Saturday, June 30, 2007
Well... I guess I shouldn't say "again" since I've never really posted a Fela album here before - I just like saying "Fela don come again." That was the first Fela song I remember hearing (or really paying attention to, anyway): You know, FELA YOU DON COME AGAIN O! and he replies, I never come, I still dey for far away... Wait, make I reach the place where I dey go...
Normally, I would probably avoid posting Fela albums as almost his entire catalog is currently in print on CD, but as it turns out, there are quite a few albums that have slipped through the cracks and escape reissue. One such record is Perambulator, released in 1983 on Lagos International Records. Once again, I've got to thank Mr. John B for hooking me up with this (I ought to make him an official member of the With Comb & Razor team the way he's been blessing us with these goodies, right?)
While the cover credits the record to "The Black President Chief Priest Fela Anikulapo Kuti and the Egypt 80 Band," it's not really an Egypt 80 record since both sides were actually recorded back in 1977, when Fela still had his Afrika 70 band (I guess the record's label kinda acknowledges this by crediting "Fela Anikulapo Kuti African '70 [sic] Organization and Egypt '80 Band"). "Perambulator" first appeared in 1978 as the B side to the French issue of Shuffering and Shmiling; "Frustration" (a.k.a. "Frustration of My Lady") was set to be the B-side to 1977's I Go Shout Plenty LP, which Decca ended up not releasing (a different, unauthorized version of I Go Shout Plenty was released in 1986. Thank you, Prof. Endo!)
("Frustration of My Lady" is, of course, is a re-recording of "My Lady's Frustration," the number Fela composed at the piano at Sandra Smith's house in Los Angeles back in 1969 when he resolved to "stop fooling around" and write "AFRICAN music.")
Also worth noting: featured as a "guest artist" on this disc is the legendary American jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie (best known for his work with the avant-garde Art Ensemble of Chicago) who lived and played with Fela for three months in 1977.
Alright... I know you wanna just hear the music, so here the music!
> DOWNLOAD IT! <
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
If I were asked to isolate a single event that sparked off the current vogue for funky 1970s Nigerian music of the kind we have been checking out here at With Comb & Razor, I would tarry not a second before citing the October 2001 release of the Nigeria 70 compilation on the much-missed Strut Records. The label--via its Club Africa compilations and reissues of music from bands like Lafayette Afro Rock Band and Oneness of Juju--had already done much to ingrain African funk into the fiber of dance music orthodoxy.
(The contributions of French label Comet and the UK's Harmless Records are not to be slept on, either.)
Nigeria 70, though, took things to the proverbial next level. Never before had an African funk anthology been so handsomely packaged and meticulously researched. Whereas most compilations of the day were offered sandwiched between overused stock photos by Adrian Boot and Malick Sidibé, with threadbare sleevenotes that often seesawed between cavalier and apologetic ("We really have no clue who this Beninois musician is or anything about him... But isn't this track great?"), Strut dispatched a team--including BLO's Laolu Akins--to Lagos to excavate rare gems, untangle credits and rights, interview players and scenesters, and assemble a robust booklet and audio documentary on the development of Nigerian popular music.
Also impressive were some of the more interesting and fairly unprecedented compiling choices. Rather than sticking firmly within the safe and assured market of the standard Afrobeat/Afro-Funk style familiar to the hipsters who bought all the Fela reissues, they included left-of-center selections like the Allah-exalting heavy metal of Ofo & the Black Company, Bongos Ikwue's Bible-thumping country-rock, and William Onyeabor's bizarre brand of one-man Afro-technofunk.
Nigeria 70 was a prestige release that showed that there was more to Nigerian music than Fela and King Sunny Ade, and is a holy text among the new wave of Afrobeat bands that is arising in various points around the globe. Thinking that it would be a good primer for the kind of music we've been sharing, I had considered posting the collection here, but I wasn't sure it was kosher: Yes, it is definitely out of print, but somehow I didn't think it had been long enough... Plus, I kinda know people who know people who were involved in the compilation's production and I didn't want to get them (or myself) in trouble.
