In the late Spring and very early Summer of 1973, an artist from Cameroon made his presence felt in the American Top 40 charts for a brief period of time. It was unlike anything which was being played on the radio at the time. It was danceable and it had equal amounts of what we now refer to as Afrobeat and Afro-Jazz contained within its structure. That song was “Soul Makossa”. The man who brought it to us was Manu Dibango. It was Dibango who brought this new type of music to my attention 40 years ago. It amazes me that it wasn’t one of the Nigerian artists or groups. It really surprises me that one of those Nigerians wasn’t Fela Kuti. Little did I know it then. Little did I know until a little over 5 or 6 years ago that Fela Kuti was a continent-wide superstar.
I had no idea that a whole wide and all-encompassing brand of music which melded together all different elements of African rhythms and approach with American Soul, Funk & Rock music existed throughout all of the late ’60’s and throughout all of the ’70s. This wonderfully vibrant music, with the tiny little exception of Dibango’s “Soul Makossa”, was not getting any airplay that I ever knew of. Perhaps it got airplay on the East Coast back then? I never heard it during the whole time I lived in the South Bay Area back in the ’70s.
It wasn’t until the mid–2000’s that it all came rushing back to grab my attention like some kind of angelic, mother–like angel who took kindly upon my constant longing for re-living those days once again. I was reading a copy of Rolling Stone Magazine at my kitchen table at the house I lived in. With my wonderful late beloved German Shepherd, Sheba, not far away from me in the living room and keeping an eye on me, I came upon David Fricke’s Fricke’s Picks column which I had been keeping an eye on as one of the things I could always count on for something at least half-way interesting to read.
Sometimes, there are those moments when you read something and the description just hits you at the right moment and in the right way that you know you have to drop what you are doing and put in an order for it. For many years, this type of moment wasn’t happening to me too much. But this one was a feeling I knew could not be ignored. Fricke wrote about a then new 2-CD compilation called Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-1976 from a label called Soundway (which I would later learn was based out of Brighton, England). And though it is a blur and I can’t recall if it was from this same article of Fricke’s or another of his, I learned of a compilation from a label called Analog Africa (which has been based in Germany), which had released African Scream Contest: Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds From Benin & Togo 70s.
In the space of a very short period of time, I placed orders for these two gems. When I got done listening to them, I checked my feet to make sure that both of my socks hadn’t been blown completely off. There’s so many of you out there who are probably pining away because you wish you could discover some music that you never heard or heard of from back in the ’60s and ’70s that could come along and breathe some new life into you. I am here to testify to you all that what Soundway and Analog Africa does in presenting their Africa music titles will make you feel like you have one groovy little angel who is waiting to spring a really pleasant surprise on you.
The majority of the music that these two labels present are not sung in English (except for the occasional pidgin English). But don’t let the language barrier stop you from discovering this stuff. All of these marvelous African musicians bring all of these elements together and mix it up in a way that comes out uniquely their own and with an intensity that you would be hard-pressed to match. I really want to emphasize the word intensity. The rawness of the sounds coming out of these studios are really something to behold as you listen to them.
This was what had been missing in my life all of these years. I needed to discover this stuff and you need to as well. I’ve been letting Matt know about this stuff for as long as I’ve been an online friend of his.
It really doesn’t matter which titles of either Soundway or Analog Africa that you get, but the two I mentioned would be the best places to start and then you can branch out beyond that.
Both of these labels have done some great work on incredibly difficult to find obscure recordings from Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Angola & Ghana. It can be hazardous work. The liner notes in both label’s releases have mentioned that some recordings involved putting your hands into places where little creepy beasties could be lurking and possibly give you a fatal bite. And they keep expanding. One of the reasons why I’m writing this estatic column is because Analog Africa has just announced their newest upcoming release of various artists called Afrobeat Airways 2: Return Flight To Ghana 1974-1983 which is due on September 17and that Soundway’s newest release is another knockout winner called Kenya Special: Selected East African Recordings From The 1970s & ’80s. You can pick up the latter right now from Amazon, Amazon U.K. or Dusty Groove. In many of my future Talia’s Overflow Notes, I will report on both label’s Africa releases diligently.
Along with the music itself, you will all love how detailed both of these labels are in their liner notes. These CDs are worth every penny. So, please do yourselves a favor and start supporting these two fine labels who deserve a lot more exposure than they get. You will not be disappointed.
Oh yes, and check your socks, o.k.? You’ll thank me later on.