The Funkees - "Dancing Time" (Dancing Time: The Best of Eastern Nigeria's Afro Rock Exponents 1973-77)
Holger Czukay of Can once opined in an interview that The Beatles and Rolling Stones were the Volkswagens of rock. He meant it as a compliment and an acknowledgement of their sturdy functionality. Nigeria’s Funkees may not have achieved the same sales or acclaim as The Beatles or the Stones, but if you judge them on their ability to get the job done, they’re on the same level.
The Funkees were originally a cover band formed to entertain troops during the Biafran War, a civil conflict that killed 3 million people before ending with national reunification at the beginning of 1970. Being on the wrong side of the war seems not to have hurt them too much, since they found plenty of work playing nightclubs and began recording singles in 1971. In 1973, they shifted to England, where they were toasted by the likes of John Peel. In 1977, it all came to an end with a welter of infighting that resulted in the band splitting into several parts; most notably, lead guitarist Jake Sollo jumped ship to Osibisa.
For most of their run,The Funkees were true to their name. They were not, like Fela Kuti, concerned with challenging the status quo, redeeming the culture, or calling out the wicked, although they certainly weren’t above borrowing from Afrobeat’s massive grooves. They just wanted to make people dance, and they were damned good at it. Their songs were like Volkswagen Beetles, simple and absolutely practical. Check out “Akula Owu Onyeara,” a song that you might already have heard on Soundway’s Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues. The groove is stout, the organ solo is rough and snaky, the vocals absolutely compelling even if you can’t understand a word that Mohammed Ahidjo is singing (sometime she sang in Igbo, other times in English). But even though the song lasts 7:28, there’s not a wasted note; that’s just how long it needs to be to give people a good dance floor workout.
The Funkees were varied enough to also earn a spot on Nigeria Rock Special, and “Acid Rock,” their contribution to that set, is also present on this a-chronological collection of 18 (16 on vinyl) tunes released between 1971 and 1977. Ignore the subtitles on the front and back covers, which declare that you’re getting material from 1973-77, and bask instead in the colorful oversized cover and the photos of old 45s and distressed LP sleeves enclosed within. But don’t spend too long sitting on your duff and looking; this stuff is for dancing.