But hey... Our friend Matt just alerted me this morning that some other blog has the whole thing (plus the documentary) up on their site. So, er... You might as well grab it if they're offering it, right?
I'm not gonna publish the download links on this page, but you can go get them HERE.
Monday, June 25, 2007
It's a "documentary" by director Asger Leth (a Dane!) with participation from Wyclef Jean, and there's a lot about the "Third World ghetto safari" approach of the filmmakers that I find kinda troubling.
But at the very least, it looks like a fairly dynamic cinematic experience. I can't be mad at that.
Wonder when it's coming this way...
Check out the movie's website here.
I haven't gotten around to re-recording the album yet (I'm trying to pick up some better vinyl-ripping hardware today) but I stole the new link from Club Cortez, an audio blog with all manner of cool music waiting to be deposited to your hard drive! (I for one cannot wait to listen to that Joe Bataan Singin' Some Soul they got up there!)
Cortez is free to snatch any of my links, of course... And thanks again to the anonymous commenter who pulled my coat!
Saturday, June 23, 2007
This is Uhuru Aiye by Bob Ohiri & his Uhuru Sounds. John tells us that there's not too much info furnished on the sleeve, but we do know that Bob Ohiri was a guitarist with King Sunny Ade's African Beats until the mid-80s (this album came up around 1985) and apparently played with Fela, as well.
The only musicians credited on the album are "Bob, Shegun (probably African Beats guitarist Segun Ilori) and Prince." Too bad we don't know all the musicians involved in this so that we may salute them as they deserve for creating this deliciously trippy concoction of juju, afrobeat and psychedelic rock.
I'll probably edit this post within the next 24 hours to add some more information once I can dig up the liner notes of Soundway Records' Afro Baby: The Evolution of the Afro Sound in Nigeria, 1970-1979 on which track 1, "Ariwo Yaa" is included.
Hmmm... Come to think of it, that might mean that this album was actually recorded in the 70s, huh?
(EDIT 6/25/07: I just managed to retrieve my copy of Afro Baby, and oddly enough, Bob Ohiri is not on it! Yet most of the track listings I find online do list "Ariwo Yaa" as track 8 (including the one on Soundway's site), my CD has in its place Orlando Julius & His Afro Sounders' "Mura Sise"! Was there a second pressing of this CD that I missed? *shrug*)
Anyway... It's almost 1:30 ante meridien and I'm getting kinda sleepy. So for now, here's the music.
> DOWNLOAD IT! <
I had to use Final Vinyl, which doesn't give you as much latitude when it comes to manipulating the levels, and to make it worse, I had to run the audio directly from the turntable without the benefit of an intermediary amplifier.
To top it all off, for reasons I won't get into, I can't hear anything through my left ear at the moment, so I can't even tell you for sure if this thing came out sounding halfway decent! So let me know... If it sounds muddy or tinny, I'll re-do it with Audacity or something.
What we have here is the Lijadu Sisters' third album, from 1976, as produced by the talented Mr. Wright, as in Biddy. I'm not gonna talk too much about this one except to say that this is probably my favorite of all the Lijadu Sisters' records. It's pretty simple in formula and execution: most of the songs are basically one verse repeated over and over in almost trance-like fashion while Biddy and the band (well... Biddy is most of the band, isn't he?) improv tasty keyboard licks and low-impact guitar heroics around them.
The track that I've noticed being picked up most by podcasts and other compilers is "Life's Gone Down," but my pick for best cut on the album is "Amebo." That's a common term used to describe a gossip, derived from the name of a character with such tendencies on the classic sitcom The Village Headmaster.
