An introduction to the music of West Africa, pt. 3: afrodisco / afrofunk

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Part 3 goes through songs 31-45 of our introduction to the music of West Africa, delving into the cosmic territories of Nigerian disco, Cameroonian funk and all-out dancing heat from the centre of the Earth. If you enjoyed this introduction, please let us know here or over on Facebook. You can find all of the tunes in a nice list for your streaming pleasure on Spotify / Youtube.

Afrodisco

As globalisation encroached following the independence of West African countries throughout the 1960s, cutting edge hardware like synths and recording units – all the stuff we consider ‘vintage gear’ today – began to fall into the hands of West African musicians. By the early 80s, ‘Afrodisco’ was taking urban areas by storm. Lagos became a massive hub for disco and funk experimentation. On the flip side, social unrest and military occupation in Accra sent Ghanian disco musicians fleeing to neighbouring countries – mainly Nigeria – or further afield; this is why places like Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin have become hotspots for diggers looking for the rarest afrodisco cuts.

Afrodisco provided – and continues to provide – a musical touchstone and a treasure trove of samples for tons of house music in the US and elsewhere. Its proximity to funk, pop and 4/4 rhythms embedded in the musical fabric of a certain generation in the West also makes it a convenient entry point to West African music. Despite this, though, we’ve left it until the last section. A little bit like a celebration. Get yr disco shoes on.

31: Shina Williams & His African Percussionists – ‘Agboju Logun’

One of the most recognised and revered afrodisco anthems. An incendiary 11 minute locked disco groove from Nigeria, with synthy overtones and funk elements. I say no more.

32: Rim & Kasa – ‘Love Me For Real’ 

You know this one. Maybe you didn’t know that it came from Ghana. Peak time dancefloor heat!

33: Steve Monite – ‘Only You’

What can you say about Steve Monite? Not much. Like William Onyeabor, Monite is a mysterious figure in the history of Nigerian music. There are a handful of tracks on his one and only LP, ‘Only You’, that blew my head off when I heard them. The eponymous track is the highlight – crackles, pops, strange asides, moans, masterful arrangement, heart-tugging hooks, and THAT bassline. Some say that Onyeabor and Steve Monite could be the same person. But here’s a level of soul that we struggle to find even in the deepest corners of the Nigerian cowboy’s back-catalogue. Steve, you are wonderful.

34: Oby Onyioha – ‘Enjoy Your Life’

Massive in Nigeria in the 80s. Apparently you would hear this everywhere. Better than putting the radio on today?

35: Basa Basa – ‘African Soul Power’

Recorded in Lagos at the height of the city’s afro-disco craze, ‘African Soul Power’ is a slightly darker addition to this list. When it takes off from its techno-esque interlude, it veers into all of jazz, soul and haunting psychedelia. The tension between the dissonant guitars and odes to unity (‘making music for the people / disco music for the people’) creates an eerie restlessness that can only be shaken off in dance. Fela Kuti once said that the Basa Basa twins from Ghana had ‘magic powers’.

36: Livy Ekemzie – ‘Holiday Action’

Fast NYC boogie style celebration from Lagos. David Mancuso probably dropped this at some point.

Afrofunk

Fela Kuti and other afrobeat pioneers that we looked at in part 2 took massive cues from US funk artists like James Brown. While afrobeat came to be synonymous with the music of the region, though, there were far more straight-up funk bands operating in West Africa during the late 1970s and 1980s. Instead of the dense polyrhythmic percussion exemplified by Tony Allen, many bands took the basic straight disco beat as a bedrock for a host of syncopated guitars and synthesiser explorations. A lot of these bands are only now coming to be recognised by a new generation of DJs, musicians and African music enthusiasts from the rest of the world. Here’s our top picks.

37: Christy Essien – ‘You Can’t Change A Man’ 

Easing you in gently is well-known Nigerian songstress Christy Essien, preaching over the lush disco-funk vibes. That bass.

38: Jimmy Hyacinthe – ‘Yatchiminou’

Perhaps the best introduction to the West African funk movement is Jimmy Hyacinthe’s ‘Yatchiminou’. Juicy bass, rolling horns and unyielding guitar, masterfully arranged for maximum dancefloor debauchery.

39: Steve Monite – ‘Things Are Falling Apart’

Straddling the line between disco & funk, the inimitable Steve Monite’s ‘Things Are Falling Apart’ is the second classic from his singular and single 1984 LP. Things Fall Apart was originally a novel by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, coming out on the eve of Nigerian independence in 1958. Achebe’s meditations on identity and decolonisation served to push the phrase ‘Things Fall Apart’ into a sort of common Nigerian ontology fit for the latter half of the 20th century.. Here, Steve gives us his own take on this perpetual state of difficulty. ‘What are we gonna do now?’ he laments. Maybe he couldn’t put out the fire.

