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V/A - Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds and Nigerian Blues 1970-6

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Artist: V/A

Album: Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds and Nigerian Blues 1970-6

Label: Soundway

Review date: Feb. 5, 2008

In the aftermath of the social dissolution and inhuman horrors of the Biafran War, Nigeria bravely faced the 1970s with optimism and energy. New forms of popular music came to life – vibrant blends of local and regional traditions with Aquarian-age soul, funk and psychedelia. With 26 tracks spread over two CDs, Nigeria Special is the best, most inclusive document to appear so far, chronicling an era rich in afro-beat, highlife, juju and beyond. And while the music collected here shows plenty of variety in terms of languages and styles, it also evinces undeniable unity in its desire to go for the pleasure zone of the dancefloor while also coolly offering social commentary and tastes of traditional wisdom.

As for that pleasure zone … well, one hardly knows where to begin. How about an afro-beat combo organ workout from the The Nigerian Police Force Band? Or the languid-yet-churning, wah-and-scratch guitar and Edo highlife of Leo Fadaka and the Heroes? Then there’s the gentle, slow-building palm-wine philosophizing of Tunji Oyelana and The Benders. Opotopo lays down a highlife take on cascading Dr. Nico-ish guitar, and just when you think the track can’t get any better, in comes the muted Cuban Septeto-style trumpet. There is also a very welcome sample of the lush rock and soul-influenced highlife created by Benin City’s brilliant master of the double-necked guitar, Sir Victor Uwaifo. Hearing all this – from tight and playful bass lines to interlocked guitars and crisply-recorded trap drums and percussion sections – makes it abundantly clear that there was plenty of imagination, and a very high level of musicianship, extant in Nigeria’s working bands during the 1970s.

DJ and anthologist Miles Cleret shows his love for this music, not only in his stellar track selection, but also in informative liner notes that document some of his detective work and, best of all, bring out some real feeling for the time and place that nurtured these sounds. (And it doesn’t hurt that the booklet offers plenty of images of the alluring, slick and flimsy sleeve jackets that housed these records).

To put it simply, it would be hard to imagine a better-executed anthology of the wide-open, wide-awake Nigerian pop of the 1970s.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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