Monday, June 02, 2008

Africa will never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never surrender!

American disco music has taken over Africa. During the days of Victor Olaiya, the Uhurus, the Ramblers dance-bands there was jazz music from America. Then there was pop music. It never gave us musicians a chance to move out. And you know with Africans, anything that comes out of England is a gas. Then during the time of Victor Uwaifo and Fela there was this soul music.

I always remember that one day Victor Uwaifo printed some handbills saying that no one should listen to soul music. But I think that soul music is like our aladura (praying) songs--it's a spiritual music. But they came down and took the business from us.

Now these days we have funk, but I'm not lying low and I won't let it take garri from my hands. So I have decided to create my own type of African disco music. Believe me sincerely, it is catching on like wildfire. This music we hope to export to America and England.

--Sonny Okosuns, quoted in West African Pop Roots by John Collins
When Sonny Okosuns started his music career with The Postmen in 1966, the chief models for his look and sound were overseas rock & rollers like Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley. However, by the beginning of the 70s, as he fronted Paperback Limited, he found himself becoming increasingly dissatisfied with merely recycling Western pop and desired to play more African music.

The rock-loving, postwar youth audience was not really trying to hear a lot of that stuff, though. As Okosuns explained to Gary Stewart, the kids loved when he did the "copyright" tunes, but zoned out when he tried to introduce new, indigenous-inspired sounds: "I got all the youth, you know, who were so much interested in undergound [rock], but I lost them when they started listening to the kind of music I was playing. I wasn't playing the ... Jimi Hendrix kind of music or the Who or the Kinks kind of music.... That's what the youth wanted to hear.... I was in the crossroads. I was winning one way but losing in many ways."

It was with this dilemma in mind--how to appeal to audiences desiring the latest sounds from foreign without surrendering his African identity--that Sonny formed Ozziddi in 1974, pairing folkloric lyrics, rhythms and melodies with cutting edge rock arrangments to enormous success. Sonny's friend Fela Ransome-Kuti arrived at a similar resolution with his development of afrobeat--but where Fela stubbornly stuck and continued to purvey his patented style long after its soul, jazz and Latin elements fell out of favor, Okosuns never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never surrendered. He kept searching for new ways to keep his African music competitive with the current hot sound, be it rock, reggae, makossa or calypso.

By the time that I personally discovered Sonny, he was in his "Ozziddisco" period, so for me this sound remains the definitive Sonny Okosuns sound. Back then, I thought it was just some dope dance music, but listening to it now, I realize how cannily crafted it is. It can blend in easily with any of the disco stompers of the day, but it doesn't ape disco; the essentially "African" character remains intact.

"Tire Ni Oluwa"
"Tell Them"

Both of these tracks are from the 1979 album 3rd World, which I just now realized was entirely produced by Eddy Grant.

And speaking of which... I was able to get an mp3 of Eddy Grant's "Papa's Land" remix (courtesy of Naijajams--thanks, Bobo!) so I'll post it here, along with the original version.

"Papa's Land" (1977)
"Papa's Land" (1979)


calumbinho said...

He he, I've loved that 1979 version of Papa's Land ever since I heard it a few years ago. Do you know who's playing that loooong soprano sax solo in the second half? Also, was this version ever published in an LP (perhaps "Sonny Okosuns in 1980",

Comb & Razor said...

i was actually wondering the same thing about the sax solo... but i've never seen the credits for this track.

i don't know if it ever appeared on an LP... i know that it and "Fire in Soweto" appeared as single on the Radic label in the UK. it must have been on an LP in Nigeria... probably the 1980 LP, as you noted. (i remember that LP was huge around the same time as this song, so yeah)

i might have to edit this post, because i'm not sure Eddy Grant produced the 3rd World album... as i said, i just learned that this morning as i was about to post this and i Googled to look for a photo of the album cover and saw some "Produced by Eddy Grant."

now i have my copy in front of me, and it says "Produced by Sonny Okosuns for Elephant Productions" (it was certainly recorded at Grant's Coach House Studios, though)

*shrug* i'll figure it out...

Comb & Razor said...

yeah... they're both on the In 1980 LP.

i need to find that.

N.I.M.M.O said...

Brother mine, many thanks for all the info on Sonny (Sunny?) Okosuns. Particularly for the tracks.

There is this song that keeps coming up in my head, I believe it was done by Okosuns though I am not very sure now.

It's called Neighbor (or Nebo?). It goes something like this...

Neighbor (Nebo) you're so fine
I love the way you smile
Neighbor you're so sweet
I want to be your man
Sing you a song from morning till night waiting for the summer sun. (2x).

I am trying to determine now whether it was Okosuns or Willie Onyeabor who did this song but It doesn't really sound like Onyeabor to me. I'm just not too sure.

NB: I've always wondered why someone would wait 'from morning till night' just to see the 'summer sun'.

Comb & Razor said...

hmmm... can't say that sounds like any Sonny Okosuns song i can remember right now...

i'll take a look and see if i can trace it (whoever it's actually by)

stay tuned!

Tmex12 said...

Nimmo.....You are right its a Sonny Okosun song. I loved that song too!

Comb & Razor said...

hmmmmm.... i really do not remember that song!

what year did it come out?

Kev. said...

The song n.i.m.m.o mentions is called "Highlife" and yes it is by Sonny Okosuns. I first remeber hearing it around 1983 or so and I remember a 12" single of it on the US Sanachie label lying around the house back home.


Comb & Razor said...

okay... i DO remember the song "Highlife" (don't remember the lyrics, though) and i think i even have it.

i'll check for that... thanks, Kev.!

Anonymous said...

the song is on the soundtrack of something wild by Jonathan Demme

Rotimi said...

Yes, N.I.M.M.O, You are right, the song was by Sonny Okosun, on my CD its labelled "Highlife" but its definitely Okosun, I listen to it weekly.