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.

 

Sun Palace & Quadrant 77 – Sexx It Up [Downtown 304 US]

A 35-year in the making collaboration from Sun Palace, veritable legends of New York hotspots like The Loft and Paradise Garage, and Quadrant 77 aka James Reeno. Press release calls it ‘an early adventure in organic/electronic jamming fusion’. I call it blissed-out keys, stunning mazes of percussion and Larry Heard-esque synthesizer arpeggios. Like messing around with a drum machine, loop pedal and DIY mixer while your mates roll off the funk business on their strings.

 

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This new Sun Palace & Quadrant 77 is an essential release for the chiller variety of disco heads, perfect music for warming up, cooling off, sunrise or vice.
Sexx It Up comes on digital or on a sleek black 12″ disk via Bandcamp. Limited to 300 copies- pick it up now to glide into 2018 like its 1983. 

Bruxas – Más Profundo [DKMNTL049]

I tried to catch Bruxas’ Más Profundo when it first came out in June, but it had already eluded me. This week, Dekmantel have pressed another batch of this transatlantic gem, a balearic Lusophone disco hybrid that is already going down as one of the best releases of the year.

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Title track Más Profundo recalls Ibiza beach whispers in sultry Portuguese female vox reels. This track, like the rest of the EP, manages to build itself around balearic sensibilities without ever dropping the tempo. Tropical birds perch on synthesisers; nature floats by in 4/4 time.  Sizzling, swirling and psychedelic, by the time it fades out, you wish it could go on forever.

Luckily, Tropicaçovas kicks it up a notch with the filthiest rhythm section this side of Bahia. Bruxas marry these traditional elements of Lusophone dance music with classic disco-era keys and arpeggiators to dazzling effect.

On the flip, Selva Cósmica stomps and trips along under Baldelli-style synthscapes, whisking you to the darkest of leaf-strewn Amazonian hideaways. Finally, Plantas Falsas digs into a cunning nu-disco workout as the sun drops low.

In 25 minutes of fuzzy balearic disco bliss, ‘Más Profundo’ sums up the entire 45turns ethos. An essential of 2017.

You can pick up ‘Más Profundo’ on 12″ vinyl at Dekmantel. Also like 45turns on Facebook for tons more next-level wax. 

 

Common Edits 012 [CE-012]

Common Edits are a label from Canada entirely dedicated to the art of the edit. As the name suggests, they only release edits, and every time they do, they throw a massive party.

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If you find yourself in Edmonton, Canada this October, there’s a definite party going down.

As A1, ‘How About’, shows, Common edits goes beyond the standard chop and smash usually needed to constitute an edit these days. It’s an electro-boogie beast that flits around the room in an orange burning light, but never veers off track.

Eddie C, known for his Latin-themed work on labels like Barefoot Beats, stays true to his style and delivers an airy,  downtempo rework of some tasteful Brazilian jazz ballad.

‘Space Up Your Life’ is swirling New York disco-funk with all the slap bass and filter fun you could want on one quarter of a 12” plastic disc.

One can only imagine where ‘Sunny Days in The Chocolate Factory’ came from- it reminds me of Disco Halal’s Brazilian outings, dark, pulsating undercurrents somehow meshing with breezy, tripped out guitars. At some points you could even be on Kraftwerk’s Autobahn- like being thrown out into the atmosphere, disengaged completely yet fixated on a single star while the slow mass of existence moves around it. The 45turns tip.

These Common edits tend not to be so common, so get it from your local vinyl dealer, record shop or online outlet ASAP. 

Jaz – Geisha (Passport To Paradise)

Our good friends at Passport to Paradise continue their winning streak with an exclusive release from man of the cloth, digger extraordinaire, John Zahl / Jaz. If you’ve seen his video for Thump, you’ll know that Jaz and his works are weird, wrong and wonderful: in a word, the ethos of PTP is alive and kicking in this release.

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First up, Geisha chugs along in the cosmic dust of 80s synth assortments and flourishes of koto. Scatter-brained brilliance from the deepest of Osaka basements. A2, Move to the Beach, heralds a sleeker, sleazier side to Jaz’s episcopal offering. It builds itself out from a latent groove that ushers in the end of the night, carrying you to the empty seafront just before dawn, where a breeze ruffles the palm trees as you dig your eyes into the moon.

Turning the page, we have a rework from the same post-Kraftwerk heritage, but this one is more potent synthpop roller, a straight-up, no frills edit for the toughest of dance floors. The final track, Twin Theory, is a lofty affair from the outset, its arpeggiated bass holding the track to ransom: it is playful yet very serious, sublime and sarcastic. This is what PTP are bringing to your homes and dancefloors.

Check out Geisha over at Juno, where you’ll find the rest of PTP’s excellent releases.

Lost Propert Edits Volume 4

The mysterious Lost Property imprint returns for another round of enigmatic disco edits.

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‘Ganu Ganu’ is a sweeping, swirling belter of a track that chugs along with dizzying industrial intensity. Perfect for midnight temperature rising . A2, ‘Financial Times Dub’, pulls back a little for a smooth, sunny disco-funk escapade.

‘Don’t Come Runnin’, on the flip, has that rising bassline stomp characteristic of the Lost Property edits. It’s flecked with jazz sensibilities and a female soul vocal track. The last track, ‘Princess of Persia’, is a straight-up headmash conga brass party with a Middle Eastern vibe – the 45turns tip.

Overall, a serious set of edits from a consistently solid imprint, which may or may not be PBR Streetgang in disguise.

They don’t have a website, but you can order Lost Property Volume 4 at Juno.

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.