this re-issue was done at Abbey Road. 


Nov 4, 2013

New album out of Japan: Kingdom Afrocks - Radioidiot

Radioidiot is the wonderfully titled third album from leading purveyors of Japanese afrobeat Kingdom✭Afrocks. Together with JariBu Afrobeat Arkestra, they carry the torch for the afrobeat sound in Japan, though Kingdom✭Afrocks have arguably made a bigger splash internationally having performed and recorded with legendary drummer Tony Allen and securing airplay and  support from Gilles Peterson and Okayafrica. 
Their last album SanSanNaNa didn't quite live up to the blistering standards set on their 2011 studio debut, Fanfare, but Radioidiot is a fine return to form. As with the previous two releases they have mixed the classic afrobeat groove with elements of Latin and funk and added their own little twist to create their own distinct sound. 

Things get under way with I KNOW ~愛のドレ♪ミレ☆ド~, a funky number with Tony Allen guesting on drums and ハナレグミ (Hanaregumi) on additional vocals. The good vibes continue with Listen Inner Voice, again featuring the drums of Tony Allen, a slower shuffling groove with voice from keyboard player sumilady.
Next up is an uptempo cover of a Fela classic, here delivered at full speed and with lyrics translated into Spanish, sung by percussionist Izpon, and re-titled Zombie Disco. Not a bad cover on the whole, but not the best track on the set.

The next couple of tracks almost justify buying the whole album by themselves, however. The first is a medley of the Labelle classic Lady Marmalade and the 1972 Fela tune, Lady, vocals are provided by guests Chan-Mika and Rumi. The transition from funky soul to a sensuous afrobeat groove is skilfully executed and even though it stretches to nine minutes, the track seems to end to soon. 

This is followed by the slower groove of Zimboo Zin, an epic tune with a laid back bass line and shuffling drums and some fine guitar work, over which Naoito sings with his distinctive voice. A heavenly tune.

The album probably should have finished there and been complete, but there are a couple of remixes of earlier tunes added in to round things off to give more minutes of music for the price of the album.

A great album on the whole from a top band that will not disappoint their fans and is also a good place to start for any newcomers. Recommended.


2. Listen inner voice feat.TONY ALLEN
6. STUDIOIDIOT (interlude)
8. Escucha Tettory BLK Remix

Nov 1, 2013

King Bucknor Jnr. (Afro Disk Beat Organisation) - Vol. II


Originally published by amazing!

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

The world has come to know Fela as the undisputed king of afrobeat in Nigeria during the 1970s. Along with fellow co-creator, Tony Allen, Fela Kuti completely dominated the market.  Even band like the African Brothers and Ebo Taylor in Ghana, both heavily influenced by Fela’s direction, added their own signature elements, creating afrohilli and afrofunk in the process.

Such a domination in the genre has prevented us from hearing the direct influence Fela’s sound had on his fellow nigerian musicians.  People like Joni Haastrup, Harry Mosco, and Pax Nicholas (just to name a few) - all managed to incorporate and expand upon the afrobeat sound, creating something new in the process, but where are all the imitators lurking in the mist who capitalized upon such a golden opportunity.  This record by King Bucknor and the Afro Disk Beat Organization is a prime of example of such blatant imitation.

Before I get into the actual music, I have to point out one of my lingering suspicions that this may be the work or another well-respected Nigerian funketeer - Segun Bucknor. Was it a studio creation by some label to ride the success of Fela?  Does the name give away Bucknor’s association with the recording or is simply coincidence that they share the same name? I remember when Lion and I found this record and being in utter awe of the shamelessness of it all.  So far, I haven’t been able to find any info on this band except for one other record of theirs that popped on ebay some years back.  I could be totally wrong about Segun’s role… hopefully, one of you can put my suspicions to rest.
As for the music itself, it is unabashed knockoff. Long, drawn-out intros, social ad-libs, 15-min songs that play out like any number of Africa 70’s well-known tunes. It even has kiltered Saxaphone solos right smack in the middle. Close your eyes and you would think it was a Fela session out-take.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this project grew out of a  cover band some Nigerian club hired out for their weekend nights.

Judge for yourself.