Sunday, November 11, 2007

Highlife in London: Flash Domincii & the Supersonics

1967 was a gobsmacker of the year for trailblazing music trilling out of Swinging London: Disraeli Gears, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Are You Experienced?, Their Satanic Majesties, Bee Gees 1st... and, of course, The Great & Expensive Sound of the Supersonics by Flash Domincii & the Supersonics.

Flash Domincii was a bit of a big deal in the 1960s but today he seems to be mostly forgotten, along with the colorful London highlife scene of which he was a mainstay. African pop music had supported an enthusiastic hepcat following in London since at least 1945 when the West African Rhythm Brothers steamed through Trafalgar Square on V-E Day. When rock & roll exploded on the mainstream in the late 1950s, illustrating the general public's growing taste for "primal" rhythms, many trendwatchers expected its popularity to be fleeting as the audience's palate would logically gravitate toward more rhythmically potent and exotic sounds such as West Indian calypso, South African kwela and West African highlife.

(Such predictions were not unique to the UK, as we are reminded by the kitschy 1957 American teenpic Bop Girl Goes Calypso--its plot centers around an uptight grad student who scientifically calculates that rock & roll is soon to be supplanted by calypso.)

Details on the life and career of Flash Domincii are sparse, so I've never ascertained his real name, date of birth, or even when and where he started playing music. What is clear to me, though, is that he is a Nigerian Yoruba and and seems to have represented a bold new generation of highlife players, arriving on the scene about a decade after the 1950s heyday of London African music luminaries like Nigerians Ambrose Adekoya Campbell, Ginger Folorunsho Johnson and Nat Atkins (born Obafunsho Akinbayo) and the popular Ghanaian bandleader Cab Kaye (a.k.a. Augustus Kwamlah Quaye, father of musicians Caleb, Terri and Finley Quaye, and who was once erroneously believed to also be the grandfather of Tricky).

Domincii's Supersonics included old hands such as West African Rhythm Brothers percussionist Ade Bashorun and Calabar trumpeter Sammy Obot (who led Ghana's unofficial national orchestra, the Broadway--later Uhuru--Dance Band), as well as several rising Young Turks: saxman Teddy Osei (who would go on to cofound Osibisa), guitarists Akanni Akinde (of Victor Olaiya's Cool Cats) and Fred Coker (cofounder of the Afro-rock band Assagai, whose lineup included Terri Quaye), bassist Charles Ononogbo (also of Assagai), drummer Gasper Lawal, percussionist Ayinde Folarin (who played on some of Fela's earliest recordings and later in Assagai, but is probably best known to beatdiggers and psysch heads alike for his role on Demon Fuzz's Afreaka!*) and multiinstrumentalist Peter King.

But the one thing that signified more than any other Domincii's radical standing as a captain of highlife's new wave was the use of the organ, an instrument of sacred connotations that had never before been played in the profane context of highlife. At the time, the organ was showing up with increasing frequency in progressive rock but there's something retro and conservative in the way it underscores the subtle, churchy flavor of the melodies, reminiscent of I.K. Dairo's. In fact, the organ's reedy texture recalls Dairo's accordion, and with the strong Yoruba accent of the music, prominent use of talking drums and and twangy guitars, a case can be made that Domincii's Supersonics served not only as a training ground for the burgeoning Afro-rock generation, but as also an indicator towards the direction juju music would take in the next decade.

Over the next few years, Domincii would further experiment with the possibilities of highlife orchestration, but he appeared to be too far ahead of the audience--or maybe they were just turning more toward other genres. The Supersonics disbanded in 1970 and Domincii dropped off the radar, reemerging in the 80s with a more Ghanaian-influenced sound and an increased appreciation for reggae and jazz.

FLASH DOMINCII & THE SUPERSONICS - THE GREAT & EXPENSIVE SOUND OF THE SUPERSONICS (Fisher Music, 1967, FMLP002)

Sammy Obot - Trumpet
Peter King - Alto sax, flute, violin
Teddy Osei - Tenor sax
Akanni Akinde - Rhythm guitar
Fred Coker - Lead guitar
Charles Onos - Bass guitar
Eddie Davies - Organ
Gasper Lawal - Drums
Ayinde Folarin - Conga drums
Ade Bashorun - Bongos
Osun - Talking drum
Flash Domincii - Vocals

Recorded at Maximum Sound Studio, London


Download the zip HERE. Or download track by track:

SIDE A

1. Eagle & Me
2. T'Oluwa Lawa Yio Se (Organ)
3. Adumadan
4. Iwin Nla Pade Wa (Organ)
5. Ololufe Jowo Wa

SIDE B

1. Orente (Organ)
2. Gbayesata
3. Igbehin A Dara Fun Wa
4. Kabo Oloyin Momo
5. Wa Ololufe

(You'll notice that I've taken a new approach to delivering the music, especially for my folks who want/need to download one track at a time. Let me know if it works for you or if you find it unthinkably stupid.)

*I didn't upload it and I haven't downloaded it either; I just happened across it while searching for an article with which to explain Demon Fuzz to the unaware. So help yourself... Hopefully it is what it says it is!

Update 5/25/08: Sorry, kids... Had to kill the links. Sincerest apologies to Mr. Domincii; no harm was intended.

10 comments:

John B. said...

Well, bye-bye DivShare! The new setup sounds great.

It's getting to the point where there is so much great free music being offered out there that I'm having to be parsimonious with my hard drive - that or buy another 300 GB to store it all on!

Comb & Razor said...

true words, John... i had to buy a 500MB external HD just to be able to keep up!

welcome to the future of music distribution! (i guess)

jon said...

Then you have to buy yet another drive to back up onto. . .

Comb & Razor said...

don't i know this!

and i thought digital storage was supposed to reduce the amount of clutter in my life, but i've got all these metal boxes duplicating each other's information...

zapatero said...

winrar users: "do not extract pathnames" mode recquired to extract!

Comb & Razor said...

zapatero:

i believe i archived them as a zip, not a rar... i don't know if Winrar works on those...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the music of Flash Domincii and the Supersonics. My dad played on this album and is thrilled that I can access the music on the net. He is 75 this year and still going strong in Nigeria.

Comb & Razor said...

thanks for the comment, Anonymous! do you mind telling me who your dad is?

(if you don't want to reveal it publicly, just email me: combrazor at yahoo dot com)

Anonymous said...

Hello,
I have been researching this era, and have been in touch with Flash Dominicii for about two years. Unfortunately he does not approve of his music being downloadable on the internet without his knowledge. It would be kind if you could contact me on this.
mcoester@web.de
regards

Broad Paul said...

At the time, the organ was showing up with increasing frequency in progressive rock but there's something retro and conservative in the way it underscores the subtle, churchy flavor of the melodies, reminiscent of I.K. Dairo's. luxury apartments london