Friday, June 01, 2007

BLO: Phase 2

Pay attention, class. Once again, let's consult our Ginger Baker DVD (We will probably end up doing this at least two more times, depending on whether I ever get around to doing those features of the Lijadu Sisters and Twins Seven Seven).

The pale, orange-bearded fellow battering the already-battered drumset in the above clip is Peter Edward "Ginger" Baker, an English rock musician best known as a member of the supergroup Cream.

The gentleman in the black shirt, sitting on the floor in front of Baker's kit, playing an African drum with sticks is Laolu Akintobi a.k.a. Laolu Akins, drummer in Lagos rock band Afrocollection.

The guy with the exposed chest and the chain around his neck, shredding on guitar and making goofy rock faces is Berkley "Ike" Jones of the Afrocollection.

The diminutive chap wrecking shit on the keys is Joni Haastrup, leader of the band Monomono.

I can't identify the other individuals in the room with any certainty, but they're not all that important to the story, anyway.

Ginger Baker had long avowed an interest in African music. In fact, his drum-pounding on Cream's biggest hit, "Sunshine of Your Love" has sometimes been described by critics as "neo-African." (Baker later confessed that the inspiration behind the "heavy on the one" drum pattern on that record was not Africa per se, but rather the "OOM-pah-pah-pah-OOM-pah-pah-pah" rhythm that characterized the drums of the Injuns in old cowboy movies.) Baker decided to study African music firsthand and traveled to Nigeria twice between 1970 and 1971. During these expeditions, he jammed with local musicians, including Twins Seven Seven, Fela Ransome-Kuti, percussionist Remi Kabaka and Joni Haastrup (the latter two he took back to England to play in the second iteration of his Airforce band. He also had the pleasure of sharing the stage with a band called The Clusters.

The Clusters had been one of the longest-running and most popular of the schoolboy highlife-cum-rock & roll bands of the mid- to late 1960s. Laolu Akins had been the band's drummer from the get-go, but Berkley Jones had only recently joined (as an Igbo, Jones had been in Biafra during the war, himself playing drums in a band called The Figures). Also joining the band after the war were Haastrup and bassist Mike "Gbenga" Odumosu. The Clusters' management was intent on gathering the tightest collection of musicians possible in order to compete with Geraldo Pino & His Heartbeats, who were still dominating Lagos and intimidating all the musicians within city limits.

At the same time, Swiss-Nigerian flautist Tee Mac, inspired by the success of Afro-rock band Osibisa wanted to put together a new African supergroup to tour Europe. He stole Akins, Jones and Odumosu, and along with the twin sisters Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu, he formed the Afrocollection.

Enter Ginger Baker.

One of the freshest emerging trends in post-Woodstock rock music was the Third World-influenced rock of bands like Osibisa, Santana and The Wailers; when Ginger Baker stepped into Lagos for the thrd time, he was keen on the idea of forming an African rock outfit, and with its lineup including his Clusters buddies, Tee Mac's Afrocollection looked like just the band to fit the bill.

Baker took the Afrocolletion (minus Tee Mac) and renamed them Salt. They made their debut at Fela's Afro-Spot in the summer of 1972, took the stage at the Olympic Jazz Festival in Munich and then toured Europe, the US and Canada. It's not known why this group never recorded an album, but at the end of the Salt tour in late 1972, the Lijadu Sisters left to put togeter their own band, Joni Haastrup went off with Monomono and Berkley Jones, Mike Odumosu and Laolu Akins joined forces to form BLO.

In Africa, popular entertainment had traditionally revolved around orchestras, and bands were usually large, cumbersome affairs--the idea of a lean African power trio was very new, very sexy, very modern. Akins, Odumosu and Jones definitely had the chop to carry a band on their own, and with the new multitrack recording technology, they were positioned as the band to lift Nigerian rock beyond the semi-hacky garage realm in which it had heretofore been situated.

BLO's debut album, Chapter One, was released in 1973. (I know I said in the last post that it was 1972. It wasn't. It was 1973. My bad. I'll go back and fix that post later.) Even before one even took the record out of its sleeve, its high-minded intentions were announced by the sleeve's abstract artwork and gatefold design. I'm assuming you've heard the record yourself by now, so I'm not going to waste too much wordage talking about what it sounds like. As is the case with Ofege, I wish the singing was better, but as a band they are miles ahead of the impishly charming Ofege, offering some pretty solid songs and interesting uses of the studio. Not to mention, of course, the fact that as instrumentalists, they just straight tear shit up.

In 1975, the band got into the studio to record the followup, Phase 2, produced by the three members of the band. The tone on this album is funkier than the straight acid-rock of Chapter One; Friday Pozo aids Laolu on the congas, and Joni Haastrup contributes organ to all the tracks, except for track 1 (the self-introductory "BLO") on which the electric piano is played by Segun Bucknor.

Here's what the band's manager Tony Amadi had to say in the notes on the back of the album:


Here comes 'BLO Phase Two', the follow-up album to 'BLO Chapter One' by the raving rock trio = Berkley, Laolu and Odumosu.

Utilizing organ and electric piano for tighter effect, Africa's first trio are into a freshivating polyrhythmic funk that is richly embellished in sophistication - and bound to generate mass appeal.

