Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Various - Nigeria 70

It's no surprise that Nigerian funk and Afrobeat have been stylish 'round the states over the last few years, what with Tony Allen's inclusion in the Good, the Bad and the Queen two years ago, and Seun Kuti gaining popularity with his Egypt 80 when Femi's not been in town. If you've had the chance to see Seun Kuti's recent tour or check out a documentary like the oddly funny Ginger Baker in Africa, you might have developed a hunch that music is (or was) a bit more loose and free in West Africa, able to convey a message, sure, but more direct than poetic, never taking away from the rhythm itself.

“Don't bring bullshit to Africa,” then, is the new “Enjoy yourself/you no know today you could die.” Perhaps it's the way such simple statements get made with honest fire over the scratch of funky guitars and imperfectly tuned brass, but there's an authoritative voice that separates the authentic stuff from American imitators like Ann Arbor's Nomo or Brooklyn's Antibalas. If “La La La” sounds familiar, in fact, it's likely that you've run across a 2004 cover by Nomo; the included version, though, live and thus more spontaneous, with call-and-response sing-along, finds Segun Bucknor confidently calling out, shaking, echoing over brass.

If there's any disappointment with Nigeria 70, it's the overlap of tracks with Luaka Bop's Love's a Real Thing from 2005 (which actually makes the Luaka Bop comp the disappointment, as this one's a remastered version of a 2001 release). Surely there were more songs to choose from? There's repetition of Tunji Oyelana & the Benders doing “Ifa,” and “Allah Wakbarr” by Ofo & the Black Company. But who could blame the labels for wanting to include them? The latter in particular's got a guitar like a razor, all sorts of excitement shouted in numbers. Also, “Woman Made the Devil” by Bongos Ikwue is the odd one out on this double-disc set, a bit American folk, comparatively speaking, and “Better Change Your Mind” by William Onyeabor is dated and low-budget in a '70s hip-hop sort of way. But then, what else would be fitting for the time?

Ofo & the Black Company - Allah Wakbarr
The Funkees - Dancing Time
Purchase Nigeria 70

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