Nigeria's new old funk

When it first hit shelves in 2001, Nigeria 70 (Kurse Music) broke the mould for African compilations.

Delving deep into the archives, it offered a textured look at Nigeria’s recorded music history in the funky 1970s. Compiled and researched by Strut Records’ Quinton Scott, it was deleted in 2003, but with Strut back on its feet, this landmark collection has been reissued.

This compilation shows the way boutique labels, such as Soundways Records and Analog Africa, can leave old gems on the shelves among newer releases.
Opening with Fela Kuti’s early jazz outfit, Koola Lobitios, this double-disc compilation features two more Kuti numbers with legendary band Africa 70, as well as an early track by Africa 70’s drummer and co-founder of the Afrobeat sound, Tony Allen.

Although these offerings from Nigeria’s famous sons are great, it is the rarer tracks included on Nigeria 70 that are the real prize.
The dubby Afrobeat of BLO’s Chant to Mother Earth is an early highlight, a psychedelic gem from the streets of Lagos filled with propulsive drumming and killer guitar freak-outs.

Other noteworthy tracks include the raw guitar licks of Victor Uwaifo on Akayan Ekassa and the countryesque Women Made the Devil by Bongos Ikwue.

Disc two is not short of stand-out material either, with the Afro-punk of Ofo the Black Company, the Igbo funk of The Funkees and the relentless groove of Joni Haastrup. This is not one to miss.

Although Nigeria 70’s funk and rock output is being repackaged and re-released through a handful of boutique labels, it’s good to know that Allen, one of Nigeria’s original rhythmic pioneers, is still firing on all cylinders. Fresh from a stint playing with Damon Albarn on The Good, The Bad and The Queen, Allen has hit the studio again to record his 11th studio album, Secret Agent (Sheer Sound), his first for World Circuit Records and the follow-up to 2006’s Lagos No Shaking.

Secret Agent is a more laid-back album than that 2006 funk monster and features Allen on lead vocals only twice across its 11 tracks. The highlight is the opening title track with its wah-wah guitar-driven intro.

Nigerian singer Orobiyi Adunni takes the lead vocals on four of the songs, the best of which is Ijo, a rollicking Afrobeat number with bleeping synthesisers, vamping accordion and propellent horn arrangements. This is the Afrobeat we know and love, merely updated for a 2009 audience.

This collection of songs has a soulful feel that allows Allen to show off his subtle drumming style, which is deeply rooted in the jazz drumming of Art Blakey and Max Roach. Don’t expect a Fela Kuti retread—Allen, as a consummate musician, keeps on moving forward and in 2009 this is just the groove he finds himself in, and what a delight it is.

Lloyd Gedye

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