Fela Kuti & Afrika 70 - "Who're You? (Original 45 version)" (Nigeria Afrobeat Special: The New Explosive Sound in 1970s Nigeria)
Over the last four years, Soundway’s Nigeria Special series has given us one new album each year packed with unusual cuts from the Lagos scene of the 1970s — Afrobeat, disco, funk, and rock. With the fifth album, Nigeria Afrobeat Special: The New Explosive Sound in 1970s Nigeria, Soundway returns to the original genre of the series and in the process unearths rare Afrobeat treasures. The first cut, for example, is “Who’re you?” by Fela and his Africa 70 — but not the relatively well-known version recorded in late 1971 at Abbey Road studios; the original Nigerian 45 recorded some months earlier in Lagos. This was just Fela’s third release, and that shows in the raw energy of his voice (as well as his rather meandering organ solo).
Like many of the recordings collected on this album, ranging in dates from 1972 to 1977 (“Do the Afro Shuffle” by Godwin Omabuwa & His Casanova Dandies), the funk influence is front and center with short ostinato licks by the guitar and bass, jazzy solos, and the drum kit asserting prominence over the other drums and percussion. Some of the performances also have flashes of highlife (“We Dey Find Money” by Eric Showboy Akaeze & His Royal Ericos), calypso (“Do the Afro Shuffle” by Godwin Omabuwa & His Cassanova Dandies, which combines afrobeat percussion with a shufflebeat on the drumkit), and even a bit of Juju (“Ariwo Yaa” by Bob Ohiri & His Uhuru Sounds). Ohiri’s performance is one of the most interesting on the disc, beginning with Juju-style vocal harmonies, but immediately swinging into a west coast funk groove that wouldn’t have been a surprise coming from War. Ohiri, King Sunny Adé’s lead guitarist, clearly deserves to be better known; this short (five and a half minute) cut leaves the listener begging for more.
Other performers collected on the disc are better known, although these specific tracks tend to the obscure. “Mind Your Business,” for example, by Saxon Lee and the Shadows International, features vocals by Nicholas Pax, Fela’s drummer and recently the focus of his own re-release on Daptone, Na Teef Know De Road of Teef. Afrobeat pioneer Segun Bucknor is here (“Gbomojo,” an instrumental piece), along with Orlando Julius (“Afro Blues,” a fantasy of polyrhythms and Motown horn lines).
Every performance swings hard, showcases tight ensemble work and imaginative, jazzy solos, and many of them incorporate traditional drums and percussion. Bongos Ikue & The Groovies go even farther, including balafon and traditional vocal styles with the electric organ, guitars, kit and saxophone. Although mostly remastered from 45s, EPs and LPs, the sound is clean and alive, and the portions are quite generous: half the cuts are more than eight minutes long, and one (Eric Showboy Akaeze’s “We Dey Find Money”) is more than 10. Listeners are thus given a good opportunity to sink into the music, experiencing full solos and dance breaks without fadeouts or silent edits. The result is a fascinating tour of early Afrobeat and Afrobeat-influenced music that satisfies from beginning to end.