40: Tala A.M. – ‘Arabica’ 

André-Marie Tala might be considered Cameroon’s answer to Stevie Wonder. Blinded at the age of 15, ‘Tala AM’ went on to create probably the liveliest funk and disco music in Cameroon. Fact: James Brown’s ‘Hustle’ is a direct rip of Tala AM’s demo ‘Hot Koki’ that was given to him on a tour of Cameroon.

41: Pasteur Lappe – ‘Na Real Sekele Fo Ya’

A mainstay of afrofunk, again from Cameroon. Great friends of Tala AM and Fela Kuti, Pasteur Lappe is an artist who is only just beginning to gain widespread recognition for his work in the 1980s.

42: Jon Haastrup – ‘Greetings’ 

The son of a Yoruba king, Joni Haastrup’s lively ‘Greetings’  lies somewhere at the intersection between afrobeat, disco and funk. His band featured Fela Kuti on trumpet at one point.

43: Ebo Taylor & Uhuru Yenzy – ‘You Need Love’ 

Highlife grooving with that slow-mo funk rhythm section. Soulful, breezy and gorgeous, ‘You Need Love’ shows the Ghanian guvnor Ebo Taylor at the height of his arrangement and performance skills.

44: Tirogo – ‘Disco Maniac’

Perhaps the mightiest drop in all of Nigerian Funk.

45: William Onyeabor – ‘When the Going is Smooth & Good’ 

Neither disco nor funk, neither here nor there. A universal message. The potent words, jaunty, open-hat beat and mesmerising synthscapes forged here by southern Nigeria’s enigmatic studio guru William Onyeabor sent Lagos into a frenzy in the mid-80s. Just look at the gear. It’s rare to hear Onyeabor waxing so much lyrical content in one track, and his almighty-preacher delivery is simply intoxicating. The oscillator sounds in this (particularly the entire sequence from 5:48 in this video) prefigured house and techno by about 10 years, and have been used as inspiration in contemporary recordings alike. Everyone from David Byrne to Daphni and Damon Albarn will sing the praise of this tune – hear it for yourself.

‘When they come back they have come back to help in knocking you down down down down down….’


That’s it for our introduction to the music of West Africa. There’s loads and loads more we could dig into, but a lowdown in 45 tracks should suffice – part of the fun is in exploring the deepest, dustiest crates and the vast expanses of the internet yourse,f. To recap:

Pt. 1, highlife, palmwine, Malian traditional pop and Afro-Latin

Pt. 2: afrobeat & psychedelia

The 45 tracks are also available to stream on YouTube and Spotify. You can also support 45turns by sharing this article and liking us on Facebook (click here or use the sidebar to the left).

Happy digging.

 

An introduction to the music of West Africa, pt. 2: afrobeat & psychedelia

In part 2 we head to the 1970s for a 15 track exploration of psychedelic sounds from West Africa. Here’s part one, in case you want to catch up on the first 15.

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Afrobeat

Borne of the musical chemistry between highlife musicians Fela Kuti and Tony Allen, afrobeat defined the mood of a 1970s Nigeria eager to throw off the shackles of its exploitation and move towards a united African continent able to take charge of its own rights and resources. Fela’s infernal cauldron of highlife, bebop jazz and heavy funk quickly took hold in Nigeria, spreading to the rest of West Africa and eventually to all of the Western world. Afrobeat craze sent Fela Kuti & The Afrika/Egypt 70 to the US, UK, France, Germany and massive festival appearances all over Europe. To this day there remains a huge appetite for afrobeat and its legacy, epitomised in the figures of Femi and Seun Kuti (the latter of whom still performs globally with the Egypt 80), the annual Felabration, contemporary afrobeat ensembles such as Antibalas, Newen Afrobeat and London Afrobeat Collective, and the ever increasing value of original Fela pressings globally, from San Francisco to St. Petersburg. Here’s a rundown of some of our favourite afrobeat tunes::

16: Fela Kuti – ‘Lady’

The moment where afrobeat came into its own to become the musical force that captivated hearts and minds across the world. Deep, dark and raw, ‘Lady’ is the epitome of Fela Kuti’s uncompromising call to arms for Africa to resist the excesses of Western pomp. A cornerstone in the musical development of afrobeat and one of the best instances of Fela’s enigmatic sermonising that has and will invite controversy from everyone from the Nigerian military to today’s misguided social justice fighters.

