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Various Artists Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues Review

Compilation. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

A fine place for the curious novice to start, but also of great interest to specialists.

Jon Lusk 2008

Shortly after the disastrous Biafran war and before the profits from Nigeria's oil boom were completely squandered, laundered, sequestered or stolen, Nigerian music was on a roll. By the mid '80s, the home grown recording industry would be in serious decline, but this entertaining 2CD set reminds us how vibrant things were, mining a vein overlapping that of Honest Jons' 2005 releases, Lagos Chop Up and Lagos All Routes – with the added bonus of informative sleeve notes that you can actually read, and reproductions of colourful cover art. Compiler and label boss Miles Cleret avoids the obvious juju/apala/Afro-beat scenes also very active at the time, concentrating as the title indicates on the rather psychedelic, 'western'-influenced Afro-rock and the more gentle, loose-limbed highlife typical of the period, mostly by musicians from east of Lagos. Even serious Nigerian music heads will know only a few of the bigger names such as Victor Uwaifo, The Funkees and Celestine Ukwu, but the lesser known artists are in no way overshadowed.

Highlights are multitudinous, but the first track that really catches the attention on disc 1 is the surging Amalinja, by The Don Isaac Ezekiel Combination with its insistent sax work. The Funkees weigh in with the funkily chugging Afro-rock Akula Owu Onyeara, boasting prominent bass, searing vocals, wah-wah guitar and noodling organ. Dele Ojo and His Star Brothers band are rootsier; Oja Omoba being a percussion-rich treat, while the swinging highlife of The Harbours Band's Koma Mosi may be the model for King Sunny Ade's Easy Motion Tourist. Other standouts include gloriously mellow highlife from St. Augustine & His Rovers Dance Band and The Sahara All Stars of Jos, whose “Feso Jaiye” floats along on a languid groove decorated with sweetly muted trumpet, sax, sublime vocal harmonies and what sounds like a vibraphone. To close, there’s a smouldering Afro-jazz instrumental by The Tony Benson Sextet, featuring the kind of luminous organ solo that might have been ground out by The Spencer Davis Group or suchlike a few years earlier.

Disc two opens with the slinky, Fela-influenced Asiko Mi Ni by The Nigeria Police Force Band. The bass-line strongly suggests Dave and Ansel Collins' reggae smash Double Barrel (from two years earlier) and the organ solo is straight out of bedlam. Opotopo's jaunty Belema features Fatai Rolling Dollar, who recently made a comeback working with Tony Allen, and then there's Dan Satch & His Atomic 8 Dance Band of Aba, who sound like they learnt a thing or three from New Orleans funkmeisters The Meters. Two other highlights are Collins Oke Elaiho & His Odoligie Nobles Dance band – whose hypnotic Siminyi-Yaya features yet another monster bass line and an infectious vocal hook – and The Hykkers’ Afro-rock instrumental I Want To Break Thru, with its wonderfully crazed guitar grooves.

One could go on, but there wouldn’t be room to write even half the bands' names. This compilation pulls off the trick of being a fine place for the curious novice to start, but also of great interest to specialists.

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