‘Afro-Beat Airways – West African Shock Waves Ghana & Togo 1972 – 79’

Analog Africa 2010

Vinyl (x2 inc. 3 bonus tracks) / CD / Download

Track List:-

Side A.

1. Dankasa – Uppers International  (3:36)

2. Ma Nserew Me – Apagya Show Band (4:03)

3. Me Yee Owu Den – K. Frimpong & His Cubano Fiestas (8:52)

4. Break Though – Maijata (5:06)

Side B.

1. Odofo Nyi Akyiri Biara – Ebo Taylor & The Sweet Beans (9:54)

2. Awula Bo Fee Ene – Orchestre Abass (3:45)

3. Live In Other World – Itadi (5:05)

4. Mummunde – Apagya Show Band (3:02)

Side C.

1. Ne Noya – Cos-Ber-Zam (4:10)

2. Obiye Saa Wui – 3rd Generation Band (3:56)

3. Operation Bye-Bye – Orchestre Abass (3:25)

4. Okpe See – Pagadeja (4:11)

Side D.

1. Afe Ato Yen Bio – De Frank Pofessionals (4:10)

2. Ngyegye No So – African Bothers Band (6:17)

3. Neriba Lanchina – Uppers International (4:04)

4. Come Along – Ebo Taylor & The Pelicans (5:59)

The ever-dependable apodictic and ethnographic musical activist, Samy Ben Redjeb, can always be relied upon to unearth desideratum quality tunes from across the West African continent. His Analog Africa imprint has brought to light an abundance of rare and lost Afro-beat and Highlife nuggets, from Angola to Benin. The 2010 release, Afro-beat Airways, straps you in for a premier class flight into the psychedelic and ear-splitting organ soul realms of Ghana and Togo; scenes that both borrow from and absorb, in equal measure, from their own heritage and from the funk and soul acts across the Atlantic. James Brown reigns supreme, but groups such as Sly and the Family Stone and, even, Funkadelic, all lend a certain air of shoe-shuffling and yelping rawness to their music.

Essentially a tale of two separate, but interlocked and musically linked, countries, this congruous compilation praises and extols the virtues of both the Islamic-roots Togo sound – part of Redjeb’s own turn-of-phrase “Islamic Funk Belt scene”, that stretched from northern Ghana to northern Nigeria – and the more robust and well-known Ghana sounds. Any obvious signs of demarcation like boarders is lost, as the two nation’s voracious colourful musicians cris-crossed and shared the much common ground of passion for screaming organs, arching twanged gestured guitars, roaring tilt to the heavens horns, and side-stepping infectious poly-rhythms.

These cats sure could stir-up some tasty treats, piping out a right old shindig of New Orleans funk, Issac Hayes style achingly hip smokey soul, the odd spell of jazz and some galactic re-appropriated disco; crafted all together to turn even the most languished of dull parties into a rave-up at Fela Kuti’s infamous Afro-Spot nightclub – featured Togo scenesters, Orchestre Abass, ended-up as one of Kuti’s house bands for a while.

 

Ghana’s representatives include the brass blasting Bar-Keys and Santana swaying rhythmic work-out stomper ‘Break Through’ by Accra’s Marijata; a raucous groover full of stubborn guitar, raspberry blowing horns and startled Sylvester Stewart vocals. Fellow countrymen, the Latino imbued K. Frimpong & His Cubano Fiestas, mix-up the South American and Cuban salz with their own brand of 70s sultry Afro-disco, on the morbid curiosity monikered ‘Me Yee Owu Den’ – (What’s with me and death?). Sweet Herb Albert style backing squawks and penetrates the almost fragile call-to-prey hymn like vocals. Snappy tight rattled-off drums, rolling J.B beats and picked-out unobtrusive linear guitar cuffed movements, are all the rigor, none more so then with De Frank Profesionals soulful skat, ‘Afe Ato Yen Bio’ (We’ve lived through another year) – incidentally De Frank was backed by Vis A Vis, one of Ghana’s most notable bands, which featured the legendary axe-man Sammy Cropper in its ranks.

Exalted musician Ebo Taylor gets two bites of the apple on this album, the first with the backing of the National Cocoa Marketing Board of Ghana’s promotional in-house group, The Sweet Beans; the second with The Pelicans. Both feature a more pronounced and sexy meandering gander of a style beat, though the latter ode, ‘Come Along’, seems to have two different rhythms going at the same time. Fatalistic sax outpourings and wah wah effects go up against a slower Booker T Hammond groove, whilst the drummer wanders around the edges, letting loose with off-beat rolls – an inspired slice of Afro-jazz craziness.

Batting for the more obscure Togo team, we have the faded-in disco-funk and Stax screeching ‘Live In Other World’ track by the former Black Devils bassist, Itadi Bonney. Smoothly rich silk like vocals guide the way, as a fat mix of Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone feverish backing cast a shadow over proceedings. Cos-Ber-Zem‘s ‘Ne Noya’ (Has to be good) is a rare artifact indeed, as this is their only released single, and even that features the backing skills of fellow compatriots, Orchestra Abass – those guys get everywhere. Almost impossible to coerce into any sensible labeled genre, their four-minute and 10-seconds of fame Togo hit single, manages to traverse 60s garage, Euro Ye-Ye, uptown ranking ska and Motown funk – what isn’t there to like!

Togo’s bands, like many of their boarder neighbours, were difficult to pin down, as they were just as much indebted to their, mostly, Islamic up-bringing, as they were to Ghanaian Highlife and Congolese rumba – we’ll save that genre for another day. But they also absorbed and found a spark whilst listening to the music found in the deep south of America – by the sounds of it they took a shine to The Meters: just check out the Uppers International‘s southern-fried funk-psyche offering ‘Dankasa’ (Son of the soil).

Samy Ben Redjeb’s selfless pursuit and audio mapping of West Africa relies in no small part on fate. This 16-track tome only came into exsistance as a result of a delayed flight to Luanda in Angola, and a cruel lost baggage incident, which encouraged him to visit Ghana instead. A crate of records promised to him by an old contact further allured him to that country’s capital.  This box of recordings tuned out to be owned by the producer Dick Essilfie-Bonzie (aka Mr.Essiebon), owner of the Ghanaian label Essiebon Records.  As it turned out, Mr.Essiebon intended to give the record business another shot, after a long hiatus. He’d digitalised most of his old recordings and plonked them onto CDs, but decided to not go through with releasing them. Further more after closing a shop he’d also owned, a box of master-tapes surfaced, taken from over twenty years of sessions at his studio in Accra. Owned in the most part by Polygram, who used the studio for their African signings, yet forgotten about, they were all passed on to Redjeb, who promised to clean them up and unleash them onto the unknowing public. ‘Afro-beat Airways’ was made in honour of the principle that, “Everything happens for a reason”, and to the act of fate itself.

There’s something almost doughy-eyed and atavistic about these compilations, as Analog Africa once again produces another lavishly decorated, bounded and extensively researched labour of love. Interviews with most of the key players and producers on the Togo/Ghana scenes help to fill in the blanks and background stories, and piece together the developments and influences of these infectiously endearing, pliable and poly-genesis bands.

Dominic Valvona

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3 Responses to “Afro-Beat Airways”

  1. […] back in 2009 the label’s first ‘Afro-Beat Airways’ compilation (REVIEWED HERE) also crossed the eastern boarder into neighbouring Togo; part 2 contains itself wholly to Ghana, […]

  2. […] and the site’s author Dominic Valvona is also responsible for this great write-up of Volume 1 HERE. From that first edition, here is ‘Me Yee Owu Den’ from K. Frimpong And His Cubano […]

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