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Album Review: Nigeria Rock Special

The crate diggers at Soundway Records have put together another excellent record which paints a fuller picture of the rich 1970s West African music scene. The bands featured on Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970s Nigeria display a heavier rock and funk approach to the popular Afro-beat sound happening in West Africa at the time. Afro-beat blended the lock-groove precision of 1960s Western R&B acts such as James Brown’s backing band, the JBs, with indigenous timing and pop sensibilities to create a lively, undeniably danceable new form of music. Nigeria’s legendary Fela Kuti is the most well known Afro-beat musician. Fela and his backing bands, the Africa 80 and the Nigeria 70, mixed populist, power-to-the-people lyrics with the endless groove.

According to the informative liner notes, Afro-centrism and psychedelic rock had creeped into the consciousness of a number of West African musicians. The influence of Jimi Hendrix, Santana and Cream moved many groups into a harder edged, heavier funk direction. Listening to the 15 jams on Nigeria Rock Special, one can’t help but think the space funk of early Funkadelic and soul rock of the Chambers Brothers was also somewhere in the collective mix. The instrumentation of the 15 bands is all fairly similar: drums, percussion, bass, keyboard, guitar and vocals. The rhythm sections most closely resemble their Afro-beat brethren with tight percussive rhythms and locked in bass which propels each song. The guitars and keyboards are the instruments that break away into their own with often wailing, fuzzy soloing.

The disc begins with a 60’s garage rock-style instrumental from the group Ofege. The next cut by The Action 13 really sets the tone for the remainder of the album. Their song “Give More Bread to The People” has a Maggot Brain-era Funkadelic vibe with heavy low end and a wailing guitar solo. The chorus of “Give More Bread to The People” is loud and proud. The next 7 bands with names such as The Hygrades, Ofo the Black Company, Mono Mono, Tabukah ‘X’ and The Funkees each uniquely blend funk, rock or Latin flavors into their sides represented here.

Nigeria Rock Special really starts to cook on the latter half of the disc. Colomach’s “Cotocun Gba Gounke” is very psychedelic with subtle, rubbery-sounding bass and a wild, fuzz guitar solo from the get go. Following Colomach’s jam is Joe King & His Black Sound doing “Another Man’s Thing.” Joe King gets the blood flowing with lively call and response vocals with a blown out Afro-beat mixed with rock leanings. Probably the most pleasantly weird song is Question Mark’s “Freaking Out.” Question Mark’s nasally vocals are accompanied by wah-wah guitars and a janky, out of tune vibe complete with a 70’s car chase movie scene break down and ripping guitar solo to take the song on out. The final song on the disc, BLO’s “Chant to Mother Earth” is the most cosmic song represented. The song begins with a wash of cymbals and a slow, heavy bass line. The contemplative, reverbed vocals join in followed by Eddie Hazel (of Funkadelic) meets Carlos Santana guitar work. The song gets heavier as it progresses.

Overall, “Nigeria Rock Special” is a solid release. It is obvious that a lot of care and love on behalf of the Soundway label went into the compiling, research and sound quality of this disc. The title is a little misleading though, in that 3 of the featured groups are from Nigeria’s neighbor Lagos. If you liked the sounds on this disc, definitely check out the other West African compilations on the Soundway label and Love’s A Real Thing: The Funky, Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa on the Luaka Bop record label.

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