News, reviews and commentary on afrobeat and related music from Africa, The Caribbean and The Americas

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Segun Bucknor Lives

By Robert Fox

A recent album from Afrostrut Records recounts the classic sounds of the underrated Segun Bucknor of Nigeria. Titled “Poor Man Get No Brother: Assembly and Revolution 1965-1975,” it’s a time-capsule of an effervescent musical era of funk, groove and re-evaluation of traditions.

From a recent BBC review: “the funky James Brown-inspired horn riffs and throbbing bass communicate quite nicely, and Bucknor's urgent, half-sung, half-shouted vocals would be persuasive in any language.” The BBC continues:
This reissue of various Bucknor recordings made from 1969 - 1975 represents an interesting slice of Nigerian pop music history and culture. Much of the Nigerian music packaged for export to the West has promoted a particular musical style or point of view - hence the popularity (and availability) of recordings by the likes of juju artists King Sunny Ade and Chief Ebenezer Obey, as well as the more controversial Afro-Beat of Fela Kuti.

Bucknor, on the other hand, was one of the rank and file, a journeyman who was trying to eke out a living in Nigeria as a popular musician, and who was beholden to local record labels and the demands of the marketplace. Even over this relatively brief six year period, playing first with a group he called The Assembly, and then with The Revolution, Bucknor displays a stylistic diversity reflecting everything from pure commercial opportunism to heartfelt political and moral exhortations.

Regardless, Bucknor's individual talent almost always shines through. He's a strong, convincing vocalist in the American soul tradition, and had obviously listened closely to the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke. In fact, Bucknor had a direct connection to Western pop music influences, because he studied in New York City at Columbia University in the early 60's, pursuing a liberal arts curriculum and taking courses in ethno-musicology.
All Music Guide also has a nice summary of Bucknor’s newly released recording, including links where you can hear song samples:
If anything good came of Fela's death, one thing was the attention focused not only on the music of the man, but of his country. As aficionados of Afro-beat have known for a long time, there were other bands and sounds that erupted from Lagos during the '70s. Bucknor was a contemporary of Fela, and hugely popular in the country. Of course, a lot of this sounds like the man himself — it would be asking a lot not to be influenced by that sound. But the progression of the songs here is more rhythmic and more circular — not a march toward the abyss, but a march around your head. The first and most important thing Bucknor wants to do is to make you dance. The lyrics are strong and mostly political, but the groove is the thing here. These tunes are drenched in sweat, played with the hard-edged precision of men who could and often did play for hours. Fans of the sound will love this. Anyone who's fond of funky music or who loves the sound of Memphis and Muscle Shoals and Detroit but hates the time limitations of the 7" groove will dig this severely. This is another great moment from a scene that is only now reaching Western ears. Stay tuned.
The recording appears to be out of print, so if any readers know where copies are available, please post a comment and let us know. Incredibly, a used copy was for sale on Amazon today for $83. Priced to move.

You can see additional album reviews from Steve Hegede, or check out a sample of the album tracks “Adanri Sogbasogba” here, or “Son of January 15th” here.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fela: "Subliminal, Dissident, Persuasive..."

By Robert Fox

There's a strong new essay about Fela Kuti currently featured on the homepage of the excellent Fly Global Culture website. The Fela Renaissance is clearly continuing to generate critical attention and reassessment. The article, by Nigerian poet Patrick Iberi, is a sympathetic and well-written portrait of Fela as revolutionary and musical rebel:
Fela Kuti as an artist embodied different things to different people. For the vast majority of Nigerians, he stood tall as a social crusader who championed the fight against oppression, government excess and corruption. To the
authorities, he was just a dissenter, a cannabis-smoking saxophonist who was to be vilified, hounded and imprisoned. To the rest of the world, he was more like the eccentric performer whose unyielding lyrics gave jazz a rebel face. Indeed, Fela's life as a maverick resonated in the genius of his art: Afro beat music so subliminal, so dissident and yet so persuasive.
The political challenges Fela faced in his day remain the same problems we face today in the US and in many places--certainly adding to the continuing relevance of his cultural and political message. As Iberi points out:
Fela's frown on Western imperialism resonated in every note from his saxophone and his music castigated the authoritarianism that was prevalent in Africa following independence. This man made no pretence of perfection, he lived his life with apologies to no one. Fela was passionate, unpretentious, self-indulgent and above all unorthodox. He refused to be confined to the norm--he defined himself. A true renaissance man who not only influenced his family and friends but also every individual in the world today whose voice is fervent enough to be raised on behalf of someone else.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Stevie Wonder: Superstition Ain't The Way

