Afrobeat Airways 2: Return Flight to Ghana 1974-1983
Release Date: September 17, 2013
Originating out of Lagos and southern Nigeria, Afrobeat was created when it’s main (and most famous) creator Fela Kuti and others had begun experimenting with meshing several contemporary musical genres such as traditional Yoruba music, American funk and soul, jazz and a regional genre known as highlife in the late 1960s. Within the next decade, the Afrobeat sound became the very sound of the African continent with one of modern music’s most charismatic, dynamic, confrontational, controversial (and sometimes contradictory) characters at its forefront. Indeed for Kuti, and the countless artists he later influenced, the political climate across the continent during the 60s and 70s heavily influenced the genre’s lyrical concerns – after all, most Africans across the continent were impacted by the large-scale governmental corruption, brutally oppressive regimes, crippling poverty, injustice and unfairness that became common across almost every country as they were transitioning from colonialism and imperialism to self-determination. Certainly, the corruption and political conditions of Kuti’s native Nigeria were pretty similar to those one would experience in Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire), Niger, Cameroon and others, and Kuti’s messages managed to transcend tribal and international borders.
Afrobeat’s popularity also managed to further cement Nigeria’s then-developing reputation for being a major regional and continental influence, and then later as Nigeria’s most important cultural export to the rest of the Western world. Of course, as bands across the continental began playing Afrobeat, it took on some of the local character of its environs; in other words, the Afrobeat bands played in Ghana would be subtly different than that of the Afrobeat played in Nigeria or that played in the States. In fact, the folks at Analog Africa returned to Ghana, the home of the material that appeared on Afrobeat Airways, seeking more rare tracks from the heavy hitters of that country’s Afrobeat scene throughout the 70s, including K. Frimpong; Nana Ampedu (leader of the mighty African Brothers Band); Gyedu-Blay Ambolley making a guest appearance with the Complex Sounds; Ebo Taylor backing his son, Ebo Taylor, Jr. on an unreleased track “Children Don’t Cry”; Ghana’s most influential and innovative Afrobeat drummer De Frank; Uppers International; as well as obscure artists such as Los Issufu and his Moslems, Waza Afrika 76 and Tony Sarfo and his Funky Afrosibi are introduced to the Western world for the first time.
On the compilation De Frank’s “Waiting for My Baby,” which reminds me of a slightly off-kilter version and funkier version of the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” – the sort of Afrobeat that drunken party bands should have adopted into their repertoire some time ago. Ebo Taylor, Jr.’s “Children Don’t Cry” is reminiscent of Expensive Shit/He Miss Road-era Fela Kuti, thanks to propulsive organ pulling the song forward – but with a bluesy guitar riff. De Frank’s second contribution to the compilation “Do You Own Thing” is also reminiscent of Expensive Shit/He Miss Road but if filtered through Pazy and the Black Hippies. The Cutless Band’s “Obiara Wondo” sounds as though it were inspired by Fela and James Brown, and the same can be said for the African Brothers’ “Wope Me A Ka’; in fact, both tracks sound as though DJ Kool Herc could have used them as breakbeats at a party. Rob’s “Loosen Up Yourself” has a bit of a dub step/reggae shuffle with a blazing guitar solo towards the end.
Naturally, the material overall owes a great debt to Fela Kuti himself, and that shouldn’t be surprising because Fela’s imprint on modern music has been so incredibly large, especially across Africa. Certainly Analog Africa’s latest compilation is a vital and important reminder of how influential Fela was – and is. But more importantly it allows for a more nuanced look at Ghana’s musical and cultural traditions. Sadly, a lot of this music and its creators had been forgotten until now but I often wonder if it would have gained greater traction in this country during the 70s when many Blacks started looking back towards Africa. Unfortunately, we will never know. But the fact that people can pick up this stuff, be moved by the grooves and its message and maybe be inspired to play it – well, that’s probably just as good.