The introductory tune is the musical expression of BLO, written by bassist Mike Odumosu: B for 'funky guitar', L for 'thunder drumming' and O for 'smoothy bass' and the back-up music spells just that.

Laolu comes up with 'Its gonna be a good day' where some of the funkiest guitar solos of the album are unleashed. "Native Doctor" is the lengthy masterpiece of mixed tempo by Berkley Jones which plodes on for more than seven minutes.

The diversity of BLO music is expressed in full on side two and you sure are into a party time where you can dance yourself out (if you wish).

"Do it you'll like it" by Berkley sets in pace, followed by Mike's emotional love song "Don't take her away from me" to the cool and bluesy "Whole lot of shit", then the finale - Laolu's thunderous native yoruba beat called "ATIDE" which means that BLO have arrived, musically of course.

Phase Two was recorded in 9 sessions of 12 hours each from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It was so strenous that on the 9th session Engineer Emma Akpabio decided to go on strike "because of too many worries by BLO" whose drive for perfection remain unmatched.


(I'll probably edit this post later to improve grammar, facts, and formatting.)

Some of the information in this entry was pulled from Max Reinhardt's interview with Laolu Akins for the Strut records compilation BLO - Phases: 1972-1982.

Update 060307: I replaced the Ginger Baker Air Force "Early in the Morning" clip with a long, less dreary one of the band playing "Sunshine of Your Love."


matt said...

Thanks again Afkap. There is a vinyl copy of a BLO LP languishing ina store near me priced at around £30. WHite cover with BLO written in gold serif writing. I've had the BLO release on Strut and I almost bought the Phase 1 reissue on a german vinyl label but I was too late. Now any plans to provide Ofo and Black know the guy who did Allah Akbar is a fused out guitar jam funk?

John B said...

This stuff is starting to grow on me despite my initial reservations. BLO was a pretty accomplished band! Thanks for making this stuff avilable.

Afkap, when are you going to email me? We have a lot to discuss, man!

AFKAP of Darkness said...


white cover with gold serif writing?

hmmm... not sure if that sounds like any of the BLO LPs i've *seen.* which means that it *might* be their final (and at this point, hardest) album, 1982's Back in Time.

thirty pounds actually sounds like not too bad a price considering what i've seen it priced at in its few appearances on the market.

yeah, if you get a chance (andf you're not interested in it yourself) i might have you pick that up for me at some point!

as for Ofo... i don't know if they even have any albums! i've never seen any listed or mantioned anywhere... i have a few 45s that i'll probably be putting up in time, though. anywhay, Ofo & Company were actually based in London for most of the 1970s, so if they DO indeed have any albums, i'm sure it won't be too long before they show up.

John B: i'm sorry, man... things have been a bit hectic; i'll hit you up real soon, though!

AFKAP of Darkness said...

cool... i'll check it out!

AFKAP of Darkness said...

oh yeah, Matt... sorry i had to delete your comment, but i haven't yet made up my mind whether or not i want to go for that record and i didn't wat someone else to beat me to it!

(yes, i'm sure there are ways for a person to retrieve that comment, but hey... you cover what bases you can)

Max said...

Thanks--great post!

AFKAP of Darkness said...

thanks for stopping by, Max... i just checked out your blog, and it's definitely my speed!

zim said...

On the Ofo front,

I remember seeing somewhere a "live in east Berlin" disc but not sure its length

Hey afkap, can you tell me anything about the "CS Crew"?

AFKAP of Darkness said...

thanks for the Ofo tip, zim... i'll investigate that!

"CS Crew," though? dunno.... something about it rings a bell, but i'm not sure... is it an early 80s boogie/electro group or something?

AFKAP of Darkness said...

ahhhh... wait. it just occurred to me where i'd heard of C.S. Crew... there's a record by them called "Funky Pack" i've seen floating around on a few vinyl selling sites, but nope... i don't know anything about them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Afkap. Blo made our days in those heady 70s days. However, isn't there a way to break up the files in smaller chunks (like 20MB) each for some of us in Africa with slower connections.
Also looking out for stuff from band like Speed Limit (Hossana), Osibisa (Fire), One World, Wings, and all those Naija bands that made the 70s great.

Comb & Razor said...

thanks for commenting, Anonymous!

i'm sorry the files are hard to download for those with slower connections... especially folks in Africa, because it's very important to me to reach my people back home! (especially people like you who actually have clear memories of the era i'm writing about and can actually teach me some things!)

i usually don't like to break the files into smaller chunks because i thought that was less convenient, but i'll think about it.

in the meantime, why don't you go ahead and email me directly at combrazor (at) yahoo dot com and i'll work out a way to get the music to you.

and yes, i am planning to post music from One World, Osibisa, Wings, Doves, and all the rest! i just haven't had time to blog lately...

again, thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

hi my name is nkechi berkley jones berkley ike jones is my dad, i am so proud of his music and what he acomplished, and also happy that others appreciate african music, just thought i'll drop a line..... peace.

Comb & Razor said...

hello Nkechi!

great to hear from you... i actually communicated with your brother a few weeks ago...

by all means, greet your dad for me, y'hear!


Keith Lev said...

please re up! i need this record!

yoli said...

nice blog

Anonymous said...

Links dead.....