By Robert Fox

"When you believe in things
That you don’t understand,
Then you suffer,
Superstition ain’t the way…"

Check out this amazing live TV footage of Stevie Wonder playing “Superstition” on German television (1973?). They didn’t bring the horn section, but the brilliant guitar work and back up singing more than make up for it. What a performance!

The AfroFunk Forum has had visitors from more than 53 different countries in our first six months of existence. Yet for those of us preparing for another “wartime” election in the United States, Stevie Wonder’s words of wisdom still ring especially true as an inspiration more than 30 years later.

I’m increasingly optimistic that at least some of the current superstition and suffering afflicting our country will end (or start ending) with the US election in November. Sadly, in 1973 it must have looked at least as bleak in the US. Yet Stevie continued putting it on the line—I hope you are planning to do the same this year.

This is an historic funk and social justice classic—enjoy!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Rich New DVD and CD Project From Baba Maal

By Robert Fox

Alternative label Palm World Voices has released an extensive new DVD and CD compilation about Baba Maal, titled “Baba Maal: A Voice For Africa.” The in-depth bigraphical overview includes a CD with recordings tracing Baba Maal’s career as well as a 60 minute DVD featuring interviews and rare concert footage. Also included is a 48-page book with dozens of photos, accompanying an essay by British journalist Robin Denselow, as well as a geographic and cultural map of Senegal that traces Baaba Maal's life.

Palm World describes itself as “a new series of CD and DVD releases that invites music and culture lovers to completely immerse themselves in the vibrant imagery, history, culture, and terrain of musically rich areas of our globe.” Palm World’s notes Baba Maal’s impact:
Senegal's shining star and the voice of his people in a country with an embarrassment of musical riches. Fusing traditional African music with elements of pop and reggae, Baaba Maal's signature sound led the globe-sweeping wave now known as 'Afro-pop.'
You can check out Baba Maal’s website to downloard the trailer for the film, or download a podcast intview of Baba Maal with British broadcaster Gerry Lyseight. In the interview, Baba Maal shares what motivates him:
…to work harder to contribute more to improving the living conditions of disadvantaged people of the African continent, especially young people, whose future is seriously threatened by illiteracy, poverty and HIV/AIDS. When I am talking about Africa, it is about how Africa will grow into the new millennium.
This project is an overdue recognition of Baba Maal’s musical and political impact, and may help spread the word about his music and message. Also check out this nice article about Baba Maal by Struan Douglas, originally published in Downbeat magazine.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Celebration In The Land!: New Live Album by Orchestra Baobab

By Robert Fox

These are good times for fans of Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab. In the last few years, they’ve reissued their stupendous 1982 collection "Pirate's Choice," followed by "Specialists In All Styles," which catapulted the band to international stardom. "Specialists In All Styles," an instant classic, was produced by Youssou N'Dour and included Ibrahim Ferrer from the Buena Vista Social Club.

Since then, they’ve toured the world to great acclaim with a rejuvenated band (as reviewed in The Afrofunk Forum), and have achieved long-overdue recognition for their unique blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms and brilliant musical virtuosity. They are perhaps my favorite band currently performing—these guys really set the standard.

But here’s the best part: Orchestra Baobab has just released a live CD that captures the band at it’s peak moments in the 1970s, when they led the music scene in Senegal and laid down some epic tracks with a super-smoove groove and a visionary sense of arrangement.

Titled “A Night At Club Baobab,” this new recording is a revelation, and includes alternate arrangements of OB classics such as "Jiin Ma Jiin Ma" and "On Verra Ca," as well as incredible live renditions of previously unreleased songs including "Kelen Ati Leen," "Liti Liti" and "Saf Mana Dem." As you might expect, guitar genius Barthelemy Attisso is often featured, and sets a creative standard that’s hard to match, with his alternatively hypnotic/blistering leads.

