Play That Funkee Music

During the 1960s and 1970s Nigeria, and more specifically Lagos, its creative hub, was producing some of the greatest West African bands. Groups such as Blo and MonoMono were creating heavy psych-rock music, in the vein of Santana and Hendrix, but putting a distinctive African stamp on it that made it dance floor friendly. With the arrival of The Funkees, hailing from Aba, in South East Nigeria, Lagos’s dominance was no longer a given.

The band was formed in the early 70s, towards the end on the Nigerian Civil War and after a few changes in line up, they settled with Jake Solo (Guitar), Harry Mosco (Guitar), Chyke Madu (Drums), Danny Heibs (Bass), Mohammed Ahidjo (Vocals) and Sonny Akpan (Congas). In 1973 the band’s popularity sky-rocketed and they were invited to London to record and perform. They played in several clubs in London, notably Ronnie Scott’sand recorded their first LP, Point of No Return, for Amba Records.

Point of no Return LP

Point of no Return LP

Things started to turn sour and after a few years Jake Solo left the band to join Afro super-group, Osibisa. The Funkees recorded a final LP, Now I’m a Man, in London and returned to release it in Nigeria on EMI in 1976.

Now I'm a Man LP

Now I’m a Man LP

Today’s selections are two tracks from the first album, that were re-released a year later by Black Magic records on a 7inch single. Abraka is a highly charged instrumental featuring Sollo’s wah-wah guitar licks and great percussion. My personal favourite is Ole, one of the great songs by the band. Everything comes together perfectly; it’s smooth, the guitar is to die for, the drum break is out of this world and its so Funkee!

Abraka

Ole

Record details:
The Funkees – Abraka / Ole (1975) – Black Magic (BM 114)

funkees-abraka-black-magic funkees-ole-black-magic
Thanks to 45cat for the label scan – it is a far better quality than my photo of the label

Soundway Records have released a lovely retrospective on the band, collecting the best tracks from their two LPs and 45s, that I highly recommend picking up.

The Hits Keep on Coming

A real treat today with two (yes two!) more singles off the local Aux Ecoutes label by T.P. Orchestre Poly Rythmo. On the wonderful compilation by Analog Africa, there is an interview with the Aux Ecoutes producer, Lawani Affissoulayi, that worked with the band recording the singles that were released on the label, where he talks about his experience of Poly-Rythmo.

The company Radelec, that was to give birth to the record label, started off as a trading company, importing a real mixture of goods, such as tobacco, electricals and textiles. Then after getting more involved in electricals, and in particular audio equipment, the company move into P.A. equipment at rallies and eventually Lawani, an employee at the company started to import records from the big West African labels like Decca, Polydor and Philips, and eventually from the US and Europe.

Introducing locals to these sounds from all over the world, there also was the demand for home grown sounds. So the label started to release records from local artists, using the connection that Benin company, Badejo had with Philips in Nigeria, to send the recordings for manufacture in the large pressing plants across the border. One of the first artists to record on the Aux Ecoutes label was El Rego, who went on to release several singles on the label.

The first of today’s singles is another Clement Melone arrangement. The A side is another Afrobeat track with crazy vocals and a lovely organ, the other side is a interesting Rock n’ Roll number with a nice guitar break.

Nougbo Vêhou

Ma Savo Home

The other single today is arranged by another legend of Benin music, Avolonto Honoré, who was a great singer/songwriter with Poly-Rythmo as well as Black Santiago and Los Commandos. The singer on the single is Eskill Lohento, who was one of the early members of the band with Melone.

Eskill Loento

The A side is a Latin track, specifically a Cuban Pachanga. The band were influenced by and worked with Cuban musicians such as bandleader of the Fania All Stars, Johnny Pacheco, as well as Orquesta Aragon, Papaito and Roberto Torres who all came to Cotonou. The B side is credited as a Jerk, a fast rock song with strong vocals and a nice driving rhythm section and guitar.

Avolonto Honoré

Wloui Bonu Houide

Akue We Non Houme

This band really show no let up and the the tunes just keep coming!

Record Details:
Clément Mêlonê et L’Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Nougbo Vêhou (La Véreté Blesse) / Ma Savo Home (197?) – Aux Ecoutes (LA 41)

poly41a poly41b

Avolonto Honoré Chanté par Eskill Lohento et L’Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Wloui Bonu Houide / Akue We Non Houme (197?) – Aux Ecoutes (LA 740)

poly740a poly740b

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)

Henry1 Henry2