Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ginger Baker's Stratavarious

As we already established, the members of Ginger Baker's Salt band went their separate ways at the end of their 1972 tour before ever they ever got to record together. But Ginger Baker still managed to release an LP in that year featuring him jamming with African musicians. The album had been recorded in London in 1971 (with the exception of the track "Blood Brothers 69," from - you guessed it, Comfort - 1969) and featured Ginger teaming up with:

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.


(X AMOUNT OF BIG-UPS to the man called John Beadle, who digitized this album for us!)

Edited to fix typos and layout problems.


avocado kid said...

right on! sounds very cool

Anonymous said...

Glad I could be of assistance. And kudos to you, afkap, for the very useful background information on this album.

This was one of the first "African" LPs I ever bought, back around 1975 or so. I got this, and Fela and Ginger Baker Live at the same time, from a cutout bin. Live, of course, has been in print in one form or another for at least the last 20 years, but Stratavarious, to my knowledge, dropped out of sight almost immediately after being released. When I digitized it was the first time I'd listened to it in almost twenty years, and it's not bad at all! It's a nice snapshot of a funkier, more free-spirited time.

Anonymous said...

P.S.: Wouldn't "Remi" be Remi Kabaka, who was also part of Ginger Baker's Air Force?

Comb & Razor said...

i think there was a Japanese reissue of this album at some point, but i doubt it's around any more.

this was my first time listening to this album in a few years myself, and i was surprised at how funky, tuneful and accessible it was! for some reason, i always remembered it as being one of those pretentious, meandering and "beardy" post-Woodstock hippie improv-rock jams... but it's nothing of the sort!

thanks again!

Comb & Razor said...

ahhh.... good point with the Remi Kabaka, too!

(might have to do some kind of feature on him soon)

Anonymous said...

BTW, if I dig around in the bins, I can come up with an album by Ginger Baker's Airforce (I think they did two). This is the double album with another version of "Ariwo." It's been many, many years since I listened to this one also, and as I recall it really was "beardy" and rather self-indulgent, but maybe it's worth bringing to the light of day. I'll give it a listen and decide.

I will scan the cover and send it along, though. It's really groovy and outasite!

Comb & Razor said...

LOL i think i know the beardy album you're talking about.... i never owned it, but i recall listening to it when i was still running with a mean prog crowd!

this here is the one i'm thinking of...

Comb & Razor said...

hmmm... come to think of it, you mentioned that it includes a different version of "Ariwo" and i don't see that song on the tracklistings of the original Air Force album or on Air Force 2.

is it a different album altogether?

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's the album. The song I was thinking of was "Aiko Biaye," which I think had the same melody as "Ariwo," but with slightly different words.

Kwasi said...


You keep putting out the great stuff. Thanks

Comb & Razor said...

ain't no thing, Kwasi!

Anonymous said...

Love the track with Fela. Some of the guitar jams well we been there before?

Comb & Razor said...

you know, matt... now that you mention it, i just realized that there's no guitar credit on this album. maybe they took the solos off other albums and that's why it feels like we've been there before hehehehe...

Chi said...

wow. i can't wait to hear this!
thanks. this will hold me until you drop that other joint :-)

peskypesky said...

got this from another blog. it's FANTASTIC!!!