19/06/2019: “Piani” by Jo Tongo

This track isn’t an invitation to move. It’s a command to boogie!

Jo Tongo was born in Cameroon, but moved to France to study Pharmaceuticals. Luckily, he eventually decided to take up music, and has been making music ever since the 60s!

“Piani” is a funk track of rare quality. The drums in particular are phenomenally groovy, pounding ahead of the rest of the track with flair. The bassline is a simple up and down affair, happy to take a back seat to the guitar wizardry and catchy vocals dominating the tune.

The guitar is in two forms: there’s a classic afrobeats/funk riff for most of the song, but also a couple of solo sections.

The vocals are great, with his own vocals augmented ably by a sweet and sultry backing chorus.

The song was released in 1976 on the album Jo Tongo, in France and Germany.

08/06/2019: “Lagos Sisi” by Bola Johnson

Bola Johnson is associated with the Nigerian highlife and afrobeats scenes. He was a bandleader, but his true skill was with the trumpet. At this stage, the band was called “Bola Johnson and His Easy Life Top Beats”.

“Lagos Sisi” is a wonderfully funky song, with a catchy trumpet hook sparring with Johnson’s pidgin vocals.

The track has a sense of boundless energy, but there’s still a strong sense of class. The nuances on the horns are a pleasure to hear.

The song also features a delectable selection of guitar licks, as a good section of the tune is taken up by a carefree guitar solo.

Johnson’s voice was powerful and deep. There’s a sense of impact with his singing.

The song was released in 1973 on Philips records, and appears on the 2010 compilation “Man Don’t Die”.

19/04/2019: “Mama Matotoya” by The Mombasa Vikings

The Mombasa Vikings were the house band of the Mombasa Reef Hotel in the 70s, so called because of the location and due to a recognition of the hotel’s heavily Nordic clientele.

The song was released in a limited run of 45s and often sold to guests of the hotel, but was re-issued in 2018 by Afro7 in Finland.

The song is unbelievably vibrant, positively fizzing with energy and colour. The percussion section is a brilliant jumble of Chakacha-inspired clattering drums and other little shakers, rolling forward in a supremely funky fashion.

The bassline tangos up and down in time with those drums, keeping the song groovy, in tandem with the distinctive two part guitar chords which crop up so often in African music.

On top of that, there’s a powerful organ, played very adeptly throughout much of the song. Adept as the playing is, it isn’t quite as impressive as the soaring flute solo, a prime example of the impact jazz flute can have.

There’s also punchy vocals at the start, in Swahili, with a very cool “Ya” shout punctuating the otherwise free flowing words.

The song was first released in 1975, and was also featured on Soundway’s 2013 compilation Kenya Special: Selected East African Recordings from the 1970s & ‘80s.

So much talent!

16/03/2019: “Asa-Sa” by Fred Fisher

Sometimes it seems like Nigeria has produced an extraordinarily high proportion of excellent musicians and groovy sounds.

This is more 70s brilliance, this time from Fred Fisher Atalobhor, or just Fred Fisher.

“Asa-Sa” is an 8 minute long constant groove. There’s no peaks, no troughs, just a majestic plain, rolling on forever and ever…

The sound is distinctly afrobeat, but there’s clear influences from funk and reggae. The bassline plays a short 2 bar loop, the drums shimmy and shake, the guitar lick rises and falls like a breath. There’s a certain easy going rhythmical mastery to the whole thing, which means that the song is almost ritualistic.

The vocals are of the typical call and response pattern of much African popular music at this time.

The song was originally released in 1979 on the album Say The Truth, but was re-released on a Soundway compilation in 2004, called Afrobaby: The Evolution of the Afro​-​Sound in Nigeria 1970​-​79.

10/02/2019: “Afe Ato Yen Bio” by De Frank Professionals

Ghana has a deep affinity for funky sounds, and if “Afe Ato Yen Bio” is anything, it’s funky!

There’s an almost tropical feel to the song. The guitar plucking and strumming is relaxed but still relatively fast, and is buoyed along by the slap of the breakbeat. That rhythm section is a hard groove, to the point where you could probably put anything on top and it would sound great…

The organ is a key part of the song’s energetic appeal as well, and the vocals are full of rhythmic zest.

De Frank is the bandleader, and the Professionals are his band. They were active in the 70s Ghanaian Highlife and Afro-Beats scenes, playing a soulful blend of funky styles.

There was also more of a disco influence on many of the tracks the band made.

“Afe Ato Yen Bio” was released in 1978 on the album De Frank Professionals, which was the band’s second LP and one of just two albums that they released.

Such a danceable song…

21/11/2018: “Come On Home” by Lijadu Sisters

The Lijadu sisters make good times music. It’s sunny, everyone is feeling good, and life is great!

The actual sound, close as it is to being sonic sunshine, fuses Afro-beat and traditional Nigerian sounds with western styles such as disco and funk, even to the extent that they sing in both English and Yoruba.

“Come On Home” is a cheerful song, with a limber bassline driving the piece forward, and some carefree piano riffs decorating the soundscape like sea shells on a lush beach.

The singing is of course tremendously soulful, with a special sort of harmoniousness that is easily explained by the fact that the duo are identical twins.

It’s quite a slow song, with a chilled out, contented nature.

The song is from the 1979 album Horizon Unlimited. The two stopped making music in the 80s, but recently came out of retirement to perform a William Onyeabor tribute show.

Truly brilliant!

02/06/2018: “Love And Death” by Ebo Taylor

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Ebo Taylor was a key figure in the 1970s Ghanaian highlife and afrobeat scenes. “Love And Death” originally appeared on Conflict in 1980, but was the title track of a reworked selection of songs released in 2010 as well.

It’s a tasty feast of jazz-funk goodness, starting with a short breakdown before the triumphant trumpet riff, some off beat drumming, and a funky bassline all drop into place. In the background a guitar plucks along in a very easy going manner.

Taylor’s vocals are perfectly capable, starting with an English bit before doing the rest of the song in Ghanaian. “Love and death, walk hand in hand”.

It’s another African song that makes for easy listening, and the influence of Fela Kuti on Taylor is very much in evidence.

Lovely stuff.

 

08/05/2018: “Ifetayo” by Black Truth Rhythm Band

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The Black Truth Rhythm Band are an interesting band because, despite the general African aesthetic, such the obvious influences from Afro-beats and the fact that the band members used African names and dress, the band were from Trinidad.

At the time it was much more common for Caribbean bands of their type to look to the U.S for inspiration. The Black Truth Rhythm Band, then, had more in common with the reggae musicians who took inspiration from Africa due to the belief in Africa as an ancestral homeland.

They only released one LP, in 1976, called Ifetayo (Love Excels All), and this song is the title track and lead single from that album.

The percussion is quite varied, with shakers and congas creating a constant jungle of sound. African instruments such as the kalimba mingle with more recognisable fare such as the bass and the flute to create a distinctively African soundscape with undeniable funk and calypso influences. It’s certainly an unusual sort of record, but the musicianship is excellent.

Oluka Imo, the lead singer of the band, later played with Fela Kuti, showing a genuine commitment to championing African sounds.

Supremely funky stuff.