Nov 7, 2014

Muyei Power - Sierra Leone in 1970s USA



Muyei Power or Orchestre Muyei (muyei means ‘our country’) was one of the top dance bands of the1970s in Sierra Leone. Soundway Records' first collection of music from this West African country (‘Muyei Power: Sierra Leone in 1970s USA’) is an album of rock-infused, 'afro' music from a group that traveled the world throughout the mid 1970s. Fusing elements of electric Congolese and Nigerian music with fast, syncopated, uptempo modernised arrangements of traditional music, Muyei Power produced a series of unique single-only releases that have been unavailable for 35 years. The rare recordings featured here are a glimpse of a dynamic and powerful band at the very height of its powers.
Even though lyrically Orchestre Muyei focused on traditional themes and songs, the arrangements and formulation of the instrumental side of things still very much reflected the mixed nature of urban Sierra Leone music, exemplified by a small collection of bands that also included Afro National, Sabanoh 75 and Super Combo.
For the early part of 1970s the band toured extensively throughout Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire before making a handful of 45s in local TV and radio studios.
The recordings featured here however come from a period of touring the college circuit in California during late 1975 and early 1976. Later that year, as they played the colleges of the east coast, they gave the tracks to the owner of the African Record Centre in Brooklyn, New York. He initially released two of them on his in-house Makossa Records label as 7-inch 45rpm singles in 1976. The tracks from 1975/6 were then not heard of again until 1979/80 when the African Record Centre released many of them on a series of Makossa Records 12”s that sounded far superior than the records that had been released a few years earlier.
Orchestre Muyei Power finally split up in 1979 leaving no proper album releases and only a handful of recordings for us to enjoy all these years late
- See more at: http://www.soundwayrecords.com/product/sndwcd062-sierra-leone-in-1970s-usa#sthash.0kwSrZdh.dpuf

Muyei Power or Orchestre Muyei (muyei means ‘our country’) was one of the top dance bands of the1970s in Sierra Leone. Soundway Records' first collection of music from this West African country (‘Muyei Power: Sierra Leone in 1970s USA’) is an album of rock-infused, 'afro' music from a group that traveled the world throughout the mid 1970s. Fusing elements of electric Congolese and Nigerian music with fast, syncopated, uptempo modernised arrangements of traditional music, Muyei Power produced a series of unique single-only releases that have been unavailable for 35 years. The rare recordings featured here are a glimpse of a dynamic and powerful band at the very height of its powers.

Even though lyrically Orchestre Muyei focused on traditional themes and songs, the arrangements and formulation of the instrumental side of things still very much reflected the mixed nature of urban Sierra Leone music, exemplified by a small collection of bands that also included Afro National, Sabanoh 75 and Super Combo.

For the early part of 1970s the band toured extensively throughout Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire before making a handful of 45s in local TV and radio studios.

The recordings featured here however come from a period of touring the college circuit in California during late 1975 and early 1976. Later that year, as they played the colleges of the east coast, they gave the tracks to the owner of the African Record Centre in Brooklyn, New York. He initially released two of them on his in-house Makossa Records label as 7-inch 45rpm singles in 1976. The tracks from 1975/6 were then not heard of again until 1979/80 when the African Record Centre released many of them on a series of Makossa Records 12”s that sounded far superior than the records that had been released a few years earlier.

Orchestre Muyei Power finally split up in 1979 leaving no proper album releases and only a handful of recordings for us to enjoy all these years later.

soundwayrecords.com 

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Soundway Records was recently named as one of the British labels defining the sound of 2014. Despite the location of its English headquarters the label, home to newcomers Ibibio Sound Machine, is perhaps best known for reissuing rare West African vinyls that have generally never been heard outside of their country of origin. Soundway continue in that vein with Muyei Power: Sierra Leone in 1970s USA, a 5-track compilation of music from one of the most popular dance outfits in 1970s Sierra Leone. Blending elements of electric Congolese and Nigerian music with uptempo variants of traditional Sierra Leonean beats,  Muyei Power (also known as Orchestre Muyei) crafted a sound that was emulated by few others.

After spending the early part of the decade on the road in their home country as well as neighboring Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire, the band took their sound around the world. The tracks featured on the compilation were recorded between 1975 and 1976 when the band was touring the Californian college circuit. Muyei Power disbanded in 1979 before officially releasing an album, leaving behind a handful of singles that were last released over 30 years ago. This latest compilation will gives listeners a glimpse of the band at their best. Muyei Power: Sierra Leone in 1970s USA is available now on CD & vinyl from Soundway Records. Both come with detailed liner notes, whilst the 180 gram vinyl comes with a free digital download insert code.

okayafrica.com 

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British musical archaeologists Soundway Records’ recent sonic excavations led them to Sierra Leone via California, as they uncovered a gem of record (or records) produced by 70’s Afro-fusion collective Muyei Power. Having formed a close relationship with lead vocalist and bandleader Abou Whyte, the team have managed to compile a collection of singles (originally released as 45’s via California label Makossa Records) that the group recorded between 1975–1976 whilst touring America. Recognised as one the biggest bands at the time in Sierra Leone, their sound is an explosive cross cultural blend that fuses funk , rumba, rock , jazz and soul music into traditional Sierra Leonean arrangements.

