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. 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.

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. 

DISCO EDITS: SHMLL – OYE Edits 05 (OYE Records)

Berlin-based duo SHMLL serve up four sweet space-tastic disco cuts for the fifth editon of OYE Edits.

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Having previously put out left-of-centre releases from the likes of Jonny Rock and DJ Uffe, the fifth 12″ in the edition stays true to the OYE formula – or lack of it. A whacked out synth-guitar mutant screams to the heavens above a juicy locked groove on ‘Andong’, and ‘Arnis’ brings the dark Middle Eastern vibes to the fore in a semitonic work-out that wouldn’t be amiss on Disco Halal.

 

The flip side is full of spacey percussive headmashery for restless feet and half-open eyes, a tribal call and response to mirror your inner circuit trip into discoid overload.

Disclaimer: nobody knows where this source material came from. It may not exist in any knowable form.

Get OYE Edits 06 now at OYE Records or any decent purveyor of vinyl. 


For more international feel disco edits, check out the Korean cuts on Jongno Edits Vol. 5.

Marcos Valle – Marcos Valle (Preservation Norway)

Norwegian reissue crew Preservation Records have brought out Marcos Valle’s eponymous 1983 album (his 12th), now on vinyl for the first time ever.

As any YouTube disco surfer will know, ‘Estrelar’, the opening track, is a killer disco/boogie cut. The funky verse breaks are bolstered by a transcendent pop hook, elevating the song if only to break it back down in disco slap-bass euphoria.

Although the musicians on this record shine on feel-good, brass-heavy disco cuts like ‘Estrelar’ and ‘Dia D’, the synth-textured grooves found on popular Brazilian tune ‘Samba de Verão’ or ‘Naturalmente’ stay firmly put on the beach at sunset.

On tracks like ‘Para Os Fillhos de Abraão’, Valle gets himself into full Beach Boys pop crooner mode, complete with full band harmonies. There’s as many hooks as conga hits, just one of the reason why this a very special crossover album.

Valle is an extremely versatile singer, knowing how to work the inexplicable charm that Brazilian Portuguese has over pop ballads. He reaches out beyond the overdone disco formula and saccharine piano ballads common to lots of 80s Brazilian music. As a player on the album himself, this must have been important for Valle in his exposition .

The reissue of Marcos Valle’s eponymous album is available now at Preservation Records. Dig it.


If, like us, you have an appetite for soul and disco reissues from 1983, check out Letta Mbulu’s In The Music The Village Never Ends.