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Various Artists Afro-Beat Airways: West African Shock Waves – Ghana & Togo 1972-1978 Review

Compilation. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

An essential glimpse into obscure and vintage African music.

Louis Pattison 2010

A resurgence of interest in Afrobeat, a 70s blend of traditional African music, jazz, highlife and American funk, has seen a very welcome string of reissues in recent times – not least the current airing of the entire 45-album run of the movement’s undisputed figurehead, Fela Kuti. Frankfurt label Analog Africa, however, are taking the path more seldom trod, focusing on some of the more obscure outfits and local scenes on compilations like 2009’s Legends of Benin and 2008’s rawer, psychedelic African Scream Contest.

That West African Shock Waves exists at all is testament to Analog Africa founder Samy Ben Redjeb’s diligent detective work. Finding himself in Accra, Ghana following a flight mix-up, he used the opportunity to meet up with producer Dick Essilfie-Bonzie, owner of the Ghanaian indie imprint Essiebons Records. Essilfie-Bonzie, it transpired, was in the process of blowing the dust off his back catalogue. So, the bulk of this compilation comes from a warehouse of reel-to-reel tapes recorded in the 70s in Ghana and Togo, supposedly owned by PolyGram West Africa but never claimed; the sort of blunder that, judged in these more enlightened times, is up there with the BBC recording over the master tapes of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

Stylistically, we run the gamut from classic Afrobeat to deep funk jams, the music sometimes fairly indebted to the American sounds of the era but always with a local spin. K Frimpong & His Cubano Fiestas offer more classic, driving Afrobeat with mournful, melodies that contrast with the upbeat rhythms and some great, twitchily funky guitar towards the tail end. The Apagya Show Band, represented here by a couple of tracks, offer heavy, organ-fuelled funk with African percussion, ripe with instrumental breaks just begging to be sampled and looped into breakbeats. And Rob’s More, five minutes of brash horns, hoarse vocal exhortations and bizarre space-wibble guitar soloing keeps the energy up right to the closing minutes.

Consistent to the last, West African Shock Waves is another fine installment in a series that threatens to become as essential a glimpse into obscure and vintage African music as the Ethiopiques series – and that’s high praise indeed.

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