(That's got nothing to do with anything, but I just thought I'd mention it. Oh well... Here's the credits:)
Biddy Wright: Lead and rhythm guitar, tenor saxophone, percussion and bass guitar
Ade Jolaoso: Bass guitar
Johnny Wood: Keyboards
Felix Shittu: Alto saxophone
All songs written and arranged by the Lijadu Sisters
Production by Biddy Wright
Recorded at Decca Studios, Abule-Oje, Lagos, Nigeria
> DOWNLOAD IT! <
EDIT: Damn, I messed up... Track 3 is actually called "Life's Gone Down Low." Do me a favor and correct that when you download it because I don't wanna have to re-upload the whole thing just to fix that one track title.
EDIT AGAIN: Yeah... It's been brought to my attention that (just as I suspected) the recording of this album is kinda effed up. So I've disabled the link. I'll let you know when I fix it.
Update 06/25/07: The link is back!
Also, I haven't been indicating what labels the records have been on for a while, have I? I know that info is important to a lot of people, so I'll do that from now on. This album came out on Afrodesia, which was an imprint of Decca West Africa.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Fela Ransome-Kuti (vocals, organ, piano, percussion) I think you might already know who he is.
Guy Warren (drums on "Blood Brothers 69") A veritable living legend of African music, Warren (these days known as Kofi Ghanaba) was one of the founding members of the legendary Ghanaian highlife combo The Tempos in the late 1940s. In the fifties, he moved to the States and ran with the likes of Bird, Monk, Trane, Sarah Vaughan and Erroll Garner. His 1957 album Africa Speaks, America Answers was the world's first attempt to fuse jazz and authentic African instrumentation. It was a bit too avant garde to attract more than a cult audience at the time, but it paved the way for the more popular Afro-jazz records that Babatunde Olatunji would begin to release from 1959 onwards, as well as other general rhythmic developments in Black music as a whole.
As master drummer Max Roach observed, "Ghanaba was so far ahead of what we were all doing that none of us understood what he was saying: that in order for African-American music to be stronger, it must cross-fertilize with its African origins... We ignored him. [Years later], the African sound of Ghanaba is now being imitated all over the United States."
Bob Tench (credited as "Bobby Gass," bass) Bob Tench is the sturdy singer/guitarist best known for his tenure with the Jeff Beck Group. He's also worked with everyone from Freddie King to Van Morrison to Ruby Turner.
Sandra Izsadore (credited here as "Sandra Danielle," vocals) Born Sandra Smith in Los Angeles, Izsadore was a young, afro-sporting dancer and Black Panther when she was introduced to Fela Ransome Kuti at a gig at LA's Ambassador Hotel in 1969.
"Fela asked me my name and I told him," she recounted to Carlos Moore. "Then he asked me if I had a car and I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'Good.' He just said 'Good'... Just like that. Then, 'You're going with me.'"
"It just blew my mind 'cause I'd never had anybody be so aggressive with me. I didn't say 'no.'"
Izsadore would become Fela's lover, friend and teacher, giving him a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and opening his eyes to Black consciousness. Their relationship had its stormy side too, and it was this that inspired Fela when he sat at the piano in Sandra's parents' house, composed the song "My Lady's Frustration" and invented afrobeat.
Izsadore sang lead vocals on the Africa 70 classic "Upside Down" and is still involved in music, often working with LA's Afrobeat Down. Holler at herspace.
JK Braimah (percussion) Fela's lifelong close friend JK Braimah was a mentor of a different sort. When they were high school mates in Ijebu-Ode, Braimah would cut school and run off to Lagos to sing with highlife bands and he encouraged the considerably more straight-laced Kuti to do the same. When they were students in London, Braimah co-founded Koola Lobitos and continued his instruction - or corruption - of Fela.
"He was a nice guy," Braimah has said of Fela's university days. "A really beautiful guy, but as square as they come. He didn't smoke cigarettes, let alone grass. He was afraid to fuck! We had to take his prick by hand, hold it and put it in for him, I swear!"
(Shit... I said they were close, didn't I?)