17: Segun Okeji – ‘I Like Woman’

Can’t really put it better than this video description: ‘” … Afro Super-Feelings led by Segun Okeji: Afro Super-Feelings (Comet/Awoko : 197? – r: 2001: Soul Patrol)

Good goddamn. Who is Segun Okeji and why is nobody talking about him? “I Like Woman”, is a funky, mid-tempo slow-burner in the Fela mold. It’s led by Okeji’s wandering sax– and, based on these horn arrangements, I suspect Okeji took a lot of his inspiration from the king of Afrobeat. Fela is good company to keep though, and Okeji’s take on Afrobeat is symphonic in scope and marvelously kinetic….”

18: Shango Dance Band – ‘Women Are Great’

As you might have noticed, female admiration is strong within the afrobeat sphere. The Shango Dance Band (Shango meaning ‘thunder’ in Yoruba) was formed by Ojo Okeji, previously the bass player in Fela’s Koola Lobitos, during his time in the Nigerian military. Their one-off and incredibly rare 1974 record has recently been unearthed by Comb & Razor with the thunderous afrobeat heavyweight ‘Women Are Great’. Check it…

19: Fela Kuti – ‘Shakara’

A classic from Fela in his signature slow-burner style. Let the flames of brass power and Tony Allen’s dense rhythms engulf you.

20: Fela Kuti – ‘Beasts of No Nation’

Or, if Shakara ends too soon, check out ‘Beasts Of No Nation’. At half an hour long, Beasts of No Nation embodies the spiritual obedience that Fela could evoke in his audience:

21: Vis-A-Vis – ‘Obi Agye Me Dofo’

Ghanian band bringing synthesizer elements into the traditional afrobeat sound- a prototype for the more electronic direction we’ll explore in the next section.

Pg. 2 – psychedelia –>

An introduction to the music of West Africa, pt. 1

Contrary to popular perception, the music of West Africa is anything but insular. Being on the North-Westerly Atlantic coast of the continent and thus integral to trading since the sixteenth century, West Africa has played host to a fusion of indigenous styles, French, British and Portuguese instruments, as well as ‘returning’ hybrid styles from the USA, Caribbean and South America. All this plays a part in an incredibly rich musical heritage that is often overlooked, or simply not acknowledged.

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European trade, conquest and colonialism brought instruments and styles to important Atlantic ports like Dakar, Bissau, Freetown and Accra; a returning New World diaspora, mainly descendants of slaves, brought already hybrid musical styles for further experimentation in their home countries; early 20th century Cuban and Caribbean influences were ubiquitous in the Atlantic coastal stretch from Senegal to Cameroon, diffusing inland and providing a framework for the incorporation of American styles such as funk and disco in the latter half of the century.

Some 36 million people scattered across 18 different states share in this musical heritage, with a large degree of fluidity within and between regions such as Ghana, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire, for example, or Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia, allowing for the use of the term ‘West African music’ to encompass the musical culture of this vast geographical region.

Instead of trying to pinpoint an essence or vein that runs through the entire region, we’ve opted to give 45 amazing songs that give a good representation of the massive musical spectrum in this part of the world. From delicate palmwine jeremiads to psychedelic funk and dancefloor disco heat, from Cabo Verde to Cameroon, we aim to give you an overview the sounds of West Africa in the 20th century. Here’s part one of 45turns introduction to the music of West Africa.

Palmwine & Highlife

Although influenced by European styles, palmwine and highlife are among the most traditional of West African styles that we have recorded evidence of. Originally played on Portuguese guitars brought into the Atlantic ports of Liberia, palmwine music was performed out in the street, often with makeshift instruments – whatever you could get your hands on – and was used as a form of social commentary and complaint, generally revolving around a lush, sweeping guitar.  Check out Kwaa Mensah’s ‘Kalabule’ and ‘Obra Ye Ku’ for some classic palmwine . Sunday evening hangover music.

1: Kwaa Mensah – ‘Kalabule’

2: Kwaa Mensah – ‘Obra Ye Ku’

Highlife in the 20th century (it’s important to distinguish this from the highly commercial sound of contemporary ‘highlife’) has more to do with jazz and Afro-Cuban music from across the Atlantic. It began in Ghana in the 1930s as a reserve of the affluent local elite who would watch bands play indigenous styles with Western instruments, eventually nicknamed highlife as a tongue-in-cheek jibe from the poorer folk who couldn’t afford the entrance fee to the clubs.