Most of the tracks are good sound quality considering (unlike other live OB releases to date) and are certainly among their best recordings ever. This must have been a great show to see live!

Here are excerpts from other reviews:

From The Daily Planet:
…a killer re-issue of early material by Senegal’s mighty Orchestra Baobab. Orchestra Baobab are renowned as one of Africa’s finest ensembles. Formed in 1970 to ‘lively up’ the prestigious Club Baobab in Dakar, the group went on to become a creative powerhouse mixing Cuban rumba, US soul and southern Senegalese traditions of melodic drumming from the Casamance region. For a decade or so they ruled supreme, until their style fell out of favour in Senegal, only to be re-discovered by the world a decade or so later. 2002’s comeback album, Specialist In All Styles proved that the band had lost none of its inventive and exceptionally groovy spirit. Now this recording from their early days reminds us just how progressive Orchestra Baobab always were.
And from
Senegalese afrobeat legends Orchestra Baobab shouldn't need any introduction - From 1970 to 1979, Orchestra Baobab cheered up the Baobab night club located in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa. Orchestra Baobab’s music stands as the soundtrack of that period, known as the Senghor years, in reference to Senegal’s former president. This collectable vinyl LP (limited to 500 copies) includes some of their lost recordings from 1972-8. Gifted with a very unique sound, Orchestra Baobab revolutionized Senegalese popular music by leaving behind afro-cuban influences for good. The musicians developed a hybrid music fed by diola, toucouleur, serere, Portuguese creole and malinke saps. Orchestra Baobab’s trademark has since been a polymorphic groove that blends together sweetness & swing, groove & salsa. Amazing!
And Now Toronto:
Senegal's Orchestra Baobab hit its stride during the late 70s, yet for some reason, most of the amazing Afro-Latin recordings made by guitar great Barthelemy Attisso and company during the period have never been reissued. While proper digital remasters of Baobab's prized albums for Disques Buur, Bellot Records, Musicafrique, Productions Ledoux and other French indie labels may still be years away, it's something of a relief that Oriki Music is making a few of their hard-to-find swingers available on vinyl with A Night At Club Baobab. In addition to the desirable head-nodder Kelen Ati Leen and the delightful Seeri Koko from 75's Visage Du Sénégal , you also get the majestic Jin Ma Jin Ma and Diarabi lifted from 78's classic N'deleng N'deleng album. Bring on the boxed set!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Funsho Ogundipe and Ayetoro: Excellent New CD

By Robert Fox
Nigerian Afrobeat veteran Funsho Ogundipe has a brand new CD on the streets by his group Ayetoro. Titled “Ayetoro: Omo Obokun, The Afrobeat Chronicles Vol 2, Directions in Music By Funsho Ogundipe,” the recordings follow up Ogundipe’s four previous albums with some heavyweight jazz and afrobeat, along with an range of energetic, experimental post-bop and funk. This is an outstanding effort that I’ve really enjoyed listening to.

Funsho Ogundipe began playing piano at age 17 and was a regular at Fela Kuti’s club The Shrine. He performed with Fela in 1988 and formed Ayetoro in 1996 after a successful career in law and business.

For years I’ve thought that the Ayetoro track “Revenge of the Flying Monkeys” was on the short list of the greatest post-Fela afrobeat songs ever written—and that’s before you even consider the genius of the title, which has also inspired a blog of the same name about African politics and culture. “Revenge” is the anchor track of Ayetoro’s 2005, “The Afrobeat Chronicles, Vol 1,” and it also appears on the definitive anthology of modern Afrobeat, “Nu Afrobeat Experience.” Ogundipe reprises the track on the new CD in a newly arranged version that builds on the dynamic impact of the original.

The new CD bears the clear influence of Fela Kuti and classic Afrobeat, and it further extends the direction of the music towards jazz and experimental grooves. Ogundipe told the BBC that Miles Davis and Duke Ellington were his primary musical inspirations, along with Fela Kuti, and you can definitely hear the influence of some of the 1970s Miles electric groups, as well as Herbie Hancock’s solo work of the same era. Duke Ellington’s imprint is reflected in Ogundipe’s thoughtful arrangements and broad range of tonal interests.