Featured alongside Ginger, Fela, Sandra and JK on chorus vocals are persons identified only as "June, Dusty, David, Remi (I assume that would be Fela's first wife?) (Edit: Or, as John B suggested, it might be Nigerian percussionist Remi Kabaka, who played with Baker's Air Force, McCartney's Wings and other English rock musicians), Auntie and BBC"
"Ariwo" is a traditional tune arranged by Baker & Kuti, "Tiwa (It's Our Own)" was written by Kuti, "Ju Ju" by Bobby Gass, "Something Nice" by Baker & Gass, "Blood Brothers 69" by Baker & Warren, and "Coda" by Baker solo.
This is 1972's Stratavarious.
>DOWNLOAD IT! <
(X AMOUNT OF BIG-UPS to the man called John Beadle, who digitized this album for us!)
Edited to fix typos and layout problems.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Continuing the feature on the Lijadu Sisters...
The video clips in this post come from Konkombe: The Nigerian Pop Music Scene, an installment in English filmmaker Jeremy Marre's excellent 14-part Beats of the Heart series that ran on PBS in 1988 and helped spur the explosion of the "World Music" (HATE that term) market. (I still haven't seen the entire series, but the episodes on Jamaica, Brazil, Bollywood, South Africa and Nuyoriquien salsa are all top-notch. Do check them out if you can.)
The Nigeria episode featured King Sunny Ade being sprayed with naira notes as he performs at an owambe party, Fela lounging in his draws in a cramped flat after the destruction of Kalakuta, surrounded by his aloof and beautiful queens, Sonny Okosun (not yet Okosuns) basking in his pop ascendancy, juju pioneer I.K. Dairo leading the congregation in song at his "white garment" church, transvestite Igbo musician Area Scatter, Lagos street minstrels, Eastern guitar band highlife superstars The Oriental Brothers rocking a party, Hausa musicians in the Saharan North and, most memorably, the Lijadu Sisters engaged in an impromptu open-air rehearsal session:
Odion Iruoje comes off as a bit of a prick, doesn't he?
You know... I actually don't know what album they are recording here. While this documentary aired in 1988, I'm guessing that this footage was shot 1979 or 80, ie around the time of Horizon Unlimited. At one time, I thought that it actually was Horizon Unlimited they're working on; after all, it's got similar neo-juju production with the talking drums and Hawaiian guitars and all that. But co-producers Laolu Akins and Berkley Jones are nowhere to be seen in that clip, Horizon Unlimited was recorded at Decca's London studios rather than their Lagos ones, and the songs they're singing don't appear on Horizon Unlimited. (That "Gberu o" song they're singing does sound like "Gbowo Mi" with different lyrics, though... Could it be that Taiwo and Kehinde worked out the basic material with Iruoje in Lagos and then finished it up with Jones and Akins in London?)
(But I digress.)
The appearance in the Beats of the Heart doc - along with the release of Double Trouble and an appearance on the legendary BBC 4 music show The Tube (which I'm still trying to find a clip of) seemed to signal that the Lijadus' star was a-rising on the international horizon. But alas, it didn't really happen and they disappeared from the scene. A few of their songs showed on various compilations over the years (with "Orere Elejigbo" being the most frequent selection), amassing a cult following, thirsty to hear more from the twins.
By all accounts, Taiwo and Kehinde have been living in Brooklyn, New York for the past several years and while they are officially retired from showbiz, they mentor young artists. I heard a rumor a while back that one of the twins sufferred a spinal injury of some sort and was wheelchair-bound. I don't know if there's any credence to that, though, especially since I've also heard that they still occasionally perform at festivals and Nigerian events in New York.
Here's a photo I found from some Nigerian-American organizations award ceremony at which Taiwo and Kehinde were honored in late 2005. Does it look like they're standing or sitting? (I'm going to link the photo here rather than actually posting it so's I don't get in trouble).
(To be honest, I probably wouldn't recognize these two nice ladies as Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu if i ran into them at the tropical foods market on a Sunday afternoon, but hey... I don't look nothing like I did 25 years ago, either.)