By the late 1950s highlife had spread to become the dominant form of popular music in coastal West Africa, from The Gambia to Nigeria. Here’s our pick of great highlife tracks:

3: S. E. Rogie – ‘Twist with the Morningstars’

Rockabilly-crossed highlife (!) with a calypso vibe from Sierra Leonean legend S. E. Rogie and his band, The Morningstars.

4: Dr. K. Gyasi & His Noble Kings – ‘Nye Mani Kan’

Ghanian highlife from Dr. K. Gyasi & His Noble Kings. Note the brass section, organ underpinnings and bluesy feel on this that nod to the conventions of mid-20th century US jazz.

 

5: Fela Ransome Kuti & His Kola Labitos – ‘It’s Highlife Time’

Here’s future afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti in his early days leading a highlife band. Fela’s highlife incorporated a seriously Latin jazz feel- we’ll hear more of this Afro-Latin crossover below.

Afro-Latin

The diaspora of West Africans in the New World – as slaves, indentured workers, explorers or even slavers themselves – engaged in processes of cross-cultural exchange for hundreds of years. Afro-Cuban music, for example, was a composite of Spanish traditional styles – which had in turn been influenced by Moorish musical traditions from North West and East Africa – and indigenous West African rhythms played by forcibly displaced slave populations in Cuba; in this sense, Afro-Cuban is a music that takes influence from each corner of the Saharan desert.

6: Orchestre du Bawobab – ‘Thiely’

As well as customs, languages and foods, freed slaves returning to West Africa brought new musical instruments and ways of playing. In this way, Afro-Latin music and its associate styles could be further developed within West Africa, giving birth to a whole range of new styles and possibilities. A characteristic feature of the Afro-Latin music brought back by the diaspora was the introduction of a brass section which could work with indigenous rhythms- thus the type of highlife music that Fela Kuti was experimenting with on his 1965 debut album. As you’ll see, lots of the music on this list call heavily on Afro-Latin styles.

7: Orchestre Laye Thiam – ‘Kokorico’

As an important destination in the material and cultural exchange between Cuba and Africa, Senegal was a hotbed for the development of Afro-Latin music within Africa. Kokorico is an Afro-Cuban gem from Senegal’s capital on the Atlantic coast, Dakar.

8: Val “Xalino” Silva – ‘Danca Danca T’Manche’

A much later example of Afro-Latin musical crossover. ‘Danca Danca T’Manche’ sings the indigenous Cabo Verdean funaná style in Portuguese and injects it with a heavy dose of the synthesizer sounds that were prevalent within the musical culture of the Cabo Verde islands by the 1980s. Head on to page 4 for some West African reggae, and a selection of tracks from Mali.

Reggae

Reggae sounds from Jamaica resonated strongly with West African musicians . It’s particularly popular today in The Gambia, where they like to call themselves true and faithful rastas.

9: Chief Checker – ‘Impossibilities’

The deepest track from a 1980s reggae album recorded in London by Nigerian musician Chief Checker. Big in Japan.

10: Theadora Ifudu – ‘Hello There!’

Reggae disco soul crossover from Nigeria. A treasure trove for samples.

Mali

Mali is one of the biggest countries in West Africa and home to a plethora of national styles. The prevalence of the French language here has been instrumental (pardon the pun) in opening up ‘world’ music to an international audience.

11: Oumou Sangaré – ‘Ah Ndiya’

Oumou Sangaré from Mali with the Ah Ndiya, performed in the highly traditional and largely female-only Malian folk style called Wassoulou. A music that, like palmwine, also performs an important social function.

12: Ali Farka Touré – ‘Al Du’

A folky number from Mali by the spearhead of ‘world’ music, Ali Farka Touré. Dig the African blues.

13: Fatoumata Diawara Fatour – ‘Sowa’

Another Wassoulou tune performed with a more contemporary café pop twist.

14: Salif Keita – ‘Madan’

Salif Keita, another Malian pop sensation.

15: Youssou N’Dour – ‘Médina’

Here’s Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour with Médina, a nostalgic ode to the district in Dakar where he grew up.


If you enjoyed part 1 of this introduction to West African music, please let us know or 45turns on Facebook (click here or use the sidebar to the left). In the meantime, enjoy the music. You can find part 2 below, where we go through the raucous sounds of afrobeat and psychedelia that took the Western world by storm.

An introduction to the music of West Africa, pt. 2: afrobeat & psychedelia

Ezra Collective – Juan Pablo: The Philosopher

Having already broken into the local jazz consciousness with last year’s Chapter 7 EP and the Sun-Ra informed Space Is the Place single, London five-piece Ezra Collective have dropped their anticipated Juan Pablo: The Philosopher EP, a heady collection of new wave jazz tunes.

