Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Some records I found in Nigeria

(mp3 downloads to found at the bottom!)

OK, so the first couple of tracks I'm going to post up are from a recent digging/music/arse-ing about expedition to Nigeria I took with a couple of friends from my afro-beat/afro funk band (The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra). But I thought I might also share a little story about the circumstances that lead me to these records. Nigeria is a pretty crazy place - we're talking 24 hour epic traffic jams, a police force that basically just stands around waiting to find a way to extort money from civilians and an economy run almost entirely underground. But of course it also has some of the happiest and most beautiful people you'll ever meet. Not to mention the joys of a 
meat dish called suya.  There were many adventures and highlights for us - jamming with Femi Kuti onstage at The Shrine (and going to a BBQ at his house), recording with MC Modenine, being harassed by the army and appearing several times on Nigerian TV and radio.

Through Modenine we met Ladani, a radio presenter (or 'radio personality' as he referred to himself) who invited us in on his show that afternoon. We go down to the studio - a couple of run-down buildings in an overgrown compound and have a pretty informal interview, Ladani assuming something of a hip-hop-Casey-Kasem on-air persona. Having done community radio back home I didn't get the impression that we were being heard altogether too many people but that's not really the point now is it? So we finish and he introduces us to the station manager, a kind of young, Nigerian Ricardo Montalban character who immediately asks us if we are ready for the television. Television? This thing has a television station? He takes us through and showed us the one studio they had - a blue screen room that 
they would film everything in, superimposing in a different background for each show (my favourite of which was of a busy office for the news).  This allayed our fears - we were happy to go on some community TV station with no-one watching. So dressed like the chumps we are, we appear on the equivalent of a midday Video Smash Hits (or MTV if you will) and standing around talking bollocks with the presenter in front of the blue screen. He asks us all the standard questions; Who are you? Why the hell did you travel halfway around the world to show us a half-rate version of the music we liked 30 years ago? Do you speak german in Austria? That type of thing. Then they play our track but as we had no video to 
accompany it they we at a bit of a loss as to what to do visually.  First they tried it with a station ID before they decided that was too boring (the track goes for 8 minutes) so from there they cut back to us just standing around in front of the blue screen.  They quickly realised that this was a bit shit too so next they tried out us standing there with the station ID sort of ghosted over us.  Again a bit shit so they just went back to us and told the host to get us to do something.  'Come on, dance!' he told us.  Dance? I don't know what the shade is that is one whiter than white is but that's pretty much how white we are.  And if we were to start dancing on live TV next to a jiggy MTV host, no matter how small the audience, we would have certainly being plumbing previously undiscovered depths of whiteness.  So we just stood there.  'Come on, come on, I'll teach you a traditional dance' and he started this little thing that was more of a co-ordinated movement than dance so we sort of copied him, laughing and taking the piss.  Eventually it all wraps up and we bounce back to the hotel.  As we go in all the hotel reception girls start laughing and doing the dance back at us so we ask them how the hell they saw us.  Turns out it's no cable station - it was one of the biggest stations in the country and in a country of around 155 million that means a lot of people were watching us act like dicks. 

They'd roped us in for a bunch of different shows (they seriously couldn't get over the fact that a bunch of guys from Australia playing afro-beat had come to Lagos and were actually pretty proud of it.  Which was cool) so the next morning we were back to be guests on a Mornings With Bert Newton style show where we sat indulged in awkward, earnest conversation about the awesomeness of both ourselves and Nigeria.  We were also interviewed for a travel program in which Zvi was somewhat coerced into proposing marriage to his lady-friend, which I have heard very little (read: nothing) about since.

But anyway I digress... it was after this that we decided to go find some records so we headed to a shopping area we had heard mentioned as a place we could find a little something.  But an hour or so of fruitless wandering saw our spirits dipping so we stopped across from a underpass/bus stop to discuss our next move.  A man came out of a car yard saying he had seen us on TV and asked us what we were doing wandering around in this dodgy area.  When we told him we were chasing old records he immediately lead us across the road, under the bridge and deep into a wooden, shanty town area.  

Now I don't know if you have heard about the reputation of Nigerian's as being the kings of the scammers (something they seem to be quite proud of) but it's a reputation 

that exists for good reason.  The always are trying to scam you but if you call them on it they will always just give you a can't-blame-a-kid-for-trying-smile, it's ingrained in them I swear but it's actually a bit funny when you're there.  In fact once I was at an Internet cafe and looked over the shoulders of the men either side of me and they were BOTH actually sending out mass Nigerian bank scam emails.  It was so hard not to laugh out loud.

So as we negotiated this series of tiny alleyways, in the back of my mind I began considering this and the fact that we were not only following a Nigerian but a secondhand car salesman at that, into god knows where and possibly to our doom.  But no we arrive at our destination and much to my joy it is a little shack filled floor to wall with Nigerian recordings, mostly highlife but plenty of the good stuff too.  

 OG Fela's for all

Unfortunately it was a business that would record any LP they had and give it to you on a cassette tape but the owner said we could purchase any record we found doubles of.  We started on the Fela section (about 100 records and pretty much any Fela record I had ever seen) where we got about 8 original pressings, including a Zombie for me.  I also dug up 

a Funkees LP, the Bunzu Soundz, a Mebusas and few others making it a pretty successful mission.  The guys who ran the store were great too, I asked them a few questions about different records and artists and they were happy to answer, in fact one of them was related (I can't remember how) to 'Prince' Joni Haastrap from Monomono.  As a result he wouldn't sell me any of their records though, dammit.  Of course the hardest part was trying to negotiate an appropriate price whilst trying not to look too excited.  These are a couple of the records I found in there

Download (320kbps): Ofege - 'Nobody Fails' (EMI LP 'Try And Love' 1973)

Ofege were a group of teenagers playing in and around Lagos from the early to mid 70's.  Taken from the 'Try And Love' LP, this track like much of their work showcases some sublime funky/psych guitar work from Felix Inneh and some incredible nearly-off- kilter timing.   According to the guy who sold it to me the name 'Ofege' is Lagos slang meaning 'telling people hey fuck you and doing what you want'.  Apparently this record was recorded when they were still in school as well, which is pretty amazing considering the maturity of the sound.  You can cop some of their other work on Soundway, check out the killer 'Nigeria Special' comps in particular.

Download (320kbps): William Onyeabor - 'Better Change Your Mind' (Wilfilms LP 'Atomic Bomb' 1978)

How can you not want a record with this cover?  So many reasons to dig it.  For a start it's called Atomic Bomb.  And check the awesome suit, headphones and the little dance he's busting. Not to mention the seven microphones pointed at the man (really, who needs seven mic's?).  The first few bars of the song are a touch concerning, sounding a like something left off the soundtrack to Napoleon Dynamite but then it kicks into one of those killer afro grooves, asking the guitarist to sit on that one little line for 8 or 10 minutes turning it into trancey, spacey slice of magic.  The organ is bordering on cheesy but William pulls it off beautifully and I really dig how lo-fi the whole album is.  He studied cinema in Russia before coming back to start his record label (hence the name Wilfilms, geddit?) and according to what info I could find he now runs his own flour mill.  Sounds like a hell of a life!

In the next couple of weeks I'll post up a couple of mixes of stuff I found over there as well as other bits and pieces so stay tuned kids... and don't forget to check out my radio show.  Peace!

1 comment:

  1. Any chance you could upload some of your tunes so that we could have a bit of a listen please? Or have u got some stuff on here already but i just didn't see it? ;) Ta, Lou from Perth