Anyway, is this post already too long? I originally intended to reproduce Tunde Harrison's sleeve notes from Horizon Unlimited, which feature a chat with the twins delineating some of their background and showcasing their playful wit. But then I realized that it might be easier for you to read (and and for me to transcribe) if I just condensed it to Q&A format as my people at Naija Jams did in their Lijadu Sisters feature a while back. Then I realized that it would be even easier for me to just copy it wholesale from over there and paste it over here. So that's what I did:
Whenever Kehinde and Taiwo Lijadu felt low down in spirit they indulged themselves in a childhood prank. They climbed the tallest nearest tree and watched the unlimited horizon. That was not the only trait they shared in common. They are identical twins who also share identical callings, habits, hobbies, a joint bank account and four children in between them. They never tell which one of them is the mother to which child. “They are four children,” they always said when asked.
Some twelve years ago (approx: 1967) they climbed a very tall tree and saw in the horizon unlimited, the path of their future.
The elements were orchestrating sweet musical vibrations that hit the core of the very being of the twins. It was the climax of their long-standing yearning to become professional singers. After all, it was all in the family. Daddy played the piano and Granny (on dad’s side) played the guitar. “So what about that?” They asked themselves.
They had enough inspirational heat in their veins to generate and power their interest and enthusiasm.
There was Daddy and Granny. There was Aretha Franklin and I.K. Dairo. There was Miriam Makeba and Victor Olaiya.
There was Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and a host of other musicians both local and international.
All of them together gave them all the heat of their inspiration. At such times when they were inspired it did not matter who conceived the ideas for lyrics or musical compositions.
What mattered was that they laboured together to bring forth the best of their brainchild.
The happiest moment that ever crowned their first attempt at creativity was when they walked into the chambers of Decca Studios with a handful of competent veteran session (musicians) to vax their first LP, “Iya Mi Jowo.” That was 1969. Since then Kehinde and Taiwo, (christened Louisa and Rosaline) have come a long way.
Over the years they have conceived created and recorded four long playing records all on Decca labels.
There was “Sunshine” and “Danger,” “Mother Africa” and “Iya mi Jowo” which have all gone down to their credit in the history books of the Nigerian music scene, amongst them a silver disk winner. This album is another step towards the fulfillment of the vision had of their future, many many years ago.
That vision they had of the “horizon unlimited.”
Ironically with Lijadu Sisters do not always speak about their future.
A reporter once asked them: Now that your horizon is opening up, what plans do you have for your future?
Lijadu Sisters: We don’t always look beyond our noses, because Man proposes but God disposes, but we are optimists.
R: Are you as rich as you are famous?
LS: As rich as rich can be. We are comfortable. We own one Volkswagen beetle and a joint bank account with plenty of money in it. Most of the time we are broke.
R: Are you religious?
LS: Very. We are catholics although not the Church going type. Every time we feel the spirit moving in our hearts we walk into the nearest church or Mosque and pray.
R: Do you have lovers?
LS: We are not dead. Not yet. We are living beings. To live and to love is the essence of our life. If you don’t have someone who loves you, you are dead. If we didn’t have lovers how come we compose love songs?
R: Do you take drugs?
LS: NO. We are permanently high.
R: You said you have four children but you are not married.
LS: We are not baby killers. Just because we had children with men we never got married to does not mean we had to kill them. We love children because children are a gift from God.
R: Would you have the same lover?
LS: If we did, we don’t see the need for it because there are many eligible men around. Even though we are twins, we want to be exclusive.
R: What do you think of yourselves?
LS: We are fantastic.
R: Do you wear the same clothes?
Kehinde: Taiwo is wearing my blouse and I’m wearing her wrapper.
R: What do you do when not singing?
LS: Playing with our kids, cooking, painting or climbing trees.
R: What kind of men would you like as friends?
LS: Simple, intelligent and responsible men.
R: Do you plan to get married?
LS: You talk too much.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Do you not love Shalamar?
If not, why not?
