Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey & His International Brothers - "Ajoyio" (Nigeria 70: Sweet Times)
This third installment in Strut’s series of Nigeria 70 anthologies aims for, and hits, a sweet spot indeed, with its focus on roots-based fusions — highlife, juju, funk and more — from an endlessly imaginative and vividly creative era in Nigerian electric pop.
Most of the tunes collected here are built on either highlife or juju foundations. But that only begins to describe things. Moneyman and The Super 5 Internationals’s “Life,” for instance, opens with a gently arresting vibrato-bar guitar statement, then grafts Congolese-style horns onto a thick and satisfying groove spiced with conversations between layered guitars in Congolese rumba and highlife styles.
Guitars are on full display here. For example, there’s the interplay of tightly-picked patterns and sliding, soaring steel guitar on Dele Abiodun’s 19-minute, percussively undulating “It’s Time for Juju Music.” (This is actually a bit outside of the chronology, but welcome nonetheless.) Or, for another example, the classic guitar-band highlife lilt on Rex Williams’ “Ama Mbre Ewa.” Psychedelic wah-wahs and phase-shifters show up on a few tracks, too — this was the 1970s, after all.
The collection’s closer. Ebenezer Obey’s’ “Ajoyjo,” is pure heaven — and not just for the gorgeous, reverb’d guitars. This is slow-building, sparse -but-thick juju, cool and unhurried; a perfect blend of talking drums and vocals. It’s a great reminder that as tempting as it is to examine and analyze these songs and the varied sources of their fusions, you run the risk of missing the point, which of course, is that music and dance are pleasures essential to living.