With many tracks previous unavailable, this is music that deserved rediscovery.
Robin Denselow 2010
As a new generation of Western music enthusiasts discover Fela Kuti and Afrobeat, there have been a whole spate of CD re-releases covering the Nigerian music scene back in the 1970s, the ‘golden era’ when Fela created much of his best work. Quite right, too, for although Fela was the undisputed king of Afrobeat, he was by no means the only great musician of his time and Afrobeat was not the only popular style.
The music of the era has already been featured in the Honest Jon compilations Lagos Chop Up and Lagos All Routes, in the Strut label’s Nigeria 70 set, and in a series of four Soundway albums including Nigeria Special and the more recent Nigeria Afrobeat Special. Now comes Nigeria Special Volume 2, an album of ‘Modern Highlife, Afro Sounds and Nigerian Blues 1970-6’, which provides a further rousing reminder of the musical revolution that swept across West Africa just as rock was shaking up Britain and the USA.
Miles Cleret, who runs Soundway, has spent a decade putting the series together, travelling and researching in Nigeria, tracking down great but obscure songs. Many of the tracks here have been unavailable since the 1970s, and the musical range is even more extensive than the title suggests, for there are also examples of the Juju style that became massively successful alongside Afrobeat, and reminders that Nigerian artists were influenced by anything from R&B to ska and even gospel.
Much of the music features guitar, percussion and brass, and is performed by bands and musicians with gloriously exotic names. So the Highlife stars include the cool and languid Professional Seagulls Dance Band, and the self-styled Commander In Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, who provides a gloriously lilting re-working of the Cuban favourite, Peanut Vendor, dressed up with some fine saxophone work. Then there’s a sturdy, chanting Juju track from Twins Seven Seven, famed for his work both as a musician and an excellent artist, and a slinky, gospel-edged treatment of The Lord’s Prayer by The Don Isaac Ezekiel Combination, a fine blend of jazz brass work and African percussion from Tunji Oyelana. There’s even a burst of Nigerian rock opera from Joy Nwoso, a classically-trained opera singer. This music deserved to be rediscovered.