By the way, this was the group's first video featuring the great light-skinded singer Howard Hewett (the previous lead singer, of course, had been the obscure and much swarthier Gerald Brown). That boy's hair was a problem. He had that whole Lionel Ritchie thing going where his hair didn't know if it wanted to be a fro or a shag. It's very rare that I say this, but thank God for the Jheri curl. At the very least, its arrival served to resolve dilemmas such as this.
*Yes, yes, I know this song and video are actually from 1979, but it's Shalamar, man... Possibly the group that, more than any other, defined the first half of the 1980s for me. In my mind, they will always be an "80s band," y'know?
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I suppose we can forgive Mr. Baker for butchering the given name of one of the Lijadu Sisters; he most likely had not met too many Yoruba twins at that point. You see, the Yoruba people (due to a genetic predisposition that has yet to be fully explained) have the highest birthrate for twins in the world, and they're all named Taiwo ("TIE-woe") and Kehinde ("KEH-yeen-DAY"). The protocol is that the firstborn twin is named Taiwo ("s/he who tastes the world first") and the secondborn is Kehinde ("s/he who follows behind") but Kehinde is actually considered to be the older twin (as the position at the "back" of the womb suggests having gone in first) who waits for Taiwo to go out first and make sure that it is safe to emerge into the world.
Although they exist as two separate physical bodies, the twins are believed to share the same soul. Their individual personalities are aspects of a single inteligence, and that entity is complete only when Taiwo and Kehinde come together with their spirits, their hearts, their voices in harmony.
Last time, I mentioned that BLO broke up after Phase IV while the members studied in London. Thing is, they didn't exactly "break up," since they continued to play together; they just weren't releasing music under the BLO shingle. These were the days when the Nigerian music industry had that major label dough and a lot of artists were being flown to London to mix--or even just to record--their albums. In this context, Berkley Jones, Laolu Akins and Lemmy Jackson became three of the most in-demand session men, playing on albums by the likes of Christy Essien, Sonny Okosuns, Kris Okotie, and the Lijadu Sisters. The latter act, of course, was an act with whom BLO had a considerable amount of history, having been bandmates in Tee-Mac's Afrocollection and Ginger Baker's Salt:
In fact, according to Akins, BLO's formation was spurred by the Lijadus' decision to leave Salt and venture off on their own.
It was, perhaps, quite natural for Taiwo and Kehinde to feel more comfortable with each other than in the midst of a bigger ensemble. They had been singing together since childhood, often doing session work and performing in local festivals. In 1969, they cut their first album as a duo, Iya Mi Jowo and after the Salt tour they released Mother Africa. Their relationship with producer Biddy Wright was a fruitful one, yielding the impressive LPs Danger (1976) and Sunshine (1978). I'm not sure why they opted not to reprise the collaboration on their next album; instead they turned to their old Salt cohorts Berkley and Laolu (along with syudio stalwart Odion Iruoje).
Where the Wright-produced albums featured breezy, melodic Afro-pop (that frequently leaned more towards the "pop" than the "Afro"), Jones, Akins and Iruoje plant the twins firmly in a world of rhythm. With their luminescent voices dropped into a dubby juju soundscape, surrounded by pitch-dark basslines and the incessant chatter of talking drums, the twins sing back mostly in Yoruba (as opposed to the English of the Wright albums), making full use of the language's percussive and tonal properties. And somewhere on the horizon, Lemmy Jackson chips in with buzzing clavinets and stately piano riffs that fall somewhere between the church and the supper club.
The result is the Lijadu Sisters' most successful and widely-known album (which was reissued in 1984 by the US label Shanachie, and was a college radio favorite through the decade).
The Lijadu Sisters - Horizon Unlimited (1979)
Keyboards - Lemmy Jackson
Gube (bass drum) - Tony Adeleye
First Talking drum - Soji Adenle
Maracas - John Akanmu
Second Bass Drum - Ladi Oguntunwase
Rhythm Guitar - Alao/Tunde Peters/Glenis Martins
Lead guitar - Frederick Ramm
Drums - Laolu Akins
Drums - Buttley Moore
Ekwe & clefs - Friday Jumbo
Bass guitar - Richard Archer
Produced by Berkley Jones/Laolu Akins/Odion Iruoje
Recorded at Decca Studios, London
>DOWNLOAD IT! <
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
My original intention was to continue with the BLO saga via a detour to the Lijadu Sisters, but for the past two days I've been trying to upload some video clips and YouTube is all acting brand new with me.
