Friday, September 10, 2010

Various Artists: Afro-Beat Airways: West African Shock Waves, Ghana & Togo 1972-1978

Joe Tangari reviews Afro-Beat Airways: West African Shock Waves, Ghana & Togo 1972-1978.
f you're already collecting Afro-funk comps, you'll probably know names like K. Frimpong, Ebo Taylor, and African Brothers Band. They and others here have all featured on other compilations, but this disc digs deep to bring us stuff we've never heard before. And if you're just getting into this music, pretty much everything will be revelatory. Taylor's two tracks under his own name here both have his signature big sound, underpinned by the knocking Afrobeat rhythm that he built into a trademark. It wasn't easy to have a massive sound like Taylor's in 70s Ghana. Successive military governments in the 60s had imposed curfews that made life difficult for musicians, breaking up a lot of bands and sending their members abroad-- the large horn sections of the big old-style highlife bands were the hardest-hit, and as a result highlife in Ghana became more focused on the guitar. Taylor's big, pummeling horn fanfares are a thread tying his funked-up 70s output back to the society bands he got his start in.

The ultimate Ghanaian guitar highlife band was undoubtedly the African Brothers, led by guitarist Nana Ampadu. Their "Ngyegye No So" borrows an Afrobeat backbeat (it's the insistent syncopated tick-tock-a-tick pattern played on the non-trap percussion) and tugs on it with a fractured bass line. After the psychedelic organ solo, Ampadu delivers an English monologue that goes like this: "It is me they call Nana Ampadu, the music king. I be composer, I be singer, I be arranger, I be master guitarist"-- the joke being that the song's title means "Don't Brag". Orchestre Abass, a Togolese band that relocated to Accra and later had a residency at Fela Kuti's Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria, picked up the choppy rhythms and immense organ sound of their adopted country, and they flash it brilliantly on "Awula Bo Fee Ene".
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