Friday, July 02, 2010

Africa 70's and Colombian Sound Systems

Sean O'Hagan reviews two compilations: The World Ends: Afro-rock and Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria and Palenque Palenque: Champeta Criolla & Afro Roots in Colombia 1975-91.
Next month, Soundway Records, a small, independent British label, releases its latest compilation, a two-CD (or two triple vinyl albums) package called The World Ends: Afro-rock and Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria. It is an extraordinary artefact: track after track of Afro-rock and spaced-out funk from groups including the Hygrades, the Funkees, the Hykkers and the Thermometers.

The World Ends, according to Soundway, "represents a forgotten chapter in Nigeria's musical history". That period coincided with the Biafran war, which started in 1967, just as America and Britain were celebrating the so-called summer of love. For young, hip Nigerians, the electric guitar was the symbol of all things new and vibrant, and the psychedelic sounds filtering out from San Francisco and London were the template for a hybrid sound that spoke only of the future. It has taken four decades for those sounds to be excavated, re-pressed from the vinyl, and marketed to a new audience.
Recently, Soundway released a compilation called Palenque Palenque: Champeta Criolla & Afro Roots in Colombia 1975-91. It, too, is a thing of raw and wondrous beauty, collecting some of the psychedelic-influenced Afro-Latin tracks favoured by local Colombian sound systems working out of Cartagena and Barranquilla in the 70s and 80s. Again, a comparison with Jamaica holds, because the DJs and selectors drew huge crowds of feverishly local supporters, just like their counterparts in Kingston.

Today, young British DJs continue to play and disseminate this rare music from Africa and Latin America, though often it's remixed for contemporary audiences. This forgotten jazz-funk-soul-psych-rock music has now found a new fan base among British and American club audiences, whose previous encounter with this sort of thing might only have come through the African-tinged rock of Vampire Weekend. The band Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, from Benin, saw their 70s output issued by Soundway and Analog Africa, which led to recent UK tour dates. In pop music, everything, even the most obscure sounds, comes around again in one way or another.
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