Asiko Rock Group - "Lagos City" (Nigeria Disco Funk Special: The Sound Of The Underground Lagos Dancefloor 1974-79)
Whenever Miles Cleret of Soundway Records opens up his record cabinets, good things presumably just fall out. This new Soundway compilation - culled mostly, if not entirely, from Cleret's own enviable collection - focuses on the sounds of Nigerian dancefloors in the latter half of the '70s. Nothing on Nigeria Disco Funk Special fits too cleanly within the Afrobeat genre, though at least one of the groups on the disc includes alums of Fela Kuti's legendary Africa 70. Since this is strictly club music, it's less overtly political than Fela, though T-Fire's "Will Of The People" calls on the audience not just to dance and smoke grass, but also to demand the redistribution of the nation's wealth.
The bands on the compilation sound heavily influenced by the imported funk and disco records that would've been available in the city's shops at the time, by popular American bands such as the Ohio Players and B.T. Express. James Brown's early '70s recordings with the J.B.'s seem like a definite touchstone throughout. Some of the rhythm sections are just about as tight as Fred Thomas and Clyde Stubblefield, and most of the guitar players stick faithfully to the Jimmy Nolen "chicken scratch" style. If you close your eyes while the disc is playing, you can practically see the sax and trumpet players lined up behind the band leaders in snazzy matching stage outfits. And the horn blowing on "Mota Ginya" by Voices Of Darkness is positively Maceo-esque.
"Ijere" by Dr. Adolph Ahanotu, who ordinarily led a more traditional Highlife band, has a sharp and slick drum sound that's more overtly "disco" than anything else on the CD, and the guitar solos are nastily overdriven, a la Funkadelic. Asiko Rock Group's "Lagos City" is propelled by seriously heavy keyboard and basslines that make the song feel like a sped-up instrumental version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," but with the horn section running through the effects console at Lee Perry's Black Ark. Lagos boasted the region's only 24-track recording studio, and most of the groups on this CD presumably recorded there. There's a surprising amount of reverb and echo laid onto vocals and horns and various other instruments throughout the compilation, so it seems like a fairly safe bet that their engineers were listening to at least a little bit of dub reggae.
If you were never lucky enough to have found yourself in a club in a rough neighborhood on the outskirts of Lagos in the late 1970s, this CD is probably the closest you're going to get. It ought to make a great soundtrack to a late summer night, whether you're in Nigeria or New York or Norway or somewhere else entirely.