“Ghana had a special role to play in Africa because of the privilege of being the continent’s first independent nation, which consisted of bringing Africans together, promoting pan-African unity and such. To a certain extent, this role trickled down to the music as we aimed to achieve a similar kind of togetherness within the country.”
-Nana Kwame Ampadu
It’s been a busy but rewarding year for the Analog Africa label, which is about to release its next compilation, Afrobeat Airways 2: Return Flight to Ghana 1974-1983, on September 17th (US). This comes on the heels of just releasing their third installment of Poly-Rythmo goodness in the form of the 2LP treasury, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou: The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980. And just before this, the label released its first 7″, the rare Solo Hit “Imoikeme / Ododo”. And it’s safe to stay that the year isn’t over yet for the label and and its most definitely going to be the year of Analog Africa!
Traveling, hunting, digging, interviewing, mastering, researching, designing, and listening are just some of the jealous-inducing verbs to describe the past three years it has taken Analog Africa to put together part two of Afrobeat Airways 2, a selection looking at the bombastic marriage of highlife and funk-soul making waves across 1970s Ghana. All of this hard work is evident before you even get to the music itself. When it comes to compilations and reissue projects, half the reason I choose to make the purchase is for the liner notes, archival photos, and extra goodies (as is evident by my non-discriminating purchasing of every posthumous Hendrix release, even though I’ll be subject to yet another version of Foxey Lady). And Analog Africa always delivers.
The compilation is a thing of beauty. Presented as a travel/flight plan to Ghana, the included book boasts recreated album covers that contain the histories, biographies, and interviews lovingly written by Analog Africa owner/curator Samy Ben Redjeb and Vikram Sohonie (Ostinato Records), with an introduction by Banning Eyre (Afropop Worldwide). The narrative of Samy’s and Vikram’s recent travels to Ghana, and interviews with the musicians, help connect the present to the past, offering a continuum to stories left wholly incomplete. Vikram’s wonderful writing style brings to life these travels and brings you up to speed on the world and the context in which these artists inspired, persevered, and struggled to make their music.
His eyes filled with tears and staring into the distance, Tony continued: “Piracy aside, the music really died because we lost our best musicians. And when they died, every musician, the entire community– and the entire country– wept. They wept!”
The collection also includes a bonus in the form of archival photos from the Modern Photo Company, a Ghanaian photo laboratory in Accra that specialized in photographing political figures and musical events, led by pioneer S.K. Pobee. The photos document the spirited and energetic music scene in Accra at the time, with shots of everyone from Fela Kuti to the African Brothers, along with vibrant scenes of local clubs and dance floors that I can only imagine were literally shaking.
Oh, and then there is the music! The song selection is tight and right on point. The song selection process, I imagine, must have been an arduous one. The track list shows the variety of styles born out of the local highlife genres and the funk/soul being reverberated across the Atlantic. Everything from the infectious head-nodding groove-funk of Rob on Loose Up Yourself to the sweltering Afrobeat track, Wop Me A Ka, from the mighty African Brothers.
One of the aspects of Ghanaian highlife that endears me to the style is its sense of space, which in part is born out of the traditional dance rhythms, such that the music has an overall floating sensation, which moves as one persuasive rhythm entity. The foremost example of this feeling comes from Vis-A-Vis, the backing band for K. Frimpong, whom instead backed up Pierre Antoine here on Say Min Sy Soh. This is also evident on the hard-hitting opening track by the Uppers International, Aja Wondo. And, of course, K. Frimpong himself demonstrates this on Abrado, a song that intertwines counter melodies so beautifully.
Other highlights include first time compilation appearances by Tony Sarfo and his Funky Afrosibi, Los Issufu and his Moslems and Waza Afriko 76. Tony Sarfo’s I Beg lays down a Meter-esque beat with wah-wah licks to set the record straight. Los Issufu produces a thick wall of organ-funk that makes you sweat just listening to it and Waza Afriko 76 (one of my favs) jams over a rock-like bass line with a surprise visit from a harmonica.
Analog Africa has produced yet another compilation full of wonder and discovery, accompanied by a sense of respect and reverence for the artists presented, with its impeccable research and presentation. Should you take part in this return flight to Ghana? No doubt about it…yes.
“To be honest, you’ve caught me off-gaurd with your visit and I wish I could remember more but I just can’t. I’m truly surprised that my music – and Ghanaian music of the ’70s – is traveling as much as it is.”
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