Tracks like "Pepple Street Blues," "Highlife No. 2" and "Song For Jenny" establish stripped-down afrobeat and funk as the core of Ogundipe’s music. They are anchored by rock-solid bass lines, active percussion and clever sax phrasing, and the songs get your attention with complex and often unexpected interaction between parts.
On other tracks such as "Two In One (Les Ibeji)" and "Omo Obokun," Ogundipe presents engaging songs which are more free form sonic landscapes than afrobeat, tunes that might be at home on an album by John Zorn’s Masada project. “Open Your Eyes…And Your Ears” also challenges listeners with some very funky post-bop jazz horn and keyboards over a deep, dub-inflected bass line. This is great stuff.

But to my ears, the standout track is "Mr. Xyz," with its loping, beautiful bass line, blistering sax solos, and powerful, memorably arranged horn choruses. It’s a stirring and unique joint—check it out for yourself and buy the CD here.

You can also hear one-minute samples of all the tracks on the CD here, or check out Ayetoro’s My Space site or website for more information.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

New Retrospective Album From Manu Dibango

By Robert Fox

Cameroon’s sax superstar Manu Dibango released a new album this week which compiles his top hits over a 50 year career pumping out funky Afro Jazz. He helped define African Jazz, and the new collection is a nice overview of his solo music, including both the big hits and some less well-known gems.

Manu Dibango was a regular performer with Fela Kuti, The Fania All-Stars, Sly and Robbie and many other crucial artists, and his influence has been widespread. Honking Mephis-style horns, driving percussion and catchy hooks are hallmarks of Manu Dibango’s popular and evocative style.

The fair trade music company Calabash Music has a website that includes free one-minute samples of all the songs on the new album, which is titled The Very Best of Manu Dibango. Check it out and consider purchasing the CD from Calabash. Calabash includes an overview of the new CD:
Mixing Stax & Tamla styles with that unrelenting African percussion, and adding riffs ala Parker, Junior Walker and King Curtis to the mix, this collection begins in 1967, exposing some rare cuts from Dibango, focusing on the master musician's period of creative heights and finishes with the brand new storming dance floor filler DJ Flex mix of “Soul Makossa.”
All Music Guide also has a nice summary of Manu Dibango’s career and discography, including this exerpt:
Dibango is Cameroon's, and perhaps Africa's, best-known jazz saxophonist. Starting in the 1950s, he became a globe-trotting musician, living and performing in France, Belgium, Jamaica, Zaire, and Cote d'Ivoire, as well as in Cameroon. Dibango's output has been prodigious and multi-faceted. In addition to being one of the leading jazz saxophonists of his generation, Dibango has also run nightclubs, directed orchestras, and started one of the first African musical journals. A later release, Polysonik — featuring English rapper MC Mello, Cameroonian singer Charlotte M'Bango leading a choral section, and sampled pygmy flutes — shows that Dibango is continuing to flourish and expand in challenging new directions.
My band Chopteeth occasionally performs Manu Dibango’s Wakafrika, which is definitely a titanic tune. He's a favorite, and I'm sure you'll appreciate the music.

The Tightest Rhythm Section in History?

By Robert Fox

The AfroFunk Music Forum is returning in force after a brief summer break! Stay tuned for regular doses of the latest in music news and links about afrobeat, funk and any other groovy info.

To kick-start things, check out this video clip of JB on mainstream US television delivering Mother Popcorn, circa 1968: holy crap, how can this band be so tight?!?

I especially like how the horn section becomes a collective percussion or rhythm instrument, with their staccato, repeated choruses. Fela frequently used the same technique to dynamic effect.

The percussive, rhythmic horn section is a musical linkage to big band swing era when bands led by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie and so many others built an entirely new music around the (pre-electric) giant horn section, keeping the rhythm going in large dance halls. The horn sections back then were the analog Marshall stacks of their day (more on that later).

While the later bop jazz innovators broke down that collective horn section vibe, it definitely still packed a wallop by the time JB hit the scene, and still does so today—not least of all in the many bands participating in the afrobeat revival movement that is lighting up dance floors worldwide. Viva Horns!

And do check out the blistering sax solo at the end by nobody other than the amazing Maceo Parker---wow!