Ezra Collective are a good emblem for the revitalised London jazz scene that has become highly conscious of the interplay between the roots that soul and hip-hop have in jazz, including the late 2000s broken beat scene and the rediscovered (for the second time since the early 2000s) West African funky heritage.

The EP opens with a sunny, psychedelic keyboard trill that composes itself and morphs into the afrobeat-style brass refrain that forms the centrepiece of opening track ‘Juan Pablo’. It continues throughout its blissful 23 minutes with a full-throttled dissemination of funk, atmospheric disco-esque rhythm and late night post-bop.

The dynamism and craftsmanship on display here speak for an inner love of rhythm and jazz that’s been lacking in a scene saturated by real book purists and faux-pas cocktail bars. Juan Pablo: The Philosopher is bold, colourful and, dare I say, breakthrough: it’s something to get excited about. Ezra Collective are sure to be a solid reference point in UK jazz for the years to come.

You can get Juan Pablo: The Philosopher on Bandcamp. 45turns tip: keep an eye out for a repress before the end of the year. 


If you’re that way inclined, like 45turns on Facebook for more cracking new music.

Les Yeux Orange – Togosava (Good Plus)

The two releases so far on Les Yeux Orange’s Good Plus imprint have proved as evasive as they are killer. This month, Good Plus have resurfaced for the second time this year with ‘Togosava’, three characteristically killer afrodisco edits.

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‘Avidio’, spanning the entire A-side, is an atmospheric mid-tempo disco chugger with a swinging groove. It’s really nice, but the flip side is where the action is.

‘Yanga Mbiwaa’ is a lurching afrodisco monster that rises up with West African chants and juicy bass before throwing you off the trail with dissonant guitar, double-stops and key changes, making it all the sweeter when it does lock in to the groove.

‘Autoradio’, spins you around the eternal ephemeral, a hurricane of formalities, where bright alto sax ponders the point of going, moving, introducing and asking..It’s dark, decadent and bouncy, and the 45turns favourite. Listen to it below.

You might be able to buy Togosava on Les Yeux Orange’s Bandcamp page, if you keep your eyes peeled.

Letta Mbulu – In The Music… The Village Never Ends [Be With Records]

Letta Mbulu’s seminal 1983 effort is a landmark in South African musical development, and the kind of record you would pass over in a bargain bin.

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The first run of Be With Record’s reissue of this synth-funk classic in 2015 ran like water, and it wasn’t long before the Discogs stock exchange inflated with prices of the reissue resembling the original 1983 press. This September, Be With Records, in their great wisdom, have repressed the reissue of the original and you can buy it now. Lost? Then just listen.

The South African pop prodigy straddles the 45turns spectrum, from cosmic soliloquies echoing British New Wave (the oft-sampled ’Normalizo’) to hard disco boogie (’The Village’) and balearic odes (‘Down By The River’). Mbulu does all this without falling astray of her distinctly South African milieu: songs like the opener, ‘Juju’, with its chant-led energy and distinct bass guitar style. look forward to Paul Simon’s 1986 Southern African expedition, ‘Graceland’, released three years after ‘In The Music…’.

 

An extremely rare South African LP, ingeniously ahead of its time, once again available on vinyl and sounding as fresh as ever.

The reissue of ‘In The Music The Village Never Ends’ is available for a short time at Be With Records. If you’re strictly Discogs, skip the pirates and get it from disque72.

Lordamercy & Dego – Green Woods (2000Black)

2000Black is an acclaimed London imprint that has built a reputation for putting out records that explore the electronic side of funk, soul and jazz. Lordamercy & Dego comprise part of the production team behind the label, and they’ve just put out one of September’s most impressive discs.

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Green House is the first track up and the 45 Turns highlight. Sparse kicks, crisp claps and meandering keys provide the current for this jazzy, tropical-feel gem. What should be a mismatch of West African, Brazilian and UK broken beat influences comes together finely to make this a killer cut.

 

B2, What Does It Take To Come In First, is the other favourite. Its laid-back boogie attitude feels less outspoken than the rest of the 12″, partly because the rhythm section draws the track together coolly for a serious disco work-out. It sounds like an expertly trimmed edit but this is actually an original disco cut, and a sleek one at that.

 

Green Woods is released on the 8th Sept 17 on 2000Black. Get it from the source at 2000Black’s bandcamp page or from any tasteful dealer.