Meanwhile, my man dafriquan just asked me when the hell I'm gonna post the rest of the Ofege records, so I know that some cats are feening for some rawk.
So just to keep things moving, I'm gonna post some rawk. From Africa. But not from Nigeria.
This is an album that's been floating around some of the psychedelic rock blogs, so maybe some of you have already heard it. If you haven't, I envy you; for I would love to go back and relish once again the first delirious time I heard the Zambian band called The W.I.T.C.H (as in "We Intend To Cause Havoc").
(Needless to say, they fulfill this intention wonderfully)
This is their album Lazy Bones, from 1975.
> DOWNLOAD IT! <
Monday, June 11, 2007
This is sad news for African cinema, for real.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
(that pic is kinda messed up, ain't it? i'll have to fix it later)
With the release of their third album (their second for the year 1975), the three members of BLO were riding high. Flush with success, the trio celebrated by featuring for the first time on one of their LP covers. Poised on the roof of a sleek red coupe, garbed in body-hugging synthetic fabric finery, they appear affluent, confident, and--an appellative one would hesitate before applying to the earthy Afro-hippies of Chapter One and Phase 2--pretty fucking fly. Their seating positions spell out the name of their band, left to right: B for Berkley, L for Laolu, O for...
Wait a minute... That's not Odumosu on the cover.
And it's not just the cover; a glance at the sleeve notes confirms that Mike Odumosu does not appear anywhere on this record. In his stead, we find Biddy Wright, the nimble multi-instrumentalist who around the same period was starting to work with the Lijadu Sisters, producing for them clean and lean funk, rock and reggae tracks remarkable for their precision-tooled craftsmanship and light tinge of camp.
A stylistic chameleon, Adeniyi "Biddy" Wright had cut his teeth as the leader of the popular Lagos highlife combo Wura Fadaka in the nineteen sixties before shifting base to London after the war. There, inspired by the Osibisa phenomenon, he formed an Afro-rock band called Akido, which he led on bass and vocals.
(Six Degrees of Ginger Baker Fun Fact! The band also featured Ghanaian percussionist Niimoi "Speedy" Acquaye, who had played in the original Air Force!)
Akido's self-titled 1972 album was produced by Ronnie Lane, the bassist of The Faces (being, of course, the legendary English lad-rock band whose lineup also included Rod Stewart and future Rolling Stone Ron Wood, not the Nigerian band of the same name).
Disenchanted with the effect Rod the Mod's growing idol status exerted upon the band's musical direction, Lane quit The Faces in 1973 and formed the country-rock outfit Slim Chance, in which Wright played bass.
(Many Ronnie Lane fan histories erroneously refer to the musician who replaced original Slim Chance bassist Chrissie Stewart as "Buddy Wright" or "Buddy White," but that is indeed Biddy Wright on Lane's Anymore for Anymore album even though he does not appear in the band photos.)
Wright--billed on Step Three as "Biddy O'Wright (get it? "O'Wright"? so it's still a B-L-O album?)--not only subs for Odumosu on bass, but also contributes alto and soprano sax and the horn arrangements, with his frequent collaborators Tunde Williams and Johny Wood handling trumpet and organ/piano respectively.
If Phase 2 edged more towards funkiness than the psychedelia of Chapter One, Step Three pretty much jettisons all the trappings of "rock" altogether. Berkley Jones, who in addition to playing 1st and 2nd guitars and Moog, writes all the songs (except for Akins' wonderfully loose-limbed "Gotta Get Me A Better Head"), has clearly been digging Sly Stone and blaxploitation funk, and it's reflected in the lyrics and arrangements.