The album opens with an isolated bass line from ‘Wali Bena’, which is immediately met with summery guitar lines and a mass of percussions comprised of crashing cymbals, congas played in triplets and syncopated drum patterns. The vocals follow suit as Whyte’s intense and passionate performance is met with hypnotic backup harmonies. Towards the end, the band makes room for a guitar solo that is both soulful and exotic as its carefully planned out phrasing treads on an afro-Cuban melodic passage that effectually turns into an abrasive rock solo with high bends and sweeping trills.

The mutual understanding of each section of the group creates a welcoming atmosphere to these tracks, as each instrument compliments the next by allowing them to shine and ultimately help enhance the storytelling of Whtye’s lyrical themes. This is evident in ‘Be Patient’, which initially falls into a slower tempo with its Latin-esque horn melodies that are harmonized with the understated up-strokes of the rhythm guitar. The percussion line is sprinkled with vibrant shakers played at the end of every bar, looping tambourines and delicate bongo hits. The real treat occurs in the track’s mid-section, as a lone drum pattern picks up and sets the new tempo that the rest of the band effortlessly fall into. The song moves from its Latin roots into a full blown Congolese inspired rumba as sparse shakers are replaced with frantic congas. The same melodies seem more colourful and lively as the band partake in their signature vocal harmonies sung in their native Limba dialect.

‘Ben Ben Bee’ opens up with a wall of percussions that set the rhythm of the song. It effectually gives way for an eastern charmed saxophone lead, while jittering guitar lines help emphasise its melodic passages. The quick vocal chants that move between a call and response style approach to a full choir, help solidify the beautiful brass refrains. The arrangement allows the bass to come to the forefront in the bridge as it has a ‘solo’ moment where it walks through pentatonic scales that are complimented with tasteful harmonic phrasing.

‘Bi Loko’ is a melting mixture of soulful funk and raw afro-beat, with its punchy and loose arrangement that emits a strong groove. It also gives room for each musician to move freely as they alter their riffs and refrains, making it feel more like an impromptu jam session than a carefully mapped out piece. By the end, the song is transformed into a musical conversation between the lead guitar with its distorted solos and the saxophone that slides in and out of the frame.

The celebratory tone of the record makes for an inviting listen , and not only allows outsiders to understand and appreciate the universal sounds of Muyei Power but also the feeling and atmosphere of Sierra Leone during this era which , from this listening, was filled with rich vibrant spirits. 

culturecrit.com

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The producers at Soundway Records have struck again, doing one of the things they do best: releasing extremely obscure, extremely specific, extremely good African/Afro-diasporic music (although they also release some extremely new, extremely  awesome African/Afro-diasporic  music as well, for example Ibibio Sound Machine).

These descriptors all apply to Orchestre Muyei Power, which was apparently one of the top dance bands in Sierra Leone in the 1970s, although we at the Afropop office had never heard of them. Unfortunately, the music of Sierra Leone (past or present) remains largely unknown to the wider world, and until now, this band has either been forgotten or missed by the reissuers, anthologists, bloggers and other lovers of the African old school who trawl the used record bins of the world. So, once again, all props due to Soundway for digging this up and sharing it with us all!

The music on Sierra Leone in 1970s USA is an about as excellent an example of hard-driving, straight-ahead Afro-funk as you could wish to hear. Every track bubbles with energetic percussion, conversing bass and guitars, richly harmonized vocals, soaring sax, fuzzy guitar solos, and a momentum that just won’t quit. Like so much African popular music from the period, the sound is strongly influenced by African-American funk, especially the syncopated grooves of James Brown, but also clearly draws on local musical and cultural traditions for the vocal melodies and rhythms. But unlike many bands at the time, Muyei Power’s music may actually have been shaped by direct contact with American audiences during the 1970s.

The tracks featured on this reissued album, some of the only recordings the band ever made, were captured in California in 1975-76, while Muyei Power was touring the college circuit in the U.S.
Wait a minute!

Think about that statement! This group was either well known, well connected, or simply brave enough to embark on a multi-year sojourn in the United States. Other African bands had done the same before (for example Fela’s disastrous but fateful American touring experiences in the mid-to-late 1960s), but for Muyei, we can only imagine how their hard-driving, percussion-rich Afro-funk would have connected with college students at that time, and speculate on how this encounter shaped their music. We can only wonder what bands shared the stage with them, what music they checked out during their American sojourn, and how these experiences influenced the band.

If these recordings can be taken as a testament to the quality of the music on that tour, we imagine that seeing Muyei Power live in 1975 must have been an insanely exciting experience. Their sound is that of a live band par excellence, with non-stop groove and extended solos the order of the day.

afropop.org 



Tracklist

Wali Bena 6:39
Be Patient 6:14
Ben Ben Bee 3:40
Bi Loko 6:58
Yamba Sowe 7:15

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