School’s Out

Cissé Abdoulaye was born in Burkina Faso, completed his schooling and trained to become a teacher. However, music had always been his first love despite his family’s objections that it was affecting his studies as he grew up. His persistence paid off and he went to Benin, the tiny West African country infamous for Voudun and incredible music that defies it’s size, to record and tour.

This is one instance that we can be grateful that he did the right thing and ignored the pleas of his parents, as the music he has recorded is incredible and unsurprisingly his obvious talent brought his parents around.

Today’s track is from the album recorded with his band The Vautours. Sometimes it is best to let the music speak for itself.

Remember kids – study hard!

For an in depth interview with Abdoulaye, that it seemed pointless to replicate and regurgitate in this post, please see here – translated from lefaso.net.

Aw’ Ye Dolibe Ke

Record Details:

Cissé Abdoulaye – Les Vautours (1978) – Disques Tropiques Editions Satel (SAT LP 168)

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Grandfather of Benga

misianiDaniel Owino Misiani, known as the “grandfather of Benga“, came from Tanzania, moved to Kenya in the 60s to become a musician, where he pioneered this new music. He started recording with the Victoria Boys, later becoming Shirati Jazz, who gained popularity as Benga took off in the late 70s.

Misiani seemed to always be surrounded by controversy. In the 60’s, when he started playing his songs in local villages, he was popular with the school girls and young women, drawn to his early love longs, so much so, that fights broke out amongst the men of the villages keen to impress the large female gatherings that followed him around. On several occasions he was forced to flee the villages after guitars were smashed by angry men and village elders. Later on in his career, being part of the Luo people, a large tribal group in Kenya that felt excluded from the government, many of his songs commented on politics and current affairs. Therefore, he was always keenly followed by those in power, who wanted to be certain he wasn’t being critical of their policies. He was jailed a couple of times as a result.

The classic Benga sound in the late 70’s, as heard in Kiseru, was built around a catchy guitar riff and two part harmonies that gradually progress before the song descends into pure unadulterated fast dance music. In the 80’s the boom passed, as other styles gained in popularity, problems with cassette piracy, and lack of airplay meant that Benga suffered.

Sadly, as it seems with so many of these artists, Misiani died in 2006 in a car crash. He left behind 14 children* and two wives.

R.I.P.

A lot of the information in this post came from the great compilation “D.O. Misiani & Shirati Jazz – The King Of History – Classic 1970s Benga Beats From Kenya”

Record Details:

Mwalimu D.O. Misiani & Orch. D. 07 Shirati Jazz – Kiseru 1 & 2 (1978) – Maikano Records (MAI 002)

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* One of Misiani’s children, Robert aka Gun B. Robert, followed in his father’s footsteps into music, became a Hip Hop artist and recorded the hit Nampenda (“Love” in Swahili) – I believe it his him rapping on the chorus. In the video Pilipili (?) appears to impress a female shopper, showing her what particular tea to buy in the supermarket.

Runaway Band

IN the forest there is a giant tree called by the Yorubas the “Iroko,” which is shunned by all people, for in it lives the spirit of an old man who prowls about at night with a little torch and frightens travellers.

Anyone who sees the Iroko-man face to face goes mad and speedily dies.

Seeing the thick branches and mighty trunk of the Iroko, woodcutters are often tempted to cut the tree down and make use of the wood, but this is very unlucky, as it rouses the displeasure of the Iroko-man and brings misfortune on the woodcutter and all his family.

In any house which contains furniture made of Iroko-wood, there can be heard at night strange groaning and creaking noises; it is the spirit of the Iroko, imprisoned in the wood, who longs to wander about again through the forest with his little torch.

Yoruba Legends – M.I. Ogumefu

Iroko Tree

Interest in African music in the West really took off in the 70’s when Ginger Baker of Cream heard some Nigerian music on the radio whilst visiting fellow drummer Guy Warren in Ghana. Ginger decided to relocate to Lagos and check out the scene for a while. He went on to set up the Batakota (ARC) recording studios near the airport.

Artists like Santana and Jimi Hendrix were starting to take off in Nigeria and local bands imitated the sounds they were hearing, Blues and Psychedelic Rock, and fused it with African rhythms to create a new style. Baker was keen to get these emerging bands to record at his new state of the art studio.

Infamously, Paul McCartney and his band Wings were invited by Baker and the Nigerian government to record Band of the Run, but after recording one track McCartney switched to the rival EMI studio, set up by the UK based label to get in on the act. Ginger was (dis)credited on the LP notes for the track and he called McCartney an arsehole. Even Ginger’s friend Fela Kuti got involved and stormed EMI’s studio with a forty strong army to stop the recording session.

One of the bands to cut a single through ARC was Ifeanyi Henry & the Jaguu. Unfortunately like many of the artists that recorded at the studio, after the 45 was released they disappeared and there is no information on them. What they leave behind is a Psych Garage record about the Iroko tree. In That Iroko a lord tells his son that he will one day grow tall as “that Iroko tree was once a shrub”, and how, “You cannot sit down and get it / You cannot lie down and have it”, but have to stand tall and face life.

The ghostly organ, like the spirit of the Iroko tree, shrill brass trills and off key guitar really give the song a great psych flavour. I love it. The B side Love your Own is a nice surprise too.

“We are meant to grow my son”

Record Details:

Ifeanyi Henry & The Jaguu – That Iroko / Love Your Own (1975) – ARC Studio (ARC 1114 EP)

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Dance With Me

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Continuing our trip into Nigeria and synth laden funk, today’s selection comes from Melvin Ukachi. The LP was released twice, originally as I Am OK, in Nigeria and subsequently the French press renamed it as I’m Okay I’m Alright, but the track listings are identical.

The album is produced by a legend of Nigerian music, Jake Sollo, a member of huge Nigerian bands such as The Hykkers and The Funkees. Sollo moved towards production is the 80s and also recorded several solo records before tragically being killed in a car crash in 1985 – the second motor vehicle fatality we have encountered. He is credited with playing lead guitar and Jupiter synth (pictured above), showing how heavily involved he was in the whole LP.

I love the interplay of the keys and drum machine on Come and Dance. I have been getting heavily into the 80s Boogie scene in Nigeria and in my opinion it is easily the equal of the stuff coming out of the US. It sounds fresher and less formulaic.

Dance with me!

Record Details:

Melvin Ukachi – I’m OK I’m Alright (1985) – Tamwo Records (Tam 15)

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He Came From Outer Space

Some records just grab you as they are so unique, sounding like nothing you’ve heard before. They really shouldn’t work but somehow come together and produce something wonderful that could have easily come from another planet.

William Onyeabor, a multi-talented Nigerian who set up a music and film studio in Enugu in the South East of the country, after returning from studying cinematography in Russia, produced a plethora of out of this world sounds. Onyeabor worked in film and television production for several years but in the late 70s turned his hand to music, releasing on his own Wilfilms label. He used a variety of synthesizers like Moog and Elka, as well as drum machines, to produce an Electro tinged Funk (he had clearly heard bands like Kraftwerk and Ultravox) that was so ahead of its time that today it still sounds fresh.

Today’s track is a 12 minute masterpiece that comes from his last album Anything You Sow and showcases his totally unique style and interpretation of music. The synths on this are like something from a Sci-Fi film and the backing vocals calling Higher Higher Higher… Higher threaten to launch into orbit. This is one interplanetary trip I want to take, and with Captain Onyeabor driving the ship through a galaxy of line dancing aliens, it is never going to be dull.

Buckle up!

Record Details:

William Onyeabor – Anything You Sow (1985) – Wilfilms (WLP 033)

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