While there's not a formal production credit listed on the album other than the "Guest engineer and producer" accorded to Keith Whiting, who remixed the album at Decca Studios, London after the raw tracks were recorded at Decca's Lagos facility, it's not hard to imagine Wright's involvement having a significant influence on the sound of this record. Consistent with Wright's light-fingered production style, it was by far the most relaxed of BLO's albums to date. Even the very title of the album exudes laidbackness. While Chapter One suggested solemn ceremony and Phase 2 rigorous procedural, Step Three connoted an informal, organic move in a natural direction. The trio is easygoing and spontaneous, cheerfully flubbing lines on the Cymande-influenced "Hypocrisy" and sounding like they're improvising lyrics as they go along on "Don't Pull This From Under Me"; despite the crispness of the production, there's a demo-like quality to the album (And, in fact, "Mind Walk" was re-recorded as "Move Up" on the following year's Phase IV.) (Update: You can listen to some snippets from that album here, btw)
But the question remains: Where was Mike Odumosu during the making of this record? I used to wonder that myself until last week, when a possible answer smacked me in the face while I was digging at Looney Tunes Records on Boylston Street.
There I was, going through the O's in the Soul section, wondering why I couldn't find a copy of the first Original Dr. Buzzard's Savannah Band album (maybe because the band was actually called "Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band," genius?) when I saw this LP that I hadn't seen in years:
Osibisa's 1976 Ojah Awake, with the band also making their cover debut in lieu of Roger Dean's proggy fantasyscapes.
See the dude in all red, next to the guy with the hat and boots? That's Mike Odumosu. (Hat and boots is Kiki Gyan, we will talk about him later.)
Can't hardly be mad at Odumosu for jumping at the chance to play with the biggest Afro-rock group of the day, can ya? Ojah Awake was coincidentally Osibisa's most successful album (yielding monster hits "The Coffee Song" and "Dance the Body Music") and also their last major smash. I'm not too versed in the band's history after this point, so I don't know for sure whether Odumosu's tenure with them was temporary or a more long-term arrangement. (Allmusic.com tells me that he remained with them through 1977 at least, but they get sketchy after that.)
However, I don't think Mike Odumosu ever fully returned to BLO. He appeared on the cover of Phase IV and received a vocal credit as well, but the bass duties on that album were fulfilled by Celestine Nyam, and by this time, BLO had found their new "O" anyway: velvet-voiced soul singer and keyboardist Otu Udofa, who went by the nom de disque Lemmy Jackson. At the time he met Berkley and Laolu, he was hustling session gigs in London; within the next five years, Lemmy Jackson would become the most important and influential producer in Nigerian pop music.
(Or did Jackson officially join the band on their sixth album, 1980's Bulky Backside? I don't know... He's on the cover of Phase IV, too. The chronology gets a bit confusing here... The Phases 1972-1982 sleeve features a collage of clippings from tabloids such as The Punch and Lagos Weekend, but they're not presented in any real timeline. What I can glean from the montage, though, is that apparently, after Phase IV--or maybe even after Step Three--BLO essentially broke up for a few years. During that time, Berkley and Laolu studied screenwriting and sound production in London, and then they met Lemmy Jackson, who encouraged them to put the band back together.)
(One fairly bizarre clipping has Berkley, Laolu and Lemmy returning to Lagos after a long absence, arriving at the Punch offices and attracting much attention due to their presence of their latest bandmember... Pamela Obermeyer. Yes, Rocky Horror Picture Show fans... I do mean that Pamela Obermeyer. For you RHPS virgins...
She's the Transylvanian with the afro and the skull & crossbones tiara. The only sista in the clip. You can't miss her.)
Oh well... One of these days, I'm gonna have to ask the very cool (and rather hot) Ms. May to ask her dad to clear up the exact sequence of events.
But hey, I've talked enough for now. Might as well give you the music.
>DOWNLOAD STEP THREE!<
Friday, June 01, 2007
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."