The past week or so has been so busy that I've hardly had time to check out my favorite blogs, let alone post anything on this one, so yeah... I know I've got a backlog of requests to get to.
I promised my man Calumbinho that I was going to throw up Joni Haastrup's Wake Up Your Mind like three or four days ago and my pal Ofon has been waiting for Haastrup's Monomono albums for months now--one of the reasons I delayed on the Monomono stuff was because I had been trying to secure an interview with Mr. Haastrup, and that hasn't quite worked out yet. I'll keep trying, but in the meantime, I guess I can at least make Calumbinho happy!
Let's see... What to say about this record? Well, it's the one and only solo album by one of Nigeria's most respected and beloved musicians. While Joni Haastrup is mostly unknown to kids who came of age in the 1980s (my generation), among the folks who were grooving in the late 60s and the 70s, the mere mention of his name is apt to elicit responses of tremendous affection and awe. I've gotten the sense that more than any other single musician, Joni Haastrup embodied the all aspirations of Nigerian music in the post-highlife era.
Earlier in his career, he was billed as "Johnny Haastrup"; the later "Joni" spelling appears to be a tip of the hat to Jimi Hendrix, and like Hendrix, Haastrup exuded the aura of an individual who just has music spontaneously pouring out of his soul. He started performing as a teenager in the town of Ilesa, singing in school bands with his older brother, guitarist Segun Haastrup. During a trip to Lagos, the brothers tried out for immortal bandleader Bobby Benson's Jam Session Orchestra; neither of them made the cut, but Joni brought the house down with his animated Chuck Berry impression. Soon thereafter, legendary trumpeter Victor Olaiya witnessed Joni's energetic dancing and singing in a high school drama group and was sufficiently impressed to recruit the youngster to join his Cool Cats band (in which no less a personage than Fela Ransome-Kuti had apprenticed in the late 1950s). This was 1965 after all; the rhythm of Lagos nightlife was changing. "Beat music"--rock & roll and soul--was seeping into the scene and Olaiya (true to his reputation as "the evil genius of highlife") presciently realized that he would have to incorporate the new foreign sounds. The Cool Cats became The All Stars Soul International, which Joni Haastrup fronted for a year and a half.
In 1966, saxophonist Orlando Julius (a contemporary of Fela, credited in some quarters as the true originator of the term "Afro-beat music") released the album Super Afro Soul on which Joni Haastrup featured as a guest lead vocalist on a few tracks, such as "Bojubari" and a "copyright" of the Temptations' "My Girl." The album was a momentous success, helping to usher in the ascendance of soul music and cement Joni Haastrup's reputation as "Nigeria's Soul Brother Number One."
During the war, beat groups prevailed: Segun Bucknor & his Soul Assembly, The Strangers, The Clusters (whose lineup included future BLO members Laolu Akins and Mike Odumosu and, briefly, Joni Haastrup) and The Hykkers. It was with the latter band that Haastrup was sitting in when he caught the attention of Ginger Baker, on his first visit to Nigeria in 1970. Baker was so besotted by Joni's electrifying stage presence that he snatched him off to London to join Ginger Baker's Air Force. Baker envisioned him playing a multiinstrumental role, which was initially a surprise to Joni:
There was a lot of misconception about what I could do. When I went with Ginger, he saw me singing. He never saw me play an instrument, but he had this great belief within himself that I could play any instrument. So he wanted me to play the organ because Steve Winwood was leaving. And he also wanted me to play guitar because Denny Laine was leaving. So I got into London on a, I think on a Tuesday. The first gig was on Thursday. I have never heard the music of the band. I don't know what they sound like. I don't know anybody in the band but Ginger. I've never even heard Ginger play drums face-to-face except on record. He wants me to play organ and guitar and sing in this big ten-piece band with Graham Bond and Bud Beadle and all these people. And I uh, and I said, "Well, Ginger I don't really play any of these instruments. I'm just a singer." And he goes, "Hey! You can do it. You can fuckin' do it." [laughter]It's a testament to Haastrup's innate musicality that, despite his initial reservations, two days later he was playing guitar and keyboards in the Air Force!
Haastrup returned to Nigeria later in the year, playing the keys for Baker again in Salt.
(Yes, I've posted this video before, but I wanted to point out something I didn't mention before: Mr. Muttonchops in the red tank top? That's Tunde Kuboye, later of Jazz 38 fame.)
Joni hooked up with Kenneth Okulolo, who had played bass in Olaiya's All Stars during Haastrup's tenure with the band. He served as Haastrup's co-pilot in Monomono, one of the earliest afro-rock ensembles to capitalize on the success of Osibisa. The band's 1972 debut album, Give The Beggar a Chance, was met with massive success in Nigeria and beyond, and the 1974 followup, Dawn of Awareness was picked up for international distribution by Capitol Records.
Confident that Monomono was about to cross over into the big time, Haastrup traveled to the US to urge Capitol to back a tour for the band. Capitol balked, and Haastrup returned to Nigeria dejected. He made another attempt in 1976, but when it became clear that Capitol was not interested in promoting them, Monomono disbanded. It was at this point that he recorded his solo album, with some assistance from some of his bandmates.
Wake Up Your Mind was released in 1978, the year after FESTAC, so it's unsurprising that it finds Haastrup in a pan-Africanist mood. In the music, one can hear echoes of Stevie Wonder, Kool & the Gang, Mighty Sparrow and even KC & the Sunshine Band's Bahamian junkanoo-inspired disco, as the lyrics exhort the unity of the African disapora. The album is definitely designed for maximum crossover effect, but Haastrup has never been shy about his ambitions to transcend the conventional ideas of what an African musician should sound like:
[We need to] show the African musician as an artist first, then as an African... We can be pop, we can be rock, we can be jazz, we can be soul, we can be everything because in actual fact we have [made] an incredible contribution to all of that already. So why deny ourselves, or why deny us, the opportunity to cross over into the commercial industry.I don't know to what degree the album was successful in penetrating the international market, but after Wake Up Your Mind, Haastrup left Nigeria pretty much for good. He worked as a session musician and producer in London and by the early 80s he was in the Bay Area, fronting Joni Haastrup & the Afrikans and doing more session work (most notably on several Chris Isaak albums from the late 80s up until the mid-90s).
Just yesterday, I was chatting with Calumbinho about Joni Haastrup and he made an interesting observation about Joni's singing. Despite his reputation as a showman, his vocals have a decidedly understated quality to them, and even when if he's singing in Yoruba and you don't understand the lyrics, you can feel the humility, honesty and intense love radiating from his delivery, much like Milton Nascimento. By all accounts, Joni is a really zen dude, and while's he's been a practicing Buddhist for many years, music is his real religion. As he says: "I just want to play my music and make people smile, keep people happy. Not limit myself to what people think I should be."
Today he still lives, plays and teaches in Oakland, California.
JONI HAASTRUP - WAKE UP YOUR MIND (AFRODESIA, 1978, DWAPS 2053)
1. Free My People
3. Wake Up Your Mind
1. Champions and Superstars
2. Do the "Funkro"
3. Watch Out
All Joni Haastrup quotes above culled from Breakout: Profiles in African Rhythm, by Gary Stewart, 1992, University of Chicago Press.
Update 1/27/08: Damn... I just noticed that I said the bass player in that clip was Ken Okulolo when I meant to say Tunde Kuboye! Damn... My bad. Wires got crossed there. I've fixed it now, anyway. My apologies for the misinfo!